Monday, June 12, 2017

Shaking a Spear at Delta and Bank of America

I've been out of the loop with theater in NYC for a lot of complex reasons which I may write about one day... but I feel compelled to write about Delta Airlines and Bank of America withdrawing sponsorship from the Public Theater for their production of JULIUS CAESAR.

For my friends in Europe, you might not know that the Public Theater is where HAIR, A CHORUS LINE, and HAMILTON premiered. (No, Broadway is NOT where plays premiere; it’s where plays go to cash in on their success.) If you've ever enjoyed the songs "Tits & Ass" or "Age of Aquarius" you owe something to the Public. In fact, if you've enjoy any American theater in past 50 years, you owe something to the Public. It's one of the theaters that birthed the American nonprofit theater system for better or for worse. It’s where Meryl Streep got her start. It’s where New Yorkers have seen Shakespeare with stars like Streep (and Al Pacino and James Earl Jones and John Lithgow, etc. etc.) for FREE every summer for nearly 60 years.

Like any great theater, the Public would naturally mine JULIUS CAESAR for what the play has to say about the world today. Thank GOD the Public has a freaking perspective on the play instead of just tossing together another dusty old toga party. That’s what art is supposed to do, for chrissakes – give us perspective, context, a lens through which we can see the world from an angle we hadn’t considered. If it’s safe and reassuring, then it ain’t art.

I’m posting this because the theater community is teensy and we’re always preaching to the converted. But I’m in Europe where no one knows what the Public Theater is. I haven’t heard people here talking about boycotting Delta. (Bank of America doesn’t exist, so they can’t boycott it here...)

It's a slippery slope. Theater doesn't have enough funding as it is and corporate sponsorships is one of the hardest money to come by. The Public is probably doing okay with HAMILTON raking it in on Broadway but the summer Shakespeare productions are free to the public. Entirely kostenlos except for like 50 seats that are impossible to come by. And we all know that a company of 10+ union actors and stagehands, not to mention sets, lights, and costumes ain't cheap. So the entire summer season needs to be subsidized somehow.

Delta and Bank of America pulling out absolutely bites. If they're being swayed by Fox & Breitbart, then people who give a shit about art should give them a piece of their mind.

-- Here is an article about the debacle in The NewYork Times, which repeats incendiary quotes by Fox News and Breitbart, but gives the reader very little idea about the actual Public Theater production. 

-- In contrast, here is what a smart friend of a friend says, who has actually seen the play. He makes the very good point, “If there ever were an ANTI-assassination play, this is it.”

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Celebrating Silvester, Whoever He Was

I've been writing for Berlin Loves You and they asked me to write up an alternative guide to New Years Eve. I started with an introduction to why New Years is called "Silvester" in Berlin, but it was too long for the article. I cut it down but in the final article, it got cut even more. I thought maybe some people would be interested in the full expanded trivia, so here it is, expanded even more with annotations and everything. The Berlin Loves you article can be found here in case you're curious about the cut or looking for last minute non-techno things to do in Berlin for New Years. 

In America, Sylvester is a tuxedo cat with a bad lisp. Sylvester is an Eye-talian knucklehead who made a couple of boxing films. But in Berlin, Silvester is what the locals say when they mean New Years Eve. So who the heck is this Silvester guy? I finally looked it up and it turns out that he was the pope who converted the Roman emperor Constantine to Christianity.

If you google this Pope Silvester guy, you'll immediately turn up rumors that he and Constantine were both rampantly anti-Semitic but that’s just hearsay. There's plenty of evidence of anti-Semitism in the middle ages so I have no idea why an alt-right website feels the need to make this up. Maybe the writer is a sourpuss who wants to pour cold water over New Year celebrations? (I went on a google dive and apparently there are conflicts in Israel over Rosh Hashanah vs. everyone else's New Year.) You'll also find a source that says Silvester was black and a few other sources about him slaying a dragon. So if you believe everything that's on the internet, Silvester was the first black man to slay a dragon and became pope. That's a way better rumor to spread around and I'm very happy to help you do that. But sadly, it doesn't serve anyone's agenda, so I doubt if it will gain much traction.

The truth is that no one knows anything about Sylvester except that he was too sick to attend the Nicean Council and he happened to die on December 31. That was right in the middle of a 12-day pagan festival to banish evil spirits called the Rauhnächte. Germanic tribes throughout Central Europe believed that during those “Rough Nights,” the sun slowed down to a crawl while Wotan led a band of bellicose ghosts on a wild hunt through the dark skies. In response, the Teutons filled their houses with smoke, banged kitchen utensils, beat on trees with flaming cudgels, and rolled burning wooden wheels down mountainsides. Good times. Naturally, sourpuss early Christians disapproved and they set about convincing pagan Germans to fête Silvester instead. In the late 1500s, Europeans countries began to move the first day of the calendar to 1 January and the feast day for Silvester gradually turned into celebrations for a new year.

***
  Like in NYC, there are a billion things to do in Berlin tonight. I might lay low after two days of going out and performing. But everyone keeps telling me that Warschauer Strasse is like a warzone of fireworks. That sounds amazing to me after 20 years of fireworks restrictions in NYC. And my dad comes from Yanshui, a small town in Taiwan whose claim to fame is that it hosts the craziest fireworks festival in the world. People literally wear full face helmets and hazmat suits. I've never been to Asia during Lunar New Year and I probably would hate Yanshui's fireworks, but I am all about down home street celebrations. Maybe I will go and take some photos of Berliners making a big ruckus for Silvester like it's 330AD.

Running out now to get groceries before all the grocery shops close for two days. Leaving you with this video of Joshua Samuel Brown in Yanshui a few years back.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Miles in Berlin

[Written on Sept 15th but I didn't have a chance to post until just now...]

I'm waiting at the airport for my son. His flight is about half an hour late and of course I got here way too early. Most people in Berlin don't know that I have a grown son. I had him way young (actually it was an immaculate conception when I was 8 years old but no one believes me). It's weird to me that he's an adult and that I had this whole other life when I was a mom. So when Miles said that he bought tickets and he was coming to visit me, I started to tell people that my little brother was coming. Partly because I'd have to really open up to everyone here and I'm not sure if I'm ready to do that. (It's so refreshing not to be in your hometown where everyone seems to have known you since you were an angry 14-year-old.) And also, I knew everyone would instantly wonder how old I am.

Two years ago, I somehow got involved with a much younger guy for a very brief moment in London and when he dropped me for no reason, I wondered if it was because I was ten years older than him. Not that we ever had a discussion about this. But it did seem that our understandings & experiences were so different simply because of the different times that we came of age. The way I realized that he must be way younger was a discussion when I mentioned the fall of the Berlin Wall & I realized he had no personal memory of it.

I've never been anxious about my age before. This is a whole new thing for me. I was at a gal's 28th birthday party and a mutual friend told her that she had to start lying about her age. (Yes, I know, craaaazy...) I'm a lot older than 28 but this thought never entered my mind until the incident with that guy in London. 

My whole life I've been hampered by things I have little control over: my gender, my ethnicity, my lack of money. And now, great, let's add age to this list. Well, actually, age was an issue when I first began working in theater since I was too young to be taken seriously. And now I'm too old to still be "emerging." I never seem to be able to do anything when I'm supposed to.

But after a few weeks of telling people about my "little brother," I'm thinking, to hell with it. I was a single mom and it was damn tough. And I was a good mom even though I had no idea about parenting from my own parents who were never around and treated me terribly. Miles calls me and says he misses me, so I must have done something right to have a son who actually wants to spend time with me. And he's a huge reason why I am who I am today. Before he came into my life, I didn't know that I could be loved. So not mentioning that I have a son just feels like I'm denying a huge and essential part of myself. 

And Miles still kicks my butt. On my own, I mostly don't care that I have barely enough money to eat. On my own, I rarely want to buy anything unless it's something for a show. But for Miles, I want a nice place for him to stay and enough money to take him out to dinner and I can't wait to go out dancing with him and his lovely girl. I've been hustling these last three weeks in a way that I've never done before in Berlin. 

I'm also a little nervous meeting him and feeling sentimental that he's now an adult. My beautiful little boy who used to gaze at me with such adoration. I envy more stable parents that they kept their child with them through their teenage years. We lost our home when he was 16 and since then, I've never spent more than a day with him here and there. Even after I found a new place for us to live, he decided to stay at his father's friend's place, perhaps so he wouldn't be a burden on me. 

He's older now than I was when I had him. So our relationship will be different than when I last spent time with him. And we'll be together almost every day for nearly a month. I hope that we can be good friends. I hope I can make it up to him for losing our home and sending him out in the world before he was really ready. 

[This is when Miles tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hello, mom."]



Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fifteen Years Later

This is the article I wrote two weeks after 9/11 for www.edreams.com The website was really new and they had a section where writers gave local travel advice. I was their New York correspondent. I was also the Development Director of Theater for the New City at that time. That's the theater that is mentioned in the article. 

Re-reading this article is really poignant. It was a strange time in New York, sort of like being in a funeral with 8 million other people. I think people in 1963 who watched JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald get shot on television must have had the same experience. Our hopeful illusions about the world were suddenly dashed. Suddenly, we woke up and saw how much things had changed. Suddenly, there was a new sober reality that we all had to face. 

I still think of the gathering I attended the day after 9/11 in Union Square. This is the usual place New Yorkers rally and without facebook or twitter or even any word of mouth, everyone instinctively knew to go to Union Square and bring a candle. In fact, there were no candles to be found in any bodega south of 23rd Street. So I went to the basement of the theater and scrounged around in the prop area, emerging with three dusty orange candle holders that had some meager stubs of candles in them. With these in hand, my co-workers, my little boy, and I set off for Union Square. We arrived to find it jam packed. I've never seen so many people in one place. Just going the one city block from Union Square East to Union Square West literally took an hour. I swear there must have been 50,000 people there. And no one said a word. All 50,000 of us walking silently through the park carrying candles. MISSING posters plastered on every available wall....A deep sense of unity....A sobering sense of loss. That was 9/11 in NYC.
______

My brother called from Tokyo at 8:55 in the morning on September 11th. I was lying in bed, enjoying the sleep of someone who had worked HARD the night before on a benefit that was pretty terrific, I must say. The answering machine picked up and I heard my brother say, "I hope you're nowhere near the financial area. I know you probably aren't but I thought I should call." And then he hung up before I could get to the phone. What the hell is he talking about? I wondered. I rolled over and tried to get back to sleep. Outside a few people screamed about something. I put the pillow over my head. The phone rang just as my cat curled up comfortably next to me. I was loathe to get up. The machine picked up again and it was my friend Mark yelling, "Wake up! Wake up!" So I got up, got the phone and very grumpily barked,"WHAT???" He replied, "One of the World Trade Centers just fell down."

Needless to say, I turned on the telly and watched with the whole world as the World Trade Center turned to rubble. Only two channels were being transmitted; television had been shot down like the stock market. Another friend called. He didn't have a television so I spent the next half hour describing to him all the terrible images on the screen. At noon, I finally went to the theater where I work, walking in bright, beautiful autumn sunshine, with many confused and dazed people. There were lines in front of every telephone kiosk and lots of people just standing around in shock. From every store you could hear the same news blaring. Channel 5 coming from every shop and restaurant. At the theater, the news was on too. I found it impossible to work, to type out what suddenly seemed utterly mundane grant applications for this or that artist. We closed early, at 3, and I went to fetch my little boy since his dad was working across the water in New Jersey and wouldn't be able to get back to New York in time. (Turns out it took him 14 hours to get back home.) I spent the rest of the night watching TV with my boy, wondering what terrible precipice we were now on.

After that crazy day, there were candle-light vigils practically every night in Union Square Park. New Yorkers are a bit more somber than usual. I still can only get a few channels on the television. And of course, the skyline is missing its two front teeth. In many ways, though, this tragedy has shown what a great place New York is. For goodness sakes, where else can you imagine 40,000 people running from two collapsing 103 story towers and NO ONE is trampled to death??? Incidents of racist attacks are much less in New York than anywhere else in this country. There have been none in my neighborhood, despite the many Arabic newsstands and falafel shops that dot the Lower East Side. Our local mosque locked up on the day of the tragedy but they haven't been attacked. Despite New York receiving a solar plexis blow, we are still standing and still reaching out to each other.

For those of you who may be worried about coming to the city, I want to reassure you that New York does not look like blitzed-out London now. The lower west side area south of Canal and west of Broadway was cordoned off for a while, but lower Manhattan is now open except for the few blocks immediately around the disaster area. While you can no longer visit the World Trade Center, parts of Battery Park will be open and you can still take rides on the Staten Island ferry for one of the most beautiful views of New York. I love this city and I feel, like most New Yorkers, that I've been dealt some kind of great psychic blow. But New York is still beautiful, it's still bustling and still bountiful to people of all nations. We've been exposed as being vulnerable like everyone else, despite our tough talk and fast walk, but in our vulnerability, we're relearning that our real strength isn't in big buildings or economic institutions, our real strength lies in unity and love. And unity and love is something New York has plenty of.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Shaking a Spear at Delta & BoA

I've been out of the loop with theater in NYC for a lot of complex reasons which I may write about one day... but I feel compelled to write about Delta Airlines and Bank of America withdrawing sponsorship from the Public Theater for their production of JULIUS CAESAR.

For my friends in Europe, you might not know that the Public Theater is where HAIR, A CHORUS LINE, and HAMILTON premiered. (No, Broadway is NOT where plays premiere; it’s where plays go to cash in on their success.) If you've ever enjoyed the songs "Tits & Ass" or "Age of Aquarius" you owe something to the Public. In fact, if you've enjoy any American theater in past 50 years, you owe something to the Public. It's one of the theaters that birthed the American nonprofit theater system for better or for worse. It’s where Meryl Streep got her start. It’s where New Yorkers have seen Shakespeare with stars like Streep (and Al Pacino and James Earl Jones and John Lithgow, etc. etc.) for FREE every summer for nearly 60 years.

Like any great theater, of course, the Public would mine JULIUS CAESAR for what the play has to say about the world today. Thank GOD the Public has a freaking perspective on the play instead of just tossing together another dusty old toga party. That’s what art is supposed to do, for chrissakes – give us perspective, context, a lens through which we can see the world from an angle we hadn’t considered. If it’s safe and reassuring, then it ain’t art.

I’m posting this because the theater community is teensy and we’re always preaching to the converted. But I’m in Europe where no one knows what the Public Theater is. I haven’t heard people here talking about boycotting Delta. (Bank of America doesn’t exist, so they can’t boycott it here...)

It's a slippery slope. Theater doesn't have enough funding as it is and corporate sponsorships is one of the hardest money to come by. The Public is probably doing okay with HAMILTON raking it in on Broadway but Shakespeare in the Park is free to the public. Entirely kostenlos except for like 50 seats that are impossible to come by. So the entire summer season needs to be subsidized somehow. Delta and Bank of America pulling out absolutely bites. If they're being swayed by Fox & Breitbart, then people who give a shit about art should give them a piece of their mind.

-- Here is an article about the debacle in The NewYork Times, which repeats incendiary quotes by Fox News and Breitbart, but gives the reader very little idea about the actual Public Theater production. 

-- In contrast, here is what a smart friend of a friend says, who has actually seen the play. He makes the very good point, “If there ever were an ANTI-assassination play, this is it.”