L at First Ave.; 6 at Astor Pl.
Going to a show at P.S. 122 triggers two distinct flashbacks. The first hits you as you walk through this former public school’s halls and suddenly feel 16 again—only this time the wall flyers are for experimental theater instead of cheerleading tryouts. The second comes once you’re inside one of the red-brick building’s small performance spaces, which whisk you back to the days when fringe artists could afford to live in the East Village. A neighborhood institution since 1979, P.S. 122 has presented a who’s who of off-off stars: Gay monologist Tim Miller (a founder), dance improviser DD Dorvillier, operatic drag queen Shequida, and song stylist Queen Esther all made their marks here. Even native New Yorker Claire Danes made her stage debut here as a dancer in 1986. Two theaters (the upstairs “cafeteria” and smaller downstairs “gym”) tend toward short-run productions as well as a variety of festivals such as the long-running Avant-Garde-Arama which showcases new works under eight minutes. The four-story building also houses two galleries, an AIDS service center, the Mabou Mines, and the mutinously monikered Children’s Liberation Daycare Center—surely a training ground for the artists of tomorrow.