The eloquent, straight-laced and gracious Melikyan probably would not like to be known as the clichéd “citizen of the world”, but that’s what he is — an Armenian born in Turkey whose minority family eventually retreated to the comforts of the more inclusive and tolerant French culture in which Melikyan was raised. He earned a bachelor’s in a French Persian university in marketing for non-profits.
“I knew early on that I would never be comfortable working in a corporate environment,” explained Melikyan, who says that his heart is deeply entrenched in the arts and non-profit ventures — cultural humanitarianism, if you will.
College lead him to an internship in New York City which lead him to fall in love with Manhattan — not an unusual romance for a European studying abroad. “As a minority, I felt totally at home [in NYC]. All that mattered was communicating in English with all these people from around the world.” Melikyan worked for the Armenian General Benevolent Union, scouting Armenian talents for off-Broadway theatre, Carnegie Hall, film festivals and more. When he learned that a fellow Armenian entered the Van Cliburn competition in Fort Worth, Texas, he immediately rushed out there to net another countryman for the AGBU, but first, in another causal twist of fate, Melikyan wound up netting himself a bride: the talent show’s manager, Maria Guralnik, a descendent of Mohonk Mountain House’s Smiley family. After a Mohonk Mountain House wedding, Melikyan and wife moved down to Fort Worth where he ultimately was hired to be the marketing director for the piano series without even an interview. Melikyan said that until recently he was a piano player himself, but these days he prefers wooden drumsticks to the ivories. In addition to recently releasing an instructional DVD on how to play reggae drums, he uncharacteristically plays in a rock/punk band called Fasads, which surprises even him sometimes. “Reggae and classical are really at the summit of my personal taste,” Melikyan said. Once his wife was offered a teaching position at SUNY Purchase, they both tendered resignations and headed back east with 12-year-old son Robert, and now reside in High Falls.
According to Rossin, the building has been for sale for several years, though it is her dream to one day turn the lofty facility into a performing arts high school. Rossin bought the building and started BSP about 15 years ago when a production company she bought in Woodstock didn’t pan out as she had hoped and she wanted a location to host musical productions free of noise complaints. Throughout the years, BSP has been host to numerous theatrical and musical productions, children programming and dance classes and countless non-profit and community events as well. Rossin recently concluded that she wanted to spend the majority of her time with her growing family in Miami, thus necessitating a manager in her absence.
According to Rossin and Melikyan, one day when Melikyan was dropping his son off at a children’s theatrical program, he and Rossin got to talking, and of course, since one thing leads to another, they hashed out an arrangement resulting in Melikyan as manager.
In his first week, Melikyan designed and launched a spiffy new website — www.323wallstreet.com — by which to promote the sprawling theater as a whole and the multitude of events it hosts. The website features a schedule of music, art, nightclub events and more. Melikyan explained that his foremost goal is to make it easier for the community to have access to a building which he regards as a “gift for the people of Kingston.” Melikyan will be emphasizing the space and physical address, said, and is highly interested in connecting with local historians to possibly create an exhibit showcasing the building’s long history. “Melikyan says the complex has potential for it to serve as an anchor for uptown Kingston, which is his true vision. “I see it as a space,” Melikyan said. “It’s a venue up for grabs for the community.”
Quite a space it is: Walk into the small doorway on Wall Street into a long, 2,000-square-foot front room where art exhibits and more intimate performances are often hosted, and you may never know what’s behind it. Walk down a little further through a maze of prop walls and suddenly you’re like Alice reeling into a giant rabbit hole in space. The cavernous 38,634-square-foot circa 1872 building originally built as a Vaudeville theater has a seating capacity of 600 and can hold up to 3,000 guests. The interior is rich, bricked and gilded and well-loved through its history. Countless theatrical productions, performances and events have taken place in the Main Stage, recently including the Woodstock Film Festival Gala, Family of Woodstock Anniversary Celebrations and The Haitian Peoples Support Project benefits. It is also used as New York State-Certified Sound Stage and Film Production Facility.
The “black-box theater” hall has the flexibility of transforming itself into whatever it needs to be for a particular event: concert, benefit/gala, theater, nightclub, corporate seminar space, trade show, wedding hall, bar mitzvahs, religious organization meeting place, flea market — you name it.
Melikyan will be working with established presenters who bring a package of performers to the stage, and says that he has been blessed with an excellent crew of presenters each with a special niche, such as Young 845 who offer open mics, industry instruction, open shows and dance to promote teen bands — a concept for which Melikyan expressed high praise. Melikyan was also emphatic about Laura Harttman’s jazz@wallspace series. Melikyan is currently planning a Halloween Party in which all of his presenters are collaborating together for a collective presentation.
Cluttering the “To Do” list is the revival of the dance studio which currently only hosts African dance but at one time played host to 42 dance classes, but which Rossin has described as “neglected” since her Florida relocation. The bright, spacious 3,000-square-foot, bamboo floor beckons yoga, Zumba, martial arts, Pilates, dance and more.
Though life has generally been a cabaret for BSP, Melikyan has his job cut out for him. BSP has not been entirely without issues, most notably two late-night riots; one occurring in 2008 and then again in 2009, both during hip-hop events. Scores of officers from Kingston and the Town of Ulster police, Ulster County sheriff’s deputies, state police and more had been dispatched to manage rioting and violent crowds of several hundred people in both incidents and made several arrests each time. Both Rossin and Melikyan have spoken with Kingston city police chief Gerald Keller on the matter, and all have concluded the answer is simple: no more hip-hop events.
Additionally, Melikyan plans to tighten security, hopefully using Kingston’s own Neighborhood Watch or hired security, and to be more proactive with procedures. Melikyan vowed to prevent any recurring situations and circumstances where similar incidences may repeat. Rossin pointed out that BSP has hosted “thousands of events” throughout the years with only two police calls. Keller stated that he no longer expects any more trouble than any other establishment might see with Melikyan at the helm and was appreciative for the changes. “I see some really nice things going on in Kingston now,” Keller observed. “Boitson’s on North Front Street and Maxwell’s using the top of the parking garage; some art exhibits, a wine bar and tapas on Wall Street. I see that sort of character developing. All kinds of good stuff is going on Uptown now … it’s developing a neat kind of character.”