Friday, February 20, 2009

opening night

in sixth grade, i was in my first musical.  "wheels" was great fun in which i played a caveman named 'rock' who was married to 'martha'.  rock discovered the wheel and in an homage to gilbert and sullivan proclaimed, "why martha it's a wheel.  it's got to be a wheel.  i'd stake my reputation on this quick evaluation.  i don't need substantiation.  it's a wheel!"  

so on the afternoon of the opening of "wheels" i asked our director when we were going to do a dress rehearsal.  she responded, "tonight!"  that put a small bit of trepidation into my system.  little did i know that this would be preparation for my first new york theater experience.  

until last night, i was in rehearsals for the off off broadway production of "land of the babydolls" by kristine hipps and lauren cavenaugh.  they have written a parody of the 1960's movie, "valley of the dolls" which followed the lives of a few performers and a secretary in new york city as they got involved in sex, drugs, and success.  i play 'tiger bedfellow', an entertainment agent involved in the lives of these people and as his name suggests, he relates well.  the story follows the rise and fall of 'stevie o'mara'.  starting as an obscure singer in the show of big star, 'stella dawson' she eventually becomes a big star herself before making drug choices that bring her down.  while a comedy/parody, it's a story that tells the truth, as well.  

because of the low budget nature of off off broadway productions, being able to buy the time in the actual theater space is difficult until the week of the show.  for us this meant one day this week before opening for our tech rehearsal in which lights get set, we figure out all the scene changes, and where we were putting various set pieces, etc.  what this means is, opening night was our first actual run through!  how fun!!  and fun it was.  this is a tremendous cast that is able to roll with anything and we did.  

another fun aspect to the off off broadway theater, at least in this case, is the backstage changing area.  all 13 of us actors were in a space smaller than my freshman dorm room.  there are a few chairs in front of small mirrors.  the portable racks for hanging all the costumes which aren't quite big enough for everything (a couple of the ladies had 14 costume changes).  the backstage/dressing room/green room is where everyone becomes close friends.

as a first experience in new york theater playing to a sold out and overflowing house, i have nothing to compare it to.  this is now the bar that everything to come will have to stack up against.  i can only hope to be surrounded by the same level of talent and performing passion in the future.  if you're in the area, i can promise you two and a half hours of solid entertainment.  "call me...tiger."

Thursday, February 5, 2009


i haven't heard too many new yorkers talk about this.  as i said in the last post, solitude is difficult to come by with some 70,000 people per square mile.  what a treat, then, to get several interesting minutes of solitude in the most unlikely of places.  

i was heading to a late rehearsal for my play, "land of the babydolls"...that's right, i'm in a play.  it goes in a couple weeks and if you're anywhere near the city, you should come.  it's my theater debut and it's happening in midtown manhattan.  hard to believe...but true.  so i was heading to this rehearsal which means i get on the "c" train up at 96th street and ride down to 34th.  now, 34th street has exits at 34th, of course, but it also has an exit at 35th street.  these trains are a couple blocks long so the cool stations have multiple exits.  uncool stations only have one exit in the middle which means if you're in the front or back of the train, you have to schlep it to the exit.  

our rehearsal space is in a building on 36th street.  since it's so cold, staying under ground as long as possible is a good idea.  and since the 34th street station on the "a" and "c" line is a cool station with the exit at 35th st, this means only having to walk one block above ground.  i know i sound like a wuss, but you'd do the same thing.  

the point of all that is to say that when i went down to catch the downtown train at 96th street, i knew that i should wait at the far uptown end of the platform so i could ride the back car which would let me out right at the 35th street exit of the 34th street station.  make sense?  as i looked up the track i could see the two approaching headlights illuminating the rails like two ever present lightning bolts.  always a welcome sight.  

as a train enters a station, it's common to look in the windows and see how crowded things look.  at 8:30 pm it wasn't too bad.  there would be plenty of available seats.  as the train slowed and the last few cars came alongside the platform, i was seeing fewer and fewer people.  the second to last car had one person in it.  the doors to the last car opened and i stepped inside...not a soul.  this was a first.  i took a moment to check for sleeping friends but one!  i had the entire subway car to myself.  how fun!  

what else could i do but sing at the top of my lungs?!  this was now a stage with props from floor to ceiling.  i pretended the poles that people use to steady themselves were young aspen trees and walked through them, swinging around them like julie andrews at the beginning of "the sound of music."  the great thing was that the car remained mine for three stops.  the singing continued...

sadly, no one witnessed my performance.  i'm sure it was agent-worthy.  this is what i do with solitude.  wouldn't you?  

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

density and diversity

recently i heard someone commenting on cities in which they said that cities are places with "density and diversity."  it's not difficult to understand this.  certainly in a place like new york, there is a tremendous packing of people in a small area.  in manhattan, the density is just under 70,500 per square mile.  that's amazing!  you can see why central park is so important to this city.  it's included in the square mile count of manhattan, of course.  if it wasn't there, the density would be over 75,000 per square mile.  there are some larger cities, but i'm not sure of any that have a density like that of manhattan.  

and the diversity is no secret.  there are over 170 languages spoken throughout the city.  one hundred seventy!  i took some spanish when i was in grade school.  some dutch while living in the netherlands.  a little latin in high school.  struggled through greek and hebrew in seminary.  not really sure if i'm doing english the justice it deserves (i don't even use capitals).  that's only six.  it's fun to stroll the streets or the parks and hear such a wide range of tongues.  it's rich.  

in the last week, i've enjoyed the diversity that this city provides in live entertainment.  several days ago i enjoyed my first trip to the metropolitan opera and a performance of rigoletto.  this is verdi's tragic story of the court jester and his daughter, gilda.  she is clearly a christ figure as she willingly gives her life for a wretch of an unfaithful man.  great singing, music, and unbelievable sets.  the creativity displayed on stage from verdi's writing and story telling to the vocal ability of the performers, and the set designs was staggering.  all that creative power right there in one place!  i really was moved.

and this week, live jazz.  three men on stage: piano player, bassist, and a percussion maestro who had what seemed like 50 different percussion devices (he appeared to use them all at some point through the evening).  this was a much smaller venue but the creativity was equal to what i saw on the met stage.  these three collaborated right before our eyes in ways that had never been rehearsed.  this is, of course, one of the joys of jazz.  it's fresh every time.  were they to play the "same" songs again, they would have similar melodies but would be very different.  and there is no way that the percussionist could duplicate his performance from one concert to the next except in terms of overall musicianship.  truly amazing to watch him maneuver his four limbs to play so many shakers, cymbals, bells, beads, bowls, boxes, and pots in such a short amount of time.  

this is the fun of this city.  diversity is healthy.  even the trinity, as our theology makes clear, has diversity within its unity.  there is a unity that new yorkers feel.  i'm sensing it, even though i can't claim to be a part of it, yet.  but i sense it and that's a start.  it's a desire to be good at something.  to care for others.  all those negative stereotypes of new yorkers being cold...i haven't seen it.  everyone is helpful.  even the crackhead on the subway will smile a toothless grin and give you directions for which train you need to get downtown.  and in a weird way, there is a unity in competition.  mainly that everyone is competing for a limited pot of dollars.  while competing, things can be rough.  but in conversation off the field, there is unity in the pursuit.  

tim keller said that culture is born in the midst of this combination.  like taking the raw bits of physical material and reorganizing them into buildings and streets.  this work of architects is a piece of our culture.  or composers taking the raw units of sound and duration and reorganizing them into music.  or the colors that are smeared on canvas or paper or a wall giving us the beauty of visual art.  because of the sheer numbers of people rubbing their ideas against one another and putting their personal touches on creative work in a city that never sleeps, these bits of cultural birth are constantly taking place.  

that's life in the city.  and now i'm in the milieu...what will i give birth to?