Professor to direct former students in Brooklyn theater event

When Alex Gruhin '11 and Ariel Reid '09, MMH '10, needed to hire a director for their new entertainment venture, the choice was an obvious one -- their favorite theater professor, Bruce Levitt.

"Nightcap Riot" – which runs Jan. 15 to Feb. 14 at Magick City, 37 Box St., Brooklyn – is the first in what Gruhin and Reed say will be a series of events offering an evening of new music, theater and some sort of libation or food and held in underused hospitality spaces like hotel ballrooms or winery tasting rooms.

Rich Awn

"There's a definite hunger to fill this dead space," says Gruhin, who studied at Cornell's School of Hotel Administration, as did Reid.

"We often wondered how to bridge the gap between hospitality and live entertainment," Reid says. "How can these two worlds have such confluence in goals, structure and aspirations by way of the cultivation of experiences, and yet never communicate with each other?"

The first show will feature "Destiny and the Little Man," a play based on George Bernard Shaw's "The Man of Destiny" and adapted by Jim Knable. It features four Cornellians, a variety of drinks curated by Hotelie John Livanos '11 and a musical act.

"Music and theater don't have a huge overlap," says Levitt, who directed or taught all the alumni involved in the production. "These kind of events create an audience for both."

Ben Williams, Bruce Levitt and Ariel Reid during rehearsal

The impact on new theater and music, as well as classic theater, could be profound, Gruhin says.

"Our ambition here is to bring new audiences to see theater that might not otherwise consider it as something exciting or fun," he says. "And from an artist's perspective, in both theater and in music, there are various worthy artists hungry for exposure and for opportunities to perform. Our model will serve them well."

For Levitt, the chance to work with former students has been a pleasure.

"There's a kind of psychological intimacy that occurs with people you've known for awhile and worked with before," Levitt says. "They've all grown incredibly as actors, and, because their education was so diverse, they're all extremely interesting people."

In addition to Reid, the alumni actors are Craig Divino '06, an English and theater major, and Ben Williams '04, a philosophy and performance major (both from the College of Arts and Sciences). Gruhin is executive producer and artistic director of "Nightcap Riot." Reid also is executive producer of the series.

"I have to say I was apprehensive but then very attracted to the idea of what I would call 'experience creation,'" says Williams, an actor, musician and nonprofit consultant. "Something larger than the sum of its parts. Certainly that's what theater can be in a broad sense, and certainly that's part of what 'Nightcap Riot' is interested in exploring."

"I think an intimate venue like this is really exciting, and I'm curious to see how it all plays out together," says Divino, a professional actor and the co-artistic director of Fault Line Theatre, an off-Broadway company currently in its sixth season.

Not that the show is without its challenges, staged in a tasting room that fits only about 50 people.

"We won't be in the space the way it's going to be set up until tech and dress rehearsals," Levitt says. "But my whole career I've been interested in the power and presence of theater in traditional and nontraditional venues."

With such a small venue, the audience becomes part of the show.

"We might pull someone out of their seat or the character playing Napoleon may sit next to someone and eat off of their plate," Levitt says.

Gruhin and Reid feel lucky to have Levitt on their team.

"Bruce is an immense but gentle presence in any room -- which makes him a fantastic people manager," Reid says. "He's a vigorous, deliberate, savvy, inventive director, a shrewd judge of character, a perpetual student of the theater … and also just about the coolest cat that we know. He's our rock in this process, and this process is our future."

This story also appeared in Ezra Update.

Read more in this Village Voice story and this piece in Brooklyn Paper.

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		 Bruce Levitt, Alex Gruhin '11 and Ariel Reid '09, MMH '10