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Creative people can rent cheap housing in New York, but they have to show their talent


Olga Derkach

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Those who are trying to rent an apartment in New York complain about: the long days they spend searching in vain; a set of financial documents to be submitted; very large checks that have to be written for a very small space; brokerage fees and more. But none of this compares to having to audition if you want to live in one of the houses in New York. What kind of house is this and why such a tough selection, the publication said The New York Times.

Potential residents of a certain wing on the 12th floor of the Webster Apartments, a building on West 34th Street, must first put on a show - a song, a dance, perhaps a monologue. They need to audition to get a roof over their heads.

Welcome to rehearsal club is an artists' residence and the reincarnation of a non-profit organization founded in 1913 by Jane Harris Hall, a deaconess, and Jean Greer, a bishop's daughter in New York City. Their goal was to provide an affordable safe haven in the big city for young women pursuing careers in the performing arts.

In 1926, through the grace of John Rockefeller, Jr., the club purchased a pair of brownstone houses on West 53rd Street. A few years later, Jane and Audrey Meadows, Shirley Booth, Carol Burnett, Blythe Danner, Diane Keaton, Sandy Duncan, Kim Cattrall, and Cynthia Darlow, best known for her recurring role as Joel Maisel's secretary Mrs. Moskowitz in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, entered its doors among others. ".

Among them was Margaret Sullavan, who later starred in the 1936 Broadway hit Stage Door, a play inspired by the Rehearsal Club.

“Most of the girls moved here for two or three years,” says Gail Patron, 77, who lived here in the mid-1960s while studying drama. Now, as president of the club, she is spearheading its revival.

“We traded dresses for specific auditions. Everyone supported each other because they were fighting for the same thing. We became a family,” Patron continues.

"Saved my life"

At the time, auditions were not required, although candidates were required to demonstrate seriousness and provide letters of recommendation.

Depending on the number of patrons—plus or minus 40 people—the new arrivals could very well end up in a cot in the lobby, or, in Burnett's case, in a cot in the so-called transit corridor. But the modest rent, which included two meals a day, and the fighting spirit meant a lot.

“The rehearsal club saved my life,” said Burnett, 89, who moved to New York from California in August 1954 after graduating from college. “I had no idea where I would live. I was so naive. The girl who graduated from UCLA in front of me gave me her number and told me to contact her if I ever get to town.”

On the subject: Renting an apartment in New York: what to look for in order not to rent a noisy bed bug with aggressive neighbors

“As soon as I landed, I went to the Algonquin Hotel. It cost $9 a night and I had very little money,” Burnett recalls. Then I called a friend who asked where I was. Hearing my answer, she said, “What are you doing at the hotel? Come here right now.” So I took my suitcase and went to the Rehearsal Club where room and board cost $18 a week.”

Not a bad deal, although four roommates shared the room with Burnett.

“There was Joyce, she is kind of fierce,” the girl recalls. “There was also an actress from the Stanislavsky Theater who never bathed, and an Englishwoman – smart, sweet and funny, who was fond of Spanish dances.”

Rounding out the group was Yvonne Craig, a ballerina who played Batgirl in the 1960s TV series Batman.

“There were always hoses and underwear hanging on the shower rail,” Burnett said. “But it was great. I made friends with many."

Danner recalls the “wonderful hubbub, the joyous noise of the girls”: “We had a few Rockettes from Radio City Music Hall dancing around, actors reading different scenes. It was just a center for unusual creations by artists under one roof.”

The rehearsal club lasted 66 years and closed in 1979 after losing tax-exempt status.


In 2005, Kathleen Conry, a singer and dancer with Broadway and national tour credits, was asked to direct a summer production of Stage Doors in New Hampshire.

Ms. Conry, now 75, could certainly draw on her own experience in staging the show. She moved to New York from Cleveland immediately after graduating from high school in the fall of 1966 to pursue a performing career, and moved into a double room on the fourth floor of the Rehearsal Club.

“But I felt like I needed more,” said Conrie, who asked Actors Capital, a theater union, to meet with other Rehearsal Club alumni.

A dozen volunteers responded to the call and gathered in Miss Conry's apartment to talk about the old days.

"It was so much fun that we decided to keep dating - and we did," she said. One thing led to another, including the organization's centennial celebration in 2013 and a 105th anniversary gala.

“I had no idea where it was all going to go,” Conrie said. “The goal was just to reunite, but we all thought it would be great to have another Rehearsal Club residency.”

Fortune was on their side. When Darlow of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel mentioned her time at the Rehearsal Club in a New York Post profile in 2018, the executive of Webster Apartments, who rents out single rooms to women who are studying, interning or starting a career in the city, saw the article and took Darlow on a tour. by objects.

“We spoke to her about the ambition and the promise of working together to serve the women of New York,” explained Tara Scott, Director of Guest Services and Marketing at Webster Apartments. “It was decided: if they get to the point where they want to provide housing, as they have done in the past, let them contact us.”

Nearly three years ago, Patron launched a fundraising campaign for just that purpose, which raised $225 in contributions.

“At first we thought that we could pay for one room, then for five, but soon we were able to pay for 10,” she stated.

Given the strong demand for affordable housing and the long list of applicants, the Board of the Rehearsal Club decided to introduce an audition. Payment is $1000 per month, including two meals a day, utilities, Wi-Fi, XNUMX-hour security, free use of washer and dryer, workshops, workshops, mentoring program, and dedicated rehearsal room with piano.

The rehearsal club covers the remainder of the rent of $1700 per month.

“We have a lot to offer,” remarked Andrea Frierson, an actress and playwright who spent two years at the Rehearsal Club in the early 1970s before appearing in Broadway productions of Jubilee, Once Upon a Time on This Island, and The Lion King.

She now chairs an audition panel that evaluates videos and then conducts Zoom interviews with candidates whose performances are reviewed. Up-and-coming production designers, lighting designers and playwrights can also apply; at the moment there are more of them than actors, singers and dancers.

"We're always looking for talent, and it's very exciting," Frierson said. She and her colleagues have watched 50 videos over the past year.

"Stars in My Eyes"

Shawnee Fierros Casas Richberger sang "My Brother Lived in San Francisco" on her audition tape and subsequently became a first class member of the Rehearsal Club.

“My family was concerned about my moving to New York from our small farming town,” said Richberger, 23, who grew up in Gilbert, Arizona.

Of course, the reanimated Rehearsal Club is a little outdated. Women's residences in New York are practically extinct. The vaunted Barbizon Women's Hotel began hosting men in 1981 and was later converted first into a hotel and then, in 2007, into a condominium. The Evangeline in the West Village, the East End Hotel on the Upper East Side, and the YWCA Studio Club closed in the 1970s. "Catherine House" and "Roberts House", owned by the Women's Christian Union, closed in 2000.

A few weeks ago, Abiagel Mangum, fresh from a visit to her family in North Carolina, greeted a friend as she dragged a small rolling suitcase into her dorm-style room at Webster Apartments.

A few minutes later, Mangum, a student of the theater school "Circle in the Square", began to sing; her voice carried through a narrow corridor lined with gray doors, each sign bearing the words "Rehearsal Club." Some of the plaques were inscribed with a name, a small tribute to donors like Burnett and Danner, who each contributed $20 to the club's living program.

For 20-year-old Zoe Smith, a student at the Circle in the Square theater school, "the plaques are a constant reminder that this is more than just a home."

"It's really nice to walk down the hallway and hear the girls doing their vocal exercises or maybe they're rehearsing an audition song," said Maria Elena de la Noval, program coordinator.

When 23-year-old Kelsey Lepesco landed a 10-month contract as a dancer and singer on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship shortly after she moved into room 1222, it created an opportunity for someone on the waiting list. So far, 16 women have lived in the Rehearsal Club wing from a few months to a year.

Lepesko returned to the Rehearsal Club at the end of January.

“I love being here so much,” she said. — I like to be among all these purposeful people. She then added, “I couldn’t afford to live in this part of town without this program.”

De la Noval, who also has a room in the wing, spoke with admiration of how her young charges cope with the difficulties of life in New York.

“I thought I would have a lot more work to do than just look after them. But they are building their community. They get together, do things and help each other,” she admitted.

Richberger said she was offered roles in Broadway and off-Broadway shows several times. She recently came very close to landing the lead role in a television series.

“Perhaps I will stay here for another year, maybe six months,” she shared her plans. – The ultimate goal is to get out of the Rehearsal Club and rent an apartment. But before I leave, I want to do really well."

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