Image: Jo Andres, Steve Buscemi
Steve Buscemi
Jo Andres and Steve Buscemi
NBC News
updated 2/16/2011 2:00:14 PM ET 2011-02-16T19:00:14

Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week we speak with actor Steve Buscemi and his wife, artist Jo Andres, about their involvement with ISSUE Project Room, an organization that provides performance spaces for musicians and other artists to study and explore their craft. Buscemi is a board member and Andres is a member of the Art Advisory Board.

Buscemi, perhaps best known for his role as a paranoid thug in Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs," recently received a Golden Globe for Best Actor for his portrayal of corrupt politician Enoch “Nucky” Thompson on HBO’s "Boardwalk Empire." He also has appeared in "Mr. Deeds," "The Laramie Project," "The Sopranos" and "30 Rock." Andres, an artist, filmmaker and choreographer, is known primarily for her 1996 film "Black Kites,” which played at the Sundance film festival.

ISSUE Project Room will unveil its newly renovated performance space at 110 Livingston in Brooklyn on March 4 with a benefit celebrating the life and art of composer and guitar virtuoso Elliot Sharp.

Interviewed by Brittany Fuerstenberg

Q: What is the goal of ISSUE Project Room?

Buscemi: It primarily is an experimental music performance space. The goal is to give established musicians who have always been working in that genre of experimental music a home so that they can have a venue and keep creating, and also to foster new talent. There are so few venues left in New York where people can experiment. Suzanne Fiol is the [founder and] creator of ISSUE Project Room, and that was always her main goal — to have a place in New York where people can [go to] try out things, try new forms of music. We’re also branching out into other areas of performances as well, but music was primarily the purpose.

Q: You studied in New York and honed your craft in the Brooklyn area. Is that why you picked Brooklyn to be the new home for ISSUE Project Room?

Buscemi: Well, we both used to live in the East Village, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, for many years. When we moved out there, we sort of missed the vibrancy of that neighborhood. A lot of different arts were happening at once there. So, with places like ISSUE Project Room, we’re really happy to see that there's a place in Brooklyn now that reminds us of the performance spaces we used to perform in and go to. I used to do a lot of experimental theater. I did a lot of performance work with film and dance.

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Andres: And light projections.

Buscemi: So we naturally wanted to promote that.

Q: What will the new 110 Livingston Street space provide exactly and how will it promote more of the experimental performances that you are encouraging?

Andres: First of all it an incredible space, historically. It’s a McKim, Mead and White (prominent architectural firm), so it’s a really beautiful space to see. In one way, it’s accessible by all the trains. It will be really accessible to people in the city, Brooklyn, and Williamsburg, everyone. The programming for is experimental programming for music, film, theater, and dance. Everything is going to be possible in this space. I was just in there recently with the technical director, and the way the space is set up is that everything is moveable.

Buscemi: And adaptable.

Andres: Because the stage could be at one end or the other, or on the sides, or this, or that. So it really has a lot of options depending on what you want to do there.

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Buscemi: It’s also a lot bigger than where the current ISSUE performance space is located.

Andres: And they’re going to be able to hang grids. There is going to be a bar area for the public on one side. So, it’s going to also be a community gathering place.

Buscemi: The idea is to eventually have workshops, which ISSUE does now, [but] we hope to really involve the community.

Q: Have either of you had a particularly moving experience while working with ISSUE?

Buscemi: The founder, Suzanne Fiol, passed away due to cancer a little over a year ago. At past benefits, like the one we’re having on March 4th, I remember she was always so nervous and shy but she always wanted to give a talk. I would literally have to stand with her, and hold her hand. That always amazed me, how someone with her drive, passion and commitment could be so nervous to speak in front of people. So Suzanne herself is a real inspiration.

One of the goals for all of us is to fulfill her mission. She was really excited about the 110 Livingston space because it meant that she could have a permanent home, because the space was a city building. Part of the deal was that whoever won the building from the city would get it for 20 years rent free. But the space itself needs a lot of work, which is why we’ve been fundraising. [The building] has to be completely renovated.

Q: Why do you think it important for celebrities to be involved with charity work, especially the arts?

Buscemi: I’ve gotten so much out of the arts itself, especially with experimental theater. I think that it is really important to foster that kind of work because it really forms everything else we do.

Andres: Yes! It’s the pulse of the culture. If we don’t have a place where artists can [have] a voice then it’s a loss from the whole culture. It seems like Europe has always known that but we’re always fighting for it here with a lack of funding. We’ve had to push to hard to have our voice heard. I think that it’s really critical, and positive, that we have this space to work in.

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