The Gallery Players theater company is a Brooklyn institution.
Now preparing for its 50th season, the Park Slope theater group has endured because it produces big shows on a human scale, says its artistic director.
“People don’t want to produce new musicals because they’re so risky and because they’re so expensive,” said Mark Harborth, who started acting for Gallery Players in 1996. “But we have a venue where you can do that. On a small scale, yes, but you can actually produce the show. We’re able to do large-scale musicals at a very intimate place, and our audience really likes being able to be that close to a show.”
The theater company started in 1967, when founder Bruce Wyatt moved to Brooklyn from New Orleans, bringing the Gallery Players name and idea with him. The first show opened at the Flatbush Unitarian Church, and the group moved from venue to venue over the next few years, with stops at various Brooklyn churches, schools, and community centers. In 1989, the group finally settled at 199 14th Street in Park Slope, its current home.
The Gallery Players premiered its first original musical, “A Night at the Brooklyn Palace,” only two years after its inception, and in the years since, it has launched more than 30 musicals and plays, including an adaptation of “The Hobbit,” and “Women In Tune” which went on to an Off-Broadway run.
Some producers shy away from putting on new shows with a simple stage setup, but the Gallery Players has made a virtue out of its cozy venue, said Harborth.
“We did ‘Evita’ with just two chairs because that’s all we needed, and the audience loved it,” Harborth said. “We’re not out to recreate the Broadway production. We re-imagine it so it’ll fit in our space and tell the story.”
That small stage has provided a launching pad for some of Broadway’s brightest lights, including Harvey Fierstein, a Gallery Players founding member who designed sets and acted for the company before becoming a Broadway star in “Torch Song Trilogy” and “Hairspray.” Other Gallery Players alumni include John Rando, who won a Tony Award for directing the musical “Urinetown,” and New York actor, director, and educator Ray Virta.
The theater announced its 50th anniversary season on May 21 with a fund-raising party — the company’s first. Gallery Players has survived off ticket sales alone since 1967, said Harborth. But the party was more than a fund-raiser, he said — it was a celebration of the group’s accomplishments.
“The fact that we’ve been around for 50 years is unheard of, especially for an arts organization,” Harborth said. “We must be doing something right.