Harlem Stage

December 5, 2012

Harlem Stage regards itself as one of the country’s most prolific pro ducers of innovative work by artists of color, commissioning works in dance, music and theater throughout its 30-year history.

The cultural institution’s mission is to perpetuate the unique and diverse artistic legacy of Harlem and the indelible impression it has made on American performing arts.

Photo by: Chester Higgins

“We are known in the world as identifying artists of color by commissioning their works and helping with development of their works,” said Executive Director Patricia Cruz.

Harlem Stage takes historical and current events and filters them through a creative lens for audiences. The institution believes the end product gives people a heightened sensibility of social justice issues that impact everyone.

Some of Harlem Stage’s most recent performances include Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project, about the struggles of veterans of color from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; Sleep Song, about the impact of soldiers and their missions on the lives of Iraqi civilians; and Pavement, a dance work about urban violence.

Harlem Stage is housed in the historic Gatehouse, a $21-million conversion of a 19th century water station that brought fresh, clean water from the Croton Aqueduct to the city. The Gatehouse, at Convent Avenue and West 135th Street, won the 2008 Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award from the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

The building includes massive gates, grand arches and colorful stain-glass windows. Harlem Stage kept the site’s historical integrity, mixing it with modern flourishes that include stainless steel accents and a retracting theater seating system that conforms to each performance.

Harlem Stage leverages contributions from supporters, allowing the theater to share its stages with other community art institutions that include Classical Theater of Harlem, Columbia/Harlem Jazz Project, the Weill Music Institute of Carnegie Hall and the Sphinx Organization.

The theater goes beyond its primary function as an arts institution. Harlem Stage has worked with partners to finance an athletic field for its neighbor, P.S. 161, making it the only elementary school in the city with an attached field. The theater’s commitment to the community is even evident in its ticket prices, which range from free to $45. In addition, Harlem residents, groups, students, elders and members receive discounts.

Harlem Stage provides educational component for 10,000 children annually, 95 percent of whom are African-American and Latino. About 35 percent of the students live in West Harlem. The theater, music and dance programs build social skills and develop creative approaches to learning. They include daytime performances from cultures across the globe, curricula and workshops in neighborhood schools and a monthly open mic for teens.

The theater also hosts a family series of productions on evenings and weekends for students and their families to experience the arts together and interact with artists.

“We want to bring the family together in an arts environment,” Cruz said.

Harlem Stage has held Harlem Jazz Shrines for the past three years with the Apollo Theater, JazzMobile Inc. and Columbia University. During the weeklong jazz festival, Harlem establishments host free or low-cost performances.