BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Actor Alec Baldwin will be at Judson Memorial Church in the Village on Thurs., June 20. But he won’t be doing his uproarious portrayal of Donald Trump in comedy skits with the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” Instead, he’ll likely be significantly more serious. Because the topic will be serious.
Baldwin will be moderating a panel discussion called “Whither the Village?” which, according to a flier for the event, will focus on “the future of this iconic New York neighborhood.”
The panelists will include Donna Schaper, the Washington Square South church’s senior minister, along with Andrew Berman, executive director of Village Preservation (formerly Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation), and Allyson Green, dean of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
The event’s goal is “to dream a little” – that is, to brainstorm about how to stem the tide of gentrification that is blotting out the historic Village.
“The story is we’re trying to make relationships with our neighbors about what to do next,” Schaper explained. “Alec Baldwin has become a friend of Judson in many ways. He wants to be at home someplace.”
The Donald-imitating actor, who lives in the Village, is not a member of the congregation, however, Schaper said.
“He’s been around [the church], he hangs out with us. We share a lot of progressive positions, as you know,” she said of Judson and Baldwin.
In fact, according to the minister, it was while walking past the famously progressive church when just 10 years old that he felt an immediate connection to the place — and to the Village.
“He likes the front sign,” Schaper said, of the historic church’s outdoor message board that bears thought-provoking aphorisms.
“Alec talks about walking by in 1968 and saying, ‘This is where I belong, this is my people,'” she said. “We work really hard on those signs. He saw the Eisenhower quote: ‘Beware the military industrial complex.’ And, so, he basically made the Village his home when he saw that.”
Schaper said while Baldwin saw the sign, it took him a sometime before he returned to the iconic Village house of worship and hotbed of activism. After marrying his wife, Hilaria, they moved to the Village from the Upper West Side in 2011. He’s had a relationship with Judson for around the last two years.
Meanwhile, the quote by “Ike” hasn’t lost its power.
“It’s become a truth,” Schaper noted. “Why do we have the wars? They’re very profitable for people.”
One thing the June 20 event won’t be is for bashing N.Y.U., something that was at a fever pitch not too long ago when the university was pushing its plan to construct four new buildings on its South Village “superblocks.” That megaproject was ultimately approved over the community’s fierce opposition.
“We’re hoping to have intelligent conversation,” Schaper stated. “No yelling at people. It’s getting very boring.”
She said she approached Baldwin to moderate the discussion “because he’s famous and we’re not.”
Speaking of N.Y.U., the event’s topic will be, as Schaper put it, “how to keep the Village as Village as possible, given that there’s one large institution here — and how can the bigness benefit the Village.”
Another topic could be specific ideas about taking back street space for pedestrians, or as she put it, “What about closing University Place, Washington Square or Union Square to traffic? It would be good for businesses on University Place.”
Getting N.Y.U. on board with this kind of thinking and planning is an objective for her.
The event is also a way for the church to raise both its profile and some bucks for renovations. Judson is currently putting on new roof tiles — in the original red color. Now a growing congregation, they are able to install “100-year tiles” instead of the current cheaper ones, which only had a 3o-year life.
Also part of the picture, Schaper noted, is an activist group called Bricks and Mortals, which works with small churches and, like Judson, embraces a model of “citywide creative reuse of sacred sites — because it’s the only land left in the city, the churches, the synagogues.”
She’s very bullish on the upcoming discussion.
“I think it’s a real opportunity to stop gentrification,” she said.
“Whither the Village? A Panel Discussion at Judson Church,” Thurs., June 20, 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., 55 Washington Square South, tickets $20. Tickets are available at https://whither.eventbrite.com .