Messana O'Rorke
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Axis Theatre

Axis Theatre

Axis Theatre

New York, NY

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9805.042.06.jpg
Axis Theatre

Axis Theatre

New York, NY

The existing basement space has been used as a cabaret and theatre since the 1920’s. The space was the first home of Cafe Society, which is where Billie Holiday, Lena Horne and Zero Mostel performed during the 1930’s and 40’s. Cafe Society was downtown New York's first integrated club; “the right place for the wrong people”. By the late 60’s the space had become Sanctuary and was a venue for Jimmy Hendrix and other musicians of his day. The space eventually became the home of the Ridiculous Theatre Company which closed in 1994 because of the dilapidation of the space. The Axis Theatre Group were compelled to resurrect this performance space, because of its address and colorful past.

Axis Theatre Company is a versatile avant-garde multimedia ensemble, that writes, produces and performs original work. In response to Axis Theatre Company, the design concept developed into an interactive, versatile, dynamic, yet simply functional space. Taking from themes commonly pursued by the company, and utilizing ideas from butcher shops, medical facilities, operating rooms, and science laboratories; such as billboards, laboratory equipment and exhibition vitrine, a simple pallet of clinical materials was established: stainless steel, glass and concrete.

Audiences experience three components of the theatre; the entry foyer, the lobby, and the theatre arena. Conceptually the intention was to impact the visitor the moment they step off the side walk, engaging the audience at different intensities as they make their way from the street to the auditorium. The exterior of the theatre is governed by New York Historic district code and so remains simple and unassuming. Visual imagery and sound, corresponding with the production taking place, will intensify as the audience makes its way from the foyer and down into the lobby before entering the theatre. The audience is placed in an environment where experiments are carried out and information is established. The intention is to put the audience on edge, deny them the feeling of ease and challenge their senses. This is antithesis of the usual Victorian anteroom replete with velvet drapes and posters of previous theatrical triumphs.

The small brightly lit entrance foyer is focused on interchangeable billboard over the stair as you descend to the lobby. A fold down stainless steel counter serves as a foyer box office, adjacent to the ticket window on the street next to the refurbished entrance doors. Stainless steel laboratory display cabinets line the walls of the lobby, which was designed to be a flexible space adapting and transforming itself as needed. A horizontal glass vitrine at eye level provides an area to display components, objects and artifacts relating to the production. The glass band can also be used as a light box to backlight images fixed to it, alternatively the entire room can transform into a super graphic or continuous mural by fixing panels to the front of the cabinets.

From the lobby, audiences will be ushered into the theatre, which is architecturally simple but technologically extremely well equipped; utilizing the best lighting, sound and projection equipment available. The theatre provides an intimate viewing experience in a semi-circle of ninety- nine seats around the stage, the design allows the audience to completely immerse themselves in the show. The ancillary spaces, public bathrooms and backstage areas, were finished with functional simplicity and utilized the established pallet of material finishes.