Stages of the Lower East Side and Our Audience

by Jody Christopherson

in Audience & Community Engagement

Post image for Stages of the Lower East Side and Our Audience

(Photo by Chris Harcum. Pictured clockwise from top: Jason C. Brown, Lillian Rodriguez, Randy Lee, Brigitte Barnett, Tammy McNeill and Jody Christopherson. This post is part of the Audience (R)Evolution online salon curated by Caridad Svich for the TCG Audience (R)Evolution Convening in Kansas City, MO in 2015.)

Recently I’ve been creating and performing a new devised solo work titled Because You Are Good at the Obie Award Winning Metropolitan Playhouse. This piece is part of the East Side Stories Festival, now in its 11th year. The concept is simple and yet a powerful tool in audience building:

1)      Find a Lower East Side subject.

2)      Interview them about their life on the LES.

3)      Transcribe those interviews and create a solo show in the subject’s own words.

4)      Get the subjects approval on the performance draft.

5)      Invite them and their friends to see the show.

Alex Roe, Artistic Director of Metropolitan Playhouse elaborates, “For a theater whose mission is to understand and reveal our culture through theater, our East Village plays are a vital part of connecting our audience to the world they live in through the stage.  Metropolitan exists to bring lay bare our cultural roots, and is known for preserving and revitalizing American historical theater. These series bring our historical work home, by making new, immediate theater of the life of the neighborhood around us. They are the living connection between past and present in our program.”

Subjects for the performance run the gamut of LES characters and range from artists to real estate agents- Jeanise Aviles, a colorful hair artist & wig maker, Coralie Ohl a real estate broker originally from Iowa, Jimmy Webb manager and buyer of Trash and Vaudeville, Jonas Mekas the 92 year old founder of Anthology Film Archives, Alex Harsley Founder and Director of 4th Street Photo Gallery and Clove Galilee, Experimental Theater Artist and daughter of Lee Breuer and Ruth Malezcech of Mabou Mines.

By literally putting the audience onstage we take a step towards something revelatory in encouraging community building, an essential step in a place that is rapidly gentrifying. Joe Stackell, General Manger of Mabou Mines says the key is, “remaining open and inclusive. Theater is often described as being for an “elitist” audience. The changes we’re moving towards will, hopefully, expand the diversity of our audience both culturally & economically. Having been based in the East Village for close to 40 years, we’ve seen the neighborhood undergo tremendous change. For many years, a large part of our audience was comprised of local downtown artists with whom we shared a commonality. These artists and their generational successors have been priced out of the LES and now live in Brooklyn, Queens & upper Manhattan. It’s our job to continue to build our audience and our company by luring a younger generation of artists back to the East Village.”

As a performer who is playing Clove Galilee in this project, for me, its been incredibly meaningful to have a connection with Clove and to have discovered a connection with an audience that knows her. They are really excited about this work. Clove is an example of someone, like many of these subjects, who is a hero that the audience has had an opportunity to know personally, to grow up with, to see develop into the person she is today. They have been directly affected by her work and I think seeing that onstage is powerful. These stories transcend the fourth wall. They are part of a legacy that belongs to the audience as well, much like the Lower East Side. And by bringing awareness to that it creates a rallying cry to preserve our history and carry that inspiration into the future.

Jody CJody Christopherson is an actress, musician, media artist and writer living in New York. As a generative artist she creates and performs interactive events within the context of theater, film/new media and music. Her transmedia event The Skype Show or See You in August presented by FilmGate Miami, The Brick Theater and StoryCode (2014). Other works include: The Female Playwright Project, recently presented by Dixon Place,DIVE (Philadelphia Shakespeare Classical Cabaret) Like This (Winner of The Exquisite Corpse Film Festival, NYC).
Photo by Zachary Oberzan. 


Audience (R)Evolution is a four-stage program to study, promote and support successful audience engagement and community development models across the country. The Audience (R)Evolution grant program was designed by TCG and is funded by Doris Duke.