Though the average onlooker wouldn't have been able to see beyond scarred brick walls, concrete floors and a giant garage door, Pat Jordan, the president of the Gem Cultural & Educational Center, took one look inside the building eight months ago and got a good vibe. "I wanted to open a relaxed space that could be used for all kinds of cultural events," says Jordan.
The new 18th Street Studio is so relaxed that it looks more like a storage facility than a theater. Cafe tables and folding chairs suffice for seating. And there's no air-conditioning, so when Queen Bey steps up on the wooden platform that serves as a "stage" for her show -- An Evening With Queen Bey -- the garage door is opened and the evening breeze wafts in. Nonpaying passersby might drift in as well to dance as Bey and her band launch into rousing jazz standards.
Even Bey was surprised to find that the acoustics were "darn good" in a room that still boasts an ancient copper ceiling, a relic from its past as a nineteenth-century hardware store. And if people strolling down the street call out to her as they walk by, she'll yell right back.
"This place is just like SoHo in New York," says Bey, who peppers her songs with tales from her past, starting with her "debut" as a teen vocalist at the old Orchid Room and going up to her difficult years in Los Angeles. The autobiographical material changes from performance to performance, depending on her mood and her rapport with her audience.
"I'm just trying new things every night," Bey says. "The stories are sometimes sad, sometimes funny. But they're all mine, baby."