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Underground Arts: Arts Alive In The Basement.

October 23, 2012


Text by Rachel Barrish. Images by G.W. Miller III.

Head down the steps of the Wolf Building, on Callowhill at 12th Street, to a colorful hall that leads into a vast space with a stage, concrete pillars and a world of potential.

Underground Arts, a venue for theater productions, performance art, comedy, poetry, dance and music, has been quietly becoming more and more popular over the past few years, growing in size and steadily adding amenities.

This fall, the basement venue was the official bar for the Live Arts/Philly Fringe Festival, hosting the Late Night Cabaret as well as other performances.

Even before becoming Underground Arts, the space already had a somewhat rich and colorful history. It had previously been used as a storage space for the Convention Center and at one point, the room was used to film videos verging on S&M material.

The owner and operator of the building, Gary Reuben, got the idea to create a venue after his son used the space to put on a theatrical production of Appetite, which was directed by Pig Iron Theatre Company alum Sarah Sanford.

Then, everything came together.

Reuben teamed up with his business partner, Gary Reisner, to develop a sustainable place where emerging artists could display their crafts and talents. They received a $50,000 Creative Industry Workforce Grant in 2010 to launch the project.

After that, they began the slow, organic process of clearing out the basement and turning it into a 12,000-square-foot creative outlet for people to see and be seen.

When you walk into Underground Arts now, you enter the main performance space with room for 250 seated or 600 standing. There is a full bar and kitchen. Beyond that space is a whole other room, called The Black Box, which is primarily used for theater and dance performances.

“Producing other types of work makes us different,” says Reuben. “Broader acts can experience new arts and people can form new relationships here.”

Hidden in the back is Lorelei Recording Studio, run by Peter Tramo. It is an up and running facility where bands and musicians may come to rehearse, record, mix and master.

Underground Arts is dedicated to promoting a variety of arts but music has been one of the major draws. Bands such as Vacationer (above), Fishbone, Black Dice, El Malito & the 33rd Century and City Rain have packed the intimate room.

The majority of the booking is done in-house but they have also teamed up with Sean Agnew from R5 Productions, as well as the Electric Factory’s agency, Bonfire LLC.

  1. Anonymous permalink
    October 24, 2012 3:12 pm

    Also, the new home of West Philadelphia Orchestra’s monthly Balkan Dance Party. Every 1st Thursday of the month.


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