By Sally Deering
Actors, playwrights, choreographers, musicians – artists who have longed for a new performance venue in Jersey City will be happy to learn two new spaces are opening up on Newark Ave: Merseles Studios on the second floor of the Monaco Lock building, and White Eagle Hall which is being renovated from a Turn-of-The 20th Century meeting hall to a space for rock ‘n’ roll just like Hoboken’s former icon Maxwell’s.
Together, Merseles Studios and White Eagle Hall stand under the umbrella of the newly-formed Jersey City Theater Center (JCTC), which is under the leadership of Artistic Director Olga Levina and Executive Director Ben LoPiccolo – both married to the project and each other. The couple’s dream of offering Jersey City artists new performance venues to express their art is a personal as well as professional achievement and the beginning of a journey that will likely be as interesting as the artists performing there.
“We want to build a performing and visual arts center to produce strong progressive works that tackle the issues of our times,” Levina says. “We are preserving historical identity and uniting community and together that improves the quality of life here in Jersey City. I wanted to help Jersey City artists express themselves and tell their stories.”
On Sat, April 26 Merseles Studios debuts as a community performance space with a gala and showcase of four theater, music and dance pieces in PERSONAL & UNIVERSAL. The show features local artists like blues musician Ladell Mclin and dancer/movement artist Myssi Robinson in EUGENE, a multi-disciplinary exploration of spirit, music and movement. The duo recently debuted the piece at the Hudson County Women’s History Month program in the Brennan Court House in Jersey City.
EUGENE, written by Mclin is based on his great-grandmother who raised him in Chicago. The blues virtuoso hails from a musical family, his father and brother are drummers and his great-grandfather played trumpet with Billie Holliday.
“I perform in theaters, concert halls, festivals — Jersey doesn’t produce that for us,” Mclin says. “We don’t even have a performance hall or a music venue– that’s very sad.”
That’s why a new performance venue for artists is an exciting event, Maclin says, and he credits Levina for offering artists a comfortable place to create.
“Olga is so connected to the arts; she makes us feel comfortable to present our art there,” Mclin says. “She recognizes good, fine art because she’s a fine artist herself.”
Also on the program for Merseles Studios’ premiere on April 26th are SO WHAT IF I LOVED YOU, a series of monologues about a woman haunted by memories of a previous lover written by and starring Summer Dawn; NEW MUSIC by Jersey City-based singer/songwriter Kelly Saint Patrick; and REQUIEM FOR THE MAIDEN by Natalia Vorozhbit, adapted for the stage and directed by Sergei Grabbe. This theater-piece explores the political conflict in Ukraine and is based on actual interviews with protestors and citizens affected by and involved with the ongoing social unrest.
“This material is timely and universal,” Grabbe says after a morning of auditions in the theater space.
A teacher and actor originally from the Ukraine and now residing in Bergen County, Grabbe reached out to Levina when he learned she and LoPiccolo were creating a new theater center. After the gala, all the performers will have their own run of shows at Merseles Studios as JCTC plans the new season.
“We selected Personal & Universal as the theme of our first official event because it describes how artists give voice to a community,” Levina says. “We have talented artists from all disciplines living in Jersey City and a community that enthusiastically supports the arts. Merseles Studios is a place where community and artists come together for a dialogue.”
ARTISTS’ STUDIOS AND GALLERY
Personal & Universal is also the debut of the Merseles Studio Gallery – a permanent art gallery showcasing regional and Jersey City artists. The opening exhibition is part of the event and is curated by Thomas John Carlson, Visual Arts Director of JCTC and founder of the Jersey City Arts School, which offers classes in drawing, painting, photography – even glass-blowing.
“This is an opportunity to give exposure to local artists and their work,” Carlson says. “The gallery will set the tone of quality and thought-provoking work that JCTC will bring to its multi-faceted art programming and future gallery events.”
Artists interested in contacting Carlson regarding gallery submission guidelines can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PERFORMANCES FOR CHILDREN, TOO!
Plays for children are also on JCTCs schedule and on May 11th, JCTC-KIDS presents Puppetworks, a company of marionettes from Brooklyn in a production of CINDERELLA playing at Merseles Studios every other Sunday through July. Shows will be at 12:30 and 2:30 pm.
WHITE EAGLE, POLISH MEETING HALL TO ROCK N ROLL
The larger JCTC project which is currently under construction is White Eagle Hall, a 400-seat theater/music hall which will present plays, concerts, dance, films and educational programs. It will also house two restaurants: Madame Claude owners Alice Troletto and Mattias Gustafsson will open Madame Claude Bis that will seat about 80 and Todd Abramson, formerly of Maxwell’s and now JCTCs music coordinator will wear the hat of restaurateur when he and his partners open the tentatively-named Bingo, a 200-seater that will serve American cuisine.
Fallow since 2004 and built originally in the early 1900s as a place for local Polish immigrants to celebrate their heritage by a Polish priest of St. Anthony’s parish. It boasts two beautiful stained-glass windows in the ceiling, one depicting the likeness of Chopin, the other a portrait of opera singer Marcella Sembrich. After it stopped being a meeting hall, St. Mary’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley used it for his star-team’s practice sessions and throughout the years all the historic details became covered up in wood panels and dropped ceilings, LoPiccolo says. In the planning for the past three years to become a theater and performance space, White Eagle Hall is now in bare form, void of artifice and naked in its natural beauty: red-bricked walls, staircases and original iron balustrades screening a planned lounge upstairs. The floors are yet to be done but it’s easy to see LoPiccolo is paying close attention to every detail as he transforms the building into a thriving performance space.
“BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) and LaMama – that’s where we’re coming from,” Lo Piccolo says.
If you go:
Sat, April 26; Doors open 6 pm; Reception precedes performance at 7 pm
JCTC presents at Merseles Studios
PERSONAL & UNIVERSAL
339 Newark Ave
(2nd floor of Monaco Lock building)
Tix: $15; $20 at the door
For tix go to: www. brownpapertickets.com