It sounds like the premise of an old Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney movie, “Let’s find a theater and put on a show!” This time the theater was found first and the idea of a show came later.
Three years ago on the 2nd floor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church at 334 S. 5th Street, Pastor Benjamin McKelahan discovered a theater that had been dormant for at least two decades. The theater was a classic from the 19th century and even had an antique lighting console. Pastor McKelahan knew restoring this theater would restore a valuable asset to the community. He also knew it would take a lot of work and money to get it back into shape, which the church couldn’t spare.
The Workers Justice Project stepped up to the challenge. This group educates and empowers low-wage immigrant day-laborers and was looking for a location in the south-side in which to offer worker-safety and English classes for women. They approached St. Paul’s and asked if there might be such a space in the church, and then they saw the theater. It would be perfect for their needs, plus they had the skills within their organization to make it usable. For the past nine months they have been holding weekly classes in Spanish for women.
The Workers Justice Project efforts were aided by a local theater group, who in exchange for using the space to put on a production of Xmas Carol, for Misfits, cleared much of the junk, hung a stage curtain, and repaired the lighting console. Because of the historic landmark status of the building, the broken stain-glass windows require a specialist to fully repair, and so the church is slowly raising funds. But in the meantime, while not quite yet its former glory, the theater is ready to once again be a cultural venue for the south-side of Williamsburg.
St. Paul’s plans to publicly debut the space at the end of January with a monthly series called “Voices of Brooklyn,” in which Brooklyn bands perform and long-time locals tell tales from the neighborhood focused around a common theme. The goal is to get long-term residents and new-comers alike to learn about their community and connect to their neighbors. January’s “Voices of Brooklyn” features the band of Eric Frazier, with a blend of jazz, salsa, and R&B, and the stories of Francisco Venture, a long-time tailor, businessman, and community activist in the south-side of Williamsburg. Art, stories, and music will center around the theme of “magi in search of a star.”
Voices of Brooklyn, Theater Reopening: Wednesday, January 28th, 7-8pm. Doors open at 6:30pm at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church 334 S. 5th Street (Williamsburg), Brooklyn, NY 11211, Suggested Donation of $15