Tag Archives: New York City

All The World’s A Stage


20th Century Fox has created a Broadway division to produce film-to-stage productions. This is newsworthy as they are the last movie studio to do so. It isn’t that Fox has shied from the stage; the ill-fated 9-5 musical was a Fox picture. But they have not had an in-house formal process for repackaging movies into stage productions. Now this type of news is likely to send a certain demographic into a bit of a crise (say; the kind of person who uses the word “crise” or “picture” instead of “movie”.) But if we slowly dismantle and examine the conceit, we may not have to draw the curtains and take to our beds.

First off, having a film-to-stage production division is not synonymous with big-box theme park type productions. It is also does not mean that dramas or even comedies will necessarily be turned into chirpy musicals. (I know, I know, you’re making your “Let’s start with The Color Purple” list right now, but hear me out.) 20th Century Fox plans to have 9-12 projects slated to jumpstart this initiative. They’ve indicated that these productions are not necessarily Broadway bound. This disclosure increases the odds that regional theatre will occur and to do so there will have to be smaller productions. Regional theatre is always welcome.

There was a time when almost every Broadway production took to the roads. (And this was back when there were dozens and dozens of productions on the Great White Way at any given time.) Often the original cast would make the tour. Not only did this give life and exposure to a play and its creative team, it made live theatre accessible. A diverse audience was cultivated and that in turn supported live theatre. More audience equaled more revenue equaled more opportunities for creativity (on the part of producers) and more jobs. Times have changed and the result of those changes is an elitism of Broadway. To get on a Broadway stage a production better be damn sure it will make money. A New York City audience is not enough to ensure a full house. Visitors must buy tickets and buy them at a very high price. If visitors come from lands no longer exposed to Broadway theatre on a seasonal regional basis; a little flash is necessary. A boldface name (e.g., a television star, a reality show contestant, or a recording artist) combined with a known property (e.g., a revival or film-to-stage production) greatly increases the seats sold. Ticket prices have skyrocketed, presumably to sustain the boldface salaries and bells & whistles of a big-box show. This in turn creates a phenomenon known as “consumer grade inflation” (just because I made it up doesn’t mean that it’s not a phenomenon.) Someone who procures tickets for a price of over $100 a piece (and I’m being conservative) is not likely to be all that critical. People aren’t stupid, (stay with me on this) they know when they’re paying more than something is worth. Ask any real estate agent how their clients behave once they’ve outbid other buyers. Take a look at people willing to dine at 5:30 PM or be treated like vermin by a maitre d’. Most likely they’re doing so for the bragging rights, and brags don’t begin with “Wow, was he/she miscast!” or “Lots of noise, little fury.” At $100+ a ticket you are going to enjoy it dammit. And that ladies and gentlemen is how the standing ovation reflex was born.

By bringing professionally produced theatre into the regions we stand to turn the tide just a bit. Arts education has suffered in public schools. It’s been decades since networks televised stage plays. Singing and dancing contests now dot the airwaves, and this should be taken as a sign of interest in the performing arts. It stands to reason that tickets sold by 20th Century Fox will sell. Yes, there’s a chance that X-Men The Musical will be green-lighted. But there’s also a chance that more, shall we say; human stories will be told. The simple act of developing a theatre habit has a ripple effect. People who attend the theatre on a regular basis are more likely to be a discerning audience. Buying tickets for a Broadway show will no longer be synonymous with buying tickets for a tourist attraction. A curious audience with an appetite for adventure will support more creative offerings. Less reliance on celebrity or flying machines means lower ticket prices. A lower ticket prices creates more of an audience. And so on and so on…

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Posted by on July 12, 2013 in Media/Marketing


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A man was targeted and killed for being gay; in Greenwich Village this week. People are killed all the time of course. But targeting someone because of being gay in the geographical home of Northeast gay liberation is shocking. There will always be people who are threatened by others. But it does seem that anti-gay violence has increased in recent months. Yes, it could be that the stories make the mainstream airwaves now (versus barely a mention in years past.) But the past year’s crime statistics in New York City would suggest that is not the case. Hate crimes have gone up, and presumably some of that hatred is aimed at LGBT people. Why, 44 years (almost to the day) after Stonewall does this violence exist?

How others live their life is of little concern to most people. It is only when our lives (inner or outer) feel weakened or threatened that we pick our head up and look around. Our negative thoughts and feelings about strangers come from our sense of instability. If we are not happy with our lives or ourselves it is (briefly) satisfying to malign others. We can call it bullying or bashing; its genesis is the same, and there is nothing new about it. Bullying/bashing is almost always perpetuated on those who are perceived as weaker. There was a time that by virtue of their position in society and actual laws regarding their personal lives. LGBT people were frequently victimized. A person who may fear for his/her job, housing, family connections, makes an easy target. Bullies could lash out without much fear of repercussion. Who would press charges? Even if charged, would society care? No doubt there were people sitting at home thinking; ‘well if they knew he was gay he must have been doing something ‘gay’ at the time.’ And that, for many people in olden times, was upsetting.

But this is 2013. Studies (for the past decade or two) have consistently shown that younger people (college age) don’t view LGBT people as an anomaly. Many teens now publicly identify as LGBT, in numbers and manner that children of even the 1970s couldn’t have even dreamed. LGBT people are openly serving in politics and the military (both rather straight-laced professions.) With the exception of a religious institution (or the Boy Scouts) it’s difficult to conjure a profession that would (lawfully) oust an employee for identifying as LGBT. It happens, there’s no doubt, but it’s not routine and it’s certainly not legal. LGBT people are now represented in television and film as something other than the object of ridicule. This is no small thing, as there are many subgroups that are still considered an acceptable punch line by virtue of their appearance.

So how could there be violence towards a people who have made such significant strides? Could it be that it is because of those strides that we are seeing this abhorrent behavior? Can it be that individuals who feel dissatisfied with themselves and their lives are as antagonized by the belief that someone is ‘getting what’s mine’ as they were/are by those who are seemingly weaker? Are attacks on people who are finally getting what’s rightfully theirs (civil rights) inevitable? Is it an inherent part of the battle, these innocent casualties that occur as we get closer to victory? Must Freedom Riders always be sacrificed for freedom?

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Posted by on May 19, 2013 in Cultural Critique


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Kramer vs Kramer vs Consumerism

There are films that never lose their emotional wallop, despite how many times you’ve seen them. Steel Magnolias, The Color Purple, Stella Dallas and An Affair To Remember come to mind. There is no element of surprise in the viewing; in fact the memorized dialogue and outcome are part of the pleasure. But the way in which the stories are crafted pull the viewer in for the punch. Of course there are reasons to revisit a dramatic film besides an opportunity to use tissues and visine. Films can tell us an awful lot about how we lived or thought. A film is fantasy of course, but it is a reflection of a director, screenwriter or producer’s viewpoint. Attitudes portrayed about gender, race, sexuality and religion are often an accurate reflection of the time. A film shot in the early 1970s will not only look very early 1970s but sound it too. Women might be referred to as “girls” or “honey,” bottoms might be patted. Generally, if non-white actors appear it’s to make a point. The storyline probably has nothing to do with any of these details, but the details are telling nonetheless.

You might remember the film; Kramer vs Kramer. (For those who don’t; it was a cutting-edge tale of divorce and custody starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, set in New York City.) The emotional wallop of the film doesn’t diminish with time. Much of what will rip you to shreds is the incredible performance of (8 year-old) Justin Henry. You’d have to be made of stone to not crumble at the raw hurt and anger on his face. Meryl Streep’s eyes do most of her talking. She has perhaps twenty lines and expresses pages and pages of dialogue with her eyes. The viewer understands everything about these people and their anguish. But there is also (now) a story on the periphery of that story. The year is 1979 and times were decidedly different. The family is middle class (daddy works in advertising.) They are educated people living in a two-bedroom high-rise apartment uptown. The child attends a neighborhood school and they frequent Central Park. Sounds rather timeless, no? It’s what you don’t see that is so telling. The family (before they weren’t one) is living comfortably on one salary. There is no car, there is no private school and there is no luxury. The child’s bedroom has been hand-painted with clouds by the creatively frustrated mother. (In 1979 this was considered somewhat decadent.) However, there is no Pottery Barn kid’s furniture or matching bedding and window treatment. There are some books, some toys, and later a framed photo of mommy. The chaos that ensues with mommy’s departure is linked to the time period. There are no babysitters or nannies on call or even in existence. (Nannies were still for the posh or the British.) Daddy must master grocery shopping and food preparation as take-away was not ubiquitous and children did not dine out. Luckily for daddy there are no play-dates (there is only play) and there are no enrichment programs or team sports for a first-grader.

Now no one would suggest that the late 1970s were halcyon times. The demise of the marriage in question hinged on the fact that the wife felt marginalized. She left her husband and child to “find herself” (aka get some analysis and a job.) But had the marriage worked, and had she felt able to go out and get a job, their lifestyle wouldn’t be that much different. There’d be an after-school babysitter no doubt. But the minimalistic consumption wouldn’t alter. Sure, she might need some work clothes, but shopping wasn’t a legitimate hobby in the 1970s. New appliances would’ve only been purchased if every attempt at repair had been exhausted. There were no strollers being sold for the same price as a moped. In short, they would have had more money and more time (not running from expenditure to expenditure) than they would today. Something to contemplate while watching the film and choking back the tears



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The Mean Streets of New York

New York City is a world unto itself. The names of its roads conjure full-length narratives; Wall Street, Broadway, Fifth Avenue. A harbor city with a rich commerce and immigration history, it is also a trendsetter. NYC and its rugged individualism stems from its bursting at the seams size. A recipe with millions of ingredients is bound to be unique. If you look hard enough (and factor in tourists) you might just find every type of human being imaginable in NYC. For years business in NYC mirrored this diversity and singularity.

However, as tourism has boomed commerce has followed suit with entire areas now resembling a mall. Times Square is the most obvious example. An area once considered sordid (if not flat out dangerous) home to PeepLand is now an amusement park for tourists and children. Enormous stores hawking (vending machine) candy and anything and everything branded with the candy’s logo, dot more than one corner of the square. Chain restaurants pop up like three-card-monte games once did. Cartoon and puppet characters now troll the streets in a plush walk that echoes their prostitute foremothers. They shake down “family men” for $5 after giving them a hand in creating a photo op.

But stray from midtown and it’s still pretty much an Elmo-TGI Fridays free zone (for now.) Yes Banana/Taylor/AnthroUrbans dot the landscape from the Bronx (up) to the Battery (down.) But real neighborhoods do not cater to or court tourists. The further you stray from the middle the more interesting things become. Neighborhoods bubble up, dissipate and bubble up again in the span of blocks. Retail reflects the nationality and/or ethnicity of local residents. Style and trend is set and followed locally. For better or worse there are many New Yorkers whose world does not expand beyond a one-mile radius. (How many times have you heard someone boast of “never setting foot above 14th street” or “getting a nosebleed above 86th street”?)

Given the almost insular nature of some city neighborhoods it’s jarring to spot a uniformed police officer (and marked car) stationed in front of a local movie theater. While the theater is not technically in the middle of nowhere, it is nowhere in terms of foot traffic or visibility. Living in New York one becomes accustomed to seeing incongruous evidence of heightened security. Body men outside of a diner? President must be in town. Federal and international agents milling about? Deposed leader in town. But one police officer in front of a rather dull movie theater on a weekday morning? Batman. That’s right, during a summer of obscene levels of street/playground shootings in New York City, there is a police officer assigned to the outer wall of a movie theater.

Decisions are made everyday that focus on image rather than logic or substance. But what makes this particular NYPD decision so baffling is how incredibly reactionary it seems. Was there intel about a ‘copycat’ attack in NYC? Would anyone unbalanced enough to actually do such a thing be deterred by the sight of a lone police officer leaning against a wall? Is there anyone actually living in the area who is concerned about their safety in a specific movie. Is the police officer a comfort to any local people? Or is this officer (and perhaps officers standing in front of every theater showing the film) a public relations move aimed at tourists? Tourists are probably not visiting the playgrounds and streets where children (and adults) have been shot. But they may come to the big city and go to or walk by a movie theater. Cynical conclusion? Perhaps that what comes from too many Grover/Pooh/Goofy/Shrek mingling.


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I’ll Take Manhattan*

Metropolis is brimming over with sights and sounds.  Flashing lights, street musicians and traffic meld together to form something close to a hum.  The density of the island means often there is no rhyme or reason to architectural placement.  Soaring glass office towers loom over the Art Deco Radio City Music Hall.  New condominium buildings cast a shadow over original mercantile buildings in the seaport.

The diversity of talent, interest and priorities in the city lead to incongruous surprises at every turn.  Sitting (or more aptly, “wedged”) on a seat in a subway car, feet often need to be lifted to accommodate rolling bottles or discarded lunches. One is surrounded by people at their very worst (which is to be expected in a can in a tunnel from which one can escape every 2 1/2 minutes.) Amidst all this, there is sometimes a poem (versus an advertisement urging one to sue someone else) on the wall.  Often the stations themselves are festooned with mini-mosaics.  On a bad day these reminders of our artistic potential only makes things more confusing (we are a species that can create, and evidently appreciate, such beauty, but we can’t move out of the doorway or help someone with a stroller?)

But it is actually these very incongruities which make for an interesting environment and lead to lovely surprises.  The most magical places in our fair city are practically silent.  This is the ideal time of year to discover a new spot.  Quiet blocks, uptown and down, are lined with brownstones and trees are heavy with flowering blooms.  If you look closely (or have the right app) you can discover who lived in the spot you are standing.  Being amidst beauty or charm is always a boost, but standing on history is flat out encouraging.

As we strive to keep up in life (whatever that means to you) it is inspiring and a bit soothing, to consider those who came before.  So much of what we find challenging or distracting is simply old news. It can feel overwhelming to trod ground that is only new to you, but it makes it a bit easier when you consider all that came before.  Whether wide open space, or concrete canyons, there are endless spots to lose oneself and find something inspiring if even for just a moment.

*Rogers and Hart (1925)

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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Cultural Critique


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