By Margret Echeverria

FRIGID New York has held residence at The Kraine Theater on East 4th Street for over twenty years.  This year, they are not renewing their lease.  They are fairly quiet about exactly why, but they will be closing their operations down before the end of the year.  Sunday night, December 17, I went to see the first of three final shows presented by Paper Kraine, company founded by Lizzy Anna Lincoln & Danielle Turner who have been test driving new projects at the Kraine since 2016.  Paper Kraine was born out of a reaction to the election that year.  Their mission is to support emerging artists and create theater to raise money for charitable causes that make many conservatives throw tantrums.  It was a perfect match with FRIGID’s mission to give new artists a place to grow.  There were tears at this celebration, including my own, but they were grateful ones.  The availability of true independent theater, in which the artist is allowed to fail while simultaneously discovering genius, is quickly disappearing in this town.  And it was refreshing to witness some raw talent and creativity because I was starting to forget it is still around in very small amounts.

Gather ‘round, Children and let me tell you of a time when one could live in New York City, work part time, develop art, present it and sell it.  All this could happen while paying rent and utilities, living modestly and not going too hungry; only calling Mom or an uncle for help on rare occasions.  It was not the easiest life, but it was a happy, independent and gratifying life.  When I moved to New York in 1994, the artist community was already beginning to complain that these times were fading.  But in 1994, you could live in Williamsburg for a song – sometimes literally – or BedStuy in huge space with intermittent heat.  On the downside, both neighborhoods were places you could be shot.  But we held on to the knowledge that a gun shot doesn’t usually kill, it just makes one wish they were dead.

Friends would come to visit me in the 90’s and early 2000’s.  I would take them to the East and West Villages where we would spend the night getting cheap eats, cheap drinks and poking our heads into venue after venue for cover prices of just a few bucks to see a cacophony of gritty, funny, outrageous and disturbing theater.  Beat poetry, performance art, stand up comedy, monologuists, and I don’t know what that other stuff was, but the visuals were so stimulating, I won’t forget it.  I remember watching two performers dressing each other in wig after wig, holding scripts in their hands and talking about dogs while bursting into giggles.  The Collective Unconscious, CBGB’s and The Cornelia Street Café were some of my favorite haunts well into the small hours of the morning.  This kind of entertainment is very hard to find now.

Now, BedStuy and Williamsburg are covered in happy babies and the rent is not artist friendly at all.  But almost no one is getting mugged on Metropolitan Avenue, so there’s that. In 2023, one must work full time just to cover basics and developing one’s art costs dearly.  There are many who live in Detroit or Atlanta, developing art there and then coming to New York City only to present it.  I appreciate these artists, sure, but there is a flavor of experimentation cum brilliance that can only be birthed here in New York City and it is becoming increasingly impossible.

The Kraine Theater may be taken over by another indie operation and continue to be a haven for the sorcery that births art purely from the muse, never influenced by profit goals or what is popular.  But I’m afraid to hope too much.  I used to perform at the Red Room, two floors up from the Kraine Theater in the same magical building.  The Red Room is now a speak easy – gorgeous with copper everywhere and truly some of the best old fashioneds I have ever been served – and it does have a significantly smaller stage than what used to be there in my day.  But it is a stage – polished and not very gritty.  There is a marked lack of dust on the red velvet curtains.

FLOCK by TJ Burleson

FLOCK by TJ Burleson

FRIGID is moving its operation to UNDER St. Marks.  A significantly smaller house.  But the company will continue their weird wild stuff and will remain independent.  Paper Kraine is coming with them.  Sunday, Paper Kraine gave us improvisational songs made up on the spot from suggestions by the audience, new stand up routines, scenes from unfinished plays, testimonials from artists who found a place to breathe in the Kraine Theater.  The audience was asked to play instruments, sing along and even make origami as part of the show.  As an artist myself, I was totally inspired.  I miss this stuff.  I vow to lend my support as much as I can in the New Year.