Kickstart Now. Here. This.

As many of you who check in with this blog know, I spent most of the winter and early spring working with some of my favorite people on the Off-Broadway show, Now. Here. This. Though our run at the Vineyard Theatre ended back in April, there remained one big piece of unfinished business: a cast recording.

Well, that all changed today when we launched our Kickstarter campaign to fund the making of the Now. Here. This. original cast recording. Behold.

Larry Pressgrove on the keys

I had many favorite moments and days working on this show, but one of the top ones was our sitzprobe, which is where the cast sings through all of the music for the first time with the live band. It was an incredible experience listening to what Jeff Bowen had been walking around hearing in his head for months. An electric guitar, a mandolin, a drum, an upright bass. That first listening experience felt akin to staring at a Chuck Close canvas at the exact distance where you see the individual depth, color, and dimension of the image and the whole painting at the same time. It excited my senses and made me feel incredibly proud of my friend and his sonic vision. It also made me want to share his music with everyone I know. For now, however, I’m resigned to walking around like pre-sitzprobe Jeff, with the tunes in my head and not out in the world.

Those of you who saw the show know what I’m talking about. But for those of you that didn’t make it to NHT, this recording will offer you the opportunity to hear what you missed, to fall in love with the music, to marvel at talents of some really smart, funny and creative people, and to play the tracks you love wherever you are, letting the bars of music float out onto the street, through your headphones, and in the interior of your car (while you sing along, of course).

Being a part of this show and collaboration was a very special experience for all of us involved in the production, but now we need you to collaborate with us on getting the original cast recording made. Join the adventure and help us bring everyone into the Now. Here. This.

The Now. Here. This. band

The Girl in the Gallery

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A few months ago, I walked into the Steven Kasher Gallery to catch the exhibition of Vivian Maier: Unseen Images. I had been following the story of Vivian Maier, who spent 40 years of her life working as a nanny in both Chicago and New York. On her days off, she wandered the streets of these cities accompanied only by her Rolleiflex camera. She shot people and store windows, streetscapes, and captured tiny moments we often overlook in our quest to get from point A to point B. Despite this, she never set up a shot. She simply looked through her viewfinder, clicked once, and kept walking. That confidence and boldness comes across in all of her images — though Vivian Maier probably did not know this herself, since most of her rolls of film remained undeveloped or only existed in negative form. She was never discovered or lauded for her work. She died quietly in Chicago in 2009. A few years earlier, 100,000 of Ms. Maier’s negatives, 2,000 undeveloped rolls of film, were discovered in a commercial storage unit . 30,000 of those negatives were auctioned off for $400 to a man named John Maloof. He then found other buyers to acquire the remainder of the negatives. Maloof didn’t know what he had until he began scanning the images and posting them to Flickr, where people started to comment. Then, this news story on Maloof’s find went viral, and the rest became internet history.

As someone who spent high school behind a camera or in my school’s dark room, I was drawn to this story. In college, I had put down my camera and pursued fleshing out my images through words and sentences. It wasn’t until I got an iPhone in 2009 that I remembered how much I loved taking pictures. Once I started clicking, I never stopped. My style is similar to Maier’s in that I click once and move on. If I get it, great. If I don’t, the image stays burned on my brain and eventually finds its way into words on a page. Where we differ is that I will process my photo through different filter styles before settling on one fixed image. Then, I upload it to my photo Tumblr. Everything I shoot passes by my eyes more than once. But, in this digital world, rarely do I print my images. They never get the opportunity to breath beyond the pixels of a computer screen.

All of these reasons sent me into the Kasher gallery that day, where one of the other buyers of Maier’s negatives, Jeff Goldstein, had put together a show of Vivian’s work. I walked past the Weegee photographs and into the corner where Maier’s work was displayed. I took my time in front of each image. There was humor, life, sadness, and utter realness. I stood there alone for a long time before an older man came into the gallery and joined my viewing party. He also took his time examining each photograph. I sensed something different about the way he looked, with an intense personal connection. We struck up a conversation and I learned his name is Ron Gordon and he is the person responsible for printing Vivian’s images. He got to see what she did not, that magical moment when chemicals react and an image begins to appear, ghost-like at first, and then solid and sharp in the chemical bath. He toured me through each image, talking about the framing, shading, and how he decided on the printing process, as each was unique. He used the best phrase to describe Vivian’s style of capturing her subjects: “She was out so much, the moments started to find her. She wore her camera around her neck like jewelry.” We stood in front of the last image, one I kept coming back to, lingering over. I felt like I could have a conversation with the photograph forever. Endless stories were housed in this 20 x 20 image and I wanted to know them all.

It never occurred to me, walking into that gallery, into any gallery, that I could afford to buy something on its walls. Not that I had any business buying something, being a freelancer with a meager savings account. But I looked in the book, saw the price and thought, I could do this. And, after some additional homework, I did. I was taken to a back room, shown the remainder of the prints that were left (only 15 are printed from each negative) and chose one. I put down a deposit. The print was sent to the framer and three weeks and a few more payments later, the photograph is now mine.

I still marvel at the fact that, by owning this photograph, I become a part of Vivian Maier’s story, of a moment she captured with her Rolleiflex, of the street hustler gazing directly at her, with a face as storied as they come.

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Happy. Opening.

Today we open Now. Here. This. It’s exciting, scary, fun, nerve-wrecking, and joyful. I’ve spent the past three months working intensely with this group of people. Revising dialogue down to the “five minute till show” call, rewriting around the green room table after a performance, or falling asleep during late night Skype calls. In the spirit of the show, I’ve tried to live in these moments, take note of them, be entirely present and feel everything that comes up within that moment, no matter how hard or fleeting it may be. And, much like Thomas Merton states in his theory, when you do get to the intersection of Now Here This, there is happiness. There is presentness. There is life.

I made mental notes of the moments in which I captured the now, here, this of “Now. Here. This.,” but wrote only one of them down. It was a moment from back in January, when we spent a week living and writing together up at a house in CT. A house we only left to by groceries, go to the gym, and shovel the driveway during a snowstorm. We wrote intensely while sitting on the living room couch, on beds, and jamming on keyboards that were set atop ironing boards. I clocked a few moments over the course of that week, but this one remains one of my favorites:

The moment I felt it all hit me was during a read-through we had on Saturday. I was on lunch duty, chopping up strawberries and watching the snow fall through the kitchen window. Behind me I heard four voices singing a song with Larry on keyboard. It was a song only about seven people have heard, but thousands more will soon here. I stopped chopping for a second. I felt the physical weight of the moment, of how calm I felt, how happy; how beautiful those voices and music/lyrics sounded. I heard Michael tapping away at the keys on his computer, and Heidi laugh, midsong, at a joke Hunter made; I smelled the fragrant sweetness of the strawberries. The song ended and I let the moment go with it, flying away at the speed of sound.

I’ve learned so much from this experience — things that fall well beyond the scope of simply working on a piece of theater. I’ve found a group of people I love and trust and who love and trust me. In these three months, I’ve grown and changed almost as much as this show has. It’s thrilling, exhausting, exciting, hot-making, extraordinary, and incredibly fulfilling. I’ve also learned that old Trappist monk Thomas Merton was right when he wrote:

“Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am. That I will never fulfill my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself, and if I accept myself fully in the right way, I will already have surpassed myself.”

Realness.