Founded in 1980 from an explosion of radical self-expression amidst the intensifying American culture wars, Performance Space 122 is the birthplace of contemporary performance as it is known today. The early acts that defined Performance Space 122’s unique role in New York cultural history asserted themselves as living, fleeting, and crucially affordable alternatives to mainstream art and culture of the 1980s and early 90s. Emboldened by the inclusive haven of a tight knit group of artists, performers like Penny Arcade, Ron Athey, Ethyl Eichelberger, Karen Finley, Spalding Gray, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Holly Hughes, John Kelly, John Leguizamo, Tim Miller, and Carmelita Tropicana, among many others, engaged in radical experimentation and created hybrid works that existed somewhere between dance, theater, poetry, ritual, film, technology and music.
With the renovation and reimagining of its original abandoned public-school building in the East Village completed, Performance Space 122 is entering a new, bracing chapter. Under the leadership of recently appointed Executive Artistic Director Jenny Schlenzka, and with state-of-the-art, column-free, high-ceilinged performance spaces, the organization is poised to make a case for the cultural vitality and relevance of performance for the 21st century. Schlenzka brings the idea of themed series to Performance Space 122. As part of a larger multidimensional whole, individual works are juxtaposed to evoke further meaning and push audiences to engage with our contemporary world in illuminating ways. The inaugural series (February–June) in the renovated building focuses on the East Village itself, including Performance Space 122’s iconic history, re-anchoring the organization within its immediate surroundings.
Returning to a rapidly changing neighborhood during a time marked by divisive and oppressive politics, Performance Space 122 builds on its own traditions of integration, political involvement and vehement interdisciplinarity, embodied by artists like niv Acosta, Big Dance Theater, Elevator Repair Service, Tim Etchells, Emily Johnson, Young Jean Lee, Taylor Mac, Richard Maxwell, Sarah Michelson, Rabih Mroué, Okwui Okpokwasili, Reggie Watts, and Adrienne Truscott.
Performance Space 122’s lasting presence from the pre-gentrification East Village neighborhood fervently aims to create an open environment for artists and audiences, and thus foster community through performance and discourse—to be a countering force to the often-exclusionary nature of urban development.
Performance Space 122’s upcoming series, and its annual Coil Festival, are inclusive, intergenerational, and interdisciplinary. Focusing on works that boldly resist classification, the organization continues to test and expand the boundaries of live performance.