The dramatis personae of most development dramas have become all too familiar. There’s the beleaguered small property owner. The well-funded property developer. And Mammon playing a powerful role as the property finally gets developed.
Such has been the fate of numerous small theaters off Broadway, including the Sullivan Street Playhouse, Promenade Theater, Lamb’s Theatre Company, Variety Arts Theatre, Century Center for the Performing Arts, New Perspectives Theatre Company and, most recently, Perry Street Theatre.
But one woman who has run a nonprofit 65-seat theater in Greenwich Village for 35 years has had the audacity to say “no.”
“What does money mean compared with my life and what I could leave?” asked 90-year-old Edith O’Hara, artistic director and founder of the 13th Street Repertory Company.
Born in northern Idaho in 1917, Ms. O’Hara knew nothing of theater until a role as George Washington in a seventh-grade play. She met her future husband while attending the University of California, Los Angeles, and moved to Warren, Penn., to raise a family. (She has three children; two have gone on to Broadway and Hollywood success.) Ms. O’Hara became active in summer theater, eventually running two companies.
“I had it in me to help creativity develop,” she said. “I liked that better than acting.”
After having one of her regional shows produced in New York City in the early 1970’s, Ms. O’Hara founded the 13th Street Repertory Company. She produces original dramas and offers children’s programs.
The theater’s mainstay has become the longest-running Off Off Broadway play, Line, written by the prolific playwright Israel Horovitz and in its 34th year.
“The loss of the theater, that’s what Line is about: competition,” Mr. Horovitz said. “It’s typical that somebody would look at that place and say, ‘Let’s just tear it down and build yet another condo development.’”
When the company’s lease expired in the early 1980’s, Ms. O’Hara took on a business partner—whom she designated her “white knight”—and purchased the building, and soon transferred a majority of stock to her partner. He then spent years trying to get her to sell out, Ms. O’Hara said, but she refused.