When Boston-born musician Laura B. Regan opened the Footlight, she created a safe, queer and interesting space for performing artists of all genres in residential Ridgewood, Queens. Covid and construction woes forced the venue’s untimely close, but now a new and more intimate space brings Footlight’s unique platform back to the community once again.
Thotyssey: Laura, how’s your summer?
Laura B. Regan: Summer 2021 is certainly better than 2020, but not super fabulous yet. I am just happy to be safe, healthy and working again so far.
I see you’ve been busy! Before we discuss Footlight, can you tell us what your background in music is?
I started out in musical theater as a kid. I could always sing, and had a natural predilection for attracting attention to myself. I started playing guitar and piano when I was 11. I was in the first graduating class at Boston Arts Academy, and luckily went on to a full scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston. After school, I played in bands and toured. I played as Bridget and the Squares (BatS) here in NYC from 2009-2013, and in HAWT ME$$ from 2012 on.
Does HAWT ME$$ still exist?
Naw… unfortunately my drummer moved to Berlin. But I have a side project that has yet to get started, but hopefully now will be called STAB.
And are you a visual artist as well?
That’s a stretch, lol. My husband / partner Tim is more of the visual artist; I dabble. He makes a Zine for Footlight to help advertise.
Tell us about the original Footlight!
We opened in July 2016 on Seneca–after a long, irritating process with our landlord that took over a year, from signing the lease to opening the doors. But we made it work pretty well for 4+ years… until the pandemic and some serious water damage to the space made it uninhabitable.
Footlight was/is a queer owned and mostly queer-operated space. Most of my staff identified as queer. Our programming was all over the place, with daily emerging arts: comedy, music, burlesque, drag… you name it, we booked it. We were always about community and inclusivity first. We knew moving into a neighborhood like Ridgewood, Queens–well, it’s a little old world, still. We were prepared to have to bridge some gaps with an open mind and heart. Luckily, we’ve managed to preserve that atmosphere and bring it with us to our new stage at the Windjammer. We’re running all our programming from 552 Grandview now.
How did that relationship with the Windjammer come about, and what’s your space there like?
So when we came upon our space ruined by multiple leaks in the roof and bar area last summer, I scrambled to save our amazing sound gear and backline. We tried to find a new venue to partner with–and it took a few months of trial and error. But eventually we landed on Windjammer as a partner for multiple reasons; it’s close to our old location, for one. And it has a long-standing history in the neighborhood, but my friend Jesse took it over around the same time we opened in 2016.
The back room at Windjammer is smaller [then the original Footlight space], but that actually fits our emerging arts mission more. We focus on new works and projects that might not have the draw to fill a large room, but deserve the stage time just as much. We came to an agreement with Jesse, and went about customizing the room to meet our needs. We built a stage, installed our sound system, and added a bunch of acoustic treatment to make the room sound and look great. It was already awesome, we just made it a little more functional. So far, it’s been a great partnership! It’s like the Captain Planet of venues, lol.
In very recent years, Ridgewood has actually, maybe, started to become super young, queer and cool. The new Bushwick, some say! Is that buzz for real?
If I say yes, all my OG Ridgewood folk will come for me! But also, obviously yes. I moved to this neighborhood in 2013, and instantly fell in love. I don’t think it’s New Bushwick, though. Ridgewood is historically a middle class / lower middle class neighborhood, where people and families own their homes. It’s not dominated by management or development companies.
There are roots in this neighborhood, so new businesses need to be wary that they should want to be a part of the existing community. The goal can’t be to price people out or exclude folks. It’s easy to say, not easy to do. But I believe that there is a good way and a bad way to operate as a small business owner in a community that you are not native to. Locally owned small businesses are really great for the community overall; people who live and work here are automatically more invested.
Oh my gosh, they are hilarious. Drag bingo is every Monday 7pm-9pm, followed by an open mic hosted by my husband Tim Shea. He’s been hosting mics in NYC for over a decade, and it’s anything goes… so, you never know what you’ll see.
And you’re also showing a Drag Race All-Stars viewing party, hosted by Miss Bussy.
Drag Race has been super fun! I would spill our tea from [the last episode], but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. It’s such a great show to watch with a group. Miss Bussy K.I.L.L.S. every week; I am always so impressed by their dedication to their drag. Miss Bussy’s co-host, What A Eug Bish, is also a killer bio queen and lover of all things drag. I love how they support each other and the drag community.
And you’ve added something new to the night!
We’re starting an open stage from 7pm-8pm ahead of Drag Race every Thursday, for new queens or queens that need to practice numbers but still make some tips (and a free drink)! They can sign up on our events page.
What else goes on at Footlight?
We have live music most Friday and Saturdays, and will be adding more comedy, variety and burlesque in the coming months.
And just to summarize, what sort of folks would be happiest there?
People who love whimsy, magic, and laughter, with a splash of dirty old dive bar mixed in.
Sounds right up my alley! Final question: now that we’re facing a potential (slight, but still potential) lockdown and many venues are at least adapting to the “proof of vaccination” policy for entry, what might your words be for an anti-vaxxer who still wants to play with all the other kids in New York bars and clubs?
Ooh gurl, do I have thoughts. Not only do we need to do some serious information sharing and educating among the communities that still don’t trust the vaccine, but those that are vaccinated are not 100% immune and need to keep masking indoors. DiBlasio and Cuomo should be tried for war crimes for removing the mask mandate, so tourists feel comfortable coming here bringing all that Delta Variant with them.
At Footlight, we strongly encourage masking indoors when unable to socially distance. Our staff wears masks, (we sell masks made by our staffer Lex / Sparklepunk) they get tested once a week, and all on site are vaccinated. We are still operating at limited capacity. We require performers to rapid test before shows, and all performers must be vaccinated. Also, no karaoke, my dudes… it’s too soon.
We are not through this yet. If more folks were this diligent, we might not get shut down again.
Cheers to fighting the good, hard fight, Laura!