Tuesday, May 22, 2018

New Sokoloff Arts venue for Tribeca: Town Stages

Town Stages (first-floor event space shown above) is proudly woman-led.
(photo: Austin Donohue)
Left to right: Chie Morita (Deputy Director),
Robin Sokoloff (Founder/Executive Director)
and Staci Jacobs (VP, Development)
Not pictured: Joanna Carpenter (Bar Director)

Robin Sokoloff (Sokoloff Arts) has long chased one dream: "To create an inspired home for my artistic family, and build a platform for the next generation." 

Enterprising Robin Sokoloff last brought Manhattan Loft227, a snazzy, hi-tech venue in Chelsea for art incubation. Now, in collaboration with Chie Morita, Staci Jacobs and Joanna Carpenter, the versatile dancer/activist/carpenter/counselor/entrepreneur has set up shop in Tribeca, taking over what was once Churrascaria, a popular Brazillian steakhouse, and then White Street Restaurant and Bar. At 221 West Broadway--now called Town Stages--Sokoloff serves up 9,000 square feet over two floors of multi-use event and performance space with resources for creatives with a vision and a hankering for community. Town Stages offers flexible spaces suitable for almost any size performance as well as rehearsals, auditions, weddings, film shoots, corporate events and you name it. And White Street's curvacious bar--with its speakeasy appeal--is still there.

Last November, Sokoloff received the keys to what--with imagination, ingenuity, daring and sweat equity--she and her all-woman team would transform into Town Stages. Among its unexpected charms: a tiny, glass-enclosed wine storage area that now might serve as a box office, or a quirky performance space, or a site for the sound installation that Morita has in mind. Another tucked-away treasure: a cozy, window-lit room lit filled with quaint antiques from the now-defunct Pearl Theatre that could offer a place for singers to warm up or might be turned into a pop-up bookstore.

This handsome, state-of-the art, ADA-accessible facility--with its new, "small but mighty" elevator--was the culmination of an exhaustive, eye-opening search around the city.

"There were 298 landlords saying NO to artists and women and people of color," Sokoloff tells me. "All those storefronts we checked out are still empty. This one said YES.

"We think the city is liberal-minded and diverse and accepting to all. What I learned as an artist traveling through multiple spaces and with multiple kinds of people–especially those who don’t look like me–is that not everyone’s welcome. In fact, most artists are not welcome. 

"Town Stages is different because we recognize that if you don’t have the space to have a platform and represent yourself in whatever form you come in, you don’t have a voice. We are specifically interested in the advancement of women and people of color, LGBT, the underrepresented having space to do their work here."

But how affordable is Town Stages?

"There's no specific price sheet," says Sokoloff who's ready to sit down with any and all to chat about their ideas and needs first. Events and projects coming in with big budgets subsidize smaller productions--Sokoloff calls it her "Robin Hood model." This model also allows Town Stages to offer residency fellowships to creatives with a wide range of fresh ideas.

Deputy Director Morita--former Managing Director for the New York Neo-Futurists troupe--oversees the fellowship program. She says her eye is less on the type or quality of the proposed project than who the applicant is as a human being, how they might interact with and support others in shared space.

“If you are making something–dance, music, theater, an experience for people to walk into, an empowerment event, an app, a piece of clothing, a cocktail, a sandwich–there’s something collaborative about that experience," Morita says. "Bringing those people into a room and offering them the opportunity to collaborate and ask for help in an environment that is easy and comfortable is what we’re looking to build.

"That comes with amenities. Bring your lunch, and put it in our fridge. Bring your yoga mat from this morning, and stick it here and leave it overnight. Have a private room for auditioning. Meet your other fellows here, and talk about projects.

"In the first year, we didn’t advertise the fellowship or put it on social media. It was all word of mouth. From that alone, we got 65 applications. I can only imagine what will happen when we ask for applications from the general public!"

Dance is, of course, especially dear to the hearts of the team. Bessie Award-winning choreographer Ephrat Asherie developed her latest ensemble piece, Odeon, at Town Stages in preparation for its world premiere at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival this June. The all-women’s house dance crew Mawu, which affirms sisterhood and celebration over hypermasculine competition, offered creative dance workshops at Town Stages.

Sokoloff remains mindful of dancers' struggles, what she experienced and witnessed as a performer, choreographer and teacher in the field.

“Law of averages, very few dancers have a voice. They are bodies moving on stage. They’re in the background. I had a lot I wanted to say, a lot I wanted to change, a lot I wanted to do. I knew if I just kept dancing, there’d be no way to elevate all of this.

"I’m creating space for myself and my fellow dancers, but my vision and goals and activism are so much bigger than that. I’ve got to be louder than my body enables me to be and be on a bigger platform and a bigger stage.

“I’m still in shows, but going from dancing in studios eighteen hours a day to being on the front lines of real estate and construction is a shift. But it’s a necessary shift if this is all going to move in a better direction. I'm always asking, How can I change the paradigm?"

*****

To connect with the Town Stages team, set up a tour or get details on upcoming events, call 212-634-7690, or click here for their website. They are on Instagram (with daily check-ins) and Facebook as follows:

Instagram: Town Stages and Sokoloff Arts
Facebook: Town Stages and Sokoloff Arts

Town Stages
221 West Broadway, Tribeca, Manhattan
(between White and Franklin Streets)
A, C, E, N, Q, R, W to Canal Street; 1 to Franklin Street; or 2, 3 to Chambers Street

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