UNIQUE SPECIES: Rare breeds from the Galapagos Back Room shed light on the burgeoning Williamsburg theatre scene.by Katya Schapiro
The intelligent design debate is alive and well in Williamsburg, where Galapagos Art Space hosts the EVOLVE series in the Back Room. EVOLVE, curated by Artistic Director Travis Chamberlain, is a part of a larger expansion campaign that includes increased staffing, a new lease, and capital improvements. The occasional evening of burlesque aside, this is some of the first full-on theatre programming at Galapagos in quite a while.
The Williamsburg theatre scene hasn’t been quiet in the meantime. Performances and multimedia works of all kinds are becoming practically inescapable, as perennially ravenous theatre companies hunt for space. Capitalizing on a dedicated local theatregoing population, nearby theatres like The Brick and the Collapsible Hole are becoming familiar names to audiences from all parts of the city, and it’s only right that Galapagos, one of the Williamsburg old guard (so to speak) is coming back to fully staged theatre.
Galapagos has always been a pioneering space, one of the first Williamsburg venues to gain a solid reputation outside of the neighbourhood, and remains one of the most recognizable and popular destinations in the area. Part of their continued appeal is their refusal to upgrade, raise prices significantly, or to close their stage to lesser-known performers. On any given night, three or four musicians or multi-disciplinary performances can usually be seen here. They’re not always fabulous, but on occasion they’re excellent, and the warm, elegant atmosphere of the bar can be counted upon.
The Back Room, where the EVOLVE series holds court Fridays through June 2006, is a somewhat different creature. A small hallway leads from the warmly lit bar into a large, ugly, cold space. The room is a storage space and a loading dock, and it continues to look like one. Ladders and mops and concrete floors are as much a part of the plan as the folding chairs and sketched design, elements emphasizing what series promoters refer to as “self-contained production values” and a “rock n’ roll financial…philosophy.”
No problem. The work is enough, for now.
Capitalizing on a serious amount of street cred, Galapagos has asked “up-and-coming,” well-respected artists on board, and they bring their established shticks and audience followings to the series, raising it from a back room event to a must-see. It started quietly, in the dead of winter, with Clay McLeod Chapman and his Bar Flies. Chapman’s ‘gothic tales’, well known in downtown circles, rise as slowly and imperceptibly as bread dough, until the unsuspecting audience member is left beached in some very different place, holding her breath, with the taste of yeast, whiskey, and brimstone in the mouth.
Bar Flies was just the beginning of an evolutionary process that will ultimately include such diverse elements as downtown superstar Neil Medlyn in a series of duets; a new play collaboration by Desiree Burch, Michael Cyril Creighton, Kyle Jarrow, and Brian Mullin; a team of Slovakians under the expert hand of Richard Caliban; a dybbuk on the loose in Rachel Shukert’s Sequins for Satan; and monologist Mike Daisey.
This sort of “evolving” before an audience, a technique used for growth and fundraising (the audience must pay to see the same work again and again as it changes), has been raised to an extortionist art form of it’s own by the Wooster Group. Here, the concept returns in a more playful (and certainly cheaper) form. A strong element of trust seems to exist between the producers and the various artists, people who come with a developed audience and a reputation for contributing carefully thought out and well-rehearsed work. Here they are hosted in full confidence that a little money and an available space are all that is needed to let them shine and produce viable, challenging, and exciting work.
Each performer or group has taken the EVOLVE mandate differently, from those intent on developing a piece over successive evenings, to those who invite a different guest to join them, to those simply planning to present the best and fittest work that they have recently made. Most of these are performance groups without a theatrical home, moving from place to place with each successive show. Inviting them in and giving them free rein is the smartest thing that Galapagos could do to delight and broaden their audience, locally and beyond.
Performances are every Friday night @ 8:00 PM. Tickets are $10 in advance / $12 at the door (CASH ONLY at door). Advance tickets can be purchased at (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com. Galapagos Art Space is located at 70 North 6th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. For more information visit www.galapagosartspace.com.
Katya Schapiro is a writer, actor, producer, and director who catalogues literary philosophy and equestrian manuals for a living. For current and recent activity, see www.polybeandseats.org , www.blueboxproductions.net, and www.newvoices.org.