When writers/directors Michael Gardner and Robert Honeywell leased space at 575 Metropolitan Ave in Williamsburg in 2002, they just wanted a place where they could stage their own works and maybe invite a few a friends to do the same; never did they imagine that just a few short years later, the Brick would play host to a multitude of festivals, award-winning plays, improv theater, and even late night burlesque shows. “People have really latched on to this space and they’re taking us to all kinds of places,” says Gardner. From a young age, theater was in Gardner’s blood. “I grew up watching Woody Allen movies. I remember thinking I wanted to go to New York and be one of those crazy, neurotic people,” he laughs.
When he came of age, he followed his dream and enrolled in NYU to study theater, writing and music theory. “Robert and I cut our teeth in the Lower East Side experimental theater circuit. I worked with the Lower East Side Y and we staged plays in a storm cellar run by the theater group The Emerging Collector. At some point in the late 90’s, we were thinking about renting a garage in Manhattan and turning it into a small theater, but we found out people wanted a lot of money for their garages. That’s when we decided to look for a permanent performance space.” Their search lead them to Williamsburg, to a sizable garage inside a century-old building that has a previous life as an auto-body shop, and later a yoga studio. “It was a raw space when we first moved in, but we transformed it into a theater.” The theater’s name was inspired by the dramatic old brick walls that give the space its indelible character.
In the beginning, Gardner and Honeywell financed the theater with their personal savings. “We both have days jobs. Robert is a lawyer and I work in the law field as well. We used our own money, it was crazy,” he says. “Today, the Brick is supported by the theater goers. We get some grant money, but it’s mainly sustained by the box office.”
Since opening its doors in 2002, the Brick has seen its share of successes. The 2007 play, Bouffon Glass Menajoree (created by Audrey Crabtree, Lynn Berg, Aimee German and Eric Davis), a send up of the Tennessee Williams’ play, won the outstanding production of a play award from the New York Innovative Theatre Awards. In 2010, Samuel and Alasdair: a Personal History of the Robot War, a play staged by the theater group, The Mad Ones, earned the same accolade. A play by Gardner, In a Strange Room, was named by Time Out Magazine as one of New York’s top ten plays in 2004. Co-creative director Robert Honeywell wrote and performed several political satires to admiring reviews from the New York Times. Among the best known are Lord Oxford Brings You the Second American Revolution Live! and Every Play Ever Written; the latter was presented at the Pretentious Festival.
This spring, the Brick presented several full-length works, including The Tremendous, Tremendous, (written and performed by The Mad Ones), an 80 minute one act play about a vaudeville troupe at the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing, Queens. The story centers on the closing night, when the members of the troupe come back to the dressing room to celebrate and reminisce about their triumphs and failures. We hear bits and pieces of history, personal stories, and the big fear that their spectacular run at the World’s Fair might be the highlight of their acting careers and tomorrow, it will be back to backwater towns and no name cities. It’s not hard to imagine that with some rewrite, this elegiac piece can be turned into a Broadway drama.
The Little Chaos will play from April 21 – 30. It is a play based on Rainer Werner Fassbiner’s 1969 film, Love is Colder than Death. Expect murder, mayhem and very disturbed and damaged teenagers. Summer Festivals for The Brick starts in June. This year, it features a comic book theme with actors performing skits and longer pieces depicting comic book culture, followed by a Game Play theme that brings video game characters to life. “Festivals are about building communities,” says Gardner. “One of our most popular themes is the Clown Theater festival. Clowns from all over show up to support other clowns. The performance is in the tradition of the old clown theater, where a clown develops a character and performs in a sketch in that character. It’s not about performing tricks at a birthday party.”
But why stop at clowns and comic books when you can also do the Anti-depressant Festival, the Moral Values Festival, the Sell-Out Festival, the Pretentious Festival and the Fight Festival. All these obsessions have their own obsessive fans and there are more than enough actors in New York to explore all the maddening angles.
Got talent? Want to join the party? The Brick Theater has an open submission process. Anybody can to go to bricktheater.com and download an application, fill it out and send it in. “We’ll review the concept and if we’re interested, we’ll call you and talk to you about it. If we like it, we’ll schedule you in for the season.” “We’re not particular about the subject, but the work must have a certain quality. We like things that are subversive and experimental and slightly off kilter. Study our website and you’ll get an idea. We like projects that are fairly well developed, with actors and a director in tow. We can do co-production deals, but we still need more than a raw script. At the very least, you should come in with a director who has a vision.” Gardner says there is no rental charge up front.
The non-profit theater gets paid by splitting the box office with the production team and tickets are priced from $15 to $20. “You don’t need to raise a lot of money to put on a play here. Some groups come in with elaborate sets, others just need two chairs and a couple of blocks.” The Brick is not quite your grandma’s community theater. It’s a wonderous incubator where writers, actors, directors, set designers and musicians come together to hone their crafts and create something wild and new. For schedule information, and further details about upcoming shows, go to www.bricktheater.