Tag Archives: theatre

Life List #58 – Part II

If you check out my life list, you’ll see it’s a work (life) in-progress. #58, See every show/lab in an entire season at the Vineyard Theatre, is ongoing. This is the second post in the series on #58. You can find the first post here. On this trip, life and fate pulled out all the stops. Witness below, Vineyard karma.

This month at the Vineyard, I check out Zach Helm’s production of “Interviewing The Audience.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. Zach comes out in the beginning of the production and introduces himself, explaining we will hear the stories of three audience members, who he will pick to come on stage, one at a time, and talk to him for 20 minutes. The show was originally created by Spalding Gray.

Zach Helm wrote about seeing “Interviewing The Audience” for the first time and why he wanted to revive it:

I saw him [Spalding Gray] do it as a freshly graduated theatre student at the Steppenwolf Theatre in 1997. Of note that evening, Mr. Gray interviewed a young girl from the South Side who had never been to the theater before, and who had only attended that evening because her school was working on a project that required the students to “go see theater or dance” and his show was the only one the girl’s mother could get tickets to see. The interview played out as a mix of Art Linklater and WAITING FOR GADOT, and when it concluded, Mr. Gray noted that the girl had not only fulfilled the requirement of seeing theater, but had become theater. The girl responded incredulously: “That’s weird. I could’ve been anybody.”

Three of my close theatre/college friends joined me for “Interviewing,” so the night was already meaningful, but I had no idea it was about to go to a whole new level.

Zach came out on stage, introduced himself and began to scan the audience. Then, he started walking up towards our section. I suddenly felt it in the pit of my stomach, he’s going to ask me. Sure enough, we locked eyes and he invited me up on stage.

After I got miked and settled, he asked me the first question he asks of everyone: “What brought you to the theatre tonight?” I answered, Spalding Gray. I told Zach I had a few brief conversations with Spalding, but I never really knew who he was until after he died. He asked me if I would have done or said anything different if I knew who Spalding was during those phone conversations. Only one thing came to mind: I wish I had listened harder.

The next questions he asked was if I was ambitious. I answered “yes” and, apparently, smiled, which lead to talking about what ambition means and how I’m ambitious. I explained my feeling about ambition was that it only felt true and real if accompanied by passion. It’s important to have both.

From there, the questions turned more into a conversation between myself and Zach, punctuated by occasional laughter from the audience. I sometimes forgot they were there until they laughed. We talked about how my sister and I shared a 500 sq foot studio apt, then how we moved to another building where we lived directly above/below each other. Then, we talked about everything from how I was raised macrobiotic to my history with the Vineyard Theatre; and how important it is to always know every job you can within your industry — knowing who does what and  learning as much as possible for the next step, because you never know what/when it’s going to happen.

At the end of our 20 minutes, as I left the stage, Zach told a fable about knowing when a person is a leader because they know all the jobs involved from the bottom up. He gestured toward me when he said “a leader.”

When returned to my seat in the audience, every feeling hit me at once. I was buzzing with energy, but also very overwhelmed. I had just been sitting on a stage in a theater where, 15 years (nearly to the day) earlier I had made the decision to pursue a career in the arts. And, here I was, on that stage, talking about how I fulfilled that goal and continue to reach for a higher bar every day. I had good friends sitting beside me, who were excited and proud of me, hugging me as I made my way back to my seat. I had come full circle. My eyes welled with the tears of every emotion I felt at that moment, but the crazy karma of the evening wasn’t quite over yet.

The second person Zach picked was sitting in the same row as me, opposite end of the aisle. He had come to with a friend. His friend was none other than my editor at TDF. We had no idea we were seeing the show on the same night. The third person picked (I later learned) was a business partner of a friend of mine.

At the close of the show, Zach invites the audience to stay after and talk to each other because, we all experienced a show that will never ever happen again. This is the nature of live theater. We are all people with stories to tell; with stories worth sharing. We are all living art.

When I asked Zach how he had picked us. He told us the following: “I get handed a slip of paper on which an arbitrary letter of the alphabet is written. I use that as a sort of mnemonic. Tonight’s letter was ‘S.’ I looked out on stage and the first word I thought was “smile.” That’s when I saw was you, Ashley, you were the only one sitting there, smiling.”

After each show, Zach does a post-show “Top Three Moments” video. I’ve been watching them faithfully, but it was extra entertaining to see mine. Out of all the things we talked about, I had a feeling he was going to pick this particular moment.

“Interviewing The Audience” has a home at the Vineyard Theatre through February 27th. You have four days. Run!

Advertisements

The Diaries: January 1914

In 2005, I came across three diaries belonging to Raymond Enders, a resident of New York City. In these diaries (from 1914, 1921, & 1923) he meticulously recorded his daily life. In 2011, I will retrace his steps and share some of the highlights.

January, 1914

—–

Saturday, January 3rd: Cloudy. Rain.

“To business. To Wanamaker’s …

Wanamaker’s was a department store located on Broadway between 9th, 10th streets and 4th avenue. The building has withstood the test of time and a fire that resulted in near ruin to the interior and the subway beneath it. Today, 770 Broadway itself doesn’t look much different, though the street itself is crammed end-to-end with buildings. Wanamaker’s is now home to my local Kmart. Pretty fancy exterior for a discount store.

——

Wednesday, January 21st

Cloudy in the Am. Then Clear & cold Pm. To office, then to courthouse. NY State supreme Court. Pt. 1 J. Davis. To Serve on Hans Schmidt Trial. Examined by Di– Att Whit–yan* & excused by council for Schmidt. Saw Schmidt…

Hans Schmidt was a priest who was affiliated with St. Joseph’s Church on W. 125th street. He confessed to killing Anna Aumuller, dismembering her body, and sinking it in the North River. The NY Times has the story.

* — used whenever I cannot make out the handwriting

—–

Saturday, January 24th: Rain. Mild

To office – to Home – to Harlem. Had dinner at Hotel Theresa with Billie…


The Hotel Theresa was built at 125th street and 7th avenue in 1913. First opened as an “apartment hotel,” it boasted 300 rooms and a style that the NY Times noted could look Islamic or Art Deco. Ironically, the “Wonder of Harlem,” was only open to white people until 1940. By 1941, it was the the place for African-American athletes, musicians, writers, and the likes of Malcolm X. (and even Fidel Castro), passed through the hotel.

—–

Sunday, January 25th: Clear. Cold.

To Criterion theatre. Show charming …

Located at 1514-16 Broadway, the Criterion was an entertainment complex opened by Oscar Hammerstein. From the Internet Broadway Database:

“In 1895, Oscar Hammerstein opened an entertainment complex for which one fifty-cent ticket admitted you to two main auditoriums (Lyric, Music Hall), two small theatres (Concert Hall, Roof Garden), an Oriental cafe, bowling, and billiards. On June 29, 1898, the debt-laden Olympia was auctioned. Charles Frohman leased the Lyric and renamed it the Criterion. In 1914, it showed movies as the Vitagraph, but soon returned to live theatre.”

On January 25th, the show Raymond would have seen is was a comedy called “Young Wisdom” by the playwright Rachel Crothers, who was one of the few female playwrights whose plays were running on Broadway. In her lifetime, she had 37 plays produced, most of which revolved around the themes of women, society and gender politics. All were comedies. The NY Times gave “Young Wisdom” a highly favorable review.

Despite the daily records of Raymond’s life, there are many details I’m missing. The general information either leads me in too many different directions or down a dead-end. Passing references to restaurants that have been lost with time. The addresses of buildings no longer in existence. I sense I’ll be left with many questions. I might never find out if Raymond gets married to one of the many women he consistently spends his evenings with or what becomes of him after 1923, but the journey is part of the fun.  I never knew about the Hotel Theresa in Harlem; or the fantastic entertainment complexes that populated the Times Square neighborhood. It was also a pleasant surprise to discover the existence of a prolific female playwright — one who seemed to be writing about what she wanted and was successful at it to boot. I’m learning a lot, but mostly I’m learning to be patient; to deal with not knowing every detail and being ok with that. It’s the happy accidents and little gems of old New York , a glimpse of what it once was, that thrill me the most.






Life List: #58

If you check out my life list, you’ll see there’s quite a bit of stuff I have to do. Luckily, thanks to my Under 30 Membership at the Vineyard Theatre, I am on my way to crossing #58 off my list: See every show/lab in an entire season at the Vineyard Theatre. Why the Vineyard Theatre? It’s a place with which I have a 15 year history — more than half of my life. It’s also where I made the decision, at age fourteen, to pursue a career in the arts.

I saw my first off-Broadway show at the Vineyard Theatre in 1996. It was a “silent movie opera” called Bed and Sofa. It wasn’t a typical production, but nor was my route to seeing it. A family friend, who also happened to be my occasional voice teacher, was starring in the show and took me with her to everything related to the production.  I witnessed the labor and birth of a musical, from an in-studio recording of song selections to help secure grant money and solidify the project, to rehearsals, dress rehearsals, a preview night, opening night, and ultimately, the Drama Desk Awards, when the show was nominated.

I was there when the composer, Polly Pen, and librettist Laurence Klavan changed chords, adjusted the way words were pronounced and collaborated with the director, Andre Ernotte, and cast, Terri Klausner, Michael X. Martin and Jason Workman. I saw major artistic changes, such as the elimination of a whole character, the narrator, occur between the rehearsal period and opening night. The set, by G.W. Mercier, appeared to be built right before my eyes.

I learned how people collaborate as artists, how they pick and choose battles over their creative opinions, and how they compromise. I also discovered a lot about life in Moscow in 1926 — more than I’ve ever read in a history book. My days and nights at the Vineyard allowed me to set the compass of my destiny. It solidified my commitment to pursuing a career in the arts. I knew it would be a risky, rocky road, but it made me realized I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

After my Bed and Sofa experience, I saw a few productions at the Vineyard, sent donations when I could, and purchased memberships, but (due to work) was never able to commit to seeing every single production in one season. However, when I renewed my membership this year and added it to my life list, I felt a new sense of commitment.

I attended the first show of the season, Middletown, last week. The production is in previews and the cast and crew are hard at work fine-tuning it. Before slipping into my seat, I walked down to the lower level by the bathrooms and across from the green room. This picture hangs above the water fountain. It’s of my family friend, in a production she did at the Vineyard before Bed and Sofa. I snapped a picture of it and emailed it to her. I thought of the many lives that were changed in this theatre. Small productions that played extended runs and sold out performances. Shows that went on to play larger, Broadway houses; opportunities that arose from having a place to play, a stage to perform on, and seats to fill. Part of the idea of adding #58 to my list was to cross off a wish, but the other aspect was to pay tribute to a place where my 14-year-old self learned some of the most important life lessons:  follow your dreams; live what you love.

I’ll keep you posted as I see more productions there throughout the season.