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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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 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.
Charley Friedman’s performance “Adenoid’s Adenoid” between Sixth and Seventh Avenues (Photos by Ed Woodham)
By Sabina Mollot
This year’s Art in Odd Places festival, an outdoor exhibit of performances and installations, took place along the length of 14th Street from Thursday, October 12 to Sunday, October 15. For those who missed it — or just didn’t get a chance to see everything — the art this year took a lot of cues from nature and health-related topics as well as other issues near the hearts of the 60-plus participants. This was in keeping with the theme of “sense.”
Linda Mary Montano was a nursing home patient aided by healthcare workers. Lulu Lolo blessed immigrants on the street as Mother Cabrini. Clarivel Ruiz provided blessings through rose water and dance. Antonia Perez gave out plastic flowers she made out of grocery bags.
Comedian Seth Meyers with Senator Al Franken at an event hosted by The Strand bookstore at Cooper Union. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Minnesota Senator Al Franken spoke with comedian Seth Meyers about the inner-workings of Washington and using humor with his Senate colleagues in an event hosted by The Strand in Cooper Union’s Great Hall at the beginning of this month. The Strand usually hosts book signing events in their store on Broadway near East 12th Street but has recently been hosting bigger events with high-profile authors in the hall, such as an event with Bernie Sanders last December.
Franken, who was a comedian and at one time a writer and performer for “Saturday Night Live,” before becoming a senator, talked with Meyers about the balancing act of whether or not he could use humor in his position in the government.
“The Taking of Pelham 123,” one of the films in Film Forum’s “Ford to City: Drop Dead” series that’s running through July 27
By Seth Shire
“Ford to City: Drop Dead—New York in the 70s” is a movie series playing at Film Forum now through July 27. The 70s, considered to be the last golden age of American cinema, is filled with some of my favorite movies, many of which were shot in New York. The titles in this series include “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Saturday Night Fever,” “The Taking of Pelham 123” and many others.
On the one hand, this is a series tailor made for me. On the other hand, since I already own many of these movies on DVD, why should I pay to see them in a movie theater? Still, as a practical matter, how often do I actually watch the movies that I have on DVD? I think it’s an existential issue. In other words, having lots of movies on DVD means that I have the possibility of watching them, even if the reality is that I rarely watch them. This is the dilemma presented to the movie aficionado in the digital age, in which almost everything is available at his, or her, fingertips. Had home video and all its variations – VHS, laser disc, DVD, Blu-Ray, streaming – not been invented, then Film Forum’s series would be a “no-brainer” for me. Of course I would go. So saying I won’t see a particular film when it plays in a theater because I have it on a DVD that I almost never watch means running the risk of not seeing the film at all!
Poet MC Hyland offered a bookmaking workshop last week at Madison Square Park. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
This time of year, even if you don’t get to go on vacation there are still some good times to be had thanks to free summer programming at a number of local parks. This is nothing new of course but this year the event organizers with The Madison Square Park Conservancy have changed things up by making some of its activities interactive.
The programming kicked off recently with the installation of “Prismatic Park,” a sculptural staging area where dancers, poets and spoken word artists have been invited to perform on the lawn. Then last week MC Hyland, a visiting poet was in the park for a few days to hold an event in which park goers were encouraged to stroll around with someone else and then have each person write something to give to their companion. The writing exercise actually began more specifically with participants instructed to write a poem, but Hyland, upon noticing people’s faces freeze at the thought of poetry, then began telling them to write anything.
“I understand for many people poetry is a scary word,” said Hyland, who adapted the activity based on her own habit of leading walks and then writing a poem for participants.
Statue of Peter Stuyvesant in Stuyvesant Square Park (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Most of the time, the monuments built to honor historical figures go unnoticed by New Yorkers. Up on their pedestals, how could they even hope to compete with whatever is below, flashing on park goers’ cell phones? Fortunately for our forefathers, a history-loving Dane has found a way to get the stories behind the statues told today in a modern way.
David Peter Fox, a TV producer and documentary maker from Copenhagen, has for the past 18 months been organizing installations in different cities where statues speak to park goers via their smartphones. The project began in Denmark, then later went on to London and then the Unites States in San Diego and Chicago. Then on Wednesday, July 12, Talking Statues came to New York.
“I got the idea in 2013,” said Fox, reached on the phone this week. “I was curious about the stories that are behind statues.”
To make the project a reality, Fox and others fundraised to be able to hire a team of actors, one to play the part of each statue, and writers to come up with the material. To hear any of the 35 city monuments’ stories, participants just approach a statue, and scan a code on a sign. They will need a wi-fi connection and a QR scanner or scanning app on their phones to do this or they can type the web address they see on the sign. After that, the individual will be contacted from the great beyond.
Dancer Megan Nordle performs at Stuyvesant Cove Park.
By Sabina Mollot
Recently, a Stuyvesant Town journalist and artist found inspiration in a section of her neighborhood that’s so small it’s likely to get overlooked even by people who pass it by all the time.
That plot of land is a rocky outcropping of the shoreline that’s covered in sand and a known hangout for ducks and geese.
Karen Loew, who refers to the spot in Stuyvesant Cove Park as “the beach,” first found herself drawn to it for a simple reason. She liked it. But after learning about the controversial history of the location as well as the park itself from a neighbor, Loew knew she wanted to film it. She went on to put together an exhibition of photography as well as a short, dance film, called “No Man’s Land,” that will be shown at the 14th Street Y this summer.
A sculpture by Josiah McElheny will become a performance space. (Photo courtesy of Madison Square Park Conservancy)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
With the arrival of Madison Square Park’s new summer installation next Tuesday comes a handful of artists who have created performance pieces to interact with the work in week-long residencies. Prismatic Park, a sculpture by artist Josiah McElheny made of glass tile and wood creating individual performance spaces for the artists, offers a translucent sound wall for experimental music, a reflective floor for dance and a vaulted pavilion for poetry.
Artist MC Hyland, who will be doing the first poetry residency for the project from July 4 to 9, won’t be using the space for typical poetry readings but decided to expand on a project she’s already been working on that is more interactive than straight performance. Hyland has a degree in book arts in addition to an MFA in poetry, and when she went back to school for English literature recently, she started reading more poetry by William Wordsworth, who wrote some of his work about walking and talking with friends.
Emily Ruderman, member of theater troupe that benefits charities (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
When Stuy Town resident Emily Ruderman made a shift in her career away from the arts, it happened to coincide with the beginning of her involvement in a Manhattan theater troupe, giving her a new creative outlet.
Ruderman, who used to work for nonprofit Roundabout Theatre and later Nickelodeon, started as a project manager at the advertising agency Grey about five months ago, and became a member of the Blue Hill Troupe about a month before starting her new job.
The all-volunteer troupe is based uptown and produces a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta and a Broadway musical every year, as well as a concert, to benefit various charities throughout the city. The organization focuses on one charity each year and this year is partnering with Rocking the Boat, a Bronx-based nonprofit that teaches high school students about science and math through boatbuilding and sailing programs.
The spring show for the company is “City of Angels.” It premiered on April 21 and will have its final two shows this coming weekend at El Teatro of El Museo del Barrio in East Harlem.
Participants arrived at the Union Square station in their knickers after participating in the ride on Sunday. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
New Yorkers braved below-freezing temperatures and the remains of the weekend’s snowstorm for the annual No Pants subway ride on Sunday, organized by comedy group Improv Everywhere. The pantsless riders converged on Union Square around 4 p.m. after riding through the subway system from various origin points.
The prank has been hosted by Improv Everywhere for the last 16 years, beginning with only seven participants in 2002. Since then, the event has grown to include more than 4,000 pantsless New Yorkers, with other cities organizing their own events throughout the world.
The idea behind the prank is that passengers board subway cars at different stops in the middle of winter without pants on. Participants behave like they don’t know each other and wear other winter-weather clothing like coats, hats, gloves and scarves, and the only unusual aspect of their appearance is their lack of pants.