The Slipper Room is the brain child of performer and producer James Habacker. When it opened in 1999 neo-burlesque was in its infancy. Before that time there had been some random shows in lofts and bars around the city, but the Slipper Room was the first venue built specifically to showcase the work of this burgeoning new collective. It was an art project in itself, an artist run venue designed to nurture emerging talent, and push performers to reach their true potential.
The early shows were mostly comprised of performance artists, drag queens, experimental dancers, sideshow acts, and anyone who showed up with an idea, no matter how outrageous, messy, lewd, or illegal. Very often in the early days there were not enough performers to make up a full show, and James would ply his friends with drinks, dress them up in outrageous costumes and quickly concoct a plot before pushing them out on stage. It wasn’t long before word got around about this new artist collective, and enough young talent presented themselves at the Slipper Room to make it possible to put up high quality shows most every night. As master of ceremonies, James allowed performers a forum to push themselves and try out new work without fear of censorship. He also added comic relief with his wide variety of characters, his satirical wit, and love of Vaudeville.
Having a workshop and a home, the scene went from obscurity to being a major force in downtown theatre and nightlife. The Saturday night show, Mr. Choade’s Upstairs/Downstairs, quickly developed a reputation as the place to see the cutting edge of performance art. The format that that show developed has become synonymous with New York Burlesque and Variety. Many of the performers who cut their teeth on the Slipper Room stage are now international stars. As well, the Slipper Room’s own reputation grew, and performers from around the world would regularly show up to perform there when they were in New York.
For eleven years, the Slipper Room presented Variety shows most every night of the week, on other nights you never knew what you might find, a kabuki dance troupe, a full orchestra, a play, a famous musician doing a secret show. The theatre also created its own touring company and began taking its show on the road around the US and Europe, spreading the word, and planting the seeds that led to so many scenes springing up in towns all over.
In 2010 the lease expired and the landlord decided that he was not interested in renewing. It was a one story building, with the Slipper Room as sole tenant, and the owners had plans to put their own business in the space. Not to be deterred, James convinced the landlord to knock the building down and erect a new one, with a new Slipper Room theatre on the second and third floors. This allowed James to design a better theatre with higher ceiling, so that aerialist work could be incorporated into the shows, a larger stage, better sight lines, a balcony section, and generally improved facilities across the board. In order to accomplish this, James took on Peter Shapiro as a full partner. Pete had been the original investor in the Slipper Room back in 1999, so was a part of the Slipper Room family from day one. He is very accomplished in his own right, having owned Wetlands, and currently Brooklyn Bowl and the Capitol Theatre. He will be working to bring many great bands into the venue for early evening showcase gigs, before the Variety shows. The new theatre is due to open September 2012, with most of its original staff coming back, and promises to take the scene, which has grown tremendously despite the loss of its home base, to the next level.