A24, the independent film and television studio barreling into next weekend’s Academy Awards with a boatload of Oscar nominations, is making an unexpected move into live performance, purchasing a small Off Broadway theater in New York’s West Village.
The studio, which until now has focused on making movies, television shows and podcasts, has purchased the Cherry Lane Theater for $10 million, and plans to present plays as well as other forms of live entertainment there, in addition to the occasional film screening.
A24, whose films include the leading Oscar contender “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” is not the first film studio to make such a move: the Walt Disney Company has been presenting stage productions at Broadway’s New Amsterdam Theater, which it leases from the state and city, since 1997. But Disney, of course, is an entertainment industry behemoth that has mastered the art of multiplatform storytelling.
A more comparable move, perhaps, was that by Audible, an Amazon audio subsidiary that since 2018 has been leasing the Minetta Lane Theater, in Greenwich Village, for live productions which it then records and offers on its digital platform. And Netflix, the streaming juggernaut, has in recent years taken over several cinemas, including the Paris Theater in New York, as well as the Egyptian and Bay theaters in Los Angeles.
The A24 acquisition, coming at time when many theaters are still struggling to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic, suggests a vote of confidence in live performance. A24 plans to present some events celebrating Cherry Lane’s centennial this spring, and then to close the theater for renovations before beginning full-scale programming next year.
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Much remains uncertain about how the company intends to use the theater. A24 declined to make anyone available to speak on the record about the acquisition, but an official there said that the company had not yet decided whether it would develop work for the stage, or present work developed by others. The official, who was granted anonymity to describe the company’s plans, said that the studio hoped the theater would allow it to strengthen existing relationships with writers and performers who work on stage and screen, and to develop new relationships with comedians and theater artists.
A24 plans to retain the theater’s existing staff while adding to it with its own team, the official said, and as part of the renovation it plans to install technology so the theater can be used for film screenings.
The official said A24’s theater venture is a partnership with Taurus Investment Holdings.
“I really believe my theater is going into the right hands,” said Angelina Fiordellisi, who has owned the theater since 1996. “They love to develop and produce the work of emerging writers, and a lot of their writers are playwrights. I can’t imagine a better way to bring future life to the theater.”
Fiordellisi, 68, has been trying to sell the theater for some time. “I don’t want to work that hard anymore,” she said, “and I want to spend more time with my family.”
The purchase, which was previously reported by Curbed, includes three attached properties, including a 179-seat theater, a 60-seat theater and eight apartments, on the Village’s picturesque, curving Commerce Street. The Cherry Lane, in a 19th century building that was a brewery and a box factory before being converted to theatrical use in 1923, bills itself as the city’s longest continually running Off Broadway theater.
In 2021, Fiordellisi agreed to sell the property to the Lucille Lortel Theater for $11 million, but the sale fell apart. Last week, Lortel announced that it had spent $5.3 million to purchase a three-story carriage house in Chelsea, where it plans to open a 61-seat theater in 2025. The Lortel organization also has a 295-seat theater in the West Village.
The Cherry Lane will now be a for-profit, commercial venture; Fiordellisi had operated it through a nonprofit, occasionally presenting work that she developed and more often renting it to nonprofit and commercial producers. Fiordellisi said she will convert her nonprofit to a foundation that will give grants to playwrights and small theater companies.
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