Artistic Director of the 13th Street Repertory Company
Edith O’ Hara is founder and artistic director of The 13th Street Repertory Company. O’Hara, 90, tells the Resident about her struggle to keep the non-profit company going in the years since its founding in 1972. She is currently directing “Line” by Israel Horowitz.—Melissa Swinea
What is the mission of the company?
EO: The 13th Street Repertory Company was founded in 1972 as a program aimed toward the development of all aspects of theatric talent. Consistent with our focus to develop theatric craft, the company only presents original plays, written and produced and preformed by program participants. The theater also facilitated a comprehensive, year-round internship. During the summer months, the internship program is expanded consisting of 30 participants from across the globe. In addition, the 13th Street Repertory Company is home to the longest running off-off-Broadway production, proud to feature a 33-year run of “Line” by Israel Horowitz.
How did you develop a passion for theater?
EO: I was a theater major while in college and developed an immediate interest for acting during a summer internship. Employed as a children’s librarian, I noticed the children needed help with their speech. In 1960, I began a children’s theater, which expanded to include a summer program for all ages in 1965. We held our productions in a converted barn purchased as our playhouse.
The origins of the 13th Street Repertory Company can be traced to a barn?
EO: That’s how I got started. I’m from a small town existence in Warren, Pa. We purchased a clean, well-maintained barn and converted it to a playhouse. The house attached to the barn was the living quarters for summer actors. During that period we featured the show “Touch.”
How did this small theater company in Warren, Pa., become the 13th Street Repertory?
EO: The owner of the theater sponsored us, generating grant funds so that the company could move to New York City. In New York, “Touch” ran from 1970-1971. The score received a Grammy nomination in 1970. After the production had ended, it took a year to find a theater space in New York City. In 1972, I answered an ad for a small theater in the Village Voice.
Shortly after, I signed the lease to the 13th Street Theater. This location has been the source of contention for quite some time.
EO: Several have attempted to force the theater company out of this location. I’d leased this space for 10 years when the owners decided to sell the building. My partner and I held a fundraiser to purchase the space; however, shortly after acquiring ownership my partner wanted to sell. I’ve refused to sell my share and my partner is unable to sell this place unless I do. We’ve received three eviction notices this past year and have been fighting to keep our theater. This theater has been in constant battle for survival, but we have hope and right on our side.
This location has been the theater company’s home for several years and must hold a dear significance to you.
EO: I want to leave this place as a legacy when I am no longer. The 13th Street Repertory Company is an important program for the city. However, this building is also a 200- year-old and was used as an Underground Railroad stop. It is currently awaiting review for landmark status. The Greenwich Village Historical Landmark Preservation Society has nominated me for an award for my efforts to preserve this location. The Preservation Society has scheduled the award ceremony for June 19, 2007 at the Cherry Lane Theater.
What are your other greatest achievements?
EO: My two daughters and my son. My daughter Jill O’Hara received a Tony nomination for her performance in “Promises, Promises.” My other daughter Jenny O’Hara is an actress. Her most recent theater performance was in Neil Simon’s female version of the “Odd Couple.” My son Jack O’Hara is a talented musician performing in a band. It’s rather extraordinary. My children did not grow up running off to auditions and taking classes. We just came from a small- town existence.