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East Village Playhouse

Nestled between vibrant bars, cozy cafés, and eclectic restaurants, the East Village Playhouse breathes new life into a ​nine-year-vacant storefront where Tribal Soundz music shop last stood in 2008. One might recognize Keith Haring’s work in the sign that hangs above the ​fifty-seat theater and reads “City Kids.” Haring designed the logo for the organization that brought us this theater.

City Kids, founded by Laurie Meadoff in 1985, is dedicated to ensuring that young voices from all walks of life are heard as powerfully and positively as possible. Through arts and leadership education programs, workshops and performances, their youth-driven messages reach thousands of young people around the world.

Laurie, who has been a long time advocate and pioneer for social change, saw the deficit of performing arts spaces for up-and-coming artists and opened The East Village Playhouse. When the theater is n​o​t hosting new and provocative plays, it​ i​s housing workshops for City Kids.

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More Performing Arts nearby

Lost Gem
Howl! Happening

Howl! Happening

So what exactly is Howl! Happening? I asked Jane Fried and Ted Riederer, Howl! ’s Executive Director and Artistic Director, respectively. After a few seconds of pondering, Jane responded, “A very eclectic, very fluid art gallery. ” “Maybe a performance space, ” suggested Ted. Jane shook her head definitively. “No, I think of it as an art gallery. But it has its own form of expression. ”While Jane, Ted, and their colleagues at Howl! Happening are certainly in the business of innovation (the exhibition that was up during my visit featured a guitar-sized music box and melodious contraption made of two bicycle wheels, among other things) there are many ways in which they also aim to preserve. Jane grew up in the West Village. As someone who was involved in all sorts of art, from theater to music and fine arts, she was a firsthand witness to the rise, from the ground up, of a unique, inclusive, artistic population across the island - the East Village. As a traditionally inexpensive and diverse neighborhood of Manhattan, East Village was known as a haven for innovative personalities. “Most of the artists down here had experimental, avant garde ideas, and many of those ideas were shunned or laughed at by communities outside of this one, ” Jane recounted. “But this place was very nurturing, and I think it gave a lot of people the chance to express themselves. They could hone their art, and others would understand their art and what they were trying to say. For fifty years, this was the place where anybody from anywhere came to nurture themselves - to feel accepted and special. ”In the past few years, however, Jane has seen rising rent prices, the artist’s eternal bane, impact the East Village in a devastating way. “If you weren’t well-moneyed, you would have to move somewhere, ” she said. “It was horrible. ” The East Village, much like any given Manhattan neighborhood, has become a jungle of high-rises and sleek boutiques, with its tight-knit artistic community shoved out to Brooklyn, New Jersey, and even farther. Most of the old galleries and performance spaces have also been bought out, meaning that it has become very difficult for artists to thrive. “There’s a huge lack of opportunities for people to perform shows and experiment, ” said Ted. “And that’s what really used to nurture the East Village - these clubs and performance spaces. ” Jane and Ted are pushing against this trajectory, doing their best to make sure the traditional East Village culture is not lost forever. Jane’s ultimate goal is to create an East Village art museum that features the artists who made their careers in a place where they can no longer afford to live. While she still has not found the perfect space for the museum itself, she founded Howl! Happening in 2015 as the first step in this project. The gallery exhibits artists who embody the East Village. “We are here to provide space for whoever is left, ” Jane proudly told me. “Not just physically left in this neighborhood, but left in its art world, to show their work and be remembered, not to lose their history, their importance, or their relevance. ”In fact, in keeping with their vision, to date, the gallery has never turned down a local artist interested in exhibiting their work, in any medium from painting to theatrical performance. In addition, the team at Howl! assist area artists in more “practical” ways, through affordable housing workshops and close work with The Actors’ Fund, which helps performing artists pay for everything from housing to health care. While preserving the past in such a fast-moving city may seem like a daunting task, it is clear that Howl! Happening has many passionate followers behind its cause. Every day, Howl! receives visits from patrons looking for a glimpse of history. “A lot of people come to see the old haunting grounds, ” Ted joked. “Yesterday we had a couple of older punk rockers from Denmark who were walking around the neighborhood to see where the Ramones used to live and CBGB, and they stumbled in here. ” With the old spaces long-gone, Howl! is here to scoop up their would-be patrons. As Ted put it, “It’s like we put out the call and people responded. ”And the patrons stay. In its short life, Howl! has already been adopted as a community space. “It’s a comfortable atmosphere, ” said Jane. “And we don’t charge to get in. By the end of the afternoon we might have a whole table full of neighborhood artists…it makes you want to get more and more involved. You don’t just walk past a piece of art and say ‘Oh, that’s really nice’ and keep going. You really want to know about the artist. You get excited if the artist happens to be here. There’s a pretense with the bigger commercial galleries that excludes this sort of community vibe. ”While Howl! Happening is doing its part to keep the eclectic East Village culture alive, the public, particularly the next generation, will have to play a role as well. Ted spoke fondly of a show on drag culture, where a young drag queen in the audience was so inspired that he got up on the stage and performed himself. The young artists of today will dictate the culture of tomorrow. “They might not be able to live in the East Village, ” Ted laughed, “but they can take the train in from Ridgewood and Bushwick. ”It’s a tough mission, but a noble one. Jane put her work succinctly: “You open the door, you put on the lights, and then you hope people come in. ”

More places on 6th Street

Lost Gem
The Vacancy Project 1 Hair Salons Art and Photography Galleries undefined

The Vacancy Project

Masami Hosono’s mother worked in fashion. Growing up in Tokyo, she always knew that she wanted to work in fashion herself, but something was missing: socializing. “I love to talk and meet people, ” she explained to me with an amicable smile. In a white, modern space with a rack of clothing on her left, Masami shared her story. When she turned eighteen, Masami met a “very great hairstylist, ” with whom she would work and learn for the next four years. Her passion for hair, style, music, and socializing ultimately led her to quit her job in Tokyo and board her very first plane to New York in 2012. “I was like, I don’t speak English, but I can cut hair, ” she recounted. “Maybe I can do it. ”The New York Masami had heard about back home could not compare to the one she arrived in. She told me, “Japanese people love New York City, but they only know cool fashion, cool hair, cool music. But there’s more good stuff, personality, freedom. ” One of the biggest surprises, but also most appealing aspects of the city, was its dynamic queer scene. “Being gay in Japan is very hard, ” Masami recalled. “I’m from Tokyo, and it’s a very conservative place. But in New York City, everything is mixed. The queer culture is amazing. ”Life in New York was, understandably, a big adjustment. With no place to live, Masami spent her first nights in a hotel, and her first days exploring the streets. But she took the challenges of a new country in stride by doing what she does best: cutting hair and meeting people. While Masami made a living by cutting hair in Williamsburg, she also offered free haircuts to make friends. “I just found people on the street, ” she said with a nostalgic laugh. “Like, ‘oh, they look cool. ' And I asked them, ‘Can I cut your hair? ’” Little by little, through about 400 free cuts a year, Masami began to learn English, and build a community of friends. “Musician clients would say, ‘I’m playing tonight, you should come. ’ So I go, and they introduce me to more musician friends. I met one designer because I cut his girlfriend’s hair, and he makes music videos, so he asked if I could do the hair for the music video. I’ve met so many very cool people who are musicians, artists, skateboarders... all these artists who can hang and make creative stuff together. ”In 2015, Masami moved from Williamsburg to the East Village to work at Assort International Hair Salon. There, she took the final leap: She told her boss she wanted to open her own store. In April of 2016, Masami and her boss went into business together as Creative Director and Founder, respectively, of Vacancy. Masami stressed the importance of collaboration in small business work: “I’m really happy to have the founder because I really can focus only on the creative side. It’s really important to have the creator and financial person separate. ”Vacancy is more than a just a hair salon; it is also a pop-up retail shop (with items designed by friends of Masami) and artist hang-out. While Masami’s hair clients come from far and wide (“Do you know the singer Rachel Trachtenburg? Yeah, I chopped off her hair”), Vacancy still maintains the vibe of a small, local business, while serving a massive and ever-expanding web of Masami’s friends. Masami’s haircut services have a very specific appeal. “My haircut style is not super fancy, ” she told me, “because when I came here, I met a lot of people on the street. They always have amazing hair, and I ask ‘Where did you get a haircut? ' and they say ‘Oh, I cut it myself. ’ So I do kind of DIY, very grungy, choppy, messy. ” Her cuts are still customizable: Vacancy offers hair designs in “a lot of crazy colors, ” from pink to blue and everything in between. Masami and her army of artistic friends will not be confined to the shop. In addition to haircuts, Masami collaborates with her friends to produce a number of visual and literary creative projects, to bring their art and vision to the general public. She edits and produces a blog (or “web journal”), which features interviews and photographs of all sorts of artists, from painters to sculptors to Instagrammers, whom she has met through cutting hair. She also produces a monthly radio show, Vacancy Radio, through which she introduces listeners to her musical friends (“People are at work like ‘What am I gonna listen to today? Vacancy Radio! ’”). Most recently, Masami has produced a zine (a self-published, miniature magazine) featuring her own hair and makeup designs and pictures by her friends in photography. She is currently working on a second zine. To bring everyone together, Masami often hosts “book and zine events” in the Vacancy space, where her friends can gather and share their work. “People can come and hang out and, well, drink, ” she added with a laugh. With so many friends and projects in her repertoire, one might think she would be ready to call it a day, but this is only the beginning of Masami’s vision for Vacancy. While she will always be cutting hair, Masami dreams of an entire Vacancy building just for artists. “I want a full coffee shop, and maybe a bar. I want shared studios where the artists can make art. We can have an exhibition. We can have a music studio downstairs and live shows. Like an art house. ”As she moves into the future, Masami Hosono makes sure never to lose sight of her roots. As she guided me on her journey from newcomer to centerpiece of New York’s artistic community, what became increasingly clear to me was her awareness of the potential that her prominence in a new country gave her to make change back home. No matter how well-known Masami’s work becomes, her queer identity has always been, and will continue to be, the center of her narrative. Masami has made the decision to return to Japan this summer, and potentially begin a regular practice of working in both countries. She has already booked an interview with a Japanese magazine and looks forward to bringing New York’s culture of openness back to her homeland in whatever ways she can. “When I have a magazine interview or work in Tokyo, I want to talk about it more, little by little, ” she said. “I will change the culture if I can. ”

Lost Gem
Caravan of Dreams 1 Brunch Vegan undefined

Caravan of Dreams

“I’m not a chef. I am a scholar of nutrition and an idealist who loves health and happiness, ” proclaimed Angel Moreno, who left his home in Spain in the 1980s to embark on a voyage of self-discovery and to set up a chiringuito — the Spanish term for a cafe or juice kiosk — in the U. S. Before finding what he calls his “true purpose, ” Angel was a pilot. “But this was killing my heart, ” Angel said. He reevaluated his life and chose to pursue his aptitude for music. Though untrained, Angel had a good ear, a passion for playing the drums, and a desire to share music, poetry readings, and photography exhibits with the public. He came to open a handful of cafes and bars throughout Spain that were akin to laidback performance venues. Just as Angel planned to start a new venture in London, he met a master of Sufi (a form of Islamic mysticism). “This man was doing everything I wanted to do: yoga, traveling, and music. He was a fun guy. ” The guru made such a powerful impression that Angel followed him to the States, where he spent the next decade doing odd jobs, learning to practice Sufism, and waiting for the right time to start his chiringuito. As Angel puts it, the universe eventually led him to the ideal place. It had two rooms — one that would serve as the dining area and a second space that was used to educate others about nutrition, health, and assorted important subjects. At first, “I didn’t even know what kind of cuisine I was going to offer. ” But the teachings of Sufi, which focus on purity and wellness, inspired him to avoid anchoring himself to any specific type of cuisine. “Instead, I did international dishes and used my knowledge to adjust any recipe to incorporate organic ingredients and to be vegan or vegetarian. "Caravan of Dreams retains some of the elements of Angel’s first Spanish cafes, with daily live music and bright colors on the walls to spark joy in its guests. Yet the key component is the wholesome meals it serves. “Without health, we cannot be happy. ”