Help Thy Neighbor: The Situation at UNDER St. Marks 

Doug Strassler 


Off-Off-Broadway mainstay UNDER St. Marks is in peril of being uprooted. The IT Foundation spoke with Erez Ziv, founding Board Member of The League of Independent Theater and Executive Director of Horse Trade about his situation and about how all of us can help.

IT: How instrumental has UNDER St. Marks been to you?

EZ: It has been invaluable for our development process.  The size of UNDER St. Marks, that is bigger than The Red Room and smaller than The Kraine Theater, has been great to have when planning out our season and assigning shows the appropriate space. Having the beer pantry at UNDER St. Marks has made it possible for us to keep ticket prices very low for certain shows and has helped them to become very successful. $3, $5 or even $7 ticket prices, which are very common at USM, would be very difficult for us to maintain in a venue that does not have the capacity to serve beer and wine. The popularity of the venue as a result of its size, location, price, and general accessibility make it a hotbed for collaboration and the mixing of genres and artistic communities.

IT: What exactly is the situation with 94 St. Marks?

EZ: At the moment the building is on the market. We have a written agreement with the landlord that currently takes us through October and a verbal agreement to renew this agreement on the first of every month until serious interest is shown in the building in which case we will always have 6 months to figure out our next move. The landlord has shown a willingness to listen to creative proposals that will achieve both his goal of selling the building and our goal of keeping the theater open. The initial public outcry and NY1 coverage of this story has been instrumental in demonstrating to him that his basement is an important place, much more so than he had ever realized. A sustained buzz about the space is important to keep that message fresh in his mind.

IT: How much time do people have to help?

EZ: The first round of our effort is under way right now. This first round runs thru Fourth of July, putting the Mini Fridge festival at the closing week of the effort and providing us with a louder, taller platform from which to put out our message. Once we finish this first round we hope to be able to put forward a complete plan by the end of the summer at which time we will be racing against the currently slow-moving New York real estate market.  If this had happened two years ago we would have lost the race, but in the current climate we believe we have enough time to make this happen. But the July 4th deadline is crucial to make because we wont be able to start the second phase if we dont make our goal.

IT: What can they do to help?

EZ: Log onto ( and give what you can. If 1000 people give $50 each then we are good to go; if some give more we are golden.  More people than that have already seen shows in the space this month alone. We also collect donations at the end of every show and at the beer pantry, so if you come to see a show then you can give in person.

IT: Can you explain a little more about the campaign?

EZ: We have started an indiegogo campaign to raise $50,000, this will provide the seed money to fund the rest of our effort which will be to purchase all or part of the building. This initial amount will help us pay for the many professionals that have to be hired to make such plans realistic. We will need an architect, engineer, expediter, real estate consultants, lawyer, etc. We will need to set up a new non-profit organization to handle the fundraising, as Horse Trade has always been a self-sustaining business; we have never applied for non-profit status. This will also have associated costs, from government fees to board insurance. Ultimately we will need to raise a great deal more money, so if we can hit our target in this first round we look will like a much better bet to funders who might come in with larger amounts in the second phase of our fundraising.

More information can also be found at the HorseTrade website.


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