How St. Ann’s Warehouse Creates Radical and Responsive Theatre

Interview   How St. Ann’s Warehouse Creates Radical and Responsive Theatre
 
From a converted church to a Brooklyn tobacco warehouse, artistic director Susan Feldman ensures the company produces daring theatre—no matter the space.
Susan Feldman
Susan Feldman Marc J. Frankln

In 1979, Susan Feldman took on the job of preserving St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church, a landmark Episcopal church in Brooklyn Heights. Immediately recognizing the space was conducive to the arts, Feldman opened it up to musicians and arts organizations. While remaining a place of worship, the church became a concert stage for the likes of Lou Reed, Marianne Faithfull, and Elvis Costello, as well as the backdrop for puppet operas and film series.

After 21 years, Feldman was invited to re-locate as an arts organization to a warehouse in Dumbo. Undeterred by the neighborhood’s predominantly industrial feel, she continued what she had been doing at the church, “which was to find communities of artists in need of a large open space.” She knew that if the art was good, audiences would show up.

Now located in a newly renovated tobacco warehouse on Dumbo’s waterfront, the aesthetic and mission of St. Ann’s Warehouse are rooted in its rich legacy. A theatre renowned for presenting cutting-edge, multi-disciplinary work, Feldman says that her primary mission, “to fill the special needs of artists,” has not changed. “Being responsive is a big part of our sense of purpose,” says the artistic director. “We’re giving something to artists that they can’t find somewhere else—that can uplift them and take them to another level.”

St. Ann’s Warehouse remains not only responsive to artists’ needs, but to the world in which those artists are creating. “There’s a certain activism in our programming,” says Feldman, who sees this as a continuation of the long legacy of radical activism she found at the church. A look at the upcoming season—which includes the acclaimed U.K. production of The Jungle, an immersive play about life in a refugee camp; as well as The Wooster Group and Eric Berryman’s The B-Side: “Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons”—are testament to this.

The 2018–2019 season, which will kick off this month with an all-new Oklahoma!, is not yet complete, but that doesn’t bother Feldman. Being nimble has always been at the core of her artistic leadership, allowing her to not only program eclectically, but to continue to draw in varied audiences. It’s also given St. Ann’s Warehouse the flexibility to nurture long-term partnerships with a range of different artists—from the local Wooster Group to Tony-winning Irish playwright Enda Walsh.

Because whether she’s tasked with helping rebuild a church or revitalizing a waterfront, for Feldman the art has “always been front and center for itself.” And that’s all she can continue to hope for as St. Ann’s continues its legacy: “That the art is going to lead no matter what.”

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