Neighbors Say Outdoor Shows Make Them a Captive Audience
BY SAM SPOKONY | When it comes to the noise emanating from a theatre’s outdoor performances, doth neighbors protest too much?
Some residents who live directly behind the cell theatre (a West 23 Street space, between Eight and Ninth Avenues) will tell you that their protests are well warranted. Now, they’re speaking out against what they claim are obnoxiously loud Shakespeare performances and jazz concerts that take place just feet away from their back windows and terraces each summer.
“It’s inconsiderate, and I feel like they’re just not being respectful to the neighborhood,” said Huck Hirsch, a writer who owns a fifth floor apartment at 333 West 22nd Street, which opens out onto the cell’s backyard space. “I want to support the arts, and I don’t want to bring down their organization, but the fact is that it’s really shifted the quality of life here.”
He claims that the trouble began in the summer of 2011, after the cell opened up at 338 West 23rd Street — a building owned by the theatre’s founding artistic director, Nancy Manocherian — and began rehearsing the Bard’s plays. As actors called “Fie! Fie!” for hours during the day and into the evening, Hirsch said the noise greatly disrupted his working life, as well as that of other block residents who work from home.
Another resident of Hirsch’s building, who asked to remain anonymous, said that she was also dismayed that first summer by the cell’s outdoor concerts, which she alleged went on until 10pm, or even later — forcing her to keep her windows closed at all times in partially successful attempts to block the sound.
“And those concerts were happening again this past summer, and there were times when I just wanted to pull my hair out,” the resident said. “I just wish I could be able to open my windows in the summer.”
She also claimed that, during each summer since 2011, dozens of her neighbors on the block have also expressed complaints, specifically adding that residents of 341 West 22nd Street — whose terraces also directly face the theatre’s backyard space — have expressed many concerns to her about the noise.
But staff at the cell, on the other hand, say they’ve been sensitive to community concerns, and claim that Hirsch is the only resident who’s still actually complaining.
“Initially, we got three different emailed complaints in 2011, so we responded by scaling back the outdoor aspect of the Shakespeare series,” said Kira Simring, the theatre’s artistic director. “Instead of doing full rehearsals and performances outside, we moved basically everything indoors, with just one scene rehearsed and performed outside.”
Simring further stated that those changes apparently succeeded in taking care of two of the complaints — but not those of Hirsch, who she said continued over the following years with emails to the cell that were filled with “insulting language” and “unreasonable arguments.”
This past summer, Simring actually sent Hirsch an advance schedule of what Shakespeare-related activities would include use of the backyard — nine daytime rehearsals in late August, and seven performances in early-September. But Hirsch wasn’t satisfied.
“While the gesture of this notice feels totally considerate, it also feels totally inconsiderate of the cell to book a show with this much rehearsal and performance time outside,” he wrote to Simring, according to email communications that were forwarded to this newspaper.
And at this point, Simring seems just as fed up as Hirsch.
“It seems like no matter what I do, nothing’s going to make him happy unless we just stop everything out there,” she said. “We have a wonderful relationship with the community and local businesses, and we’ve done successful productions, but we have this one guy who’s just never going to be happy.”
Before the next summer rolls around, she may in fact be able to find out whether Hirsch really is a lone wolf, or if — like he and his anonymous neighbor claim — there are several dozen West 22nd Street residents who have a bone to pick with the cell.
Hirsch, after contacting the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, said he’s now in the process of trying to bring his complaints to Community Board 4 (CB4) — specifically, the board’s Quality of Life committee.
There had been some talk of representatives of the cell being asked to attend the committee’s next meeting on February 10, but that’s still unclear at this point. As Chelsea Now went to press, theatre staff said they hadn’t yet been contacted about attending the meeting, and CB4’s office said nothing focused on this issue had yet been placed on the agenda.
If the cell is eventually asked to explain themselves at a CB4 meeting, Simring said she’d be more than happy to do so.
“I’d look forward to meeting with them, since we have nothing to hide, and it would be great to keep improving our relationship with the community,” she said.