It began as a project by a group of Hofstra drama alumni trying to create work for themselves.
Almost a decade later, The Chain Theatre has grown into a creative powerhouse providing opportunities for underrepresented voices in New York’s arts community
“I think about how many people are trying to make it in theater and are in the grind, without the support that I had,” said Kirk Gostkowski ’05, the Chain’s artistic director. “It’s so important to us to bring new artists into the fold and give them a home.”
Today, the theater houses a thriving playwriting lab and an international film festival that is in its seventh year. Its current stage production, the drama Six Corners, opened in March to standing ovations. The company’s cast and creative team are still heavy on Hofstra talent, with several former students and faculty reuniting to work on Six Corners.
Rafaella Rossi ’11 is their longtime stage manager and new graduate Sara Decker ’18 is costume designer on Six Corners. Gostkowski also has not been shy about calling on his former professors – David Henderson is the set designer and Jim Hart is prop master on Six Corners. Gostkowski’s mentor, department chair Royston Coppenger, sits on the Chain’s board of advisors. He has also received guidance from Professors Jean Dobie Giebel, James Kolb and Peter Sander.
Written by Keith Huff, who was Emmy-nominated for his work on TV’s American Crime, Six Corners digs uncomfortably deep into the psyche of its complex characters. In it, Gostkowski plays a burned-out violent crimes unit detective investigating the murder of a transit employee in Chicago. What seems like an open-and-shut case unearths a legacy of violence stretching back years.
Six Corners is the Chain’s first production in its new Manhattan space on 36th Street, not far from Penn Station. Previously, it occupied a two-story building – the site of the former U.S. Chain Co. – on 45th Street in Long Island City. The theater, which was founded in 2010 as the Variations Theater Group, changed their name to the Chain to match the vintage inscription marking the brick entrance of their original Queens home.
Gostkowski says it was in Long Island City where the Chain began amassing a fan base for their productions of David Rabe’s Hurlyburly and In the Boom Boom Room, Frederick Knott’s Wait Until Dark, Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, Talk Radio by Eric Bogosian, and Dale Wasserman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
“While there has been a huge evolution to the company since the beginning, the types of plays we have chosen have been consistent,” Gostkowski said. “We are focused on the writer and on the cyclical nature of history and humanity.”
Gostkowski said his work as a student – he landed parts in The Zoo Story, The Saint Plays, Henry V and Julius Caesar – were vital to his development as an actor. “
He has particularly fond memories of performing in the Shakespeare Festival on the Hofstra Globe Stage. “When you can do Shakespeare, you can pretty much do anything,” he said. “Each line of dialogue is infused with so much information. A lot of modern plays are written the same way.”
Because the Chain’s founders felt so supported in their endeavors, they are focused on giving young people and struggling artists opportunities for expression. When Six Corners finishes its run on April 13, the theater will begin to accept submissions for its international film festival.
Integral to the Chain’s mission is its playwriting lab, which encourages submissions from playwrights from underrepresented communities in the arts: female-identifying, persons of color, LGBTQ and trans artists.
Also ahead for the Chain may be a summer collaboration with Hofstra drama professors and another project with playwright David Rabe.
For more information on Six Corners, the Chain Theatre’s upcoming projects, and its artistic outreach efforts visit chaintheatre.org.