photo credit Terrell Halsey | Co-Founder/Executive Director Jeanne Ruddy, Rep. Donna Bullock, & Co-Founder Victor Keen
by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal
On one of the sultriest evenings this month, Jeanne Ruddy stood in the middle of the gutted ground floor of The Performance Garage, looking as elegant as ever amidst a crush of construction materials and hardware to host a tour of the initial phase the building’s renovations.
Ruddy and husband Victor Keen co-founded The Performance Garage at 1515 Brandywine St., originally a 19th century stable, later an auto garage, and for the past 16 years a converted dance venue, studio and art gallery. Ruddy has long wanted to continue developing the space and it is now possible after being awarded $500,000 by the City of Philadelphia’s Commercial Corridors Bond Program in 2015.
The Performance Garage launched in 2002 as an off the beaten theater venue track that extended the Avenue of the Arts north and now has been a dance community hub and part of the revitalization of the north center-city-Spring Garden district. It has been home to Jeanne Ruddy Dance for 12 years and performance/studio space for a slate of regional dance companies and dance artists, including BalletX, Kulu Mele, Philadanco, Group Motion, and Philadelphia Dance Projects.
The remodeling of the main performance space began in June and everything was on pace to be completed for the target re-opening dates in September. Ruddy introduced her Performance Garage staff, welcomed friends and company board members. Also in attendance to talk about the building was Jennifer Stark, a historic building specialist, who worked on the site’s initial remodeling in 2002, general contractor, Tracy Burden of Tangent Construction and her team and lead architect, Jeb Brookman in charge of the current design and renovation work.
Ruddy talked about some of the challenges the space previously presented, that will now be improved, including the installation of a new sprung floor and the stage skirt that will be more facilitating for the dancers coming on and off, and points out that the stage will be more adaptable for various configurations.
The newly installed stage arena will be re-positioned closer to the Brandywine St. wall that will create more stage depth. The re-positioning will allow more seating as well. The beautiful wooden stable double doors will remain. There will be another entrance to the stage for the dancers and a reconfigured lobby area that will be more comfortable for patrons. “What’s exciting is that this area is going to have a moveable wall, from that exit sign to this pillar,” Ruddy noted and decades of layered paint will be blasted off large swaths of the original brick structure.
Ruddy moves us into the adjacent floor studio room where a trio of dancers were rehearsing and then to the lobby area, remarking that $500,000 may seem like a lot, but it has to be stretched down to every dollar for essentials. She seems even more enthused about the more industrial repairs that might be invisible to audiences, but essential for the healthy maintenance of the building. They include roof repairs, reinforcing structural beams, Americans for Disability Act (ADA) compliant elevator and electrical, plumbing and carpentry work throughout the building. The updates include new air conditioning/heating system with venting that will be “completely silent”, Ruddy told the guests, so as not to disturb performances or audience members.
On top of the grant from the city, more funds have to be in place for the completion for the first phase of the project. After the tour, Ruddy detailed the status of the funding initiative. “So we think that the entire project for Phase I will be about $800,000 when all is said and done,” Ruddy said. “We have raised an additional $240,000, as of today (7.22.2016) that is where we are at. So we are still trying to raise another $60,000, which we would like to get in the door by mid-August,” Ruddy said, and currently in the works are ongoing donor drives and pending grant applications to secure those remaining required funds.
The additional funding and completion of all improvements must be in place for future matching support for the Performance Garage’s pending $1million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) application. If awarded, the RACP funds would initiate Phase Two of The Capital Project, which includes the renovation of two undeveloped floors of the building and, are intended to be rental properties that will facilitate future revenue streams.
“We’re preparing what we hope will be the next decade or so for the Performance Garage, that will support more local dance being seen, and I’m hoping that our improvements will enhance it in ways that make it more comfortable and accommodating to artists’ needs,” Ruddy said, adding that she is committed “To maintain the sense of embracing creativity and expanding opportunities for the local dance community to present their work and support that process, so yes, it will become even more of what it is currently,” She noted that her vision for The Performance Garage has always been a space “specifically for dance. I’m trying to make sure that we don’t loose the character of this building.”