By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
When 321 Ashland Place housed a Salvation Army corps, the people there talked about saving souls. But now, totally reconstructed with a new addition, the building will be dedicated to theater, performance and dance.
A 250-seat theater in the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s new Richard B. Fisher Building will open in September during the Next Wave Festival, a celebration of experimental non-conventional art. While Next Wave seats in the BAM Opera House will be considerably more expensive, those at Fisher will cost just $20, a move designed to broaden the event's audience.
The Richard B. Fisher Building might be the least conventional of BAM’s buildings. The Peter J. Sharpe Building (which is what most people think of when they hear the word “BAM”) and the Harvey Theater were built during the last century for symphony, theater, ballet and other performances that typically attract large audiences.
BAM President Karen Brooks Hopkins stressed that the building’s theater, the Judith and Alan Fishman Space, is especially made for small-scale performances because it can configured for one to four rows of seats — or no seats.
Hopkins also said that several other spaces in the building will allow BAM to expand its educational outreach programs, such as spring-break and after-school workshops. In the past, she said, BAM has often had to rent space for these programs.
Work on the $50 million structure — which consists of the reconstructed Salvation Army building plus a new, taller annex behind it — began two years ago.
Gesturing toward a large picture window within the 1,600-square-foot Rita K. Hillman Studio during a tour of the building yesterday, architect Hugh Hardy said, “This is the first of BAM’s buildings that looks out onto the community.”
From the window, one could see the Brooklyn YWCA, the Baptist Temple, and, behind it, the former Board of Education headquarters at 110 Livingston St.
Hardy also said that the presence of the new theater “will bring some light to this street. The Peter J. Sharpe Building, although it is a magnificent building, has no windows facing Ashland Place. And across the street you have the parking lot, which is also dark.”
According to Ms. Hopkins, the city paid $32 million toward the cost, $3 million came from the state, and $15 million from private donors.
Of the private donations, the largest, $10 million, came from the family of the late Richard B. Fisher, chairman of the BAM Endowment Trust and CEO of Morgan Stanley.
Hopkins stressed that in addition to being part of BAM, the new theater should be seen in the context of the evolving BAM Cultural District. “Soon, you’ll be able to see all kings of venues within five blocks, from this 250-seat theater to the 19,000-seat Barclays Center,” she said.
Among the buildings in the cultural district are the James E. Davis 80 Arts Building at 80 Hanson Place; the Irondale Center for Theater, Education and Outreach within the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church; and the Theater for a New Audience, currently under construction.
The triangular space across from the Fisher Building, which contains the aforementioned parking lot and an open-air plant store, was originally supposed to house an performing-arts library that would have been part of the BAM Cultural District.
Famed architect Enrique Norton created a ship-like design for the building. However, as this newspaper reported in 2007, the Brooklyn Public Library was not able to raise the needed funds from the private sector to build it.