Five years after The Empty Space shut its doors in the Center of the Universe, Fremont is welcoming a new live performance venue to the neighborhood. West of Lenin—named after its proximity to Fremont’s iconic statue—opened on June 20 with a production from the Sandbox Artists Collective.
The space is the brainchild of A.J. Epstein, a local multimedia and theatre producer who originally purchased the building to serve as his studio. As renovations got underway, Epstein shifted the direction of his venture. “I realized Fremont doesn’t have a theatre,” Epstein says. “Once I started to recognize what a fabulous space it was going to be, I knew I needed to take the next step.”
The 88-seat black box space is located at 203 N. 36th street, directly across the street from the George & Dragon Pub, and features live theatre from mostly local companies, and occasionally music. The completed project includes office and retail space, as well as the headquarters for Epstein’s production company, The Ethereal Mutt Limited. West of Lenin is for-profit, sustained by a combination of ticket sales and space rentals.
WoL’s opening is a bright spot in a theatre community that recently saw Intiman cut short its season. “It’s great for the overall arts ecology to have a producer as savvy as A.J. at the helm of a new space,” says On the Boards communications director Jessica Massart.
The first season at West of Lenin is not yet programmed, but Epstein is talking to local artists such as actor Kevin Joyce and performer Mark Siano about future shows in the space.
“I’m excited that the community is excited, but I’m not surprised because this area has such a rich history of live theatre,” Epstein says. “If I could have something culturally interesting happening three to five nights a week in this space, that’s successful.”