Bridge Work

Brooklyn's New Alternative Theater

Both the work and the geography define GAle GAtes et al., a company founded in 1995 by Michael Counts. It's early morning in DUMBO, and the rumpled, shaggy-haired director is preparing for the opening of his new multi media extravaganza, Tilly Losch, overseeing the load-in of the set—a three-dimensional replica of Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World. (The show runs through December 19.)

Counts's vision was too expansive for Manhattan, so in 1996 he made a sweet deal with father-and-son real estate magnates David and Jed Walentas on a 37,000-square-foot space on DUMBO's Main Street. The space housed last year's oversized multimedia piece, The Field of Mars, which was vaguely inspired by Tacitus's firsthand account of the burning of Rome.

Of course, DUMBO was hardly a secret. "Pioneers don't exist without a frontier," he says of the artists who moved in as long as 10 years ago. "I consider us between two poles. The changes in this neighborhood—and I suppose we're part of them—are positive."

That's not necessarily the point of view of old-timers, who see the gentrification of DUMBO (plans include a waterfront retail center along the tiny and rather depressing Empire-Fulton State Park) as a threat to their world of sunlit lofts, solitude, and cheap rents. There's been a fair amount of "Walentas out of DUMBO" graffiti, and even Counts experienced antagonism when his art exhibition posters were torn down. Still, that doesn't intimidate the director, who is intent on doing his part to open DUMBO up.

"BAM proved that people would travel to Brooklyn to see something unique," he says. "If we were doing the same old crap, we wouldn't survive."

"Dumbo is dead," says Jeff Gurecka. A grungy-looking character with longish blond hair and a small nose ring, Gurecka is one-fifth of the Dean Street Field of Operations, self-described "poly-disciplinarians." Gurecka got into performance through the back door and, like Michael Counts, is actually trained as a visual artist. "I have a studio in DUMBO," he goes on, "and I'm getting pressure to get the fuck out."

Gurecka and fellow FOO-er Elyas Khan are hanging out at Freddy's Bar on Dean Street in Prospect Heights. Seven or eight years ago the place was a creepy cop bar. Now it's an artist hangout, home to open-mike nights and Lurch magazine, Brooklyn's scrappy xeroxed literary journal. It's also home-away-from-home for the Dean Street FOO.

Actually, their only home. The FOO recently lost their space down the street, a loft Khan and comember Corinna Hiller shared. "It was a great space," says Khan as he strokes his Mephistopheles-like beard. Unfortunately, the vagueness of the lease caught up with them. "It was owned by a Venezuelan rock star who suddenly had a hit," he says enigmatically. They were evicted.

Their new nomadic existence appeals to Gurecka. "We're gypsies," he says. "We're prepared to do what we do anywhere." That means a stint at HERE, a spring show at P.S.122, even a gig on MTV. For the FOO, being a Brooklyn company is less a tangible reality than an attitude.

"Hey," says Gurecka, "the Field of Operations is constantly shifting—it's growing. I mean, we're not going to change our name or anything."

"This is our neighborhood," says Khan.

"I don't mind being identified with Brooklyn," adds Gurecka, taking a gulp from a very dark-looking beer. "Being from here, you basically have a sign on you that says that you're a little tougher, a bit more abrasive. People say," he assumes a snotty Soho voice, "'Oh, Brooklyn—I wonder what they could be up to.' Or, 'Oh, it must be so ha-a-a-rd to work out there—' And it's like, 'Fuck you."'

It's a Monday morning back in Williamsburg, and Tina Fallon, one half (along with Tor Ekeland) of the company Crux, is at work in her office above Galapagos. "Oh, yeah," she says. "We're totally a Brooklyn company."

Maybe so, but once again that moniker has a different connotation. The three-year-old for-profit company supervises all things technical for other theaters and dumps the money earned into its own artistic endeavors. Crux is known for its "24-Hour Plays" series, in which seven or eight plays are written, cast, rehearsed, and staged in a 24-hour period. But while the group rehearses and has meetings in Brooklyn ("Seventy-five percent of the people we work with live out here"), their shows are almost always staged in Manhattan, lately at the Present Company's Theatorium.

Fallon is unapologetic about the fact that the company doesn't perform in Brooklyn. "The scale of the space we need isn't really available here," she says. "And in spite of the influx of money into this neighborhood, it still seems that most people spend their cash on food, beer, videos, and used furniture. If they want live performance, they're going to Manhattan."

When Crux moved into their offices, Galapagos was far from completed. "We helped a lot with work on the building," she laughs. "The deal was for every hour of work, Robert Elmes would pay us with three pints of beer. We lost track of it somewhere along the way, but we're still getting free beer." But that kind of laissez-faire attitude is changing. For better or worse, there's more fiscal responsibility in the air. Crux is very much a "tenant" at Galapagos ("Oh, yeah," says Fallon, "we pay plenty of rent"), and so Fallon and Ekeland have been dreaming of a space of their own. They're currently in negotiations to buy a building nearby: a roofless one-story structure sandwiched between a fish factory and a garbage dump. However, the company can't possibly afford its preposterous $300,000 price tag.

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