Gallery Players Looks To The Future As They Approach 50 Years In Brooklyn

Mark Harborth (Photo by Christine Bush/South Slope News)
Mark Harborth (Photo by Christine Bush/South Slope News)

Maintaining a successful theatre company in New York City takes a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears, but 14th Street’s Gallery Players is doing it with style, as they begin their 49th season here in Brooklyn.

More than just a performance house, though, Gallery Players prides itself on community outreach – spreading their theatrical magic to area schools and family centers, in an effort of enrich the lives of South Slope residents both young and old.

We recently sat down with Mark Harborth, Artistic Director at Gallery Players, to talk about the history of the theatre, their upcoming season, and what the next 50 years has in store for the neighborhood institution.

SSN: First of all, tell us a bit about yourself, and the role you play at Gallery Players.

Mark Harborth: As of the start of Gallery’s 49th Season, I have assumed the role of Artistic Director. For most of Gallery’s history, the Board of Director’s was the primary entity. It was a working board that had active participation in Gallery’s daily operation. Members of the board served as producers for each show and the board would oversee the budgets and all daily operations.

Then around 2003 Gallery had its first Artistic Director, which lasted until 2012. After a brief period without one, the board appointed me Artistic Director in 2015. My role is to guide and maintain Gallery’s artistic vision as we move forward into our second half-century of operation.

The Gallery Players (Photo by Christine Bush/South Slope News)
The Gallery Players (Photo by Christine Bush/South Slope News)

Gallery Players has been a Park Slope institution since the 1960s. How did the theatre find its way to South Slope, and what made 14th Street the perfect home?

Gallery has had a few places it called home, but was always a Brooklyn based institution. When it found its location at 199 14th Street, it knew it had something special.

Gallery operates under an Equity showcase code, which means it has the opportunity to employ both union and non-union actors in its productions. Most other companies in and around New York operating on the same code do not have their own space. They produce their productions in different venues. Having a home at 199 14th Street makes Gallery special in that we have a space of our own, which allows us storage for costumes and set and sound and light equipment. We don’t have to rent those things every time we have a show.

Sitting right in the middle of the Park Slope Family Center and PS 124 places you guys in a great position to help both neighborhood children and the elderly. How have you joined forces in the past, and do you have any new ideas to expand these relationships?

Several years ago, Gallery was fortunate enough to receive a grant which allowed us specific performances for the homeless. These were always very special nights because they were such an appreciative audience. We always looked forward to those performances.

Dominic Cuskern and Justine McLaughlin are Gallery’s Directors of Educational and Family Programming. They operate the Peanut Gallery, which is Gallery’s summer musical theatre camp for kids. This is a wonderful program that allows kids an introduction to the theatre, and culminates in them writing and performing their own musical.

The board has been discussing other expansions to our children’s programming, which has resulted in our inclusion of Seussical in our main season. We wanted to be able to offer a specific show geared toward the family. Something that both kids and adults could come to and enjoy. Seussical fit that bill perfectly. It is a show about imagination that speaks to everyone.

Jerry's Girls (Photo via Mark Harborth
Jerry’s Girls (Photo via Mark Harborth)

What is the 50 for 50 Campaign, and how can South Slope help out?

Since the beginning, Gallery has been mainly funded by it ticket sales. As prices continue to rise on materials, Gallery’s ticket prices top out at $18. It is becoming more difficult to maintain the high level of quality people expect from Gallery, and still keep the doors open.

As our 50th Anniversary is right around the corner, we started our first ever major fundraising campaign – the 50 for 50 campaign. Put simply, we want to raise $50,000 for our 50th Anniversary. It may seem like a modest goal for other arts organizations, but it is the first time Gallery has done something like this. The money raised by this campaign will be put toward improvements that ticket sales cannot cover. Things like central air conditioning and other capital improvements to make our patron’s experience all the more enjoyable.

It is a grand goal, but with everyone’s support, we are hoping to bring a new and improved Gallery into the next half century.

Dreamgirls (Photo via Mark Harborth)
Dreamgirls (Photo via Mark Harborth)

What other ways can the community support the theatre?

There are many ways the community can support the theatre. We have a fantastic volunteer base that we couldn’t survive without. Our volunteers have been called on to do bookkeeping, ushering, sewing, painting, building, legal services, insurance advice, baking…the list is endless.

As gallery’s infrastructure grows, so do its opportunities. For example, every show has to be built. A single volunteer donating a half hour of their time to come by and help paint or build is a tremendous help in the process. Volunteers don’t have to be specially skilled to help out, they just have to have the desire to help. There are so many ways their efforts can be beneficial.

Our most recent call for volunteers included needs for seamstresses, carpenters, bakers, even people who just knew how to use Facebook. Just having a car is an unbelievable resource for Gallery. Or just think about Gallery before throwing away some things from the attic. I bet we can use them.

Next To Normal (Photo via Mark Harborth)
Next To Normal (Photo via Mark Harborth)

What can we look forward to in your 49th Season?

Gallery’s 49th Season is a collection of powerful and passionate shows that everyone will enjoy. There is truly something for everyone. Our OVERTURES program is bringing in a series of staged readings of brand new musicals ready to hit the stage. We’re continuing our GalleryTalks program of post-show talk backs with the audience and a scholarly look at the themes raised by each of our shows, plus our summer Shakespeare production and the Peanut Gallery. There is always something of interest at Gallery.

Proof (Photo via Mark Harborth)
Proof (Photo via Mark Harborth)

What does the future hold for Gallery Players?

Our hope is that Gallery will be around for another 50 years, and continue its mission of bringing quality, affordable theatre to the New York area. We have worked hard for Gallery to be a place where artists of many levels of experience can come and display and develop their craft in a welcoming and supportive environment. We hope the future will bring physical improvements for our patrons, as well as a selection of artistic offerings that will continue to delight, inspire and feed the soul. Gallery is a place for the community to engage, assist, communicate, and grow. Here’s to the next 50 years!

Gallery Players is located at 199 14th Street, between 4th and 5th Avenues. Tickets are still available for the theatre’s production of Godspell, on stage through October 4. For more information, or for tickets, visit the Gallery Players website.

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