The world of Boston theatre just got a little smaller.
For word has reached us that the venerable Factory Theatre, a long-time tenant in the rear basement of the famous "Piano Factory" at 791 Tremont, will close its doors as of October 31. A widely circulated letter from Greg Jutkiewicz, who has been handling the space since 2007, states that the building's management has decided to push the theatre out to make room for "amenities like a fitness center, gated parking lot, and a concierge." Ah yes - just what the South End needs: a gym and a concierge! After all they're so rare in these parts . . .
Oh, well. Gentrification is an old story, but every time it's told, it seems to have fresh teeth, doesn't it. The loss of the Factory will hit Boston's fringe hard, of course, as the space, though spartan, was in a prime location - close to the T, and only a stone's throw from the South End's lively restaurant and bar scene. So it's no surprise that almost every smart new theatre company with big dreams (but a smaller bank account) at some point played its famously rough-hewn "stage." Beau Jest Moving Theatre, Whistler in the Dark, and Mill 6 Collaborative all were resident companies at some point or other - and the T Plays and Tales from Ovid both debuted there. The Factory currently hosts Heart & Dagger, Happy Medium, Fresh Ink, and many other companies - all of whom are scrambling for new homes for the shows they had expected to stage there this winter and beyond.
The good news - and there is a bit of it - is that the fringe is already trying to respond, and they're a much more supportive, idealistic, and connected crowd than the mid-sized and large company scenes. Dawn Simmons at the BCA is reportedly launching a "Factory Theatre Orphans" initiative, and the folks at ArtsBoston are said to be reaching out to alternative spaces. A few people are even mulling bringing this to the attention of the Mayor's office - after all, hizzonah has often said how important the arts are to the city - maybe there's a little political muscle that can be put behind that promise. Who knows? Sometimes a crisis can pull a community together - and that could be the silver lining to this latest blow to the fringe.
Of course there is one thing about the Factory that will be hard to replace - the space's sheer grittiness. Its unvarnished bricks and cold concrete floor were like nothing else in Boston - so basic you couldn't even pretend they were "funky" or "shabby chic." They were just real - a painted flat didn't stand a chance at the Factory - which made the space ideal for Beckett (a memorable Krapp's Last Tape just played there), Caryl Churchill, and other playwrights with a raw or probing edge.
So the Factory will be missed by many beyond the local acting community - yours truly included. Even though I'm confident the fringe will weather this latest blow, I'll miss that brutish, blunt old space. Yes, I know there's no nostalgia like nostalgie de la bout - but then again, did anyone ever wax nostalgic for a stairmaster and a concierge? Somehow I don't think so. Wherever the migrant birds of the fringe next settle - and don't worry, we'll be tracking their movements on the Hub Review - let's hope they don't forget the lessons they learned on the Factory's rough proscenium.