Unveiling Performance Space New York

The rebranding process, as the new name indicates, involves an effort to make Performance Space more welcoming to a wider audience. In its grungier former life, which began in 1980 when a group of artists took over an abandoned schoolhouse on First Avenue, the space fostered a certain sense of community, but it didn’t quite scream “come in.” As Mr. Gantner said in a phone interview: “It was these giant steel doors that were locked except at quarter of 8, when the show was about to go up and we opened the box office. It was actually a bit intimidating.”

Ms. Schlenzka, who is from Berlin and moved to New York in 2002, said she hoped to reach people who might be “scared or skeptical” of performance and to attract a more culturally diverse crowd. She envisions a “vital center for community” that’s bustling day and night, with the help of free daytime exhibitions and partnerships with co-tenants. (Performance Space shares the building with several other arts and social service organizations.)

“If our audience could be a representation of the city, that would be a huge success,” she said, noting that downtown dance and theater audiences tend to be predominantly white. But the idea of separate audience-building initiatives doesn’t interest her. “I’ve been in these meetings about ‘Oh, we need to diversify our audience,’ and it’s always, ‘Let’s do a side program’ or ‘Let’s do a community day.’ But I don’t want a community day. I want the community to be the main program.”

Ms. Schlenzka plans to organize her programming around themes — to offer “a way in” for newcomers, she said — beginning with the East Village. From Feb. 17 to June 30, the East Village Series will examine the history of Performance Space and its neighborhood, reflecting on forces that have shaped them: gentrification, the AIDS epidemic, and punk and club culture. Ms. Schlenzka likened it to “the way that in psychoanalysis, you have to know your past to free yourself to conquer the future.”

Nostalgia, she added, is off limits: “We have this amazing past that in my opinion not enough people know about. But it can drag us down, and that’s a fine line to navigate.”

Straddling the worlds of dance, theater, fashion, film, visual art and literature, the series includes Performance Space regulars like the choreographers Sarah Michelson and Ishmael Houston-Jones, who jokingly calls himself…

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