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Theater Thursday: Classic Stage Company

Classic Stage Company (known as CSC amongst theatergoers) is an East Village theatrical landmark and one of the longest-running Off-Broadway companies. CSC has been committed to re-imagining classic stories for contemporary audiences since 1967. It is a home for both established and emerging artists to grapple with great works of the world’s repertory that speak directly to the issues of today, and we are proud to call the theater our neighbor!

What does it mean for a piece of theater to be a “classic” today?

“It need no longer mean plays by dead, white, European men,” said John Doyle, the recent outgoing Artistic Director of the Classic Stage Company. “Which is inevitably what most classical theater has been.”

Two of the past season’s works — “black odyssey,” directed by Stevie Walker-Webb, and “Snow in Midsummer,” directed by Zi Alikhan, are by living artists of color. Both reimagine classic stories: Homer’s “The Odyssey” and Guan Hanqing’s “The Injustice to Dou Yi That Moved Heaven and Earth.” These plays take stories from across time and space and made them available to a modern and diverse audience, with the hope and intention of bringing new faces into the theater. CSC is leading the way toward a more equitable and inclusive American theater.

Rehearsal photo of the highly acclaimed production of “black odyssey”

Christopher Martin founded Classic Stage Company (known then as CSC Repertory) while at New York University (NYU) on a teaching fellowship. He served as its artistic director from 1967 to 1985. The first productions were staged at Riverside Church, and subsequently at Rutgers Church on West 73rd Street. The company found its own space in Greenwich Village at 273 Bleecker Street and subsequently at 89 West 3rd Street. As the company became more established, it recognized the need to expand. In 1973, their search for a permanent home brought them to the East Village at 136 East 13th Street, an intimate space that was formerly a carriage house. During Martin’s 18 years leading CSC, he produced more than 100 productions in rotating rep (a theatrical presentation in which a resident company presents works from a specified repertoire, usually in alternation or rotation) that brought the company to its current success. 

The newly renovated interior of CSC at 136 East 13th Street (with ghostlight!)

In the 55 years since its beginning, CSC has become a leading Off-Broadway theater that is a home for new and established artists, as well as audiences seeking epic stories intimately told. Productions have been cited by all major Off-Broadway theater awards including the Obie, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Drama League, and the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Body of Work.

Jill Rafson became Producing Artistic Director in 2022. Rafson has been a trailblazer in her support of the next generation of playwrights whose work can be considered modern classics. She is the seventh artistic director in CSC’s 55-year history, and the second woman in the job (after Carey Perloff). The 2023-24 season that Rafson created includes a revival of “I Can Get It For You Wholesale,” a musical where the hero is not as heroic as he’d like his community to think, Pericles, a Shakespearean adventure on the high seas, and a new play entitled “Wine In The Wilderness,” a Harlem-set drama of an artist caught off guard by his new muse. 

We look forward to seeing Rafson’s perspective on what defines classic theater and how this new vision will bolster CSC into 2023 and beyond.

To explore further, CSC appears on our East Village Theater Tour on our East Village Building Blocks website, where you will also find a selection of other theaters throughout the East Village, both current and former, and on our South of Union Square Map and Tours, on the Theater tour and several other tours. You can join us in calling on the City to landmark this area here.

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