Last Theatre Next Theatre

The Redhouse

A brothel gets a second artistic life.

by Maggie Gilroy | Artwork by Kelly O'Neill

The Redhouse Arts Center is exactly what it sounds like: a theatre that began its life as a prostitution house. The center earns praise for two trademarks: its range of programming (everything from Disney musicals to Euripides’ Medea and its investment in local youth. The Redhouse sends more than 20 teaching artists to bring theater education to Syracuse elementary-school kids. Local kids also appear in their productions, giving them a chance to work alongside professional artists. It also provides arts education for at-risk youth, individuals with disabilities, and families in need. Stephen Svoboda leads the Redhouse, and MacKillop describes him as “extraordinarily ambitious.” MacKillop was particularly fond of The Redhouse’s repertory productions of plays by Oscar Wilde. “They used a lot of the same cast in both. So as with any kind of repertory, the fun is seeing an actor playing one kind of role one night and then you come back the next night, and it’s an entirely different character in the same space,” MacKillop says. “And those were just extraordinarily successful.” The innovation fuels the center’s growth and soon the Redhouse will move into its new location in the Sibley’s Department Store building in Downtown Syracuse. The Redhouse often produces the work of one playwright in repertory, and in 2016 they picked Sara Ruhl, a living American female playwright. One play by a contemporary female playwright is rare, but several of her plays programmed at once? That’s almost as absurd as having a prostitution house serve as a prominent cultural center.

Behind the Curtain:

  • Address: 201 S. West St. Syracuse, N.Y. 13202
  • Student tickets: $20
  • Mainstage season:Year round
  • Distance from Syracuse University: 1 mile; 4 minutes by car
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