Just below the Highline, on the corner of West 13th and Washington Streets, stands Kazino, a 6,000-square-foot Russian supper club and performance space within a tent that houses Dave Malloy's critically acclaimed, Drama Desk Award-nominated Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, an electropop opera inspired by a small chunk of Leo Tolstoy's War & Peace.
Manhattan's newest meatpacking-district venue, which officially opened its doors May 1, was specially built for the show. The production was granted a new life by commercial producers, including Howard and Janet Kagan, after a run at the significantly smaller Ars Nova last fall. "We knew that we wanted the opening date to be May 1, and that was not moving," says Mimi Lien, the show's scenic designer and the architect of the full space. "We looked at so much real estate for two months, December to January. Finally, we decided that we wanted to do it in a tent." That was near February.
"We had a couple of different options," said Howard Kagan. "We looked at nightclub spaces and we looked at some traditional theaters and raw land with this in mind. We had a tent person lined up. We have a real-estate broker who is looking for us, and they found this piece of land, which is basically in a holding pattern, waiting for permits to build a tower on. The people who are going to build gave us the land for the period they figured they wouldn't be building."
Lien, meanwhile, had just about three weeks to draw up plans to not only rebuild the environmental set, but to organize the surrounding spaces, including dressing rooms for the cast, a bar, a kitchen where Russian-style cuisine would be cooked, and other assorted amenities. "Every day, I'd be drawing the thing that they'd be building the next day," she remembers. "We were drawing stuff for the drywall contractors; we were drawing stuff for the riggers who were installing the [lighting] truss; the curtains that were being sewed, the banquettes that were being fabricated, and the set. We had three weeks to put it together."
The tent floor only went down on April 1, a month before the scheduled opening. "The whole thing, from the first line drawn, was probably two months total," Lien says, adding that "a lot of the conceptualizing happened at Ars Nova, so it was expanding that idea." And it is quite similar to the renowned off-Broadway incubator. "Even the main shapes are similar, the idea of the stage and musicians' pit jutting out into the space," she notes. "Really, the challenge here was trying to maintain the same intimacy we had while quadrupling the space."
Ultimately, Kagan notes, "We wanted to have a space where you would feel transported into another world. Even if it was a traditional theater, we'd trick it out, so it would feel different." That might not be too far off. When those building permits come through, this iteration of Kazino will have to shut its doors, but the production will live on in a different space.
But that won't be until the fall at the very least. Until then they have their great tent on West 13th and Washington. Step inside Kazino in the photo gallery below and join Lien on a walking tour.