By: Maria Haydee Harley, Staff Writer
It’s been almost 15 years since the Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts opened its doors for the first time at Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus. This well-designed and centrally located theater provides access to a diverse range of elegant, innovative and professional performances in the arts. Dance, music and theatrical productions are the predominant features that are staged in this 320-seat theater.
“Its purpose is to provide a performing space for emerging artists as well as artists at all stages of their careers,” says Rodney K. Hurley, managing director of the Kumble.
Over the years, the Kumble has opened its doors to established artists like Pauletta Washington, Fabolous, Meek Mill, and Drake. Other celebrities such as Alicia Keys and Denzel Washington have attended performances, “You never know who’s going to be in the audience for performances, or even on the stage from time-to-time,” Hurley said.
The theater also supports and provides opportunities for LIU students to perform on stage. “We have been part of the journey for many of our art space students,” Hurley explained. “Some alums have even returned with their own arts companies to perform.”
Building on Colorful History
And with Brooklyn flourishing in recent years, the Kumble Theater has been no exception. “Brooklyn has grown and expanded, becoming an arts destination. We have always been involved in the arts movements in the area, so we have been part of that growth,” Hurley said.
This semester has already been very busy for the Kumble. It has already presented a panel on documentary filmmaking and has hosted the Kingdom Choice Awards for indie Christian and hip-hop artists in addition to a horror film festival, a reggae concert, and a Hindi stand-up comedy show.
Generally, an artist’s managerial team or a cultural organizations will reach out to the Kumble to book and self-produce its shows. The Kumble’s staff assist with show promotion and helping to manage the events.
“I hire mostly outside technical staff to help run the theater. When someone has a similar mission to ours in their programing, that’s always an amazing experience,” says Hurley, who is the theater’s only full-time employee. “Our house staff always gets complimented for its [professionalism].” Other shows are produced in partnership with local theater groups or music schools.
A Unique Stage and Space
Kenyatta Beasley, a jazz musician and a professor of music production and jazz studies at the Brooklyn Campus, has performed at the Kumble several times, including in late October for his latest album, The Frank Foster Songbook. “It is acoustically well-designed,” he said. “Everything is [built to] allow your voice to just permeate without a microphone.”
Larry Banks, who chairs the media arts department at the Brooklyn Campus, says that he has attended about ten shows at the Kumble. “I have enjoyed them a great deal,” he says. “They are high quality, excellent and professional. I have both learned, and have been moved by, the different productions.”
Even in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn, with other venues like the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Barclays Center nearby, the Kumble Theater has managed to distinguish itself by increasing the number of cultural shows that it offers and by modernizing its facilities. Hurley compares it to properly maintaining a car. “Got a 15 year-old- vehicle; besides changing the oil, there are some other things that need to be done,” he said. “We just upgraded our sound system out of necessity and now we are working on the lighting just to stay relevant with technology.”
But even with those developments, Hurley admits that it has been a challenge to bring out a steady crowd of LIU students to its shows. Free events, student- discount prices, spring concerts and email lists have all been the strategies to try to reach out to them. Nevertheless, there is a current movement by the campus’ department of Student Services to do additional outreach.
Across town, the Kumble is seen as a reservoir of culture and community. It has become a respected platform for dance, music and theater, which continues to bring a life of its own to Downtown Brooklyn. “It has been an interesting, fulfilling and rewarding journey,” Hurley says. “Personally, I am happy and looking forward to more growth, accomplishments and new experiences. Fifteen years later, there is a theater running. And now it has a legacy.”