Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House is located on 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, between Ashland Place and St. Felix Street. The main theater for Brooklyn Academy of Music, it is inside the same building as Rose Cinemas and BAMcafé. Built in 1906, it replaced the original Brooklyn Academy of Music on 176-194 Montague Street after that building burned down in 1903. Along with the nearby Harvey Theater, the entire Brooklyn Academy of Music lies in the Fort Greene area of Brooklyn, just off Flatbush & Atlantic Avenues, just up the street from the Clock Tower and eight blocks west on Lafayette from Brooklyn Masonic Temple.
A turn-of-the-century theater, the large BAM building has a lobby with multiple doors from the street (up a few stairs), as well as the escalator to BAMcafé. The lobby has a bar in the middle, on the street side, right in front of a large four-sided poster display, with elevators to the other side, service window to the left, will call to the right. The lobby has a rather poor crowd flow, thanks to the sides being used and an obstruction in the middle. The doors to Howard Gilman Opera House are to the right of entering (one cannot bring in drinks).
A seated theater, Howard Gilman has two balconies, as well as box seats to either side of the stage. There are four sections, three aisles, with seat numbers counting off from the middle, odds to the left, evens to the right. The main area, as well as the balconies, is rather sloped, which gives good lines of sight, though the massive stage itself, with high ceiling, can feel a little big for a band. The sound and lighting system are naturally top-notch, though the lighting is more ‘theater’, with multiple rows of spotlights, than ‘rock show’, less specialized lighting effects (and no disco ball), and can get a bit overboard in the brightness to compensate.
While Howard Gilman Opera House usually just hosts performances of theater, dance, classical, world, and even opera, there are occasionally less ‘adult’ performances, most notably around end of January/beginning of February for their ‘Sounds Like Brooklyn’ festival of current Brooklyn music (previously ‘BrooklynNext’). Even the rock shows book fairly artsy acts like Feist or The National, though the wilder punk rock act Les Savy Fav played there in 2010. The staff includes ushers in the actual theater, who are more ‘museum security’ than ‘venue security’, older, less understanding, and unused to handling large amounts of young people (more so amongst the crowds milling in the lobby than in the seated theater itself). They can feel a little ominous during a rock show, but other than enforcing a strict no-photo policy, are not actually overbearing. What is rather nice is that, during rock shows at least, fans are often allowed (either by security or the artist) to leave their seats and head up front. The classy place can feel slightly odd to those used to ‘regular’ rock venues, a little less relaxed than even other seated venues such as Town Hall or Radio City Music Hall, but with the advantages an up-market place brings as well, and when in the front pit, can get something close to the best of both ‘classy theater’ & ‘rock club’ worlds.
Capacity: 2,109 seats
30 Lafayette Avenue (between Ashland Place and St. Felix Street)
G train to Fulton St. – walk two blocks west on south side of Lafayette Ave.
2, 3, 4, 5, B, D, N, Q, & R trains to Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street – walk one block northwest on Flatbush Ave., one block north on east side of Ashland Pl., turn right
2, 3, 4, & 5 trains to Nevins Street – walk one block south on Flatbush Ave., one block west on south side of Lafayette Ave
A & C trains to Lafayette Ave. – walk one block northwest on Fulton St., two blocks west on south side of Lafayette Ave.
-‘Atomic Bomb! : The Music of William Onyeabor’, with David Byrne, Ahmed Gallab, Luke Jenner, The Lijadu Sisters, Pat Mahoney, Kele Okereke, Money Mark, Joshua Redman, and Alexis Taylor, May 2nd, 2014 (Red Bull Music Academy) – photos
-Rufus Wainwright, May 9th, 2012 – photos
-Ra Ra Riot, with The Antlers, February 5th, 2010 (Sounds Like Brooklyn) – live review