The coronavirus has led to temporary closures of comedy clubs, theaters, and other venues across the country, but the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York has been forced to make a more drastic decision during the pandemic. In an email sent to the UCB community today, theater co-founders Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh announced that, in response to the coronavirus, they have made the “heart wrenching, but necessary, decision” to shut down the UCB theater in Hell’s Kitchen as well as the UCB Training Center on 8th Avenue. The closures will mean the end of an official UCB space in New York following the closure of the Chelsea theater in 2017 and the East Village theater last year.
“This is devastating to us, but for some time now, even in a normal, robust economy, we have barely been able to pay the high rents in New York City for the Hell’s Kitchen Theater and the Training Center. Given the indefinite shutdown of all theaters and schools in both Los Angeles and New York City and the anticipated slow and uncertain return to normal when restrictions are lifted, we cannot afford to continue on in our New York City leases,” the email reads. “Terminating the New York leases is not a cure-all for the financial health of the organization, but one of many changes we will need to make as we restructure our organization moving forward.”
The lengthy email goes on to explain that, while the UCB theater and training center will be closed, “UCB is not leaving New York City. The school and the theater will continue on in a pared-down form, which will be very similar to how we operated when we first started in NYC over 20 years ago.” Shows will continue at venues such as SubCulture, while classes will be taught “at various locations across the city that we will rent on a per-class basis.” The co-founders also said that they “are open to the possibility of again having our own facilities in New York in the future if we can find an economically feasible way to do so” and that today’s decision is an attempt at survival: “We want you to know that our decisions regarding NYC were not made lightly or without careful consideration of the people affected by them … It will allow us to continue to serve as much of the community as possible, rather than simply to shutter the NYC arm of the organization.”
Today’s news of the UCB New York closures comes a month after the theater laid off all theater staff on both coasts, which many former staffers felt was mishandled by the UCB 4. Those concerns were addressed in today’s email to the UCB community, with the co-founders writing, “We understand that this email will bring up a lot of feelings and even more questions. We ask for your patience as we try to institute new policies. We will keep you informed as best we can along the way. The UCB4 has heard your feedback asking for better communication, and we are committed to doing a better job moving forward.”