The Shakespeare Theater has filed a lawsuit against its landlord, a nonprofit organization created in support of the theater, to attempt to prevent it from raising the Lansburgh Theater’s rent by 700%, according to court documents. The theater is seeking an injunction to prevent its rent from being raised, as well as a ruling that will allow it to remain in the building. The lawsuit also requests that members of the nonprofit landlord’s board be dismissed.
The Lansburgh Theatre, Inc., is a supporting organization for the Shakespeare Theatre, created specifically to manage the theater’s building. Court documents state that the building that houses the Lansburgh, which also contains apartments and retail, is owned by Gunwyn/Lansburgh Development Corporation. Gunwyn donated the theater space to the Lansburgh nonprofit organization for the theater, which moved into the space in 1992.
According to Randall Miller, an attorney with Arnold & Porter LLP who is representing the Shakespeare Theatre, the theater pays $70,000 each year to a trust, with the funds used for building maintenance and capital improvements. The theater says that when it rejected the Lansburgh board’s rent bump to $480,000, the Lansburgh board threatened to kick them out by June 15.
“The Lansburgh has to act in a way that is responsive to our needs,” said Miller. “We are the charity that they are supporting, and they can’t terminate our status as a supported organization unless we go out of business. As long as we’re performing our charitable purpose, which is putting on great theater in D.C., we have a right to perpetually remain in our theater.”
A filing in support of the motion for preliminary injunction quotes Hamlet, to explain the theater’s influence as a mainstay in the Washington scene: “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of a king.”
The suit also alleges that the board demanded the resignation of Chris Jennings, the Shakespeare Theatre’s managing director, and the theater’s sole representative on the board. Shakespeare Theatre publicist Lindsay Tolar said that because the board only consists of three members — Jennings, Kenneth Krozy and Gordon Shone — Jennings was left consistently outvoted, even though, as a supporting organization, Lansburgh Inc. must act in the interest of the theater to maintain its tax status as a non-profit organization, according to the suit.
Krozy declined to comment. Shone and Laura Steinberg of Sullivan and Worcester LLP, the Lansburgh’s legal representation, did not return messages left by the Post for comment.
The Shakespeare Theatre’s legal representation reached an agreement with the Lansburgh to allow the theater to remain in its home during the legal proceedings. The next two years of programming have already been scheduled for the theater.
Jennings declined to comment, but said in a press release, “Taking this dispute to court is a last resort— but after a year of good faith negotiations, we reluctantly concluded that we require an injunction to assure that STC continues to occupy the Theatre and that performances by STC and other arts organizations that have been promised use of the theatre continue as scheduled. We are confident that the Court will issue an injunction to block the eviction of the STC from the Lansburgh.”
The theater has been in its present location at the Lansburgh since 1992, having expanded at the Sidney Harman Hall in 2007. The Shakespeare Theatre owns Harman Hall.
Asked whether the theater, which just won a regional Tony award, will have to find a new building if the suit does not succeed, Tolar said, “We’re not even seeing that as an option right now. We have a legal team, and they’re confident the court will side with us.”