The New Victory Theater Ushers in a 42nd Street Revival New York's Infamous District Is Being Cleared of Sex Shops, Making Way for Restoration of Its Grand Theaters - and for Children's Arts Programs

By Annette Kramer, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 7, 1995 | Go to article overview

The New Victory Theater Ushers in a 42nd Street Revival New York's Infamous District Is Being Cleared of Sex Shops, Making Way for Restoration of Its Grand Theaters - and for Children's Arts Programs


Annette Kramer, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Beyond its importance as the first completed landmark renovation on New York's historic 42nd Street, the New Victory Theater promises to bring new visibility to arts programming for children. On Dec. 11, the 500-seat theater will open its doors, and on Dec. 19 it will begin its premiere season.

"Children are often thought of as second-class citizens in this country in terms of theater," says the theater's program director, Yvonne Joyner Levette. "In other countries there are extensive art programs for young people that we {in America} simply have not developed.

"We want to offer young people the same consistent high quality of artistic achievement that adults have come to expect for themselves," she adds.

Ms. Levette points out that fine American children's companies do exist, but the quality is not consistent, perhaps because they do not receive the funding and respect they deserve. That is why, in designing the New Victory's first season, Levette brought together a range of performers to challenge the expectation that theater for young people must "pander." "We want to make a statement that strong theater companies should more often consider doing work for children," she says.

Levette has chosen an unusual combination of styles and subjects to initiate the theater's first season. Under the New Victory's umbrella, Theatre for a New Audience will adapt Carlo Gozzi's 18th-century tale, "The Green Bird." Filmmakers Martin Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola will curate a film series. Theaterworks/USA, the prestigious company in which Henry Winkler and F. Murray Abraham began their careers, will present a new play about either the life of Paul Robeson or the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. the Board of Education. Actor-writer Bill Irwin, currently appearing in "Fool Moon" on Broadway, will oversee a series of shows dealing with vaudeville traditions.

Audience diversity is a priority for Warrington Hudlin, curator of a film series to be presented at the New Victory by the Black Filmmakers Foundation. "The old 42nd Street, for all its antisocial character, was patronized by many poor blacks and Latinos because of the inexpensive family films, especially kung-fu films, available there," Mr. Hudlin says. "In cleaning up 42nd Street, we want to change the programming but not necessarily the complexion of the patrons."

Hudlin says that Cora Cahan, president of the New 42nd Street development consortium, has devised "a programming strategy of inclusion."

To help audiences who might not otherwise attend theater, the New Victory will provide free matinees during its first weekend, establish a weekday education program for New York City's public- and private-school students, and offer apprentice programs to high school and college students from the five boroughs of New York. To encourage new audiences, the New Victory is offering a $25 annual family membership. …

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