Volume 18, Number 1 | MAY 27 —JUNE 2, 2005, 2005

Collective: Unconscious regroups in Tribeca theater

Downtown Express photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio
Collective: Unconscious’ Raven Solano, left, and Jamie Mereness in the art group’s Tribeca space.

By Lauren Dzura

Hidden among the countless bars, restaurants and apartments, a small door on Church St. leads to a special world of independent performers fighting for their desire to remain financially and creatively autonomous from the powerful outside influences of landlords, skyrocketing real estate prices and mainstream culture.

Collective: Unconscious, a nonprofit theater group, moved to 279 Church St. last July. After nine years on Ludlow St. the due to group was forced out due to rising rent and neighborhood gentrification.

Extensive renovations were necessary to turn the Tribeca space that once housed the bar-club Rubber Monkey Lounge into a space suitable for theater. Raising money for the reconstruction has taken time since the group is a nonprofit organization. To sign the lease and move into the space Collective: Unconscious had to raise $30,000 and needed an additional $20,000 for initial renovations. Money for the lease signing and renovations were raised through a benefit at P.S. 122 concert space; loans and letters were sent out asking for donations. The group is in the final stages of a capital grant program with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council to receive an additional $40,000 for the rest of the theater overhaul that they must match 2 to 1.

“We begged and borrowed,” said Caterina Bartha, co-founder of Collective: Unconscious. “It’s constant fundraising, there is never a time we’re not fundraising.”

At first glance, the theater space still appears unfinished and bare, but a closer look reveals a sense of stability despite the slow progress.

“We’re evolving,” said Jamie Mereness, technical director of Collective: Unconscious. “We went from underground to aboveground.”

Collective: Unconscious has had to abide by many rules and regulations in their new location, something that they were not used to on Ludlow St. The group wanted to put up a large sign outside, but needed to get Landmarks Preservation Commission approval. The current sign for the group is too small for the members’ liking. However, they are working together and practicing the virtue of patience.

“It is a slow process and just takes time,” said Raven Solano, a member of the board of directors.

Other regulations such as installing sprinklers and soundproofing walls are also necessary. There is a lounge area downstairs that the group hopes to turn into an intimate performance space for smaller shows. The tech area is currently out in the open behind audience seats, but the plan is to move it farther away from the stage into a less conspicuous area.

Collective: Unconscious has still managed to retain some of its underground qualities. The group’s mission statement is to support emerging artists. It charges discounted fees for theater, rehearsal and gallery space and advertises simply through word-of-mouth.

“We are excited and delighted to be at this location,” said Mereness. “This neighborhood won’t go down the tubes like Ludlow because it’s already nice.”

The members have felt welcomed and established in the neighborhood. They also say they like the bigger space and mature audience of the Tribeca area. The new location has better subway access and Canal St. is just a few blocks away, so it is a short trip for hardware supplies needed for shows.

Despite the progress that has been made, Collective: Unconscious members do not expect renovations to be fully completed for at least another year.

When Collective: Unconscious first started out on the Lower East Side, the neighborhood was gritty, with heroin being sold on the streets and Ludlow was lined with theater companies. However, the neighborhood started changing and slowly all of the theaters disappeared, with Collective: Unconscious being the last to go. Although the group has moved away from its core base of artists that make up much of the Lower East Side and East Village, they hope to spread experimental art to the Tribeca crowd.

“We are able to bring a different kind of perspective, as opposed to having most people think Tribeca is an expensive and inaccessible space,” Bartha said. “We are hoping to bring a more affordable artistic sensibility to the neighborhood.”

Performers followed the group to their new location. The show “Couplets” just finished up a three-week run at the space on May 22. Anchor shows “Reverend Jen’s Anti-Slam” on Wednesday nights and “Faceboyz Open Mike” on Sunday nights made an easy transition to Tribeca, said Mereness. Depending on the night, these open mikes bring in anywhere from 35 to 50 people. Teslamania, a show put on by Gekko and other members who use two Tesla coils to shoot off electricity like lightning bolts, usually brings in about 80 people for an evening performance. In April, Collective: Unconscious hosted the Lower West Side Film Festival, which received over 300 submissions. This was the first year the five-day event was up and running, but it will become annual, celebrating amateur and independent films with a more bohemian feel than the much larger Tribeca Film Festival, said Solano.

The group schedules shows each month, with two shows planned for June. The Vintage Group will put on its fundraiser, “Play Without a Title (Play Without a Subtitle)” from June 9-11. Project D Company will put on “D and Danger Man (or A More Beautiful Heaven)” from June 16-26.

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