62 East 4th Street has had a fascinating history. At its inception in 1889, it served as a social hall housing a musician's union known as Astoria Hall, as well as hosting meetings of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. In the 1930's, the ballroom was revamped as a theater and television studio and renamed Fortune Theater until Andy Warhol discovered it and left his legendary stamp here. In 1969, he rented it out to showcase a series of infamous porn films and called it Andy Warhol's Theater: Boys to Adore Galore. Over the years, the Yiddish theater had performances here, and many well known television shows used the space to film. Since 1987, the Duo Center has been here having raised the funds for renovations, and then remaining throughout construction to become home to what is now Duo Multicultural Arts Center and Rod Rogers Dance Company and Studio. Today the building is part of Fourth Arts Block (FAB) and operates as a center for film, dance, art, theater and music and is among New York's designated cultural districts.
Part of FAB, this prominent off Broadway theater encourages artists to express themselves freely and to create contemporary, original productions. The musical, Once, gained recognition after its debut performance here at the New York Theatre Workshop before it won eight Tony Awards on Broadway. My husband and I thought that this was one of the best musicals we have seen in a long time. We highly recommend that you see it too!
Having been raised in New York, and involved in the performing arts since childhood, Rose Caiola went on to graduate from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and fantasized about establishing her own pre-professional ballet program. It was always her desire to provide top-tier instruction in a nurturing environment that discouraged unhealthy competition. In 1994, Rose's dream became a reality when she opened Studio Maestro on 68th Street as a non-profit organization and began Manhattan Youth Ballet. Her program has been recognized the world over with students moving on to dance professionally here in New York with both American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, as well as companies around the country and abroad. While spending time with Rose, she recounted that when the program outgrew its studio on 68th, she had difficulty finding a new space. She turned to her Italian immigrant, real estate mogul father, in the hopes that he could help her secure an appropriate location. After much negotiation, Rose and her father eventually found a beautiful space on 60th Street, and following three years of construction, the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center opened in 2008. Today, it is a multi-functional facility with bright dance studios streaming with sunlight and a 199 seat off-Broadway theater that efficiently transforms into two studios when not in use. Rose proudly told me that with enrollment reaching over 200 students, the center not only houses Ellison Ballet and Rose's Manhattan Youth Ballet, but that many consider MMAC as "home away from home. "Throughout the year, MMAC offers a number of workshops for adults including yoga classes, dance intensives by the Jerome Robbins Foundation, and martial arts training. The center also hosts an alternative preschool and offers children's dance classes. Rose told me that after a chance meeting with actress and author Julianne Moore, Rose wrote and workshopped a production of "Freckleface Strawberry the Musical" in one of the MMAC children's summer camps. The musical went on to premier off-Broadway at New World Stages and has now been performed around the world, launching Rose into a career as a Broadway producer. (Four shows that she recently produced, including "The Elephant Man" and "You Can't Take it With You, " are 2015 Tony Award hopefuls. )As new residential buildings are rising at an incredibly fast pace and surrounding the Center, Rose is looking forward to families and other artistic people finding a haven in MMAC. Rose's ultimate goal is to have more dance companies and Broadway productions utilize the space, which in turn could provide more scholarships to Manhattan Youth Ballet. Already there are organizations recognizing this oasis as Rose told me that Dodgers Theatrical, Alvin Ailey and Cirque du Soleil have been taking advantage of their remarkable facilities for auditions, castings, readings, and rehearsals.
On any given day when passing by, there are legions of young, hopeful actors hanging around outside this building in between classes. Lee Strasberg, known to moviegoers for his role as gangster Hyman Roth in The Godfather: Part II, founded his institute in 1969, almost forty years after he participated in the formation of the Group Theatre (an ensemble of actors that were committed to putting on productions representative of "the life of their times. ") As artistic director of the Institute until his death in 1982, Strasberg continued to train his students through Method Acting - a technique that has been recognized internationally. Paul Newman, Marilyn Monroe, Dustin Hoffman, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Barbra Streisand, and Marlo Thomas are only a few of the actors who were taken under Strasberg's wing and taught to fly. Today, the Institute continues to flourish as it turns out many fine actors both here and at its Hollywood location. For those who would like to watch some of this training in action, there are two theaters (The Marilyn Monroe Theater and the Lee Strasberg Theater) connected to the Institute where students perform.
Once described by writer Allen Ginsberg as “the most integrated place on the planet, ” the lively Nuyorican Poets Cafe is not only a venue for poetry readings. Audiences have witnessed visual artists, musicians, writers, actors, and every other kind of performer pass through its doors. Though the Nuyorican has cemented a place for itself in New York City’s art scene, its beginnings were humble. Puerto Rican-born writer and poet Miguel Algarín founded the group in his East Village apartment to give artists and performers of color a space to develop their craft. Many New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent met regularly in Mr. Algarín’s living room to share their creative efforts, fueling the rise of what would be known as the “Nuyorican” artistic and literary movements. By the 1980s, the Nuyorican went from being excluded from the mainstream to attracting enough of a following to open a new location in a former tenement building on East 3rd Street. Today, the Nuyorican continues to draw crowds at its regular poetry slams, open mic nights, concerts, and art exhibits spotlighting talented people with powerful messages.
The multiple theaters inside this center are stunning and the list of performances impressive. Mikhail Baryshnikov had his dream become a reality in 2005 when he was able to provide a state of the art space for people in the dance, music and theater world to rehearse and perform.
Ezrath Israel was originally established as a Jewish Community Center in 1917 by the West Side Hebrew Relief Association, a group of Orthodox Jewish shop owners. The area was known for its busy steamship ports, however, the entertainment business eventually became one of the biggest industries in this part of town. As show business grew, so did the number of congregants, and it became the place of worship for many prominent actors and performers, including Sophie Tucker and Shelley Winters. The Actors' Temple continued to thrive until shortly after WWII when people in the industry began journeying across the country to Hollywood. The synagogue then found its membership slowly decreasing. By 2005, there were only twelve members left in the congregation. A year later, when Jill Hausman became the rabbi, she found herself resuscitating what had once been a proud shul. Rabbi Hausman was pleased to report to us that in the eight years that she has been there, membership has increased to about 150, a marked improvement. Still, she has hope that the Actors' Temple will continue to grow. "We are a well-kept secret, " she says, "but we don't need to be. " To help maintain the synagogue, the sanctuary is shared with an Off Broadway theater company that performs on their "stage, " just a few feet in front of their sacred arc and collection of eleven torahs. Today, Rabbi Hausman welcomes all denominations of Judaism, even those who are "on the fringes of society. " She is a warm, sweet, bright woman who not only has her door open to everyone, but her heart as well. She emphasizes the importance of love and acceptance in her sermons and is adamant that the Actors' Temple is a "no-guilt synagogue. " People should come if they feel compelled to pray – Rabbi Hausman's only goal is to have them leave with a desire to return.
The Manhattan Theatre Club is dedicated to helping artists in theater by offering educational programs and a varied repertoire in which they can get involved. Founded in 1970, it took off two years later under the leadership of Lynne Meadow, the organization's Artistic Director. She worked tirelessly to encourage and support growing playwrights, actors, and directors. The MTC has flourished and become a Theater District institution – garnering multiple Tony Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, and dozens of other distinctions. Well into its fifth decade, it remains a vital part of New York's artistic community. The Club moved into the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on 47th street (previously known as the Biltmore Theatre) when it was newly renovated in 2008, and continues to produce shows and inspire the Broadway community at large.