In the early 1900s, Downtown Brooklyn was
a major theater district with the Strand and Majestic theaters
next to each other on Fulton Street and the famed Paramount a
few blocks away.
Today, the old Paramount building has been taken over by Long Island University, but the other two theaters, partially renovated and restored to their original function, are part of the cultural renaissance taking place around the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). The Majestic is now BAM’s Harvey Theater, a major presence in Fort Greene. And on Nov. 1, Brooklyn Information and Culture (BRIC) opened a new 74-seat performance space, BRIC Studio, in the Strand building at 647 Fulton St. at Rockwell Place.
"We started looking at the Strand about four years ago," said JoAnne Meyers, director of tourism and communications at BRIC. "It’s in an area that used to be, and is soon to be again Brooklyn’s theater district."
Founded in 1979, under the auspices of former Borough President Howard Golden, BRIC has several arts programs - the 20-year-old Rotunda Gallery, a visual arts exhibition and education program located on Clinton Street at Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights, and the 23-year-old "Celebrate Brooklyn" performing arts festival, held every summer at the Prospect Park Bandshell - as well as the "Welcome Back to Brooklyn Homecoming Festival." BRIC Studio is the organization’s first step toward operating a year-round, indoor performance space.
The Strand building is also the home of Urban Glass, the nation’s largest public access art-glass facility, and of Brooklyn Community Access Television (BCAT), the borough’s cable television public access provider, which is also a BRIC program.
Originally constructed in 1918 as a vaudeville theater, the 4,000-seat Strand was later converted into a movie palace. The interior of the building was demolished in the 1950s and converted into a bowling alley, and later became three floors of manufacturing space.
In December 2000, BRIC moved its headquarters from 30 Flatbush Ave. to the Strand Theater building. This allowed BRIC to begin long-range planning for new programs to revitalize Brooklyn’s various communities through a combination of arts, communications and marketing programs.
BRIC plans to fully renovate the building into an arts complex with performance and exhibition space, rehearsal rooms and a cafe. So far, they have built offices and furnished the black box-style performance space on the second floor with an elevated stage, lighting and folding chairs. During a Dec. 20 performance, there were even cafe tables among the audience seats.
"It’s a flexible and special space," Meyers said of the 4,000-square-foot space. "It’s small enough for artists to interact with the audience and get feedback."
The versatile performing space is essential for the eclectic slate of programs planned for BRIC Studio.
"The program at BRIC Studio will be presented in conjunction with a host of non-profit producers, creating great variety, but all of it focused on what is new in the arts," said Nanette Rainone, president of BRIC.
"We have producing partners headquartered in DUMBO, Fort Greene, Park Slope and other Brooklyn communities with large, active artist populations," she said. "Multimedia productions, performance art, theater and spoken word will be featured at BRIC Studio, giving audiences a chance to experience the breadth of local, cutting edge arts in Brooklyn today."
During November, BRIC Studio played host to a number of local artists, including Red Clay Arts, a visual-media arts organization that provides platforms to emerging, vanguard and global artists in Brooklyn. Their performances at BRIC are part of "The Red Clay Arts In Studio Series: Practicum," which serves as a testing ground for collaborative multimedia artists projects and provides a forum that allows the public to give immediate feedback.
Red Clay Arts’ presentation on Dec. 20, "Multimedia Rumba," was really two shows. Artist and scholar Umi A. Vaughan used speech, movement and music to demonstrate the African and Spanish roots of Cuban music and dance, and painter Ramon Menocal Leon mixed visual and performing arts as he lavishly painted a canvas and also painted dancer Adia, who drifted in and out of the work.
Other components of the show included videos and Joshua Bee Alafia and Terrence Jennings’ computer kiosks with programs pertaining to Cuba. There was also a sculpture by Chris Burns of hanging, dried, recycled coconut seedpods. Burns uses organic materials to create artistic and sacred spaces that allow for a deeper communication with art and life.
The next non-traditional Red Clay Arts show can be seen at BRIC on Jan. 17 at 7:30 pm when they present "Reverb," a sampling of artists from a proposed larger exhibit that concentrates on the overlapping of contemporary visual art practices and DJ culture. And on Feb. 21, Red Clay Arts presents "Cat Calls," the first installment of a multimedia installation that replicates the effect of the male sport of cat calling on women.
On Feb. 7, Roy Nathanson of the Jazz Passengers will appear with other musicians in the debut of a new series, "Possible Fireworks" curated by Janine Nichols, formerly of Arts at St. Ann.
Finally, "Sink or Swim (S.O.S.)" is a series taking place on the second Thursday of each month, produced and curated by Michelle Moskowitz, formerly of Brooklyn Arts Exchange, for BRIC Studio.
The Jan. 10 S.O.S. presentation features "Ten Poems by Brecht," a creative collaboration and presentation by NaCI Theatre’s Tannis Kowalchuk and Strike Anywhere’s Leese Walker. Among the highlights will be classical Indian dancer Sudha Seetharaman performing "Hope."
The Feb. 14 show is a Valentine’s Day special featuring, among others, the Tiny Ninja Theater performing Shakespearean sonnets, and choreographer Pene McCourty performing a site-specific version of her "Love Songs."
For more information about the BRIC Studio performances, including the "Sink or Swim," "Possible Fireworks" and "Red Clay Arts in Studio" series, call (718) 855-7882, ext. 53 or visit the BRIC Web site at www.brooklynX.org. Performance tickets are $8, $5 suggested for readings. BRIC Studio is located at 647 Fulton St. at Rockwell Place.