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Shetler Studios In New York City Closes Due To Economic Downturn


Theaters, large and small, across the country are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, which means a lot of businesses that support them are also on hold. And one of those was Shetler Studios in Manhattan. It was a place where New York theater artists, from the famous to the yet to be discovered, auditioned and rehearsed. But Shetler Studios announced that it can't hold on. As Jeff Lunden reports, this iconic studio's closing has sent shockwaves through the theater community.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Cabaret producer Robert Schneider says he worked on almost all of his shows at Shetler Studios.

ROBERT SCHNEIDER: Shetler was a big blow to a lot of us because, to us, that's the home. That's the home where whatever you see onstage, that finished product was all created at Shetler.

LUNDEN: And Schneider says it was affordable. So it attracted everyone from Broadway stars to up-and-comers. He recalls waiting for an elevator that took forever with a group of college students.

SCHNEIDER: And I hear one of the girls say, boy, I just want to get an agent and be successful. I don't know what's going to happen next for me. And at the same time she gets on the elevator, the other elevator doors open. And I swear to you, Christine Baranski walks out. To me, this is incredible. You're watching someone who's reached the peak of their journey right next to someone who's just beginning their journey. But that's Shetler. And that happened, like, on a daily basis.

JENNIFER ASHLEY TEPPER: Shetler is part of the New York theater community as much as "Phantom Of The Opera" or something way more visible is.

LUNDEN: Theater and cabaret producer Jennifer Ashley Tepper.

TEPPER: The second that this was all announced and I posted about it, so many people came out of the woodwork to, like, talk about Shetler. There's no one that hasn't worked there.

LUNDEN: When he heard Shetler was closing, Lin-Manuel Miranda sent out a tweet recalling how he tried out "Hamilton" material there.

RON SHETLER: Oh, my goodness. The outpouring of sadness and grief over the death of the studios has been, literally, overwhelming.

LUNDEN: Owner Ron Shetler opened his facility 30 years ago. It grew to 23,000 square feet on three floors.

SHETLER: And we prided ourselves on being a professional home away from home not only for teaching acting and singing, but for auditions, rehearsals and performing - all in one complex.

LUNDEN: For 15 years, Janice Goldberg co-directed the AND Theatre Company, a tiny, off-off-Broadway group, and says she sometimes spent five days a week at Shetler Studios.

JANICE GOLDBERG: It's almost a visceral loss. If you've spent so many hours in a place doing something that you love and bringing ideas and people's work and your own work to fruition and have that energy behind you, and then all of a sudden that's taken away forever, it's a blow.

LUNDEN: But owner Ron Shetler says he felt he had no choice but to close.

SHETLER: The enormous weight of finance has required to put everything on hold. And the fact that everything that we do in the studios can't be done under the confines of the COVID pandemic protocol, and that the entertainment world would be the last to open up again, that made the decision quite eminent. I didn't want to stick my head in the sand and just deny what was going on.

LUNDEN: Again, producer Robert Schneider.

SCHNEIDER: It's very hard for me because the beginning of my career in the city was all done at Shetler. I practically lived at Shetler. And now, I'm going to have to find a new home. But those memories I would not trade for anything.

LUNDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAN MOUNTAIN'S "TO BE MADE AS NEW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.