BRATTLEBORO—The former laundromat at 118 Elliot St. that lay dormant for so long has recently sprung back to life.
For the past few months, construction crews have been busy at work, but instead of creating a new laundromat, they are building a new arts and music venue.
The space’s “soft opening” will take place the weekend of June 26, with a series of events to benefit a group of eight Oglala Lakota teens and two counselors visiting from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Part of the proceeds will also go toward Project Feed The Thousands.
The group will present what organizers say is a “modern, mythical pageant” with “music, movement, poetry and drama” on June 26 and 27, culminating from the weeklong “Gathering in Gratitude” workshop at the Mahalo Arts Center.
The week-long workshop, says the press release, is an “intensive, [...] nature-based creative exploration of the concept of gratitude that culminates in a unique brand of performance art.”
Friday and Saturday’s performances are directed by Luz Elena Morey with Rupa Cousins and Oglala Lakota leader Tony Ten Fingers, with musical direction from Bill Shontz and participation from area artists. The event also includes an exhibit of Insight Photography’s “Exposures Cross-Cultural Youth Arts Program” ongoing exchange with Pine Ridge.
According to the event’s press release, Tony Ten Fingers, an Oglala Lakota elder, counselor, and author of Lakota Wisdom, works with young people at Pine Ridge. He organized and leads the delegation largely in response to a recent wave of adolescent suicides at Pine Ridge.
The Native American youth suicide rate is 2.5 times higher than the national average. The U.S. Congress unanimously passed a bill on June 2 forming a Commission on Native Children to study the unique burdens inordinately carried by Native American youth.
On Sunday, June 28, Jerry Levy returns to the stage with his original one-person play, The Third Coming: Marx Returns.
Local actor, playwright, and director Levy first performed the play in November, 2014, with two benefit performances for The Commons.
When Levy debuted The Third Coming: Marx Returns, he was also celebrating the 10th anniversary of portraying Karl Marx in Howard Zinn’s one-person play, Marx In Soho, which he also performed that same weekend.
After playing Marx for a decade, Levy, who recently retired from teaching sociology at Marlboro College, said, “In the process [of performing], I probably learned more about Karl Marx than in the over 40 years I taught his work as a sociologist."
This, and other recent events, inspired Levy to continue on the themes Zinn raised about Marx’s relationship between his ideas, life, and character by writing a new play.
In Zinn’s play, Karl Marx requests, from beyond the grave, to be returned to London’s Soho, where he lived with his family. Because of a bureaucratic error, instead of being sent to London, Marx arrived in New York City’s SoHo district, circa 1991.
In Levy’s play, he imagines Marx convincing “the committee” to send him back to earth again, but this time to modern-day Brattleboro.
“A lot has happened in 23 years. What might Marx have to say about Vermont?” said Levy.
About 118 Elliot
Lissa Weinmann and John Loggia are the husband-and-wife team who own 118 Elliot. Originally from New York City, the couple are involved in a number of local arts initiatives, including the Brattleboro Film Festival. Weinmann is vice president of its board of directors, and Loggia is one of the festival’s advisors.
During the couple’s work with the festival, and other nonprofit arts groups, they found themselves at a loss for a venue that provided exactly what they needed.
“We needed space, and couldn’t find the right space, so we had to make it ourselves,” Weinmann said.
The old laundromat at 118 Elliot St. seemed like an ideal locale.
Downtown, but in a stand-alone building, there is nobody on the other side of a ceiling, floor, or wall, to object to performance noise. It is steps away from the Transportation Center, providing plenty of parking. Other than some basement storage space, the entire building rests on one floor, thus making it accessible for those with limited mobility.
“The building is fully ADA-accessible,” Weinmann said, noting that was “a priority from the get-go.”
The other benefit of the building: the owners of the laundromat had long since abandoned it, so it was available.
Loggia said the couple had initially considered renovating the space to include a laundromat and an arts space. “We need a laundromat downtown,” he said, marveling at the novelty and usefulness of combining the two.
But, “the purchase agreement we made with the owners stated ’no laundromats,’” Loggia said.
Instead, what they created, with the help of James Williams of Brattleboro’s WFI Architects, is a “modular, multi-purpose space,” said Loggia. The stage and seating will all be movable, making the space “mutable,” said Weinmann.
She estimates the space will hold 100 people, but noted their Certificate of Occupancy might allow for up to 200.
The couple envision 118 Elliot hosting performances, workshops, film screenings, lectures, and even sit-down dinners. The space has an open catering kitchen they plan to only use for events in the foreseeable future, but plans could evolve to include a café open to the public during non-event times, as well.
“This is an affordable arts space for local art organizations,” Weinmann said, noting they “are not creating a new nonprofit. We are not trying to compete with other local nonprofits,” pointing out the area already has plenty of those.
She and Loggia want to provide space for nonprofits and other groups to use, but not just for performing. 118 Elliot also includes a conference room, two offices, and a workshop with a loading dock. Weinmann also pointed out the large outdoor backyard area extends all the way to Flat Street, and has no residential neighbors, allowing for indoor/outdoor events.
She said 118 Elliot has already booked a number of local favorites, such as the Brattleboro Literary Festival, the Brattleboro Film Festival, Sandglass Theater’s Puppets In The Green Mountains Festival, and a number of shows from the Vermont Performance Lab.
“The space is a reaction to the input of so many groups who came in and told us how they’d use it,” Weinmann said.
As of late last week, contractors were still working on the walls and laying down the sustainably-sourced, Vermont-grown, maple flooring. Weinmann said she and Loggia expect to get their Certificate of Occupancy this week, just in time for the weekend performances.