Lady in waiting: Crown Heights’ Black Lady Theatre re-opening after 18 years

Lady in waiting: Crown Heights’ Black Lady Theatre re-opening after 18 years
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

She’s ready for her close-up.

The historic Black Lady Theatre in Crown Heights is preparing to open its doors for the first time since 1998, and it will offer visitors an advance look at the long-shuttered spot as part of Open House New York Weekend on Oct. 15–16. The venue, also known as the Slave Two, is a sister to the Slave One Theatre in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Both spots were central to Brooklyn’s black empowerment movement in the 1980s, and the opening this weekend will remind people of that history, said a theater spokeswoman.

“Back in the ’80s people rallied there, had think tank meetings, and town meetings — a lot of prominent black people have spoken in this theater,” said Christie Williams, administrator for the Black Lady Theatre. “The Black Lady Theatre served as a hub for local artists, and it served to stage plays and independent films. Now we want to let people know ‘Hey, we’re open.’ ”

Inside, visitors can see the amphitheater and its 51-foot-wide stage, which is currently being renovated. They can also view murals of influential black figures, including Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Marcus Garvey, which once graced the lobby of the Slave One theater. The artwork offers an essential view of black history in America, said Williams.

“You have to see the murals — they tell the complete story,” she said. “Some of them tell the story of how we were stripped from our land, our family, and culture. They’re very poignant murals.”

Tourists will also hear the story of the theater’s founder, Judge John Phillips, who dedicated the Black Lady Theatre to his mother and wanted it to celebrate black women with art and entertainment, and of the shady business practices that Williams believes led to the Slave Theater eventually being sold to developers. She hopes that increased awareness will help the Black Lady Theatre avoid the same fate.

“There’s a lot of black history in this theater,” said Williams. “They don’t care and are willing to wipe it out. We want to preserve a piece of history, so this generation and the next generation can come to partake in that history.”

Black days: One of the many murals inside the Black Lady Theatre shows an African woman with a blank expression as slave ships approach.
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

The theater is scheduled to open full time by the end of this month, said Williams, launching with a production of “Oz Comes to Brooklyn.” She hopes the theater will again become a landmark in the community.

“Right now we want to serve the locals and this is just a start. We want to serve the purposes it did when Phillips bought it.”

The annual Open House New York event features 35 locations in Brooklyn this year, including the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park, the Kings Theatre in Flatbush, and Kings County Brewers Collective in Bushwick.

Another soon-to-open venue is also giving visitors a sneak peek this weekend — the Amalgamated Drawing Office, or A/D/O, an upcoming creative arts space in Greenpoint. The renovated building, formerly the site of the Brooklyn Night Bazaar, will feature futuristic work spaces for artists and start-ups, and a Nordic restaurant.

Open House New York Weekend on Oct 15–16 at various locations and times. www.ohny.org.

Tour the Black Lady Theatre [750 Nostrand Ave. between Sterling and Park places in Crown Heights, (718) 771–0900, www.theslavetheater.com]. Oct. 15–16, 10 am–6 pm. Free.

Tour A/D/O [29 Norman Ave. between Banker and Dobbin Streets in Greenpoint, (718) 218–5052, www.a-d-o.com]. Oct 15–16 at noon, 2 pm, and 4 pm. Free.

Reflections: Mirrors will be placed inside the skylight to create a reflection of the Manhattan skyline inside the A/D/O building in Greenpoint.
Photo by Caleb Caldwell