Interview: Robin Sokoloff, Executive Director of Town Stages
1. Please tell us about Town Stages. What makes your venue unique?
Town Stages is a brand new performance and event venue in Tribeca. We provide iconic space and production resources for galas, corporate gatherings, film/photography shoots, fashion shows, screenings, workshops, networking functions, family celebrations, theater and dance. Offering flexible stages and an elegant event space, TOWN supports the entire lifecycle of New York’s hallmark industries, from inception to execution. We have room for up to 225 Guests. What makes us unique? Town Stages is a successful woman-owned and women-led enterprise in the most competitive city in the world. My team and I are dedicated to sharing your story, and celebrating your success. Whether you are pitching investors or launching your fashion line, we are here to put on your show.
2. Who does Town Stages serve and make a difference for?
Through our non-profit, Sokoloff Arts (501c3), Town Stages elevates the voices of those underrepresented and/or marginalized in their respective fields. As high-end event rentals book far out on our calendar at Town Stages, Sokoloff Arts is able to subsidize the work of women and minority identifying persons in the short-run at TOWN. When you do your gala, your wedding, or your corporate conference at Town Stages, you are contributing directly to the success of local innovators and young leaders today who are solving the problems of tomorrow.
In fact, we’ve just announced our inaugural Fellowship Program at Town Stages, supporting the important work of 28 deserving artists and entrepreneurs.
3. Why did you decide to launch this venture?
I began this journey as just one dance professional looking to survive rising rents and hyper-gentrification in New York City’s residential and commercial market. Since I moved here in 1999, my apartment rent only got higher, and my apartment size only got smaller. That’s the difference between having one job while be able to practice for that job in your own living room, and now needing 4 jobs and a secondary space to rent just to hope to do the work that I do.
19 different apartments later, and barely breaking even on renting in hundreds of studios and theaters all over the city, I had to ask myself: Where’s this going? Isn’t there a better way?
Even as the market melted down, and against the backdrop of a rising wealth-inequality gap in NYC, there was one thing I knew all New Yorkers still had in common: We want to be together. We come here and we stay here because we love people. We love how different we are from one another, and we’ll fight tooth and nail to survive here, so long as we can be together. We need each other and we NEED spaces to be together. That held true then, and holds true now more than ever in this divisive political climate. Socially and culturally speaking, New Yorkers need places to collaborate, celebrate, organize, and keep learning from one another.
I never intended to go into business. But I knew space was both the problem and the solution.
Out of the ashes of how artists like me used to live and work here, I designed a new business model for shared space in New York City. I built this model to adapt and withstand rents as they continue to rise. I knew in my heart of hearts that if I built a venue flexible for civic, corporate, tech, and artistic needs, that I could bring us all back together again. Whether you had six figures to spend on one event, or just three, I could give you the same experience. We could all share, and we could all win.
In that fashion, I was able to rent to groups and individuals across all sectors, and then give resources in the form of space and production dollars back to a large community of young and emerging innovators just like me.
4. What is your favorite part of the work you do?
The adventure. No two days are alike. As a girl born in the 80’s who grew into a woman in the late 90’s, I was raised to believe I can do anything and be anything. I was raised to challenge myself. I have this unbridled, bottomless well of energy. Building and running a space of this magnitude takes all of me. It takes the experience I’ve cultivated in design, in performance, in event production, in construction, and more. One day I’m rewiring a light grid. The next day I’m moderating a panel on sexual harassment. I’m literally writing to you from the set of our first full-feature movie shoot at Town Stages. I’m trying to pretend it’s not a horror flick, but it is, and I’m totally scared. Ha!
Almost nothing I do day-to-day looks familiar from the last. Some seek structure and security in the work they do. I seek challenge and transformation.
5. Tell us about your wonderful team.
Have you ever turned to a friend and said, “Wanna jump off a cliff with me?”
Building my team sounded more like, “Hey, I’m about to run and jump off a cliff. I kinda know how to fly, but there’s a chance I could crash and burn. Whattaya say?”
Staci Jacobs is a warrior and a rock star, Chie Morita is a wonder and god-send. They are building this endeavor with me, brick by brick. There was no way on earth Town Stages would exist without their ingenuity, their time, their wisdom, and their dedication to this company and those we are opening our doors to.
What did I know about building a team? Not much, actually. There’s a huge difference between running a show and building a business. A show has a script. A start-up has none.
What I did carry with me is what not to do, from watching other business owners. Most workplaces I’ve careened through are terrified of dynamically talented and extremely competent women. But when I hire, I’m looking for partners. I’m looking at you thinking, “Please be better at this than me. Please surprise me, and out think me, and outpace me every step of the way”. That’s how business should work.
At my first space in Chelsea called Loft227, I was so very fortunate to have incredible women like Magan Wiles and Casandra Rosario onboard while they built their own companies. Magan is now LA based, running both her boutique small business solutions firm and opening tango studios left and right. Casandra is travelling the world representing her social-hub for foodies, and her hospitality firm is executing events nationwide.
Bottom line, women get shit done. If you want results, hire women. But when you hire us, make sure you:
Check your ego.
Pay us equally.
Keep your hands to yourself.
...and let us get to work.
6. Tell us about your wonderful space.
Town Stages is just beautiful. It is a storefront location on West Broadway with gorgeous pillars and dramatic stairs leading in. People take a couple steps inside and just stop in awe and ask if they are in the right place. By and large, New York City is a compressed, vertical, and low-ceilinged kinda place. In contrast, Town Stages has gilded high-ceilings, and sprawls out to both an avenue and side-street address. We have 2 stories, multiple rooms, a dedicated elevator, and great back-of-house facilities. This building goes back to 1856, and has that kind of old-world grandness and charm. No doubt about it, Town is fancy AF.
7. How can people support Town Stages?
You can rent our space! Your next project is just around the corner, and bringing your business to Town Stages directly supports the work we do, and serves to elevate female leadership in the marketplace.
In addition, our non-profit is an open avenue for those who passionately believe in a more equitable world for all, and want to give generously towards that end at Town Stages. TOWN is set to see 750,000 people in its doors over the next 15 years, not to mention the exponential online outreach it will have in spreading a message of inclusion, collaboration, and tough conversations. Where change often comes far too slow for this generation and the next, Sokoloff Arts (501c3) is actively seeking the support of successful organizations and high-net worth individuals who are determined to accelerate the advancement of women and minority identifying persons. We are cultivating a Board of Directors, and also have naming opportunities to our three gorgeous spaces at Town Stages. Supporting us will make an extraordinary impact on New York City’s cultural landscape here and now, and make space for next generation.
8. Where can we follow you?
You can follow us on Facebook at Town Stages, on Instagram @TownStages, and you can check out our website at www.townstages.com.