Sunday, September 28, 2014

Gentrification, Transience, and NYC: Revisiting RENT

I was meeting with a director in a few weeks ago Hell's Kitchen and we passed by the Westway Diner on 9th Ave, which was boarded up.

"Oh man," he said.  "I had one of my first shows in a theatre space above there. Now that theatre's a SLEEPY'S.  That's New York.  You can't get too attached to places."

In this case, I could assure him that in fact the iconic diner was undergoing a renovation and would be open again a few months.  But he was right about the transience of life here.  One of my favorite things when I first moved to Queens was taking the 7 Train and passing by the 5Pointz graffiti mecca in between Hunters Point and Court Square.  It was this gorgeous, audacious piece of art that had pictures ranging from hipster owls to a giant portrait of Biggie Smalls.  It was a such a vibrant contrast from the dull and gloomy neighborhoods I'd occupied in Jersey and the Midwest.  Having grown up the child of hippie radicals, I delighted in the notion that I was indeed on the cutting edge of a new great artistic age, at the epicenter of what would be the new Greenwich Village or Montmartre, or you know, Williamsburg.

The demolition of 5Pointz as seen from the 7 train

But as Queens has started to attract attention, the real estate developers have other priorities.  A year ago, the owners officially signed a deal to build residential condo towers, despite numerous petitions and protests.  One morning, my train rode by and to my horror, I discovered a large portion of the building had been hastily painted white.  Just like that, the White Witch had blanketed her endless Winter over Narnia.

And this has all started to make me think about RENT.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

An Ancient Greek Dramatist on Remakes: Athens is Officially Out of Ideas

Before I decided to pursue an MFA in playwriting, I had briefly contemplated pursuing a more academic route in either theatre history or dramaturgy.  In many ways I feel like it would have been a stronger candidate for masters and Ph.D. programs in those areas.

But though I am really enjoying my current path, occasional tidbits from theatre history tickle my fancy, in particular a lost essay by Charon Isherwopolos, a little-known ancient Greek theatre critic, that proves that remakes and unoriginality that we lament in theatre and film today are far from a new problem.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Favorite Things: Free Public Spaces in New York City

On his blog, my good friend Ben Herman recently posted a comprehensive Google map of his favorite places in Saigon.  Having visited him there in July, it was fun to retrace the places we had been together.  It also blew my mind because I was not aware that this create your own map feature in Google existed.  Ben challenged me to create my own map of New York, which I began with relish.  I intend to complete and post that map sometime soon, but it quickly became clear I have so many awesome spots it might take a while.

In the meantime, I thought I'd first present a preliminary map of some of my favorite free public spaces in New York City.  It may be one of the priciest cities in the world, but through my explorations I have managed to find some great places to hang out and be creative in Manhattan on an artists' budget.

On the one level, this seems like it wouldn't be that challenging--this is a city of infinite public parks.  However, I've always had a hard time being productive outside--whether it is the ambient noise or proliferation of adorable puppies to distract me.  Also, as the weather starts to turn, the idea of warmth and shelter becomes extremely crucial.

So here are some of my go-to public spaces in Manhattan.  If you know of any others, please let me know!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Secret of My Success...And Wondering If I Even Deserve It

I have a long commute to and from New Brunswick on the bus two days a week.  Ideally, I should use that time to prepare for class or work on my writing, but honestly usually too beat for complex thought.  To pass the time I like listen to This American Life episodes I’ve saved up.  The great part about This American Life is the podcasts last about the duration of the ride, which allows me to not think about the New Jersey hell-scape I am passing through.

Recently I listened to an episode a few weeks ago called “How I Got Into College,” in which people try to trace the factors that led to academic success.  In one story, a scientist recounts his childhood as Bosnian refugee struggling in an Atlanta public school.  How an essay he plagiarized so impressed a teacher that she recommended him to an an elite private school.  This experience completely transformed his life, putting him on a path that would lead him to Harvard.  The story always presented a kind of irony to him--the fact that cheating was what led to his ticket out.  On the show, he uses a private investigator to hunt down the teacher who changed his life twenty years before.  After a happy reunion, it becomes clear that the teacher’s story differs dramatically from his.  While he recounts a lucky break in which he managed to fool someone into thinking he was smarter than he was, the teacher tells a very different memory.  Not only does she not remember the plagiarized essay at all, but she remembers a student that radiated genius and potential from the start.  While he remembered himself as an immigrant kid struggling with English stuck in a rough school, she was certain that he would have been successful whatever path he took.  

The program then went on to speculate as to why he had hung on so dearly to this story of a kid who had fooled the system and got ahead through pure luck.  It might feel arrogant, perhaps, to state that you were always destined for greatness and succeeded on your own merits as opposed to the help of others.  When you start to proclaim your own greatness, it’s like an invitation to be taken down a peg.