tVolume 18, Number 37 | Jan. 27 - Feb. 2, 2006

Arts group finds a Downtown roommate

Photo by Jefferson Siegel
From left to to right, Taya Mueller, Mike Rosenthal, Genevieve Hendricks, Randy Bell, and Justin Krebs at a recent staff meeting in The Tank’s new makeshift office beneath Collective: Unconscious.

By Rachel Breitman

In the recent movie adaptation of “Rent,” the cast members dance atop a barroom table and triumphantly toast to “La Vie

Boheme.” The actors — fresh from their success on Broadway, in movies, and on “Law and Order” — sing idealistic lyrics that somehow ring hollow in light of their six figure salaries.

But the song’s romantic words, “Days of inspiration / playing hookey, making / something out of nothing / the need to express / to communicate,” perfectly describe the ethos at The Tank, a multi-disciplinary arts workshop and performance space, which has been fueled for three years by the blood, sweat and toil of unsalaried artistic directors, curators, activists and performers.

The Tank relocated in January to the Church Street performance space of Collective: Unconscious after The Tank’s original Hell’s Kitchen theater was sold as part of the West Side’s redevelopment. Started in 2003 by five artistic directors and four curators with an average age of 24 and almost no experience running an arts space, The Tank made a name for itself by offering affordable tickets and a low-rent performance space to emerging artists.

The current team of ten — only two of whom are salaried — manages to foster a vibrant community of multi-media artists through funds raised from donations, $10 and under ticket sales, and alcoholic refreshments.  

The hard-working crew has helped pioneer brand new art forms, hosting an annual circuit-bending festival, “Bent,” which offers lessons in modifying the circuitry in battery-operated children’s toys. Other previous productions include an open mike “Late Night John Kerry-oke Session” during the Republican National Convention, and the Obie-award-winning children’s show, “A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant.” This tongue-in-cheek 2003 production utilized the previous space’s glass storefront windows as part of the performance.

“In one scene, we pulled back the curtains to show half of our cast standing on the other side of the windows, glaring at the audience from 42nd Street,” recalls Aaron Lemon-Strauss, a college friend of several of The Tank’s founders who produced the pageant. “The show was quirky and experimental, and I think it was the right project for the right space.”

But “right” is relative, and right now, The Tank is sharing the Downtown digs of Collective: Unconscious, whose co-founding director, Caterina Bartha, approached The Tank after she read it was closing its doors in November. The all-volunteer staff at Collective had already been considering ways to “expand our programming without expending our resources,” said Bartha, who recalled that a board member had said positive things about The Tank’s programs Uptown.

“They’re like a younger version of us,” said Bartha, recalling how Collective itself has moved around over the years, from Avenue B to Ludlow Street to its new home on Church in 2004. “They’re another organization that is trying to put out a point of view that is not shared by the mainstream, and that’s what we’ve been doing for the past 11 years.”

Bartha says that the two groups are experiencing a learning curve as they figure out how to operate together. “It’s a challenge, as any relationship is at the get go, but it’s all very positive. We’re learning what it takes as we go along.” Right now, the Tank is in the process of creating office space in the basement, which has so far served as Collective Unconscious’s catchall for miscellaneous props and boxes. (“It still has a very storage feel to it,” says a founding artistic director at The Tank, Justin Krebs.) For now, the two split performance times — Collective: Unconscious has the prime 8 pm slot Thursdays through Sundays for the shows it produces and co-presents, while The Tank gets the run of the black box theater earlier in the week and later on weekends.

There are other tradeoffs: the Church Street space lacks a liquor license (though it is trying to acquire one) and it doesn’t have an outdoor courtyard like The Tanks’s old Midtown space. But after a 14-month long search for a home, The Tank is happy to finally focus “on matters other than real estate for now,” said Krebs. The group is also happy to be Downtown.

“While Midtown is known for more commercial work, Downtown continues to capture the spirit of creative risk-taking,” said Krebs. “A number of artists who had been wary of Midtown shows have already contacted us, and audiences are excited by the new neighborhood.”

The first shows in The Tank’s new home have included comedy, electronic music, and experimental films. Naoki Iwakawa, a painter, joined electronic musician Grundik Kasyansky, video artist Shige Moriya, and dancer Ximena Garnica for a collaborative performance on January 18th.

“The general idea of our show was interaction between different media structures in the collectively created space,” said Kasyansky, who performed at a festival in The Tank’s old home three years ago. “The new space is cozy. The only problem with it is that it has a particularly theatrical feel. It will work perfectly for small theatre productions, but it can be challenging for a concert.” He admitted that getting used to the new black box style stage was a little tricky. “But there is no such thing as an inappropriate space,” he added. “You should simply understand the given one. Anyway, people are the ones who make spaces.”

Visit or call 212-563-6269 for upcoming shows at the Tank, like “Mortified” on Feb. 15.


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