"In three to five years I think you will see a real change in the makeup of the demographic of the audience," said Bryan Rogers, the curator of 109 Square who was hired to select programing that would appeal to a younger crowd. "What I think it might do in the shorter term is raise its profile in the art world across the city."
So far 109 Square has had a "soft" opening, a preview period to gauge the kind of response it gets from audiences. Rogers said the feedback has been pretty positive so far. Audiences have enjoyed a variety of performances including a "Caburlesque" show, a du-wop group and a bluegrass group.
"The normal programming of the theater is really mainstream and very accessible, and I come from a background that's much more sort of avant garde and experimental, so I'm trying to choose things that are sort of in the middle, that are to some degree experimental but are also accessible to anyone," said Rogers, who is also the artistic director for the very contemporary Chocolate Factory Theater in Long Island City.
The 1,278-square foot Cabaret room where 109 Square is housed is part of the Queens Theatre's recent $23 million renovation. A kitchen and bar will open early next year, providing theater-goers with an on-site dining option before shows. The space will be converted for 109 Square performances later in the night, in a more intimate setting than that of the building's 500-seat and 99-seat theaters.
Queens Theatre is currently hosting 109 Square events every other week, but executive director Jeffrey Rosenstock hopes to increase it to five nights a week once once it builds a solid following.
"There are clubs that people are visiting because they don't have an alternative in Queens, and we're looking to see if we can create that alternative in Queens, an environment where they can say 'Hey, this is as good as going into the city,'" said Rosenstock.
He recalls when two years ago the director of Performance Space 122 admitted that PS122 was out of the loop when it came to the emerging art scene because 2nd Avenue and the Lower East Side had been completely gentrified.
Rosenstock said that up-and-coming artists are now flocking to Queens because they can't afford to live in Manhattan or Brooklyn, so the borough is reaping the benefits big-time.
"I think Queens is the frontier-land of the five boroughs right now, and I think the biggest changes are going to happen in Queens," said Rosenstock. "If people want to see what's going to be coming up next, they should keep their eye on Queens."