For the past 10 years, Joe’s Pub has been run by Shanta Thake. Her vision of the venue as both a showcase space and a sanctuary for local artists has made Joe’s one of the most influential clubs in the city as well as a launching pad for national talent. Not yet 40, Ms. Thake somehow manages to juggle a schedule of more than 600 shows a year. Here, she discusses her process, her tastes, how Joe’s Pub discovers and nurtures new talent along with sharing some of her favorite places to eat, shop and have fun in the area.
What Should We Do: How did you come to work at Joe’s?
Shanta Thake: I started at the Public Theater in 2002 as an assistant to then-artistic director and producer George C. Wolfe (Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk; Topdog/Underdog; Caroline, or Change). At the time, I thought working at the Public would only be a short-term answer, as I had moved to New York from Indiana to become an actress. It didn’t take long to realize that the work that was taking place behind the scenes was more fulfilling to me than acting had ever been. One of the great benefits of being an employee at the Public is the exposure you get to different types of art through the many theaters and events on-site. Music had always been my other passion, and I found myself spending more and more of my free time at Joe’s Pub. I was hooked. Eventually I was able to secure a full-time job at Joe’s and that led to my becoming the director of the pub in 2007.
WSWD: What advice would you give to someone aspiring to break into full-time work at a live performance venue?
Thake: Go to shows, meet artists, meet industry professionals…and don’t forget to say hello! Make sure you know what you can contribute to an artist’s journey and be willing to talk about why that’s important.
WSWD: What is your philosophy in booking?
Thake: I believe that diversity of experience on our stage is absolutely necessary for us to best serve both our New York community and the artistic community at large. I also believe that strong artists should be allowed almost complete freedom in how they express themselves. The best way to keep Joe’s Pub vital is to ask the artists themselves what is next, to push performers to live confidently and creatively, and to support them in the creation of their vision. Much of my job is to get artists ready and then get out of their way.
WSWD: What qualities do you look for in an artist?
Thake: I am most moved by work that crosses boundaries of form, audience interaction, and social order. I also look for artists who are already deeply connected with a community of other artists and fans. I am always on the lookout for ways to support individual performers, but I am much more interested in supporting “scenes” or artistic movements that capture the present moment from a specific (and often fringe) perspective.
WSWD: What is the most exciting trend you’re seeing in live performance right now?
Thake: I am loving the way audiences are embracing the queer, multicharacter driven shows we are producing with performers like John Early, Erin Markey, and Cole Escola. It’s a brand of offbeat comedy that simultaneously makes the audience squirm in their seats while they’re falling in love with the artists.
WSWD: What else might surprise an audience member about the room once the lights go down?
Thake: How invested in the performance the waitstaff and bartenders are…most of them are performers themselves! I’m always amazed to see how well our staff can juggle their appreciation of what’s happening onstage while still doing their jobs and making sure the audience gets to enjoy the full experience.
WSWD: What would be your recommended order off the food and drink menu for a night out at Joe’s or its sister restaurant, The Library?
Thake: You can’t go wrong with the fish-and-chips. The tipple of choice to ask for while it’s still making the rounds is KB’s Winter Colada. It’s a frozen drink with rum that tastes half piña colada, half eggnog, and 100 percent good times.
WSWD: Joe’s Pub excluded, what are three other great music venues in New York City that you enjoy going to?
Thake: I never miss Celebrate Brooklyn, and there’s always something happening at Barbès. In Manhattan, I like to spend time at Rockwood Music Hall (all three stages).
WSWD: What are three great, memorable shows that you’ve helped bring to Joe’s Pub?
Thake: Adele (both her U.S. premiere and her more recent show from 2015), any of the Toshi Reagon birthday shows, and our epic 2016 reunion run with Kiki and Herb.
WSWD: There are more than 40 shows scheduled at Joe’s in March, but you can only recommend one…which is it?
Thake: Lady Rizo, running March 23–25 at 9:30 p.m. Rizo calls herself a “caburlesque” performer, and when you’ve got a voice this fabulous, who could argue? She’s one of the most sensual, hilarious performers I’ve ever seen and is a regular at Joe’s. I can more or less guarantee that once you’ve seen her, you’ll never forget her.
WSWD: Which three artists do you want to see perform at the venue before the world ends, and why?
Thake: k.d. lang, Tracy Chapman, and Neil Diamond are all incredible artists and unique storytellers. Seeing any of them in Joe’s Pub, with the kind of intimacy that the club provides, would be magical. C’mon, Neil! Make a dream come true!