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“It is hard to know any longer if women still exist, if they will always exist, if there should be women at all, what place they hold in this world, what place they should hold.” — Simone de Beauvoir

There are instructions for me:

  1. Please say you are here for the performance in Apartment 2C (guests of Barbara Grill and Brian Drolet). The house opens at 7:45. NO LATE SEATING.  
  2. Once the performance begins, late comers will not be allowed up to the performance space and will be turned away by the doorman.
  3. It is important that we keep all coats and bags out of the performance space. There will be a coat rack outside the apartment door before you enter, and a place for bags inside the apartment when you check in.

But my train is running late

And I remember the invite said “NO LATE SEATING.” I find a taxi outside the subway station. “I’m running behind. Can we find a street with less traffic?” We travel north on 8th Avenue and cross Central Park on 86th Street. I arrive on time.

The doorman tells me to take the elevator to the second floor. Outside the apartment door, I remember to take my jacket off and hang it on the coat rack. I claim my ticket from the man with the iPad at the front door. He tells me where to put my bag, on the table for bags inside the apartment.

“Is it okay if I use the bathroom?” A different man directs me to the bathroom in a hallway past the kitchen.

The house manager tells me I can sit in any of the chairs lining the perimeter of the living room in the apartment. There are approximately 20 other people in the room.

I open the notebook on my lap. I am ready to take notes for the review I am going to write.

The performance begins:

Seven female dancers enter and begin interacting with the furniture in the room. One sweeps the baseboard with her hand, one uses her finger to scratch a shelf in the bookcase, one drags a foot across the surface of the rug. Their actions are diligent and gain intensity over time. Scrubbing the floor in a wider motion, scratching with more pressure, sweeping with quicker and shorter movements. We watch them: limbs and bodies against the structure of the house. Hear their heavy breathing and groaning.

The dancers interact with the space that we share, sweeping the carpet underneath a chair someone is sitting on, crouching to brush away dust on the fireplace mantle behind someone’s back. I can feel the friction, the noise that their bodies are generating.

With their heads down, still maintaining a narrow focus on the task in front of them, they begin to yell:

“I really want to get in there!”

“I’ve been doing this all week”

“It’s tiring.”

“It’s too much.”

“I’m not going to be able to finish this.”

Their torsos start convulsing. Their energy is wild, frenetic.

The first act ends. Carrie Ahern, dancer and choreographer of Sex Status 2.0, walks to the center of the room and puts on a pair of glasses. She announces that there’s going to be a multiple choice audience Sex/Cleaning Survey. She will ask us to raise our hands and her assistant (another dancer) will record and collect the data. Ahearn tells us that all attendees will be sent an email after the performance with an overview and analysis of the survey results.

Beyond drawing out a relationship between sex and cleaning, the survey’s questions elicit responses from the audience, activating our individual memories and attitudes about domestic labor and sex. It is complicated to interrogate a person’s relationship with sex; it is even more complicated when the emotion of that relationship becomes a part of the performance.

sss01sss02Eventually all of the dancers will return to the room and their bodies will regain the outward focus of the room. In one section, they’ll approach audience members and ask for their consent to touch the dancers in a way they enjoy, to stroke the length of their body from their head all the way down the left side of their body, or to trace letters on their back. In another section, they will gaze at audience members, making extended eye contact while moving their bodies in different ways, at times both playful and provocative.

My inward focus remains on the survey. I recall that the movements of my body are always watched. Visibility makes me valuable. I work hard to be seen and this labor is pleasurable to others. My work never ends. One of my fears, which I prefer to leave unexamined, is now present at this dance performance on a Saturday evening in a private apartment on the Upper East Side. Someday I will not be seen as attractive to men. Will I be able to feel pleasure when I am no longer the subject of someone else’s pleasure?

Do you clean corners or do you avoid them?

It was getting late and it was going to take me a long time to get back to my apartment in Flatbush from Clinton Hill. My friend offered to let me stay over. But I had to work the next day and I was wearing a cropped sweatshirt.

“I can’t wear this to work.”

“Why?”

“Uhhhh, because it shows my stomach. I can pretty much wear anything to work, but I try to have all my skin covered. Everyone dresses pretty modestly. I guess I could go to H&M and buy something in the morning.”

“That seems pretty crazy.”

“It’s super close to my office and I could get something for cheap.”

“Ack, I have all of those shopping bags. I can’t go into work with those in the morning.”

Why would anyone care if you come into work with bags?!?”

Because I believe myself to be constantly watched. I have been taught that my credibility lies in my appearance.  More important than my performance at work is the appearance of my performance.

What do you prefer–sex with strangers or with someone you know well?

I danced with the guy for a couple of hours at a bar in Bushwick. Before I left to go home with my friends, he asked for my phone number.

I noticed that he wore a lot of streetwear in his Instagram photos. I already owned a cropped velour hoodie from Adidas. At the time, the matching track pants had seemed too expensive ($80.00). But I wanted to wear them when I went over to his house, so I went back and bought them. He told me that the pants looked good on me as I was getting dressed in the morning and I felt validated in my decision to spend so much money on them.

Do you seek or need validation for sex?

While we faced the barre, our ballet teacher Karen would walk by and touch the base of our spines. When she did this to me, it cued my butt to draw downwards and my stomach to draw upwards. She called this correction “tucking our tails” and it eliminated any protrusion of the butt or the belly. Although we faced the barre, this correction was always meant to be observed in the mirror at the front of the room, where we would watch our profiles as we performed warm up exercises, aware not of how we looked but of how we were seen.

The inspiration for Sex Status 2.0 is Carrie Ahearn’s reading of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Beauvoir says, “Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition. The clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.”

In a New York Times interview about her show, Ahearn spoke to Beauvoir’s ideas about housekeeping: “Pushing into the negative is work that’s never done — it will never be finished. In some ways, it becomes invisible almost the moment it’s finished.”

Women become invisible at almost the same exact moment they are seen. As soon as they become the object of someone else’s vision, they must be at work again, devising new ways of commanding attention. Like work that negates itself, recognition via being recognized is negative recognition.

Women’s bodies now exist outside the home and are in more positions of power. This has resulted in a greater level of visibility. Ahearn makes the point that in today’s political climate, it is imperative that women choose the ways in which they want to be seen.

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Susan Louise O'Connor and Andrew Schwartz packing for the big move

Susan Louise O’Connor and Andrew Schwartz packing for the big move

Jason got a teaching job in Columbus Ohio, and his Brooklyn pals are not taking the news well. He and his wife Michelle have packed up most of their stuff, and tonight the gang is coming over to Park Slope for a going-away fête among cardboard boxes and makeshift tables. Three couples, two singles and the hosts make up a party of ten. All of them are white, with the exception of Sanjeet (Imran Sheikh), a random addition to this group of old friends who met his date a few days ago on Match.com. The conversation is stilted and twee: regular folks trying too hard to pretend they’re starring in a Wes Anderson film. Rituals of greeting and farewell, stylized insults and pro forma self-deprecation politely hide the serious emotions, feelings of resentment, abandonment and failure, tearing at the guests’ well-heeled, well-bred, bourgeois façade.

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UR-WhatItMeans-114_Bernstein

by Jeremy J. Kamps (Playwright)

I couldn’t focus while trying to write one afternoon in a café in Cartagena, Colombia. The people on the couch across from me were too loud and right up in my personal space. So, I decided to harness the universe rather than resist it and began to shamelessly eavesdrop. What I heard became the premise for What It Means To Disappear Here.

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Artists in the presence of Art

Artists in the presence of Art

Ars Gratia Artis

The band plays an overture, and the lights rise on New York of the not-too-distant future. Mary, an MFA grad student studying painting is at a Catholic mass — to get inspiration, she tells her lover Françoise (for non-francophones that’s the female version of François), who is also an MFA student in sculpture. Kate, Mary’s sister and an aspiring art dealer, arrives to ask Mary for her signature on some documents related to their dead parents’ estate. Mary has been using her inheritance to fund her studies, which bothers both Kate and Mary’s conscience. But no matter, Mary hears a higher calling, and she feels she has no other choice: create art or die.

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Urinetown! (photo: Chasi Annexy)

Urinetown! (photo: Chasi Annexy)

It’s fun to come back to an old favorite, even more so after you’ve grown a little older and wiser. I saw Urinetown on Broadway during the first G. W. Bush term. At the time, I was completely enraged by three years of right wing cynicism, war mongering, crony capitalism, and the vast, feckless, left wing conspiracy that allowed such perfidy to pass for policy. I cheered with Little Sally and Bobby Strong as they took down the evil Mr. Cladwell; I reveled in the quirky, postmodern, multi-layered, self-reflexive irony; and I applauded what seemed like its liberal take on environmentalism.

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Kalle Macrides as Lia

Kalle Macrides as Lia

Responsibility, obligation, and service are the themes of Erin Courtney’s new play The Service Road, running now at the Voorhees Theater of New York City College of Technology. The curtain rises on a typical day in the park, maybe Prospect Park, where Lia (Kalle Macrides), a tour guide for the ornithologically curious waits on the service road for a group to lead. Frank (Cory Einbinder), her friend and a park ranger, wishes her luck on the first anniversary of her new life. One year ago today he saved her from a botched suicide attempt in the park and gave her her present job. He tells her to play it safe because the news is forecasting strange weather.

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Hearts Like Fists featuring Becky Byers, Rachael Hip-Flores, and Aja Houston Photo credit Isaiah Tanenbaum

Beck Byers, Rachael Hip-Flores and Aja Houston as the CRIMEFIGHTERS!

Lock your windows, Lovers! Dr. X is prowling the town, a twisted Opposite Day Santa Claus, creeping through windows after midnight, looking for inamoratos whose heads are filled with dreams of sugar plum fairies and bright tomorrows, and injecting them with deadly venom. Who can stop this murderous crime wave? Nina, Sally and Jazmin — the CRIMEFIGHTERS! They’ll find out why Doctor X is such a murderous creep! But dang my dingies! The Gruesome Doctor slips through their fingers until Lisa, an unmasked amateur, follows him through a window and attempts to stop him herself. Though he escapes, Lisa gains the admiration of Nina, Sally and Jazmin who ask her to join the team, Alexandre Dumas style.

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Caitlin Johnston, Nadia Sepsenwol, and Mariana Newhard as Irina, Maria and Helen (Photo: Samantha Walsh)

To some extent all theatrical performance is translation. The author — the person with an original idea — puts words on the page, and the performers, including the director, the actors, the design team and the techs, translate those words from page to stage. In the case of The Great Plays of Western Culture, the play may have been written in a language folks in the audience can’t understand, in which case the play must be literally translated. And when the culture the play was produced in is almost as historically alien to the audience as the language, the play must be brought up to date. Christopher Diercksen’s production of By Rights We Should Be Giants is more than just a modernized translation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters however; it is an attempt to rise above translation and totally reimagine the play, from alpha to omega.

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Bryce Henry as “Maggot” (Photo by Jonathan Shaw)

In 1968 Philip K. Dick asked if sentient machines had feelings in the title of his book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  Adam Scott Mazer’s Oedipal fantasmagoria Motherboard asks the related question “do gynoids lactate electrolytes?” As the pun in the name implies, Motherboard posits technology as humanity’s nourishing mother. Tech is not just a tool that we created and control, it makes us human. And like all bad children, we get into big trouble when we talk back to mommy.

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Mrs. and Mr. Pontellier

The  Brooklyn Lyceum used to be a public bath house, one of those grand, old public works erected during the borough’s Gilded Age efflorescence. It was left derelict during the 70s, and now it is a cavernous, unfinished space with exposed brick walls, thirty-foot-high ceilings, and interior structures built of plywood and wood screws covered in cheap bluish primer. Functionally it’s like a page in a Medieval manuscript scraped clean of its original writing, though incompletely erased marks of its past peep through. The whir of the ceiling fans sounds like crickets, and the lights flicker like gas lamps.

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Do androids dream of electric sheep? Or to put the question the other way, are humans just extremely complex machines? If we are machines, is the ability to manipulate others (i.e. politics) a purely technological problem? More importantly, is there something outside technology? Theater Reverb’s new show initium / finis poses these questions through a pastiche of classic sci-fi noir movies and cabaret style performance framed by a mash-up of Hindu and Christian myth. But rather than plumbing the depths of the mystery to find its bottom, they multiply it, refracting it through stagecraft, creating an atmosphere mixed with the angst of modernity or/and the awe of religion.

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Hannah Cheek as Ronnie Regina

2012 is half over, and so far it looks like the apocalypse has been averted. In typical human fashion we have invited our destruction to sit with us at the table; and just at the last minute, just when it looked like destruction was going to have us for dinner, we trixy rabbits slip out of its noose and high tail it to the mountains, forests, and deserted places to do what bunnies and humans do — repopulate the earth.

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Contributed by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer

Modern renditions of Romeo and Juliet aren’t rare, but remakes set in a taxi garage are. Such a setting puts Empirical Rogue Theatre Company’s rendition in the same borough as the West Side Story and Bhaz Llurmann’s movie version of the Bard’s most popular play. There are glaring differences, however, that place it in a neighborhood of its own.

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Glamor! Intrigue! Vicious passions and overwhelming venality! Picture the scene: a beautiful boy plays with the hearts of three proud, handsome ladies. This isn’t “The Bachelor,” or “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” though the characters in this show hail from nearby the ancestral lands of the Kardashians. This reality show took place thousands of years ago on the hills in the shadow of Mount Ida, and instead of a “first impression rose” this Ganymede has a golden apple for the fairest of them all.

“Judge Me Paris” is Austin McCormick’s take on “The Judgment of Paris” (1700 anno domini scriptum) a courtly masque in the tradition of Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones with libretto by William Congreve and music by John Eccles and John Weldon. Congreve, who penned the famous phrase “Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d, / Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d” in 1697, was the English master of “manners” comedy – a genre that emphasizes courtly intrigues and affairs of the heart. Eccles and Weldon’s music is high baroque, trilling and aristocratic. The neoclassical subject matter evokes an age when allegory, history, and rich symbolism were employed to celebrate and exalt sexuality.

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AL Pearsall, Becky Byers, Alisha Spielmann, Nancy Sirianni and Felicia Hudson give birth to a revolution in “Blast Radius”

Blast Radius, the second installment in Mac Rogers’s Honeycomb Trilogy, opens seventeen years after Bill Cooke, All-American Spaceman, returned from a fateful journey. A secret government cabal sent Cooke to scope Mars for terraformation, for they knew our planet was on the brink of environmental collapse and our species on the brink of extinction. But instead of gathering data for a human exodus, Cooke and company discovered an alien race who offered to save the Earth – for a price.

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Henry (Aidan Redmon) and Annie (Synge Maher) share a moment

Tom Stoppard has been keeping it real since 1982 when “The Real Thing” premiered in the West End. Now you can catch the realness courtesy of the Boomerang Theatre Company at The Secret Theater in Long Island City.

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Claudio: Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signor Leonato?
Benedick: I noted her not, but I looked on her.

Much Ado About Nothing is a joke. That is, the title is a pun. It’s like the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry and George pitch a show to some TV execs, who ask what the show is supposed to be about. Nothing?! Who would watch that? In Shakespeare’s day matters of the heart (and the comedies that represent them) are trivial, light, ephemeral business that don’t deserve too much attention. Somebody sings, there are dancers — and yet when kids are in love they get so serious about it! Romeo and Juliet is tragic precisely because the play started out as a comedy, but rather than getting over the teen-angst, high school drama and getting on to getting it on, the characters end up killing each other. It’s like My So Called Life all of a sudden morphs into The Wire.

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“Salesman, impresario, merchandiser of illusions, rainmaker, image-publisher, gun for hire, programmer of protocol, spontaneous demonstration organizer, the advance man is one part Willy Loman, one part Sol Hurok, one part Al Capone, and one part Emily Post.” – V. Navasky

“Cain slew Abel, and Romulus slew Remus; violence was the beginning and, by the same token, no beginning could be made without using violence, without violating.” –Hannah Arendt

2012 is already living up to its reputation. End of the world, here we come!

In the spirit of New Beginnings, Revelations, and End-Of-The-World Excitement, Mac Rogers is premiering the first play of his sci-fi “Honeycomb Trilogy,” Advance Man, at The Secret Theater in Long Island City. I’m telling you, it doesn’t get more occult, conspiratorial, thrilling, bizarre, or (frankly) gnostic than this.
The Revolution will be dramatized.

The revolution will be dramatized

Next door to Barberry on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg is a red door, the kind that usually hides a garage or machine shop populated by illegals working eighteen hour shifts. If once it locked up the hopes of the unfortunate, now it is home to The Assembly’s production of “Home/Sick,” a play the company wrote collectively about the Weather Underground, the Marxist revolutionary group who declared war against the United States in 1970s and early 80s.

The former garage (or sweatshop, or whatever) opened its mysterious door soon thereafter. A nice fellow wearing mirrored sunglasses, a black suit, and an earpiece (obviously one of Hoover’s G-Men) offered me some refreshingly cold and free water. He told me to take a button sporting the slogan “Your Brain Is A Bomb.” I took my seat, wiped the perspiration from my brow, and settled back in my chair, ready to be entertained.

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One fine afternoon in the early 00’s, after having consumed several beers, two hot dogs, and probably as many cheese burgers at the Gowanus Yacht Club, my companion and I stumbled down Union Street headed East to Park Slope. After we passed the canal I saw the following graffito on the side of a building: “Go anus”. Someone had done a reverse Letter Man and taken the “w”.

The canal itself has never been pleasant. One source says “The opaqueness of the Gowanus water obstructs sunlight to one third of the six feet needed for aquatic plant growth. Rising gas bubbles betray the decomposition of sewage sludge that on a ripe, warm day produces the canal’s notable stench.” The environs around it aren’t much better. After you pass Hoyt headed East, the nice front yards and townhouses of Carroll Gardens give place to many warehouses and factories, many of which appear abandoned. It was in one such abandoned warehouse turned crackin’ night spot — The Green Building — that my date and I caught Michael Arenella‘s Winter Ball last Saturday night.

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Cate Blanchett as Blanche Dubois

It seemed appropriate to be waiting on two self-described Southern belles to get into Streetcar at BAM last week. Nothing says “Southern” like being late to your own party. We were four, and at least three of us hail from south of the Mason-Dixon line, or as another of my Southern friends likes to call it the “Manson-Nixon” line. Ah the South! Home of pecan pie, obsessions with purity (mostly sexual), vowels longer than a summer sunset, religious revivals held in circus tents, Wal-Mart superstores, and — these days especially — widespread dependence on food stamps.

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CHH 01

A tap dancing mermaid at the Clinton Hill Carnival of Carnage

Happy Halloween! Tonight the good people at 313 Clinton Avenue put on their yearly Halloween show, and it may have been their best ever! The theme this year was “Carnival of Carnage.” As always the production value was top notch. The folks working on the show include some past and present theater folk from the Great White Way who know their way around sound and light equipment. They also know how to edit your favorite Disney songs to give them Brooklyn specific lyrics over the familiar music. Most of the ghouls and monsters in this year’s show crawled out of the ooze of the Gowanus canal, including the mermaid in the picture above, tapping her way into the hearts of the many children in the audience who were enchanted by the spectacle. (It seemed like half the audience was under three years old.)

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macbeth_variations

Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth with their little stillborn demon child

October 1st, 2009

Macbeth is appropriate to autumn and October. Macbeth’s colors are red and black; the poetry evokes the lengthening of nights and shortening days; and it’s full of witches and ghosts. Pecfect for the month of Halloween! I went with Lesterhead to see Strike Anywhere and ANITYA’s joint production of “Macbeth Variations II” at the Irondale Center in the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church on Lafayette and South Oxford St. in Fort Greene tonight. The production definitely set the mood for a spooky October.

There are a few things you might want to know before you go see the play. First, Strike Anywhere and ANITYA are based in New York and Paris respectively. It is performed in both English and French. Unfortunately the Irondale Center, unlike the Met, doesn’t provide subtitles in glowing green LED in the banquette in front of you. For those who either know French or know the text of Macbeth or both, this isn’t an issue. If you speak English but not French and don’t know the play well, it can be confusing. Second, this is an interpretation of Macbeth, not a staging of Shakespeare’s play. If you get upset when directors cut the Bard’s plays, you definitely won’t like this. Third, the philosophy of the joint company prioritizes improvisation. As they say on their website, it’s never the same play two nights in a row. If you love surprises and don’t mind the occasional sour note that’s great; if flat moments take you out of the action, you might be disappointed. On the other hand, if the classics bore you but you feel compelled to get cultured anyway, this production is both edgy and old skool.

I would give you my take with no chaser, but I happened to overhear a conversation as I was walking out of the theater that I think says it all about what this show accomplishes. Three men, all in their mid-20s, were walking ahead of me on the sidewalk as we left the theater, and this is what I heard. (I’ve given them names. If this is you, and I gave you the wrong name, email the blog’s administrator.)

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Jacob's Ladder

Playground in South Williamsburg. I think if you play long enough aliens talk to you out of a crackling cloud.

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Addicted to TV

Addicted to TV?

Or TV on the Radio?

TV on the radio

Yesterday, Sunday July 26th, Save Coney Island had a rally on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall. (Check out the video above.) The speakers were in order of appearance: World Famous BOB as MC; Dick Zigun, “Mayor” of Coney Island; Miss Cyclone, Angie Pontani; photographer and Coney Island historian Charles Denson;  Brooklyn artist Savitri D; Dianna Carlin a.k.a. Lola Staar, owner of Lola Staar boutique; Raya Brass Band; Kevin Powell; The Great Fredini; Juan Rivera; former Astroland operator, and current Cyclone operator Carol Albert; and Reverend Billy.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                 http://www.saveconeyisland.net/

PRESS CONTACT:                                                                  Juan Rivero, Spokesman

Save Coney Island, 646.229.6609, info@saveconeyisland.net

AS N.Y. HONORS JANE JACOBS, HER SON IS ‘APPALLED’ AT CONEY ISLAND REZONING PLAN

Ned Jacobs: ‘This rezoning plan for Coney Island does not appear to reflect

the urban values and planning principles she espoused’

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Dumbo

by J.D. Oxblood

Cruised down to DUMBO last week—wow, has that neighborhood changed—to check out the XTO Nude Image Awards Winners at the Farmani Gallery.  I had been invited by Robin Bobbe, partner-in-crime of the photographer Leland Bobbe, who had a winning image in the show—a photo of burlesque performer Victotria Privates.  If you’ve never heard of XTO, it’s worth checking out.  I’m always a big fan of anyone who is willing to give away money to aspiring artists.

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sidewalk musicians

Sidewalk musicians on Bedford Avenue @ N 7th July 2nd 2009

By the end of June people who can afford it have left town for two months, or at least every weekend. The moneyed leisure class get tans, sit on the dock or the deck drinking champagne, and contemplate early retirement. The rest of us wander the streets between July 4th and Labor Day looking for a party on or off a rooftop, cruising the nearly empty streets and braving the inevitable spike in violent crime. The unmoneyed leisure class (a.k.a. the unemployed) have plenty of time for idleness, and idle hands are indeed the devil’s weekend in the Hamptons.

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photo by Jenny Bai

photo by Jenny Bai

Last Monday I sat down with rising star Broadway Brassy at The Magician bar on Rivington and Essex to talk about her career, where she’s been, where she is, and where she’s going. She’s is out of town for the next couple of weeks, but be sure to catch her at Duane Park in late July and August! (Details below.)

CC: Hello Broadway Brassy! Thanks for coming to talk to us at Cultural Capitol. I guess my first question is, how did you get to New York?

BB: I took a chance, I don’t know. God I hate interviews. I just always wanted to come here to New York City since I was a little girl — always. There was never any wavering, there was never any other place I wanted to be. It was here. So I came. That was that. I finished college, and I just moved. To Staten Island. And it was horrible there.

CC: Why did you go to Staten Island?

BB: Because I had friends there. So I thought, if I go to New York City I should be near my friends. I didn’t know anything. So I moved there, and realized right away that was not where I wanted to be, so I moved to Brooklyn.

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