Star Of The Schermerhorn: The Actors Fund Arts Center (AFAC)
When The Schermerhorn had its official ribbon-cutting in October 2011, Downtown Brooklyn received an added bonus: The Actors Fund Arts Center (AFAC). A state-of-the-art black box performance venue and rehearsal space on the lobby level of the building, AFAC’s mission is to serve as a resource for Brooklyn-based artists and arts groups to aid in the development and sharing of their work, as well as a venue for integrating the residents of The Schermerhorn with the surrounding community through the arts.
A member of the Downtown Brooklyn Arts Alliance, The Actors Fund Arts Center is poised to become a cultural hub serving the diverse and rapidly evolving Downtown Brooklyn community. As NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate Levin said at the Fall 2011 ribbon cutting, “People want to live in neighborhoods that have creativity and character, and this development in the heart of downtown Brooklyn’s growing cultural district provides housing for individuals of diverse economic and professional backgrounds, and it will also now attract cultural audiences from across the city and beyond.”
The Actors Fund Arts Center is available to Schermerhorn residents, and the rest of the creative community is welcome to rent the space at affordable rates. It can be utilized for rehearsals, shows, screenings or just about anything else a performing artist might conjure. So far, AFAC’s been used by a wonderful array of organizations, including the Brooklyn Ballet (The Schermerhorn’s resident ensemble) and the ReelAbilities Film Festival. (Click here for more information and AFAC rental rates, and email inquiries to ArtsCenter@actorsfund.org).
The latest edition of The Schermerhorn’s newsletter featured Q&As with three residents who’ve taken advantage of this wonderful new space. To offer a taste of AFAC’s potential, we thought we’d share the interviews on our blog!
Lia McPherson (dancer, musician)
What have you been working on at The Arts Center? “The Pearl,” which we presented in January. The performance was free for tenants — they just had to sign up in advance.
What is “The Pearl”? Basically it’s an attempt to bring dance to non-traditional dance audiences. The first half features choreographers in various stages of their career, we try to keep it diverse, from tap dance to hip-hop. The second half of the show is more mixed-media, with musicians incorporating dance into the performance.
What’s the difference between this and a modern dance performance? The music component takes away from the stuffiness that you sometimes get from a typical dance show. The audience is less of a spectator, especially during the times when members of the audience are encouraged to join us on stage. It’s really more of a party.
What’s the response been so far? Everybody seems to know about it and they’ve been asking about the next one. We have followers now. When we did a Teena Marie tribute, they just lost it.
What else have you been working on? I’m a recording artist as well, and I had an album release party on December 30th at one of the only co-op restaurants in the city, a really special place that puts an emphasis on worker rights.
Nicole Kontolefa (actress, director)
What have you been working on at AFAC? Winter, a Russian play that my theater company Studio Six translated. It’s by a really important cultural figure over in Russia whose work has yet to be discovered here. It has to do with two soldiers on a mission they don’t understand. Kind of Waiting for Godot meets Midsummer Night’s Dream.
What was the experience like? Great. We were able to develop the piece slowly, performing a version of it for an audience, seeing what worked and what didn’t, and then we were able to go back and workshop it some more.
How did Studio Six get started? We’re a group of Americans who studied at the Moscow Art Theater School. After graduating we all wanted to keep in touch, especially since we were the only American class to have ever completed the four year course of study. The mission of the company is all about bringing the Russian style of performance here, which is pretty underrepresented.
How is the Russian style of theater different? It just has a different flavor than the American and European style. It’s more ensemble based, the performances take on a more dynamic relationship with the audience.
What are you working on now? We’re going back to Moscow for a run of “Town. A History” by Vladimir Pankov, a collaboration with a Russian company called SounDrama Studio. We performed the piece back in July at the Chekhov International Theater Festival—where we ended up getting an award for Best Experimental Show!—but now we’re taking it back to the homeland.
Mauricio Alexander (actor, writer, director, musician)
What have you been working on at The Arts Center? I presented a concert/fundraiser for a short I wrote, directed and starred in called Departure. It’s a romantic comedy about a musician who ends up on the streets after getting dumped by his girlfriend and turns to music as a way to survive. I spoke with a number of different people who’ve been down-on-their luck in similar ways and they all seem to come away with the same feeling, like “Wow, how did I manage to survive that?” So I tried to somehow channel that feeling.
Why a concert for a fundraiser? Music is such an important component to the film, and so what I’m trying to do is attract musicians who may want to collaborate on the soundtrack. I wanted to keep the emphasis on local musicians as well, because the film is very Brooklyn in spirit.
How else are you trying to get the word out about the film? We’re trying something called “educational distribution,” where the film is going to be subtitled as a tool to teach English to Spanish-speakers. There’s so many different avenues a film can take these days.
What are you working on now? I’ve got a solo performance stageplay called Whitino about the experiences of being half white & Latino. And I’m also working on a television sit-com pilot called Kings County about a Latino family in Brooklyn. Everything I’ve ever done has to do with Brooklyn.
Has your experience living at The Schermerhorn contributed to your creative process? Well I’m really excited to live at The Schermerhorn. The building is really unique, and it gives artists an opportunity to live and thrive in the Brooklyn community, while also giving us a chance to learn from an incredibly diverse environment.
For another peek at AFAC’s space, check out highlights from the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which features a clip from Brooklyn Ballet’s performance, among others. For more information on The Actors Fund Arts Center and The Schermerhorn, visit www.actorsfund.org. AFAC photos by David Engelman and Andrew Miller.