BROOKLYN: St. Ann’s Warehouse, a global cultural institution in Brooklyn, now has a permanent place to call home along the waterfront. On Oct. 6, founding artistic director Susan Feldman, the company’s staff, government officials, and the building’s design team celebrated the opening of the theatre in its new space under the Brooklyn Bridge with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“It’s a dream come true and a blessing to know that culture will play a leading role in perpetuity as part of Brooklyn Bridge Park and the New York waterfront,” said Feldman in a statement.
Founded in 1980, the theatre takes up its new home in the historic 1860s Tobacco Warehouse, which has been used as a space for art installations and was most recently a location for Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg, a weekend foodie destination. The $31 million revitalization of the iconic warehouse is a welcome addition to the burgeoning Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The opening ceremony began with guests marveling at the 25,000-square-foot space, where the entrance is steps away from Jane’s Carousel, and the lobby windows look out onto the East River. The space also houses the company’s first permanent staff offices. The company plans to roll out more openings—a lab, studio, and a public open-air garden—later this year. “We never had a support space before, or a lab space,” said Feldman, who said they’ll be renting it out to community groups on a sliding scale.
The Civil War-era Tobacco Warehouse seems like a perfect space to house the company, whose previous dwellings included a church, an old spice milling factory on Water Street, and a warehouse on Jay Street in Dumbo. The warehouse’s brick walls remain, but the previously open-air structure is now enclosed. The building includes the original pointed arch doorways and windows, and a new clerestory of glass blocks—perhaps an homage to the company’s very first digs, which gave it its name: the gothic-style St. Ann’s and the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn Heights.
“We won’t be trading goods, as in the Tobacco Warehouse’s industrial past, but thanks to our board, the city, the park, and the many friends who shared this dream, we will be trading in arts and performances for years to come,” said Feldman in a statement.
The Tobacco Warehouse is one of a few remaining such warehouses from the New York Dock Company’s original structures. “Ordinary people like us never had access to it—until now,” said Feldman in a statement. “It reclaims the waterfront for anyone and everyone; our rainbow, our melting pot, our uniter.”
The road from a performance space in a church to the permanent fixture in Dumbo was arduous for the company. “Despite lawsuits and disappointments, Susan Feldman nurtured our dream that the Tobacco Warehouse would become our home,” said the company’s board chairman, Joseph S. Steinberg, at the opening celebration.
“Now it is open, but we have so many little details,” added Feldman. “The building isn’t finished, the contractors are still here. But this brings us closer to being open, and that is the best feeling.”
In true St. Ann’s Warehouse fashion, the ceremonious ribbon-cutting wasn’t a dry ceremony but a piece of performance art. After public officials made remarks, the swift drop of a kabuki curtain revealed a tuba octet. The theatre house was suddenly lit by natural light through glass bricks, with the rise of window curtains timed the the music. The band, led by Jherek Bischoff, christened the performance space by playing musical tributes to artists such as Lou Reed, David Bowie, and Marianne Faithfull, all of whom have produced work with St. Ann’s Warehouse.
“I want to remember two people whom I especially miss today, because I am sure they still have a hand in what is going on: Ron Feiner and Lou Reed,” said Feldman, referring to a longtime board member who died in March, and to the late rocker. “They taught me to make the deal and not compromise at the same time.”
The inaugural season of St. Ann’s Warehouse will begin with the Donmar Warehouse‘s all-female production of Henry IV (Nov. 6–Dec. 6). Next will be the American premiere of The Last Hotel (Jan. 8–17, 2016), a new opera by Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh. St. Ann’s Warehouse Puppet Lab will present a festival of new works called LABAPALOOZA! (Jan. 28–31, 2016). Another highlight will be the New York premiere of American Repertory Theater‘s production of Nice Fish (Feb. 14–March 13, 2016), by Mark Rylance and Louis Jenkins. Next is the American premiere of the Young Vic‘s production of A Streetcar Named Desire (April 23–May 22, 2016). Following will be NoFit State‘s circus performance Bianco (May 3–29, 2016).
“This space is designed to do what we have done in our other two warehouses—we can reconfigure and transform it, and every show this year will use it differently,” said Feldman. “Just wait until you see Henry IV!”