The 1990s Lower East Side Theatre District
From 1988 until around 2003, the area bordered by Houston, Delancey, Allen and Pitt streets was home to a thriving group of Off-Off-Broadway theatres specializing in avant garde and experimental fare. Some theatre still survives there, but the golden age was ended by inflated rents and egos.
In my futile attempt to pursue gainful employment uptown in commercial theatre, I managed to sleep through this entire colorful era of downtown theatre. My one opportunity to perform there was as a fill-in singer for an ill-conceived 2000 production at the Theatorium where the cast and crew outnumbered the total audience for the entire run. By the time I first got involved with the Fringe Festival in 2002, the area was well on its way towards gentrification and the magic was gone. As penance, I revisited the neighborhood in 2006 to commune with the thespian ghosts and produce a graphic cautionary tale for those who don't realize how fleeting both life and art can be.
Big, Little Theatre
141 Ridge Street (at Stanton St.)
33-seat storefront black box
Clemente Soto Valez Cultural Center (CSV Cultural Center)
107 Suffolk Street (between Delancey and Rivington)
The former PS 160 is a Dutch Neo-Gothic building constructed in 1898 by the Board of Education. The school closed in the mid 70s, although the building is still owned by the City of New York. In 1984 it became the new home for Solidaridad Humana, a bilingual education program that had started in 1971. Named after a Puerto Rican poet, the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center (CSV) was established in 1993 with the mission of nurturing and developing Puerto Rican and Latino arts in the Lower East Side.
House of Candles
99 Stanton St (at Ludlow Street)
The House of Candles was a terrifyingly dirty space housed next to Arlene's Grocery in an East Village store that had previously sold candles and talismans to devotees of Santeria. I had an audition there in 1993 and declined the offer. The theatre was closed in 1998 due to fire code violations. Restaurant there now probably takes in more cash in a week than the combined budgets of the all the HOC productions that ever played there.
113 Ludlow Street (between Delancey and Rivington Street)
176 Ludlow Street
Todo con Nada
167 Ludlow Street (South of Houston Street)
172 Allen Street (at Stanton Street)
Once a full-service downtown entertainment center with a deli fronting a drug operation, a brothel in the basement and a theatre on the 2nd floor. The crack deli is now a feminist bookstore, the brothel is a mosque and the theatre is a franchised yoga studio. Progress? Absolutely - but not as colorful.
Was a storefront, now just a hole in the ground awaiting an expensive glass microtower.
158 Ludlow Street
A former piano store with a preserved marquee. Now a spawning pool and musical venue for yuppie scum.
Present Company Theatorium
196-198 Stanton St (South of Houston, West of Ridge / Avenue C)
This former garage was home to one of the larger downtown spaces and had a catwalk around the stage. The Present Company were in a musty, windowless 2nd floor office. The space was filthy and scary - perfect for downtown theatre. The Present Company grew tired of being theatre managers and moved to midtown in 2003. But, much to my surprise, the building was still intact when I visited in September 2006. Probably just waiting for the right buyer to tear it down and build condos.