Today, those rooms are silent. The global health crisis has emptied out the galleries and closed the doors of our creative spaces. Most of the arts institutions in Jersey City work on thin margins. Even in good times, it’s difficult to keep galleries solvent. Frozen in place and with few ways to act, local curators face an unprecedented challenge.
The show opened with the funeral, as the comedian mused on the irony of grieving while organizing the event, which is essentially a party for other people. Later, Steffé invoked his late father who delivered the moral of the story in a bit about a trip to a strip club that involved blood. Be nicer to women, his dad urged.
Since the last time we rounded up performance spaces, the town has lost a cornerstone: FM, the comfortable, decent-sounding downtown venue that was, for more than a year, the most reliable local spot to catch an independent act. FM had a real stage and lights and a dedicated PA system run by soundmen who took pride in their skills. It was a true rock club in the time-tested style, booked by people with roots deep in the community and a clear vision of the kind of venue they’d like to run and scene they want to cultivate.
Downtown, where it seemed there was a dearth of music venues, FM filled an unmet need, with its unique mix of punk, rock and roll, funk and singer-songwriters. Certainly, the club had its ups and downs. Some nights it was so packed it was almost a fire hazard, other nights were so empty that shows got cancelled and the entire place closed early.
Longtime residents will recognize that argument. It’s the same one that was used by arts advocates during the debate over the institution of the Powerhouse Arts District. The PAD was meant to anchor arts activity in the Warehouse District, and create a Downtown haven for creative people and a magnet for visitors. The ordinance passed, and the PAD was instituted, but the neighborhood never developed in the manner in which its advocates hoped it would.
“The heartbeat there is similar to what you might find in the Village in New York. There’s a young, vibrant feeling there. The city’s image has turned around quite a bit, artists are finding homes, theater organizations are cropping up and doing unique work that fits into that vibe. I do hear a lot of people talking about the arts in Jersey City. Art is making that city tick. A lot of businesses are moving in, there’s a sense of pride in the residents, and that will only grow in time.”
“‘Slave Play’ is a radical study in American memory, the psychologies of the prized and the oppressed; the grateful and the entitled; who’s top, who’s bottom; who speaks, who can’t, and who betta listen,” wrote American poet Morgan Parker. And I would have to agree. “Slave Play” is not for the hard of heart, the hard of “hearing” or the weak in spirit. However, Mr. Harris’ play must be seen as part of the overall process of awakening, healing, and making sense of it all before it is too late.
The most prestigious comedy event of Jersey City, the Sixth Borough Comedy Festival, returns this coming summer for the third successive year with a new name: Jersey City Comedy Festival. The event will showcase a diverse range of talent representative of the second most diverse city in the nation, according to wallethub.com.
Until recently, this sad town of Jersey City was a comedy desert, or perhaps more aptly, a comedy death trap. One was hard pressed to find a comedy show in town.
Five years ago, a column like this one wouldn’t have been possible. Not that Jersey City didn’t have the bands, or the talent, or the vision; those have always been here. Shows, though—those weren’t on the calendar. Writing about music in Jersey City meant coming face to face with a performance-space shortage that was as inexplicable as it was frustrating. A city of a quarter million people simply didn’t contain many reliable and regularly booked music venues.