CITYWIDE


Calypso, a literary performance by Paul Rome and Roarke Menzies
May 3, 2012, 9:23 pm
Filed under: Art, Literature, Theater | Tags: , , , ,

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While I wish I could give this show the original write-up it deserves, I regret that school has sapped all my time away. Alas! Fortunately my interview with Paul Rome and Roarke Menzies, two original artists living and working in Brooklyn speaks for itself. It is evident from the way they speak about it that their new collaboration comes from deep thought and deep emotion. From talking to them, they got me excited for the deep thought and emotion I will feel as an audience member when they stage their performance of Calypso from May 9th to May 12th at The Bushwick Starr (207 Starr st.).

Calypso, written by Rome with music by Menzies and performed by both, weaves a narrative of modern romance in New York City evoking the classic myths in Homer’s The Odyssey and The Aeneid by Virgil, which have endured as Western Culture consistently finds itself confronting the same preoccupations they address. The ‘literary performance’ distills the art of oral story-telling in the way these ancient myths originally proliferated with the modern adaptations to the art we now see in popular story-based radio broadcasts like This American Life. Rome and Menzies present the rare opportunity for audiences to sit together and react together to live drama in a space that is designed to facilitate a quality listening experience without the awareness of the outside world. It stands apart from traditional appeal as the two performers present an extremely aesthetic that gives room for the spectator to imagine a drama in the most subjective way possible. If you love listening to stories on the radio, or podcasts, or having someone close read to you, imagine an environment that allows you to completely dive into and get absorbed by the story you’re hearing. Imagine also the added energy of the people around you sharing the same experience and the people on stage focused into delivering that experience in the best way possible. It’s a real treat.

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Image Paul Rome(above) and Roarke Menzies(below)

Further details about the story and the performance can be found on both Rome’s and Menzie’s websites. Listen to my talk with them to get even more interested-

[audio https://files.nyu.edu/ltg219/public/calypso.mp3]

Also, if you are interested in “The You Trilogy” which they mention in our conversation, you can listen to it here. I highly recommend it and it might just tell you what you have in store for you at Calypso.

Calypso – a literary performance by Paul Rome and Roarke Menzies

May 9-12, 2012 at 8:00 PM
Tickets: $10 in advance; $15 at the door
http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/237333

The Bushwick Starr
207 Starr Street (btwn Wyckoff and Irving)
L Train to Jefferson Ave.

Calypso – a literary performance by Paul Rome and Roarke Menzies

May 9-12, 2012 at 8:00 PM
Tickets: $10 in advance; $15 at the door
http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/237333

The Bushwick Starr
207 Starr Street (btwn Wyckoff and Irving)
L Train to Jefferson Ave.

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Arts and Gentrification in Bushwick, Brooklyn W/ Modesto “Flako” Jimenez

Gentrification from the perspective of a recent Bushwick resident-

Gentrification is a subject usually approached with the utmost trepidation. The discussion is ambiguous and laden with guilt prone to implicate anyone who walks through the minefield this conversation is. It’s hard to fault anyone involved-

-Who can blame the gentrification for trying to find a cheap place to live?   Who can blame them for trying to open up businesses in the area in order to make a living?

-Who can blame the people who grew up in the area for feeling resentful as they watch their culture slip away, their rent and grocery bills skyrocket, the physical features of their neighborhood morph into something new?

-Who can blame the city government for sending more police to a neighborhood with high crime rates?

-Who can blame the business owners and the real estate owners for charging higher prices as a more moneyed population enters their realm? (…lots of people probably, still a grey area though)

Each of these groups have righteous reasons to perform the actions I just enumerated and are some of the more broad and most recognizable features of gentrification. We may also suspect that each of these groups have more dubious agendas. However, it is unproductive and possibly damaging to the question of gentrification to project any agenda (especially the suspicious ones) to categories of people because they are formed by individuals with unique motivations in life and moral values.

Still, we can identify trends and attempt to understand its causes and effects in order to learn our own personal role and, from there, consider what can be done and avoided to minimize the negative effects and capitalize on the positive potential gentrifiers like me can bring to a community.

Low rent attracts the “gentrification,” in part formed by non-natives looking for the cheapest place to live that still has a connection to the larger city they came to work and exist in. These might include college-grads, students, young professionals, artists who can’t afford to live in Manhattan. They make the neighborhood a hip and exciting destination for artists and musicians who are followed by chic coffee shops and brunch cafés, pop-up galleries and yoga studios, which come with people who have money. At least, this is what I gather as a member of the gentrification who (like almost everyone else in the same boat) has trouble feeling comfortable with it. This blog post is written from that general perspective. I love the artistic environment Bushwick, my home for now, provides and its potential for something even greater. First though, the problems this exciting art scene brings with it are very real, but, based on conversations with individuals such as Modesto “Flako” Jimenez, they are not insurmountable and will only prove to be truly damaging if the complexity of gentrification continues to prevent us from addressing it. There is  little I can say about rising living costs except that I am grateful to have an affordable place to call home. I can also attempt to contribute to the economy of the community by buying my goods and groceries at local stores rather than carting them in on the L train. There is however a powerful social dynamic which each person living in the community has a place in regardless of choice.

A quick glance at Bushwick’s history informs that, like most any neighborhood in New York, its majority population has at various times been composed of several different ethnicities. Italian, African-American, Mexican, Caribbean. The relatively small area has indeed been gentrified several times. While there is certainly a racial element to the current gentrification, characterizing the issue as “white” people coming in and taking over an “hispanic” neighborhood is only partially true in this case and does nothing really other than contribute to the Us&Them mentality that slows down progress and creates barriers between people that don’t need to be there. We (any member of the community) see who people who dress and speak in unrelatable ways and we prescribe them as ‘the other.’ Whenever these barriers grow up, two things can happen. For some the other becomes invisible. People pass each other on the street without making eye contact, goods are exchanged at the bodega, but not words. The alternative is that the other is seen, but as a threat. Eye contact occurs, but it is intimidating or suspicious. This is the more unfortunate scenario because it involves a certain volatility. Sooner or later contact has to be made between people who co-exist, if we address these issues, this contact could be one of acceptance and appreciation and not intimidation or dominance.

I just can’t reconcile that scenario.

I’m simplifying a portion of one of the problems in order to start working toward a solution. This isn’t to say that the problem is in fact simple, just that we can start resolving it if we work hard to figure out what it is. It might take a while, even if we all determine to be understanding and welcoming to each other. I’ll close my part with something that happened to me weeks ago that I can’t stop thinking about. I was walking out of the bodega after grabbing some beer and some popcorn (probably) and I nearly bump into a man coming into the store. Instinctively I said “permiso” as I passed him. I sometimes try to use Spanish in the deli both for practice and out of consideration. But I was taken aback when I heard a nearby woman ask the man, “why did you let him speak to you like that?”

I felt terrible. Then the man said “Noooooooo, he was being respectful.” I’m still confused about that and still worried about offending the people who live around me who I have no reason to offend. It seems that, though we may sometimes treat one another like we’re invisible, nobody ever is.

Flako Jimenez

These thoughts and feelings have been developing inside me since I moved to Bushwick almost two years ago. For the past few weeks I’ve focused a couple Citywide episodes on the neighborhood because of the amazing work that takes place there and its astonishing diversity. I didn’t really consider the meeting point of arts in the neighborhood and gentrification until i saw this video-

This is a visual rendering of Modesto “Flako” Jimenez’s poem “Bushwick, Brooklyn” from his new book of autobiographical poetry ¡Oye! Para mi querido Brooklyn or Listen! For my Dear Brooklyn. It is a lyrical collection of experiences in English and Spanish he had growing up as an immigrant in Bushwick and what he saw change after he spent a short time a way. For the release of his book two weeks ago, Flako and some of his fellow artists arranged a reading as “an ode to Bushwick in all its richness, a night of music, theater, film, and art on the themes of immigration, gentrification and survival..” at the Bushwick Starr. It took me off guard in a really good way. That night longtime Bushwick residents and more recent residents performed on that stage both in English and Spanish for a crowd composed both people who grew up in Bushwick and people who had moved there. Everyone laughed at the same time, shared the same silence, ate and drank the same dishes together afterward and celebrated what they had shared together. It was just happy.

Flako later met me in Maria Hernandez Park and gave me his impression on the change taking place in his home. Flako moved into the neighborhood at a very young age and grew up in a much grittier Bushwick than exists today. He grew up on a deeply rooted gang culture, when drugs brought the danger of violence, disease, addiction, and police officers. He saw many of his peers and classmates falling into this dangerous lifestyle as a means of survival. Flako may have been destined for the same, but he says that a school teacher named Steven Haff, who operates Still Waters in a Storm, singled him out and introduced him to a world of literature and theater. Flako found a passion that took him to university in Vermont where he found a world that looked nothing like the one he had always lived in. By the time he came back to Bushwick a little over ten years ago he was shocked to see that the undergraduate culture he’d become accustomed to in Vermont had found its way into his own neighborhood.

After seeing his performance and talking to him for nearly an hour, I started to get an idea of some of the things he had noticed. That the fear people have of others in this neighborhood comes from very surface differences. And that if we can find common ground in the arts the way Modesto was able to facilitate at the Bushwick Starr, maybe the fear can start to fade and a strong community begin to develop. We can be thankful to people like Modesto and the people who operate the Bushwick Starr that they are raising interest for arts in the community that can be shared by everyone. We can also be grateful to organizations like Still Waters in a Storm and El Puente that inspire children to appreciate the arts, to discover the world and their own potential along with it. You can help.

Please let me know if I’m off base.

This is my conversation with Modesto “Flako” Jimenez. Hear him tell his story in his own words. They’re much more interesting than my words-

[audio https://files.nyu.edu/ltg219/public/Modesto%20_Flako_%20Jimenez.mp3]

Lucas Green



Michael Ian Black and the art of living
March 1, 2012, 12:00 am
Filed under: Announcements, Literature

Luke with Michael Ian Black

This Wednesday is a special day.

Not only is it be February 29th, which only happens every 4 years, but comedian Michael Ian Black is on WNYU. You may know him for such things as Wet Hot American Summer (2001), Stella, I Love the 80’s and The State, among other things. Maybe you’ve read his children’s book, Chicken Cheeks; or you think of him as “the other Michael” from Michael Showalter because of all the work they’ve done together. But many NYU seniors now also remember him as the guy who spoke to us as eager freshmen before the NYU Reality Show gave us the tools to survive in New York City for the next four years. Or at least it tried to; the main element they hammered into our heads was a phone number for counseling help I’ve never had to use in almost four years of studying here.

This new book, You’re Not Doing It Right, published by Gallery Books, his debut memoir, feels like Michael Ian Black is giving a much more colorful and honest portrayal of his life than he did during that little speech he made that first day of Welcome Week, which is great because he’s funniest when let a little loose anyway.

A more comprehensive post about this interview will come later this week; you should be excited about it. While you’re waiting, the full interview can be heard below. Here is what Michael Ian Black told him about the interview–it says it all:

[audio https://files.nyu.edu/ltg219/public/michael%20ian%20black.mp3]

An Interview With Mykki Blanco Who Thrives on States of Change

Underground art in the little town of New York City has a natural propensity to become mainstream art for the big old World. There are two very important reasons for this. The first lies in the intrinsic material make-up of the city. Anyone who lives and works in this city has almost immediate access to the majority of what man-kind can make or could ever make. In this way the city itself is a canvas as well as a bottomless trove of resources and materials. The city harmonizes beautifully with artists because almost any landscape, any tool, any surface, and (most importantly) any person can be found here. This is the second reason. Though I am reluctant to bring humanity down to the mathematical model we can apply to the physical world, it might help in this sense. In addition to every combination of artificial creations, New York City also houses nearly every permutation of the nature of individual human beings that has existed to this point and whose constant interaction perpetually produces new interests and new goals for the individual. Here we find all the billions of combinations of interests, levels of ambition, ethnicity, gender, will, identification, and pure brilliance. There are countless other factors into the emotional/physical/intellectual composition of a human being and most of them haven’t been placed together thus far. But people have a strong proclivity for detecting corresponding elements in others and it is this tendency which leads to the greatest work, expression, and fulfillment. It is what motivates us to know people and also to know about the world. This is why New York City is one of the greatest places to produce art today; because these things happen. Any person with an idea they want to see manifested, if they have enough will, can go to New York City and find nearly everything they need to make it happen and nearly all the people who will dig it enough to help.

Of course it’s important to stress the “nearly” because there is a third reason that people either like to hide or to forget. One way or another it tends to get obscured. Inspiration. New York has a lot of it, but only because the city attracts it. It is the most essential cause for any artistic environment that has ever developed. It cannot be quantified, predicted, or contrived. It can only be harnessed.

This week, Citywide featured Michael David Quattlebaum Jr. (aka Mykki Blanco). Mykki is a person who creates art taking full advantage of what I just said makes New York City a great place for artists. Mykki possesses the faculties to channel inspiration in a very pure way and then express it with fervor. In the interview, Mykki tells me about growing up knowing who he was and that he was different from others and not caring. He’s had the very unique opportunity for most of his life to be honest with his family and peers and therefore be honest with others in his artistic expression.

At this point I should be describing Mykki’s body of work, but,as he brings up in the interview, it’s not something you can define as a body because it takes extremely varied forms. In fact, I’m not even sure if I should be using male or female pronouns to refer to Mykki since he performs dressed either as a man or a woman. That’s sort of the idea though. I can’t think even of a reason to assign a title to Mykki’s gender, which for most people is a basic factor of identity. Similarly, you can’t say that Mykki is a writer, rapper, singer, visual artist, poet, stylist, or actor. He’s all of those and especially a performer.

Mykki became known after publishing a book of poetry under the name of Michael David Quattlebaum Jr. entitled From the Silence of Marcel Duchamp to the Noise of Boys. He also performs his/her poetry and raps under the name of Mykki Blanco. His work takes many more forms and is continuing to grow in the arenas of music and video.

This is what I mean about him taking advantage of New York City’s resources. It’s very hard to take part in so many different forms of expression, but the city facilitates it for those who are motivated. It’s inspiration that makes it possible though. Mykki is also lucky to be working a community of people who get it.

The interview has him talking about his development as in artist, entering the New York art world and observing it’s changes, and the experiences of producing art in New York. It’s really good!

This is a sample of Mykki’s rapping:

But you should also listen to the interview-

[audio https://files.nyu.edu/ltg219/public/Mykki%20Blanco.mp3]

Lucas Green



Sophie Blackall, Missed Connections and Love at First Sight
January 5, 2012, 1:00 am
Filed under: Art, Literature, New York City | Tags:

You were wearing an average office suit with an admirably messy haircut. I was the girl with brown curly hair and a blouse with horses on it. We did that awkward back-and-forth shuffle of two strangers trying to pass each other on the street; then you grabbed me and gently swirled me in a mini waltz in the middle of the lunchtime shoppers and angry passersby. I would understand that moment if it happened now – two people sharing a delicate second in a day that hadn't gone to plan. But no, when it happened I was in my awkward early-twenties, so I just frowned, trudged away and hoped no one had noticed. Thanks for making my day.

It only took a few weeks of me moving to New York over three years ago to find out about Craigslist’s famous Missed Connections and subsequently secretly wish I might catch someone’s eye on a random train ride. If it ever happened though, I never knew, I didn’t check the personals enough to know. Still, love at first sight remains in the back of many of our minds as the ideal way to find a significant other. Sophie Blackall first started illustrating the hopeful ads on her blog, Missed Connections, and its success was so big, it’s now a book, Missed Connections, Love Lost & Found. How ironic that in a place with a no-nonsense reputation like New York, we’d be such suckers for sentimentality? Not that romanticism makes no sense, but it’s the exact opposite of the precision of the city’s cherished grid system and individualistic mentality. Blackall’s whimsical take on the Craigslist ads paints a more idealistic light on New Yorkers and their needs of the heart.

New York’s reputation is often defined around the world because of the famous line, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” We usually understand it to be referring to professional success. But could our compulsion to post (and live vicariously through missed connections) exist because we believe that if we manage to find love in the huge maze that is New York, we might have hit a bigger jackpot?



Jen Bervin and Emily Dickinson at the Poets House
December 15, 2011, 1:12 am
Filed under: Literature, New York City | Tags:

Jen Bervin, The Composite Marks of Fascicle 28. Cotton and silk thread on cotton batting backed with muslin. 6 ft h x 8 ft w.

A little over two years ago now, when I was still a somewhat fresh-faced sophomore, I joined WNYU as a newscaster. During my training session with then-associate news director and former Citywide host Zoe Rosenberg, I was asked to write a sample newscast; if you’re here, you’ll know that on WNYU, those include one local story. I remember looking the NY1 website and choosing to write about how the Poets House was changing location. Well, it was about time I paid the place a visit.

Now, I regret not having gone sooner; their library overlooks the Hudson so it is a delight to behold when the sun sets, and the openness of the space just invites creative thoughts. It seems like a particularly appropriate place to have epiphanies about Emily Dickinson while studying her manuscripts currently on view there until January 28th.

Before my interview with the curator of the show Jen Bervin, which you can hear again at the end of this post, I attended the two-hour seminar she led about the poet and I was struck to see how responsive the crowd was and how curious they were about her words, her typographical and visual choices when writing and the variety of meanings present in even the shortest of her poems. I have to say, I’ve rarely seen pupils that animated and participative in my classes at NYU — but maybe I just haven’t attended the right classes.

What’s certain is that Emily Dickinson’s words leave no one indifferent and those initial reactions to her work were certainly amplified when readers were confronted with the handwritten originals. One look at them and Dickinson goes back to being an enigma; from the sheer size of her letters to the various markings annotating her poems (which Bervin magnifies in her quilts on display in the Poets House library as well), what took so long to decipher is given a new dimension and lens for reading.

You can read more about Jen Bervin and her work on her website, jenbervin.com or you can go see it for yourself at the Poets House, located at 10 River Terrace in downtown Manhattan; the manuscripts on view belong to the personal collection of Donald & Patricia Oresman. For more information about the Poets House, their website is poetshouse.org.



An interview with Joshua Leonard about his new film, “The Lie”
December 9, 2011, 1:26 am
Filed under: Film, Literature | Tags: , , ,

The American fictional short story has been a consistent source of inspiration for filmmakers for decades and it is interesting to see how films adapted from short stories compare to films adapted from other forms of literature. In the mainstream movie canon, the novel provides a wide range of generic inspiration. Broad story arcs feed well into epic melodramas such as Gone With the Wind (1939) epic fantasies such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Character driven narratives in film are also well-facilitated by novels like The Godfather (1972), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), or even the Harry Potter  movies. And of course there are at least one billion more, but compare the nature of some of those films with the natures of movies adapted from short fiction. They cover just as expansive a spectrum of genre, but it makes sense that science fiction and horror stories make up the majority of the short story’s iterations in feature film.

Less common is the melodramatic short story adapted into a feature film such as “The Lie” a  T.C. Boyle short story recently adapted into a feature film by Joshua Leonard and this week’s feature on Citywide. Short stories often take place in self-contained situations that the reader inhabits along with a set of conditions created by the story’s particular plot or setting. The distilled nature of these works cause them often to read like parables, which is how Boyle’s original work plays out. The oral version of the story is told from the perspective of Lonnie who is frustrated by the yuppie lifestyle he sees has consumed him. In his desperation to find temporary release from his inflexible adult life, Lonnie excuses himself from his day job by uttering one of the most devastating lies imaginable. The reader then observes Lonnie attempting to hold everything together in a rapidly unravelling life.

Joshua Leonard attempts to take this comedic concept and fill it out into a feature length film. Listen to the interview to hear him discuss the decisions he had to make in order to do so.

Here it is-

[audio https://files.nyu.edu/ltg219/public/Joshua%20Leonard.mp3]

Here is the trailer for the movie-

Here is where you can read it on the New Yorker’s website

And here is where Stephen Colbert will read it out loud for you instead-