Joseph Ave. – Rising Culture

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The Avenue Blackbox Theatre opened recently at 780 Joseph Avenue. This new venue is located in the former home of Your Local Pharmacy. Rochester-based performer, writer, and artist Reenah Oshun Gold are at the helm. She says her vision was to create a community theatre that serves Joseph Avenue and integrates the “culture that exists here, not just imposing anything on the space but allowing it to be a part.”

It is currently hosting multimedia and theatrical performances, as well as programming for kids. Golden expects to be ready for a full-length premiere season in the autumn, but the space will continue to offer programming throughout the summer. Renovations won’t affect performances until then.

The Avenue has partnered with Joseph Avenue Arts and Culture Alliance. This alliance works to support arts along Joseph Avenue and uses its skills to beautify the area. The association bought the synagogue across the street and is developing it into a performing arts center.

Golden’s efforts to realize her vision for a neighborhood theater and community space started at PUC Achieve Charter School on Hudson Avenue. There she also helped build a theatre. The momentum was shattered when the school’s new administration took over. She left that space in July and began to search for another one.

Golden states, “I didn’t want to go the Neighborhood of the Arts or the East End for something like this,” and adds that the 14621 area needs more cultural programming.

Through a connection with Annette Ramos (with whom Golden has worked creatively for many years), the opportunity to rent Joseph Avenue was created in the fall of 2017. Golden walked through the space for the first time in November.

Seventy-two seats can be found in the space, which covers more than 2000 square feet. The audience faces a white stage wall with its back facing the large windows on the opposite wall.

Golden states, “We are a black box with white walls.” We can do multimedia, projection, and multidisciplinary stuff. I love to do this kind of work and want the space to host.

Golden points out that the current stage is floor-level and not elevated. However, the team is designing a custom sprung flooring “so it’s easier for performers and dancers to use,” Golden said.

Some movable walls will be installed in the space, allowing different compartmentalizations. They will be created by STEAM students at Vertus High School and Anthony Chipre’s mentees at Exploration Charter School.

Golden says that the renovation was made possible with the help of a few friends. The theater’s bones are complete with a lobby, box office, and gallery. Golden is also working closely with Rich Rosen, an architect, to plan ways to make the theater’s upper levels more useful. He will install sound equipment, lighting, a recording booth, and storage for props and sets. A new bathroom and dressing rooms are in the plans. Home Depot provided almost all the paint for the space.

The former central pharmacy will be transformed into a community room. It will host workshops, community meetings, readings, literacy centers, and seminars.

The venue hosted a four-day Ribbon Cutting & Grand Opening Weekend in June. Tickets were available for both keys and free events. The weekend it featured live community art making, theatre performances, gallery openings, and interactive storytelling with Annette Ramos and Rochester Latino Theatre Company. This is The Avenue’s first resident group.

Breathing fire Teen Poetry Slam and More Than Rebel Noise are two other resident groups. Avenue Children’s Theatre Project is another initiative of the Avenue. This is an accessible theatre for children. Golden states that children will not have to pay for tickets to a show or to take part in acting classes.

The space will also host traveling shows. Golden claims she has many national and international connections and is now talking to friends about establishing a relationship with the area.

Golden states that one of my partnering organizations at the national level is The Living Word Project, run by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, who is also the artistic director of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts San Francisco. They have incredible touring productions, which include some of our young poets who we’ve worked with over the years. I am so happy — I have one of their touring productions in my town for some community work I was doing.

Fundraising continues — Golden is writing grants and looking for new partnerships with foundations or private donors. There’s also a crowdsource fundraising. She also stated that the goal is for the theater’s subscription base to be dominated by residents of the 14621 or 14605 areas.

Golden states, “My vision is that theater should not be just for those who have disposable income and can afford it.” Underwriting this space must consider that 60 to 70% of our subscribers didn’t pay for it. Their address is what makes them a member. I want everyone to be seated, regardless of their ability to pay.

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