As a Chicago native, I crave the raw energy of performances set in the black box theater of a local company. But in a city where the performance quality gap between the Broadway-Have’s and the Off-Broadway-Have-Not’s ever-widening, finding a gritty theater that packs a premium punch is challenging. Taking a risk in choosing what to see is essential.
I was previously unaware of The Bushwick Starr, a presenting organization lead by the partnership of Sue Kessler (Managing Director and Curator) and Noel Joseph Allain (Artistic Director and Curator), when I attended The Target Margin Theater’s 2010 Laboratory, The Unknown Williams, a couple of weeks ago, and happily got my fix.
Located in Bushwick just blocks away from the Jefferson L train stop, the theater was chock-full of eager audience members who mingled while enjoying drinks from the bar in an intimate, creatively adorned space. The performances – an untried collection of Williams’ short plays – included a thoroughly enjoyable range of talented actors lead by wholly successful, experimental direction, creating an artistic atmosphere achieved only in tight-knit, organized communities.
This sense of amity and professionalism can perhaps be attributed to Kessler and Allain’s own history. After graduating from Skidmore College, they moved to New York City to found Fovea Floods Theater in 2001. When the company disbanded in 2006 due to the diverging interests of its members, Kessler and Allain seized this crossroads of their artistic and professional growth and reincorporated as The Bushwick Starr, establishing a performance venue that presents theater, dance and music in their space on Starr Street.
When the partners decided to launch the company, Noel was a resident of Bushwick who regarded the coinciding artistic growth of the community as perfect timing. Bushwick is also home to Chez Bushwick and Bushwick Open Studios, two organizations Allain describes as intent on creating infrastructure and strength to protect the arts in the Bushwick community.
For the Bushwick Starr, it means owning their role as artists who have moved into a community that has been traditionally Latino and working class. “We work to stay connected – we go to community board meetings to get an understanding of the energy of the people and what they want,” said Allain.
Such involvement is a testament to The Starr’s commitment to creating an organization with legs that is quickly becoming a permanent part of Bushwick’s growing artistic infrastructure.
And their programming speaks to their commitment to risk-taking by presenting work in a neighborhood that may or may not draw the audiences needed to keep the doors open.
The company’s mission is “to foster an open social environment for artists and audiences to interact within the growing neighborhood of Bushwick,” presenting “serious artists caught in a moment of exploration.” Consequently, Kessler said, “We’ve used forethought in our programming, producing groups who are doing exciting work and have a following.”
The result is an entity that programs talent like The Target Margin, who skillfully take creative risks while putting the weight of a full-scale theatrical performance behind their ideas.
Since the audience depends on what’s on the stage, The Starr inventively tracks the source of audience members on a board in the lobby, where visitors can write in their locale and simultaneously consider the diverse collection of fellow spectators.
“Bushwick is in a special moment – people actually want to come out to the neighborhood and be a part of it,” said Kessler.
Visit The Bushwick Starr at 207 Starr Street.