Gramercy Neighborhood Associates holds annual art show

Gramercy Neighborhood Associates President Alan Krevis (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Let it not be said that residents of Gramercy and Stuyvesant Town don’t support the arts. The annual group art show organized by Gramercy Neighborhood Associates, which ran last week from Monday to Friday at Salmagundi Club, drew a crowd of around 350 people for the reception last Wednesday.

Organizers were able to tell the size of the crowd based on a sign-in sheet and the fact that since last year’s show was jam packed, the club this year had attendees wait in line to get in once the space was filled to capacity. At that point, the line ran the entire length of the club on Fifth Avenue and 12th Street.

GNA President Alan Krevis said this year there were about 90 works on display, contributed by nearly 70 artists, mostly from Gramercy, Stuyvesant Town and Waterside as well as students from the Chelsea Drawing & Painting Workshop. The art included paintings, collages, pastels, drawings and photos.

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Free concerts will return to Stuy Cove after all

June6 Sean Mahony band

Event organizer Jo-Ann Polise cited endless paperwork as enemy number one to the concert series. (Pictured) A concert from a previous year at Stuyvesant Cove Park with Sean Mahony and the Swing Orchestra (Photo by Jo-Ann Polise)

By Sabina Mollot

Last month, Jo-Ann Polise, the main organizer of the annual summer concert series put on by the Stuyvesant Cove Park Association, announced via this newspaper that after several years the music had come to an end. The reason, she explained at the time, was that despite the grants awarded to the group by Council Member Keith Powers, the city’s process for actually getting the funds had become so onerous, it was too much for an all-volunteer outfit to bear.

However, Polise has since changed her tune, saying the concerts will return — at least this year. After that it may not be possible to hold waterfront concerts for the next couple of years due to the planned East Side Coastal Resiliency Project.

The reason for the park association’s change of heart was twofold. First, since the SCPA had made the announcement, Polise found that she couldn’t go anywhere — even grocery shopping — without someone telling her how much the free, riverside gigs would be missed.

“We got a lot of responses; people were saying, ‘we’re so sorry,’” Polise said. “There was a lot of un happiness in the community.”

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East Village tours spotlight where movies and TV shows are filmed

One of the tour’s stops is St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, which appeared in “A Beautiful Mind” and “Two Week’s Notice.” (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

When Georgette Blau started leading tours based on locations in movies and television shows 20 years ago, the internet had some information floating around about filming locations, but it was often inaccurate. Now, blogs and Twitter accounts by the dozens share a constant stream of information about movie sets popping up in New York, but Blau, who organized her first tours using books on the topic, said that those hard sources are still more reliable.

“To this day, I’ve found that the books are more accurate,” she said. “There are so many books written about film locations.”

To celebrate the anniversary for the company, On Location Tours, Blau has organized a walking tour of the East Village to visit some of the many sites in the neighborhood that have been used in movies and TV shows throughout the years. The tour visits 35 locations from 50 different TV shows and movies, including a location in the new movie, “Late Night,” which isn’t out yet. The tour starts at the Puck Building on Lafayette and East Houston Street, heads north to East 11th Street and loops back down.

“Even if they haven’t seen the movie or show it’s in, it gets people excited when something was filmed here and then they look out for that show or movie to come out,” Blau said, noting that the company has also been working with studios and locations scouts to include behind-the-scenes info on the tours.

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Portraits of LGBTQ icons pop up in Stuy Town

A mural on the 20th Street Loop depicts artist Frida Kahlo and performer Josephine Baker. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

In celebration of Pride Month, portraits of LGBTQ pioneers and celebrities have popped up in Stuyvesant Town, painted right onto outdoor staircases.

The larger than life faces in black and white, framed by rainbow backgrounds, include those of Freddie Mercury, Frida Kahlo, Josephine Baker and David Bowie, among others.

The artist is John Cuevas, a California resident who specializes in bright, colorful murals, and worked from Friday to late Saturday. Following a rain-soaked Sunday, some of the paint had peeled in spots, though those depicted in the murals remained recognizable.

On Monday morning, a few residents who were out and about near where the portraits were, around the loop roads, told Town & Village they were enjoying the art. The project was sponsored by Stuyvesant Town management and will remain on view through June.

Longtime resident Andy Ward, while out walking his dog Rexie on the 20th Street Loop, at first was concerned the art might be something promotional. But when told the promotion was for Pride Month, he changed his mind.

“I like good causes,” Ward said.  While gesturing to the painting nearest to his feet, he added, “Who doesn’t like art? They didn’t have names at first but I could tell this one was Freddie Mercury.”

Also walking by that portrait at the time was Paul Sachs, who called the artwork “beautiful.”

He added, “It’s nice to see Stuy Town support Gay Pride Month, you know? I’m a native New Yorker, so I support everybody as long as they’re doing good.”

Near the community center, another staircase mural depicted David Bowie during his Ziggy Stardust phase and the late astronaut Sally Ride.

A mural near the Stuyvesant Town community center depicts the late musician David Bowie and astronaut Sally Ride.

Of all the murals, Bowie’s seemed to have weathered Sunday night’s rainstorm the worst, with a large gash-like tear in his cheek due to the peeling paint.

Upon noticing this, Bowie fan Nancy Fischer said she hoped it could be restored.

“That didn’t last very long,” she observed, adding that she had enjoyed watching the artist at work, alongside a couple of neighbors who were seniors, a couple of days earlier.

“They were very receptive,” she recalled, which surprised her at the time. “Because a lot of people don’t like change.”

She added, “I would say that it is a very cool addition to the community. I just wish it could be more lasting.” Contemplating the portrait of Bowie again, Fischer said, “I’d still make out with him.”

Reached on the phone on Monday, Cuevas said the project came about after he was contacted by Stuy Town’s director of lifestyle services Robert Vasquez to do some outdoor art. It was Cuevas’ idea to do portraits and suggested possible subjects, all of whom got management’s approval.

A total of 10 portraits now appear on five different staircases. Along with the aforementioned names, others who were painted were mathematician and computing pioneer Alan Turing, stonewall activists and drag queens Marsha Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, novelist and activist James Baldwin and Eleanor Roosevelt, who some believe was a lesbian.

“I was stoked, because it was New York City Pride,” said Cuevas.

Another mural on the 20th Street Loop depicts singer Freddie Mercury and mathematician Alan Turing.

Since the portraits were intended to be temporary, they were wheatpasted onto the ground, with Cuevas noting that this technique has become synonymous with New York street art and has since spread to other cities and countries.

“It’s an amazing art form. What I really like is it’s non-toxic and removable,” he said.

While the wheatpasting process was somewhat new to Cuevas, he is no stranger to outdoor art. Immediately upon his return from Manhattan he got back to work on mural of a realistic-looking serpent emerging from a wall in La Quinta, California.

As for the Stuy Town art, Cuevas, who identifies as bisexual, said while he was working, he was overwhelmed with the amount of supportive feedback he got.

“Just the spirit of the community here, it was a lot of sharing,” said Cuevas. “Pride can be a difficult time for people who have a lifestyle that is not necessarily mainstream. I heard a lot of people’s stories about their brothers or themselves. It’s nice to feel that your community around you supports you.”

He recalled how residents he spoke with seemed surprised to learn that the owner had commissioned the Pride-themed project.

“I asked what had happened in the past, and they said, ‘Not this.’ I said, ‘That’s great.’ I look forward to doing more projects there.”

Stuyvesant Town General Manager Rick Hayduk told T&V the Pride project was “simply recognition of our concept of community and unity,” not unlike concerts on the Oval or the recently announced chips-and-salsa gatherings for neighbors.

“Pride Month was something we haven’t participated in and we felt it was time,” he said. Since Cuevas began work, Hayduk said the feedback has been unanimously positive. Even a resident who early on in the process called Hayduk to report what looked like someone making graffiti called back when Cuevas was finished to say it looked great.

As for the pieces of the portraits that have been torn away due to immediately being rained on, not to mention walked on, Hayduk said he was looking into seeing if Cuevas could return to touch them up. Especially since rainstorms aren’t exactly isolated incidents this time of year.

“It’s June in New York. We have 27 more days to go,” said Hayduk.

Cuevas, meanwhile, said he doesn’t mind the effect of the rain, having seen photos of the installation people tagged him in on social media. “There are sporadic drips of color that bathe the portraits,” he said. “The rainbow grime gives it new meaning.”

In related news, the first ever Stuyvesant Town Pride parade for residents and employees has been scheduled for Thursday, June 20. According to the property’s official website, the event will take place at 6 p.m. on First Avenue between 18th and 20th Streets and continue to the Oval for activities and performances.

Like the murals, Hayduk said it’s about building community. “One of our primary jobs is bringing people together,” he said.

 

Update: This article has been updated to reflect a change in time for the parade.

Performance on ice in Stuyvesant Town

man holding woman

On Sunday afternoon, Stuyvesant Town residents gathered at the ice rink for a performance by the Ice Theatre of New York. Following the outdoor show, attendees of all ages headed out onto the ice for some skate time of their own. The (residents and guests only) ice rink will remain open for the season through March 3. Tuesdays are free admission days for residents though this doesn’t include skate rental.

Photos by Sidney Goldberg

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Singer Garland Jeffreys’ tips for aspiring musicians

Dec28 Garland Jeffreys

Stuyvesant Town rock singer Garland Jeffreys (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Monday, October 22, Stuyvesant Town rock singer Garland Jeffreys will be performing a concert at a fundraiser for the 14th Street Y, where he, his wife Claire and daughter Savannah are longtime members.

It will be the first of a few local concerts coming up for the singer, following a recent tour through Europe to promote his last album, “14 Steps to Harlem.”
Now in the early writing stages for his next album, to be called, “Dash of Soul,” and fundraising for a documentary about his career, Jeffreys, 75, spoke with Town & Village to share tips for new and aspiring musicians.

“I’m always happy to talk to people who are starting out,” he said, adding that starting out means picking a musical direction to take.

“What kinds of songs do they want to write? Love songs, protest songs or a Dylan-esque area?” he asked. “They should work and work and work on the music and not take it for granted. I tell stories about different things, like race, like my childhood, my passions.”
In recent years, Jeffreys has been known to do many concerts in people’s homes, which he recommends doing as well as finding local venues like bars.

“If you’re starting out, anywhere is a good place to start,” said Jeffreys. “Just get your guitar and get your keyboard and get to practicing and that’s how your songwriting evolves.”

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Resident plays a poetic prisoner on ‘Orange is the New Black’

Sept13 Dana Berger OINTB 2

Dana Berger plays Crystal Tawney in the series’ sixth season.

By Sabina Mollot

“Orange is the New Black,” one of the most popular shows on Netflix, began streaming its sixth season on July 27. This season, which follows up after a prison riot, centers on a new maximum-security existence for those who were involved in the breakout as well as other newly-introduced inmates. Among the crew of new characters is the Jesus-loving, haiku-weaving Crystal Tawney, who is played by Dana Berger, a lifelong resident of Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village.

Berger, who is already filming the next season, is in four episodes of the current one. For those who have yet to binge-watch it all, Berger spoke with Town & Village recently about her character, how she got the part and how a fictional show has opened America’s eyes to the very real consequences of incarceration.

Berger, who’d been getting roles in local and regional theater as well as acting in web-based comedy videos, got her first major TV part as a paramedic on the CBS series, “Elementary.” She was later asked to returned to the role only to see the character killed off.

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Where to go swimming in Manhattan

july28 waterside-pool

The pool at Waterside Plaza

By Sabina Mollot

While the scorching heat wave that baked the Big Apple for over a week has finally come to a close, the summer has still just begun. Fortunately, there are still opportunities to cool off without traveling far since the borough of Manhattan is not without the man-made oases of swimming pools. Read on for a few local options.

Waterside Health & Swim Club, 35 Waterside Plaza

The heated pool at Waterside Plaza is open to non-residents as well as residents through either a membership to the adjoining health club or a day pass. The gym, with its glass walls and high ceiling (and retractable roof), offers views of the East River and Brooklyn skyline.

A day pass is $20 for adults, $10 for children. Current membership is $655 for an adult or $66 a month, a family membership for 3-5 people is $1,425 for a year or $130 per month, and a full-time student membership is $545 for year or $55 for month. Memberships also include fitness classes and access to a sundeck. For more information, call 212-340-4224 or visit gowaterside.com/healthclub/indoor-pool. 

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Stuyvesant Town folk pop singer releases album

Zoe Kessler, pictured at the First Avenue/14th Street intersection on a typical day earlier this spring, says she was inspired in part by the community and the city.

By Sabina Mollot

For this self-taught musician, the city is her muse.

The evidence is “These Streets,” an album of folk rock music released by Zoe Kessler, a recent Harvard graduate and lifelong Stuyvesant Town resident.

The album was a result of four years of experience learning to play guitar and write music, though she became even more focused on it after graduating last year. Kessler, now 23, never had any formal training in music, but taught herself to sing and play guitar in college. Not wanting to annoy her roommates, Kessler got her first audiences and her earliest practicing in at once when she’d play guitar at a courtyard not far from her dorm. Encouraged by the response, she soon moved on to playing her own music at a local Starbucks.

“I felt like it was a good place to play, because it was very low-key,” said Kessler. “The only people who were there for me were my friends, and if they weren’t, it was no offense. I was paid one latte per show. It was literally coffee house music.”

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PCV director: The future of theater is on your smartphone

A woman rides the N train, along one of three routes where the site-specific plays are meant to be listened to on a smartphone. (Photo courtesy of Erin Mee)

By Sabina Mollot

A Peter Cooper Village resident who once directed a play designed to be downloaded as an app and listened to on the Staten Island ferry has recently released a series of plays that, like “Ferry Play,” is meant to be experienced on one’s smartphone.

The new production, “Subway Plays,” is a trilogy of plays that are intended to be listened to on the L, N and 7 trains. Though they can be played anytime, the audio performance should be accompanied by a specific route: either Manhattan to Brooklyn and Queens for act one, or Brooklyn or Queens while headed to Manhattan. The site-specific plays, which are told in English, also include other languages such Arabic, Hindi, Mandarin, Russian and Colombian Spanish that would typically be heard along the route.

The plays come in the form of an app, which costs $2.99 and can be downloaded on an iPhone or Android.

Erin Mee said she first got the idea to do a downloadable play from a Canadian theater company that specialized in what was referred to as “pod plays.” She ultimately decided to refer to her own project as a “smartphone play,” since iPods have mostly gone out of use and she didn’t want people to get confused. Additionally, she stressed that this type of play is different from an old-time radio play or an audio tour one might hear in a museum. This is because it’s site-specific with the sights, sounds and smells of the environment factoring into the story and overall experience.

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Pants-less pranksters brave extreme cold this year

Participants on the N train

By Sabina Mollot

On Sunday, despite frigid temperature, straphangers with an exhibitionist streak ditched their pants and all other leg coverings to take part in the annual No Pants Subway Ride.

Always held on a winter day, the flashmob prank, held for the 16th time, is organized by the group Improv Everywhere. The route technically began at Foley Square and ended at Union Square, but participants of all ages could be seen at other subway stops as well. With the wind chill, the temperature was in the single digits.

Originally begun with just seven cold-tolerant men, the underground leg show now draws thousands and also takes place in other cities and countries. Participants, who dress appropriately for the winter other than their bare legs, always act as if they simply forgot their pants and don’t have any clue why so many others have forgotten them, too.

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Bowie biopic recalls singer’s final five years

Nov9 DOC NYC DAVID-BOWIE

The film’s U.S. premiere is on November 10 at the SVA Theatre.

By Wendy Moscow

 

One of the most haunting images I’ve ever seen in a music video is David Bowie lying in a hospital bed, his eyes, swathed in surgical gauze, replaced by buttons. His arms rise upward, as if, Peter Pan-like, he could fly toward some Neverland in defiance of impending mortality. The song is called “Lazarus.” Bowie died on January 10th, 2016, two days after the video’s release.

Director Francis Whatley has crafted a remarkable documentary that celebrates the last five years of this electrifying singer-songwriter-actor’s career, during which some of his most brilliant work was produced.

Intercutting exhilarating concert footage from about a decade before with interviews with the musicians and other creative artists who collaborated with Bowie on his last two albums and a musical theater production (also called “Lazarus”), Whatley allows the viewer to better understand what drove this enigmatic and sometimes elusive icon.

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‘What Haunts Us’ explores suicides following sexual abuse

Nov9 What Haunts Us

“What Haunts Us” will be screened at IFC Center.

 

By Seth Shire
Director Paige Goldberg Tolmach’s fascinating and unsettling documentary, “What Haunts Us,” could not have come at a more appropriate time, which can be fortunate or unfortunate, depending on how one looks at it. The film is part of DOC NYC, which runs from November 9-16.

In the college sociology classes that I teach, we discuss the concept of deviance. I make the point that what, at one time, might not have been thought of as deviant behavior, now, as society progresses, is seen as deviant. The recent revelations about sexual harassment that dominate the news, including testimonies from those who knew what was going on but chose to say nothing, until now, are great examples of this.

“What Haunts Us” concerns Charleston, South Carolina’s Porter Gaud School, the high school attended by Goldberg Tolmach. Alarmed by the number of suicides of male students in her graduating class, from over 30 years ago (six suicides out of a class of 49), the filmmaker delves into what was going on, beneath the surface, particularly with a popular teacher named Eddie Fischer. Fischer sexually abused male students for years and was protected by a wall of silence, from both administrators and students. As one former, now middle-aged, student puts it, “You’re dying to tell someone about it, but you’re scared as hell someone will find out.”

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‘Far From the Tree’ and ‘Mole Man’ at DOC NYC

Nov9 DOC NYC Far-From-The-Tree

“Far From the Tree,” profiling children who are not what they’re families expected, will be screened on November 10 at the SVA Theatre.

By Seth Shire

Two of the most interesting films at the DOC NYC festival, “Mole Man” and “Far From the Tree” concern the definition of what is “normal.”  DOC NYC runs from November 9-16.

I was intrigued by the title “Far From the Tree,” based on the bestselling book by Andrew Solomon. The title reminded me of something my father used to say when I did, or said, something noteworthy: “The apple does not fall far from the tree.” What Dad meant was that I was the apple and he was the tree and that my accomplishments were in accordance with his standards.  Keeping with the theme of family standards, “Far From the Tree” concerns families in which the offspring are, perhaps, not in line with what their respective families expected. The issues involve children who are gay (as was the case for author Solomon, profiled in the film), autistic, have Down syndrome, and dwarfism.

Filmmaker Rachel Dretzin cuts back and forth among these non-conforming offspring, none of whom made the choice to be who they are (do any of us?) but who have embraced who they are and who do not want to have their “abnormalities” cured.

A man with dwarfism questions a drug that will prevent children from manifesting their genetic pre-disposition to dwarfism. Is dwarfism something to be eradicated?

At the center of the film are the reactions of the parents. Some are accepting, or working to get to a level of acceptance. An autistic boy acts out violently and his mother wonders if there is “anyone in there.” Once he learns to communicate, using a keyboard, she can, at last, see the person inside. Their relationship improves immeasurably.

While any of the subjects might have provided material enough for a feature film, Dretzin has created fully realized portraits of these offspring who have made their own ways in the world.

“Mole Man” also deals with the question of what is normal. The film concerns Ron, a 66-year-old autistic man who lives with his widowed mother in rural Pennsylvania. Ron has built, in his seemingly endless back yard, a 50-room structure all on his own. His building materials, and the contents that fill its rooms, were taken from abandoned homes in nearby towns that experienced horrible economic downturns. The ingeniousness, creativity and sheer physical labor of Ron’s feat is impressive, to say the least. It speaks to a larger intelligence and talent hidden beneath, or maybe because of, Ron’s autism.

The issue at hand though, is not Ron’s obvious abilities, but what his future will be. Ron’s mother is 93. Once she dies, what will happen to him? Could Ron function anywhere else? After a lifetime of having the run of a large property and indulging his expertise, living in a group home most likely would not be for Ron.

Could his talents be put to use in the so called “normal” world? His siblings struggle with how to plan for the future, while Ron claims to know of a treasure that could cure all problems… if it actually exists.

“Mole Man” will screen on November 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Chelsea Cinepolis, 260 West 23rd Street and on November 13 at 12:15 p.m. at IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue. “Far From the Tree” will screen on November 10 at 6:45 p.m. at SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd Street. For more information, visit docnyc.net.

Zephyr Teachout makes debut in improv comedy to blast IDC

Zephyr Teachout socks it to the State Senate’s breakaway Democrats in “Drunken Civics.” (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Zephyr Teachout, the law professor who challenged Governor Andrew Cuomo in the last gubernatorial election, lent a helping hand to a new show at the People’s Improv Theater called “Drunken Civics,” borne out of the 2016 election results and combining comedy and learning about local government. Teachout appeared in the show on Monday evening at the theater on East 24th Street to discuss the Independent Democratic Conference (the Senate breakaway Democrats who are aligned with Republicans).

“I guess how this works is that I’ll say things and they make fun of me, which is kind of what it was like running for governor,” Teachout told the crowd, who chuckled in response.

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