The Cherry Artspace: Tompkins County’s newest performance venue ready for its closeup

By Eric Banford
Tompkins Weekly

Photo by Sam Buggeln
A look at the interior of the newly opened The Cherry Artspace.

For local actors and theatergoers, there’s a new place to play – The Cherry Artspace.

Already part of the numerous quality theater companies in the area, The Cherry is opening its own venue at 102 Cherry St., along the Cayuga Inlet’s waterfront. It will officially open at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, September 13, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The Cherry describes itself as “radically local, radically international, and formally innovative.” Tucked along the Inlet, this new space is a quaint contrast to the car repair business and metal recycling behemoth that serve as its neighbors. Upon entering the space, it is a sparse, very open room that doesn’t initially even feel like a performance space.

That is all by design according to Artistic Director Samuel Buggeln.
“The space is multi-disciplinary, that’s how we wanted to set it up,” he explained as he pointed out the space. “There is no fixed audience, as you can see (just portable chairs).
“The stage happens to be here (in front of windows facing the inlet),” Buggeln added, “because we had a wonderful experimental percussion ensemble who performed last night and this is where they wanted to be.”

Photo by Rachel Philipson / RachelPhilpson.com
A Hangar Theatre Wedge performance that took place at the Cherry Artspace shows the venue can adapt for the needs of the show.

An open space like that lends itself to being transformed into anything.
“Really, art spaces are spaces of community,” said Buggeln. “That’s the live experience, you come together, and experience something with a group of people, and you are one for a time.”

The New Season
The Cherry’s 2017-18 season of theatre and music, the first to take place at the Cherry Artspace, begins on Thursday, September 14, with “What Happens Next,” a new play by Saviana Stanescu, a Romanian-born award-winning playwright and scholar who has lived in Ithaca for about five years, according to Buggeln.
“Saviana is produced all over Europe and considerably around the U.S., but she’s never had a play professionally produced in Ithaca,” he said. “We commissioned a new play from her, and she wrote it specifically for two of our company actors.
“We’ve been developing it for a year and a half, and it starts Thursday September 14th, which is very exciting,” added Buggeln.

“What Happens Next” will run for two weeks, and will be followed by “The Snow Queen,” which was a big success last year.
“It’s the Hans Christian Andersen story that ‘Frozen’ was based on, only we’re sticking closer to the original, which is much stranger,” said Buggeln. “It’s for families and is full of talking animals and talking flowers, lots of songs, shadow puppetry. It’s really fun.”

This will be followed by the English-language premieres of two strange and wonderful new international plays: “Rule of Thumb,” by Serbian playwright and filmmaker Iva Brdar, and “George Kaplan” by French writer/performer Frédéric Sonntag.

A Breadth of Opportunity
Rounding out the Artspace’s season will be performances from an eclectic variety of artists and companies, including Opera Ithaca, Whiskey Tango Sideshow, Powerdove/Annie Lewandowski, Ithaca Fantastique, among others.
“Honestly there are so many famous, accomplished people who live here because they teach here,” said Buggeln. “You have to be very accomplished to get a job at Ithaca College or Cornell, so we have a great ensemble of these artists. The Cherry is bringing them together as a group, and then we work together.
“We have lots of music booked in, and lots of things that are multi-disciplinary,” he added.

Buggeln noted performances from Annie Lewandowski who performs as Powerdove, who “has a piece called ‘Bitter Banquet’ which is a song cycle with video which is very imagistic. That will be here for two nights;” a commissioned entry from Sammus, “who is a fabulous hip-hop woman, to create a more theatrical version of her songs, and that will be here in late October;” and Leeny Sack, “a wonderful performance artist who was in the heart of performance art in the 1970s, she just moved back to Ithaca and she’s doing three Mondays of very interesting experimental performance art.”

He also stressed the Cherry’s investment in its location.
“Our first play on this property was called ‘Cherry Time Dive’ where we commissioned four Ithaca writers to do research on what has happened in this neighborhood in the last 100 years,” said Buggeln. “They wrote four short plays that we braided together, and it really gave the sense of being invested in this place.”

The hope is that by bringing together different circles of creative people and their audiences, that The Cherry will become a space that cross-pollinates energy between many groups.
“How do you have a play and a book reading and a music concert in the same week in the same space?” said Buggeln. “There are lots of logistics to work out, it’s fascinating to learn how different creative industries organize themselves.
“We’ll just keep saying yes to as many things as we can, and keep sailing forward,” he concluded with a laugh.

The Cherry is also available to rent for parties and corporate events, all proceeds of which go towards making the space more accessible to inventive artmakers. Visit TheCherry.org for more information about the theater company, venue and upcoming events.