A decommissioned firehouse in the heart of Harlem is now home to a legendary choreographer who is lighting a fire under a new generation of artists. NY1's Cheryl Wills filed the following report.
The building at 6 Hancock Place in Harlem was once home to firefighters at Hook and Ladder Number 40. For the last decade, though, Tony and Emmy Award-winning dancer and choreographer George Faison has transformed the decommissioned fire house into a field of artistic dreams called the Faison Firehouse Theater.
These days, the tricked-out firehouse is a haven for young people who take advantage of Faison's classes and workshops. The dancer says it is his way of giving back to the community.
Faison's 40-year career is legendary in the entertainment world. He has danced with the greats, including Alvin Ailey, Katherine Dunham and Louis Johnson, and rose to new heights when he choreographed "The Wiz" on Broadway, which became a national sensation in the mid-1970s.
In 2000, Faison and his business partner, Tad Schnugg, purchased the decrepit firehouse on Hancock Place. After years of work, they started staging productions in the 125-seat not-for-profit theater.
"When I first walked in it, it was home to pigeons and rats and crack addicts," says Faison. "It was madness, I had to fight my way into the joint. 'What is this in here? Come out of there hiding.'"
After millions of dollars in renovations, the old firehouse has become a slice of Hollywood in the Heart of Harlem. It boasts a cabaret theater, a dance studio and Faison's fancy living quarters upstairs.
His many celebrity friends regularly stop by to show their support.
"I am so proud of what he’s done. From the very beginning we were like, 'You’re buying what? An almost abandoned firehouse? Are you crazy?" says actress Lynn Whitfield.
"It’s about community and bringing forth that next generation. It’s just the way he is," says actress Phylicia Rashad.
"I’m very impressed. He’s very creative," says comedian," says Paul Mooney.
"It’s wonderful. I think that’s the way God planned it," says singer Roberta Flack.
"He is a great rung on the ladder," says actress and activist Ruby Dee.
Faison says he is proud of the theater's accomplishments and is dancing into the hearts of the next generation.
"Growing up in this country, you know everything is yours. All you have to do is take ownership. Get the keys, find the keys, open the door, go through it," he says.
To learn more about the firehouse, visit www.faisonfirehouse.org.