A 32-Year Journey to Hell’s Kitchen

Bernie Telsey was still a student at N.Y.U. when he met an actor named Robert LuPone and decided to form a theater club. Their duo became a trio when they met Will Cantler, and soon they were putting on shows whenever and wherever they could.

That was more than three decades ago, and over the years the company they founded — now called MCC Theater, with a focus on new work by living writers — has become one of the more respected Off Broadway nonprofits, attracting such stars as Lucas Hedges, Judith Light and Zachary Quinto to its stages.

But they have never had their own building, until now. On Jan. 23, the box office opens at their first permanent home, on West 52nd Street at 10th Avenue, with two theaters, two rehearsal studios, and all the amenities (including a bar) one has come to expect from a modern theater. “To have a home, it’s mind-boggling,” Mr. Telsey said.

The $45 million project has been a long time coming, and brings MCC into a corner of Hell’s Kitchen with a growing number of performing arts organizations.

MCC’s leadership first saw the space in 2007, but construction was repeatedly delayed by real estate and regulatory complications.

The project, designed by the architect Andrew Berman, features raw concrete and exposed pipes mixed with black wood paneling and lattice screening. The seats are burgundy.

The 27,000-square-foot space has a 245-seat proscenium-style theater called the Newman Mills, and a 100-seat black box theater called the Susan & Ronald Frankel. The Newman Mills is both wider and higher than the Lucille Lortel — the 93-year-old West Village theater where MCC has been presenting work over the last 14 years — allowing for more ambitious physical productions.

The theaters sit underneath Avalon Clinton, a residential tower, and above an Amtrak tunnel. Acoustic challenges were addressed by a variety of structural measures to reduce the impact of vibrations.

The new building has contemporary amenities that matter for theatermakers, like dressing rooms and a wardrobe office, and allows the company to consolidate work that had been spread across the city, including its administrative offices and its youth company. The hope: more creative interaction between professionals and aspiring artists.

“The theater was created out of an impulse to have a community,” Mr. Cantler said, “but so much of life in New York is dictated by real estate.”

In the same Avalon Clinton complex as MCC are two other theater organizations: Alliance of Resident Theaters/New York and the 52nd Street Project. Irish Arts Center is building a new home around the corner. Also in the neighborhood: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Intar, Ensemble Studio Theater and the home base for Ars Nova.

MCC has raised $39.5 million toward its $45 million goal. The biggest contributor, by far, is the city government, which has given $28.9 million.

The facility has been named in honor of Robert W. Wilson, a hedge fund founder who died in 2013; a trust established in his name gave $2.5 million toward the project.

MCC expects that the larger space will allow it to grow: theater leaders are aiming to increase the number of shows they present each season, from four to five or six, according to Blake West, the executive director.

The company has done only three musicals over its history (“Coraline,” “Carrie” and “Ride the Cyclone”) but says the bigger space, with more room for musicians and sets, will make that easier. The company is also introducing a program, SongLabs, to develop new musicals.

Operating costs will rise with programming. The company’s budget had been about $4 million a year; this year it will be about $7 million.

Two artworks, by Francesco Simeti, nod to the neighborhood’s flora — “Tale of a City,” a glass exterior wall with images from New York City history, and “Set Perspectives,” a woven textile interior wall with images from global performance venues.

The first two shows are almost ready for patrons. “The Light,” a play about a marriage proposal by Loy A. Webb, begins performances Wednesday in the smaller theater. “Alice by Heart,” a musical inspired by “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and created by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik of “Spring Awakening” with Jessie Nelson of “Waitress,” begins performances in the larger theater on Jan. 30.

One sign the theater is almost ready: the bar already features a list of dedicated cocktails, including Down the Rabbit Hole for “Alice by Heart” — vodka, strawberry, lime, hibiscus syrup and bitters.

Michael Paulson is the theater reporter. He previously covered religion, and was part of the Boston Globe team whose coverage of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. @MichaelPaulson

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