For Love of Performance & the ‘Hood: Triskelion Arts Opens Its Doors in Greenpoint
Until February, Triskelion Arts shared a space deep inside a three-story, brick warehouse on 118 North 11th Street in Williamsburg, across from Mable’s Smokehouse and, more famously, on the same block as the ever-expanding Brooklyn Brewery.
“We were in a landmarked building, surprisingly, even though the building was falling apart,” explains artistic and executive director Abby Bender. One of the original co-founders, Abby is wearing navy coveralls and has a loop of keys at her waist that jangle as we walk around the new Triskelion building, recently opened for business on 106 Calyer Street in Greenpoint.
For the past fifteen years, Triskelion has been a place where anyone could go see performances by emerging artists, rent affordable rehearsal space, take fun classes (hoop dance, Poi, martial arts), and get involved with theater. In 2014 alone, over 15,000 hours of rehearsal time were used in the studios, and 128 different companies were part of the programming, which included three open-submission festivals.
But, Abby notes, Williamsburg started to get prohibitively expensive, and “our block in particular, as well as the neighborhood at large, changed so much that it no longer felt like a neighborhood.” Once Triskelion realized that the mushrooming luxury hotels and swanky condominiums actually weren’t generating any new audiences, Abby says, it was time to move on.
And, Greenpoint was the ideal choice. “We were looking for something very specific,” Abby explains: The new Triskelion had to have the right amount of square footage, rooms with lots of natural light for rehearsal studios, multiple bathrooms, a spacious theater, and a neighborhood vibe.
A building on the corner of Calyer and Franklin Streets in Greepoint seemed to fit the bill. The building’s first floor functioned as a warehouse for a contractor’s business—”It was just a raw, aluminum, no insulation, sheetrock space in here”—and the second floor housed the company’s offices. If you looked hard enough, the potential was there.
Over the next few months, Abby, along with Triskelion’s technical director, Andrew Dickerson, and Becky Radway, Operations Manager, plus a team of Triskelion board members and supporters worked around the clock to raise the funding needed to gut the contractor business and transform it into a home for the performing arts.
The staff poured all of their energies into the construction project. “We built all the floors ourselves,” she says, pointing out the shiny hardwood. In fact, they installed baseboards, built risers, painted walls, and—for six months—paid rent at both locations to keep the old Triskelion running while the new one was being built.
From Abby’s perspective, “we were fortunate enough that we could at least stay [at the old Triskelion during construction], so all of our artists still could have their shows, and all of our renters and teachers didn’t have to be kicked to the curb.” After months of double-duty at both locations and multiple city-related, administrative delays that repeatedly kept pushing the opening date forward, Abby quips with a laugh that she must have “looked like death on toast.”
But the sweat and blood was worth it—the new Triskelion building looks grand. It boasts a large theater that comfortably seats up to ninety; high ceilings throughout; bathrooms on both floors; three rehearsal rooms with big windows facing the street; a neat little office; and an outdoor courtyard recently planted with roses. “We’re going to have this all set up so our renters can sit and enjoy the sunshine in the daytime,” says Abby.
Most importantly, the new Triskelion already has the same steady influx of choreographers, dancers, and teachers as the old one, and a full schedule of excellent programming in store for the next few months.
Now, Abby says, “I want the neighbors to come. I want them to know that this is their theater. There really is something for everyone and people should feel free to shoot me an e-mail or call and be like, ‘You know, I have an eleven year old. Or, I’m eighty and I like belly dance. What should I come see?'” Triskelion is in Greenpoint to serve the local community, she says.
The interview is wrapping up when Abby invites me to the annual Spring Gala, just a few days away. There will be food and wine, she promises, and “a really wonderful performance that I curate with six different companies that we present throughout the year.” She adds, earnestly: “The work speaks for itself.”
So, on Saturday, I arrive early to find a bustling Triskelion. Dancers are stretching in the courtyard and rehearsing in two of the rooms upstairs. In the downstairs theater, Andrew is running through technical checks on the space and lighting while another group is warming up.
Abby, meanwhile, is stunning in a red cocktail dress and seems to be everywhere at once: she’s upstairs in the biggest rehearsal room where a table of assorted hors d’oeuvres and an open bar entice the gala’s attendees; she’s downstairs checking in with Andrew and the dancers; she’s popping in and out of the office. The dancers are not shy about calling Abby “generous” and “so supportive,” and admitting that “she kind of intimidates me because she’s so cool.”
Throughout the night, everyone also praises the new Triskelion. “It’s an improvement in every possible way,” says Lauri, a Greenpoint resident. “The location, the floors, little things like that. It feels like an arts center.”
“It’s been so booked up that I haven’t been able to book a space yet,” says Marley, an East Williamsburg resident. “It’s super low key and very pristine here.”
Later on, the night’s six performances do nothing short of dazzling the audience. Abby was right—the work really does speak for itself. Triskelion is home to talented, passionate, daring, and creative choreographers and dancers. With Abby, Andrew, and Becky at the heart of the organization, Greenpoint is clearly lucky to have them.
Triskelion Arts is located at 106 Calyer Street. In addition to presenting solo and shared show runs for over two dozen companies each year, Triskelion hosts three open submission festivals (The Comedy in Dance Festival; The Never Before, Never Again Festival; and The Collaborations in Dance Festival) and also offers a program called Split Bill four times a year, geared towards emerging artists looking to premiere longer format work than the standard showcase allows. When Abby is not at Triskelion, you can likely find her at The Diamond Bar, Northern Territory, and Cookie Road.