Volume 19 • Issue 11 | July 28- - August 3, 2006

An idea of what the Spiegeltent, bound for the South Street Seaport, will look like once it opens August 3.

Tent of mirrors to open at the Seaport

By Nicole Davis

Imagine the feel of the film “Moulin Rouge” inside a tent filled with mirrors, where cabaret acts, musicians, and comedians change by the hour, and you’ll come close to envisioning Spiegeltent. The 7,700 square foot performance space will take up digs Downtown, at Pier 17, near the former site of the Fulton Fish Market, from Thursday, August 3 through October 1.

Only a handful of these so-called “mirror tents” — Spiegel is German for mirror — are left in the world. They first appeared in the 1920s and ’30s as temporary dance halls in Belgium, and many today serve as dinner theater venues in cities like San Francisco. (One is currently in the Catskills.)

The Spiegeltent bound for Lower Manhattan is approximately 86 years old. As of Monday, the 35,000 pieces that comprise it were stuck in Elizabeth, NJ, where they were still being inspected by U.S. Customs. The organizers don’t expect the hold up will delay the tent’s opening. According to Ross Mollison, one of three producers of the temporary venue, set-up should be a breeze. “We’ve hired five Belgian experts who know this tent like it’s a member of their family,” he said.

Once erected, Spiegeltent will house a wooden parquet floor, brass bar, stained glass windows, velvet booths and hundreds of mirrors. It can hold 400 people.

“It’s like a Moulin Rouge environment,” said Mollison. “[Once inside], you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.” Over 80 performers are scheduled to appear, from the Brazilian Girls to Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping. But the showcase event is Absinthe, a cabaret-vaudeville “variety show on acid” that premiered at a Spiegeltent at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

It was the Edinburgh Spiegeltent, in fact, that inspired producers Mollison, PS 122 artistic director Vallejo Gantner, and Thomas Kreigsmann, to reproduce the same diverse lineup here. “The last beautiful concert halls in New York are the Carnegie Halls,” said Kreigsmann, who helped curate the 2003 Fresh Terrain performance festival in Austin.

A space like Carnegie would never host such diverse talent as punk legend Nina Hagen and New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band, however, so the producers imported a theater that could. “This is a classic, internationally renowned venue, so [we found] artists who could really embrace that. The idea was to have an eclectic mix to match the eclectic nature of tent.”

Adrienne Truscott, one half of the vaudeville-burlesque troupe, the Wau Wau Sisters, agrees. “There are not many clubs left in New York City that are beautiful and available to the alty-cabaret set,” she said. Truscott and her Wau Wau sister Tayna Gagné performed at the Spiegeltent in Edinburgh in 2002. “It was super exciting to perform in a venue that was sort of a character in itself,” said Truscott, adding that the tent “lends itself to all the imagination and romance of cabaret acts.”

For Reverend Billy, the brocaded big top will double as a sort of revival tent for his Church of Stop Shopping. The political activist and his choir, the Stop Shopping singers, specialize in campaigns like “retail intervention,” in which they stage sermons against modern-day devils like Wal-Mart and Victoria’s Secret, whose corporate practices jeopardize the environment and our communities. Throughout August and September at Spiegeltent, they will perform their “war on tourism,” begun in the wake of 9/11.

“All 35 of us are all New Yorkers, and we have been upset by the way our tragedy has been used around the world, and how the event has been used to create a touristic suburbanizing of our own city.” He includes the Seaport as a prime example of a shopping district run amok, but so far, he’s reserving any harsh judgment against Spiegeltent.

“The leadership and I are really intrigued by the European-style circus tent. It’s a new one for us,” he said.

Performances inside Spiegeltent will begin at 10 AM on weekends, with family-friendly acts earlier in the day and adult shows starting in the evening and lasting into the wee hours, when the chairs will be cleared to make way for DJs and a dance floor. (Shows will start at 4 PM on weekdays.) Tickets will generally run from $10 to $35. Heartland Brewery will provide food and drink in an outdoor beer garden, complete with cabanas and day beds.

The New York Spiegeltent producers predict that the two-month-long performance festival will become an annual event. They’ve rented the tent this year, but are talking about buying or building their own Spiegeltent in the future. They even see it as an opportunity for performers to try out new material, as many do during the New York Fringe Fest.

“Some of the shows could spin out to off-off Broadway,” said Mollison. Comedian Steve Cuiffo’s Lenny Bruce show, for instance, is one that the producers guarantee will become a larger production in the future.

Not every performer knows what to expect. “I knew nothing about it,” said violinist Daniel Bernard Romain, of the experimental group DBR and The Mission. “But when I saw the tent [online], that was the first thing that drew me in.” The circus-like space isn’t the most unusual venue that DBR has played. “I’ve performed on mountain tops, on cruise ships... once on the top of the Empire State Building. So it’s not the strangest venue, but it’s definitely one of the more interesting.”

For information on shows, times, and tickets, visit www.spiegelworld.com.


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