The New York Botanical Garden is conducting its next Facebook Watch Party, “Journey Through Spring II ” this week. The sequel to NYBG’s popular virtual walk through its spectacular Spring highlights takes place on Thursday, May 21, at 12 p.m. Look for the Facebook Watch Party: “Journey Through Spring II ”
For this event Todd Forrest, Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections narrates the most recent spring footage at the Garden. The video update is gorgeous as Todd chronicles the budding and blossoming throughout NYBG’s spectacular historic landscape from late April through mid-May.
The virtual walk features sweeping panoramic and aerial views across NYBG’s 250 acres and intimate close-ups of its magnificent gardens and collections. You’ll be able to immerse yourself in clusters of white and purple lilacs; lush peonies; late-spring perennials, grasses, and bulbs; and many more seasonal sensations during this Facebook Watch Party.
Todd Forrest is particularly suited to discussing the virtual walk. In his position he is responsible for the Horticulture Division’s programs and activities. He oversees the grounds, 50 gardens and living collections, horticultural exhibitions, and a staff of 80 managers, curators, gardeners, and community horticulturists. Forrest also advises on long-term strategy for the Garden’s 250-acre landscape.
As New York State works to align the economy with opening up safely during the 2020 COVID-19 crisis, NYBG will do the same, always keeping in mind the safety of its patrons who, in the past, didn’t mind the crowds. Today, however, it’s all about stemming the outbreak of COVID-19 which took the US by surprise since the Pandemic Office was defunded and closed down in 2018. In addition to that tragedy, the personnel hired to monitor pandemics from the previous administration were fired. And the reports and informative Pandemic Bible that gave guidance on the steps to take if a pandemic ever broke out in China or Africa was shelved
One can only imagine how different things would be for this nation and globally 1) if the Pandemic Office had not be closed; 2)if the monitoring personnel had been kept on; 3) if the informational pandemic Bible not been disregarded. We would be enjoying the crowds at the Garden and relishing the Kusama: Cosmic Nature exhibit which was to run through the summer and now has been postponed until next year if possible.
New York was left with handling an influx of infected individuals coming from Europe, but it has been doing an excellent job of bending the curve to zero as the rest of the country deals with a rise in COVID-19 positive cases and increase in death rates. Thus, in light of the pandemic, New Yorkers are staying safe and NYBG remains closed. All in-person events, on-site programs and classes, and exhibitions have been suspended. The necessary action complies with public health guidelines issued by federal, state, and local governments and the CDC to support stringent efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 and limit the unnecessary deaths exacerbated by a dilatory federal response that continues to this day.
However, we look upward and know we will return having learned important lessons to not repeat this unprecedented global crisis again. Looking to experts and science, the NYBG during this period is having essential staff continue to provide expert care for NYBG’s living collections as they maintain the operations of the Garden’s 250-acre landmark landscape.
Thankfully, though the Garden’s gates may be closed temporarily, the virtual gates provide all access. The Garden invites all globally and those near and far to check in online to the NYBG site to feel refreshed despite the news that COVID-19 rates nationwide are rising and many of the states are reopening without sufficient testing and contact tracing in place to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Fortunately, New York Governor Cuomo is making sure to hit target criteria to open up all aspects of the state but with wisdom and guidance so that New Yorkers will be safe during this challenging time.
Make sure to visit “Journey Through Spring II” to check how the Garden collections are blossoming and burgeoning during this Spring of 2020. The Watch Party is Thursday, May 21, 2020 at 12 p.m. on this link: https://www.facebook.com/events/703724287108198/ The virtual event will also be available on NYBG’s website nybg.org/nybg-at-home/.
Information about NYBG’s other virtual events and additional digital content is at this link.
As COVID-19 has prompted the Metropolitan Musuem to close its doors to its thousands of visitors on a slow day and stream daily content, we have a chance to look back at another time. It is a throwback to the past splendors of the Met and its 2018 Versailles exhibit captured in a Tribeca Film Festival offering. Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles, streamed online for press, fans and supporters. Tribeca Film Festival curtailed many of its events. However, they screened films in the midst of a global pandemic, the likes of which is perhaps worse than the French Revolution that felled the last of the French Kings (Louis XVI) and left the Palace of Versailles a shell of itself until later restoration.
Though I am a neophyte foodie, I had never heard of world renowned chef Yotam Ottolenghi (cookbooks include Jerusalem, Plenty). Nor had I the time to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York during its “Visitors to Versailles” exhibit: https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2018/visitors-to-versailles.
The Metropolitan Museum enjoys featuring live events which bring important works to life. They attempt to ground them in the present by combining exhibits with other contemporary forms of expression. “Visitors to Versailles” was one such glorious presentation taking place in the Summer of 2018.
Though I missed attending the Versailles exhibit and particularly “The Feast of Versailles,” presented by Ottolenghi and his pastry chef collaborators, “all’s well that end’s well.” Laura Gabbert the documentarian known for city of Gold, No Impact Man and Sunset Story decided to do a quick and dirty film about Yotam Ottolenghi’s commission to create the “Feast of Versailles” giving us an inside look behind the scenes at how the “feast” portion of the exhibit came into being.
From start to finish, Gabbert chronicles the philosopher-foodie Ottolenghi at his home and his restaurant. We witness clips of him with restaurant colleagues tasting and refining desserts. We immediately get a sense of Ottolenghi’s expertise, congeniality and collaborative skills to perfect dishes to will please his clientele.
The filmmaker features brief interview clips o Ottolenghi describing how he works and how he responded to the Met’s commission of his culinary artistry. Then she the chronicles the chef’s visit to New York City from his home base in London and reviews meetings with Met Museum experts who assist him in his research of the culture, opulence and luxury of Versailles as the seat of world culture for over 100 years during the reign of the Sun Kings. Importantly, the Met experts discuss the types of foods that the king and his patrons enjoyed, gleaned from the records and from oil paintings of that time.
As Ottolenghi visits Versailles, Gabbart includes panoramic views of the glorious gardens and various salons and rooms including the “hall of mirrors” which she films as Ottolenghi comments. This section perhaps could have been added to; there is never enough photography of the incredible palace. However, film clips include the drawings, renderings and other works capturing the style of the palace dating back three hundred-fifty years.
From his readings, his discussions with the experts and his Versailles visit, Ottolenghi decides to review online a myriad of pastry chefs to assess whom he might best collaborate with who will convey his vision. It’s an important selection process. They will help him elucidate the ethos of Versailles though a contemporary lens. After visiting their websites and scrutinizing their “wares” online, he hones in on five visionary dessert chefs: Dinara Kasko, Janice Wong, Bompas & Parr, Ghaya Oliveira, and Dominique Ansel. All of these chefs are as diverse from each other as is the east from the west.
Ottolenghi’s research of French history and epicurean tradition, meetings, planning and contacts which have taken months are everything. Then Gabbert slows down her time frame and follows the pressure on the five chefs as they arrive at the Met to set up their displays and work their magic two days before the culinary event the “Feast of Versailles.”
These unique and renowned pastry chefs (creator of the “Cronut” Dominique Ansel, among others) have been guided with a light hand by Ottolenghi who has envisioned the evening as an emulation of French decadence that manifests spinning reflections into our own age. Months before the event, each pâtissier works to create a unique dessert inspired by the conceptualization of Versailles’ over-the-top dramatic grandeur. Chocolate sun kings to elaborate jellies, tarts to swans and topiaries — Gabbert reveals the artistry of the dessert chef and the challenges they confront fashioning their presentations in a formidable setting like the Met which is not outfitted as a culinary institute, indeed, far from it.
As the tension rises, the worst possible scenarios occur. The electrical circuit doesn’t work and it is a trial for the electricians to come up with a solution so that the “tornado” effect delivered by the special machine will spin with gusto. In another instance, the cake batter is not the right consistency because the ingredients in the US are different. The pastry chef tries numerous times with the help of an American expert who insists another ingredient should be added. The director wisely leaves the chef unmoored from her art, questioning how to correct the batter. Will she find a solution the day of the Feast?
Importantly, the “Feast” is a living paean to the court of the monarchy which daily was a staged scene that gave audience to artists, writers, reporters, foreign tourists and subjects who witnessed the rich splendor of the King’s residence, his dominance over his officials and his power as head of state. French cuisine then and now had a great impact on French society which continues into our modern day with cultivars like Julia Child, Eric Ripert, Dominique Ansel and more. One cannot examine a cookbook and not see French words used for process and product: i.e. saute, flambe, mousse, omelet, etc.
One theme that Gabbert explores is this idea that there is little privacy in the world of the Sun Kings who exposed themselves, perhaps too much for it led to their downfall in the extremes of poverty and wealth. Today, Social Media is used to eliminate our privacy, but the uber wealthy manage to stay away from the public spotlight, where the Sun Kings sought it. The reputed richest in the world are not necessarily so; old wealth that dominates for centuries is unknown and uninvestigated, for good reason.
Another theme that the director eludes to briefly which could have been elucidate is the idea of excess, crass opulence and decadence. The director includes one shot of Donald Trump’s gold room and makes the analogy that such excess caves in on itself as did the French Monarchy. On a superficial level the “equivalence” seems to make sense. She needed to extrapolate about the parallels and reveal that past their superficiality, there is no parallel. The Sun Kings were far from frivolous and unlearned. Their culture developed over a century and the accoutrements they surrounded themselves with were priceless. The same does not abide for the dim comparative currently in the White House and the occupants’ crass nouveau riche sensibilities.
What may abide in this romp through Versailles and the lovely feast of extravagant and clever desserts is the draining wealth and riches it takes to sustain the luxurious materialism. Eventually, the debts pile up and the enemies threaten. Soon the borrowing becomes so great one is entailed with quid pro quos, not a way to remain autonomous. And then the revolution comes when there is not enough food to go around. The film is an interesting view of the days of glory during a time when new elites strive for similitude but fall so short, they don’t recognize their foibles and pretensions.
But Gabbert manages to tie the times vaguely together with the elaborate desserts and concepts of the grand master of the “Feast of Versailles,” Ottolenghi. And she infers gently that the sustainability of such excess is as mortal as its keepers. We recognize the fragility of excess more than ever in this COVID-19 global pandemic.
I screened and reviewed Banksy Most Wanted as a Tribeca Film Festival offering, which appears on https://blogcritics.org/ and in a longer review: https://caroleditosti.com/2020/04/29/banksy-most-wanted-a-tribeca-film-festival-review/
I enjoyed the film which raised questions about the confluence of Banky’s art and Banksy’ anonymity. Would his art have the power it does if his identity is disclosed? The film, directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley delves into the Banksy myth and reality with a profound and in-depth portrait of a man who performs a great service to humanity which happens to be illegal. I had the opportunity after screening and writing the review to chat with directors via email about the film and how they arrived at their subject.
What inspired you to do a film about Banksy?
If you think of a Banksy piece, like the one he did in a bathroom during the lockdown for example. If the minute after you have seen it, you can imagine the man doing the stencil, because you know his face, his name, you know in which town the house is, you know that his wife and his 13-year-old son or daughter is probably behind the door.. it is immediately less fun.
When did both of you first learn about Banksy?
I had the opportunity to see Th McGowan Trilogy and review it on Blogcritics as an offering of The Origin Company’s 1st Irish Theater Festival 2014. Since then I have been in touch with Seamus Scanlon on social media and have kept up with his activities from time to time during posts. Finally, I caught up with him during the COVID-19 pandemic when we both had the time for me to interview him online via email.
Seamus, give the readers a bit of backstory about yourself.
My background is in science so I am a late convert to the arts. I am a first generation college goer in my family so gainful employment was the priority not frivolity (i.e. the creative arts). Science did appeal to me because it was definitive; equations and formulae were a great attraction for me. Also, my hand writing is appalling. I can’t even read it myself. I knew I would never be able to write papers or complete an analysis in college that a teacher could decipher.
Despite this, I recall playing a recording of Dylan Thomas reading Do Not Go Gentle Into That Night and I was immediately affected by it although I did not let on because our school was an artistic black hole. (In 2018, the Japanese production of The McGowan Trilogy played this recording during the performance which was an amazing surprise for me. I felt I had come full circle!) In English class we also read the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh – a self taught genius raised in poverty in rural County Monaghan. This poetry stirred me and remained with me despite my selection of science to pursue for a career
My hometown of Galway is an artistic epicenter with the Tony Award winning Druid Theater Company; the Galway International Arts Festival and The Cúirt International Festival of Literature. Nora Barnacle (James Joyce’s wife) was born there and Lady Gregory (Yeats’ mentor and co-founder of the Abbey Theater in Dublin) lived about 15 miles from Galway, Ireland. Galway county was the backdrop for Synge and Martin McDonagh. So there was no excuse for me not to be enamored of literature, but I just ignored it all. I was too timid to explore it.
How long did you work on the McGowan Trilogy?
Not very long. It was kick started by Nancy Manocherian’s Cell Theater Company Ltd (artistic director Kira Simring) who read a short play of mine Dancing at Lunacy and then staged it as part of the The Irish Cell event in March 2012. They then asked for a full play so I developed two other inter related one acts – The Long Wet Grass and Boys Swam Before Me. They were great to work with – two Jewish women interested in all things Irish. This was staged in Oct 2014 as part of the 1st Irish Theater Festival and was well received. The play was also published by Arlen House. Get a free digital copy here.
What experiences helped you frame the story?
I lived in Belfast for five years so I was exposed to the daily life of Army patrols, constantly hovering Army helicopters, riots, shootings, July 12th marches where the deep seated tribal differences are in full flow. Before living in Belfast I had been affected greatly by the Hunger Strike in Belfast where 7 IRA and 3 INLA political prisoners died. Hunger strikes in Ireland have a long tradition. They are doubly significant and symbolic in Ireland because of the Great Famine (1847) which killed 1.5 million and caused forced emigration of 1.5 million to the US. A therapist in Belfast treating ex gunmen (late teens and early twenties) who had killed for the ‘cause’ and were suffering major trauma after killing someone.
Where has it been produced since it premiered in the US?
After The Cell production in 2014, they brought it to Hastings (UK) to the Kino-Teatr owned by a devoted Russian Hibernophile, Olga Manonova. The same Summer it was staged in two venues in Galway, and in Westport’s Townhall.
The major surprise for me came in 2018. The McGowan Trilogy (in Japanese) play was staged in Japan (in Japanese) to full houses (the lead was a rising movie star so that helped!). I traveled to Tokyo to see it and it was an amazing experience. They were selling merchandise in the foyer so I felt like a rock star! Japan has an amazing richness of theater and other art forms.
In Ireland three amateur drama groups have staged parts of the Trilogy and the feed back is usually positive. Amateur drama in Ireland is a long standing cultural phenomenon.
In April 2020 a theater student, Molly Flanagan at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) was to direct The Long Wet Grass. I was very excited to see this but it had to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 situation. Our mixed genre presentation Galway: The Good, the Bad, The Ugly at the New York Irish Center for April 23 had to be cancelled as well as an April performance at Lehman College.
In addition to The McGowan Trilogy, what are some of your successes over the years of which you are most proud?
Since 2016 I have self produced The Long Wet Grass at a number of locations such as Lehman College, City College Downtown, Art House, An Beal Bocht, Hudson Valley Writers’ Center and The New York Irish Center.
In February 2020 I collaborated on the immersive theater event Echoes of Calling with the Japanese dancer and choreographer Akiko Kitamura. If the COVID-19 restrictions lift in time this may be staged again in the Fall.
I worked on two film projects The Long Wet Grass (Ireland/USA, 2017) and The Butterfly Love Song (Ireland/USA, 2019) which was a new medium for me and challenging. I learned a lot – mainly that I should stick to play writing!
My first art form was fiction so I managed to have seven pieces published in Akashic Books’ Mondays Are Murder slot.
What projects do you have in the works?
My next full length play The Blood Flow Game is a sequel to The McGowan Trilogy and is due for publication shortly. The end game for all plays is to have them produced so that is my goal. I have had four table readings of it as part of that process. I thought after The McGowan Trilogy success in Japan I would be a hot prospect but that is not the case!!
The radio play script of The Butterfly Love Song was short listed in Ireland in 2020 and that was a great thrill for me. It was the first radio play I had written. The Cell Theater, where I started off with Dancing at Lunacy, is going to develop it in Fall 2020 as a radio play/podcast.
I have few short films in the works including Three-Nil, Move Baby, Recycle This and The Resurrection Love Song.
Have you been able to get around Covid 19 virtually as other playwrights and artists have done?
The Butterfly Love Song which premiered in NYC in October 2019 and was screened in Dublin in early March 2020 is now being screened offline by various film festivals so that is encouraging. Film lends itself to this more than any other artistic format. Watch the trailer and the full film free at Irish Film London.
What is the first thing you will do, once the medical profession and the government has a handle on Covid 19 and has decided that businesses can reopen along with bars and restaurants?
I am looking forward to getting back to job as a librarian at City College Downtown. It was set up by the Labor Unions in 1981. Many students are first time college goers (like myself), many are from blue collar backgrounds (like myself) so I have a natural affinity with these students. We offer BA, BS and MA programs. Classes run weekday evenings and Saturdays. We specialize in one-on-one advising from day one. Email email@example.com for more info.
I am pretty deaf so I can’t really hear anyone in a noisy café or bar. I write in cafés. My office in Galway – when I am home – is The Secret Garden where I accomplish a lot. I hope it is open by July or I will be in trouble.
I have no writing schedule or format or craft advice or a writing desk or writing techniques. I am probably the worst person to look at for guidance since I do not really know how I write etc. I did an MFA in City College in New York and that was very useful because I had writing deadlines so I had to produce.
You can update Seamus’ activities on his website at www.seamusscanlon.com
The “romantic” reality of the starving artist exploited by predatory promoters has been turned on its head by the graffiti artist, political activist and filmmaker Banksy. Over the past two decades Banksy has bested art dealers and beat them at their own game. In the process he has hyped up his own notoriety and sweetened his Robin-hood-like credibility by remaining anonymous to all. That is, all except the few sworn to secrecy who are privileged to be his inner circle.
Banksy Most Wanted, directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley, is a Tribeca Film Festival offering that I screened recently. I enjoy that Banksy thrives on anonymity, travels the world and uses buildings as his canvases. He paints and stencils ironic hieroglyphs, insuring they are accessible to the multitudes who appreciate his stark images and socially important messages. Cleverly, rakishly he tantalizes and exploits art dealers who would traffic his work like vultures.
In their straight-shooting documentary Rouvier and Healey visit a multitude of locations. Using a mixture of video news clips and their own cinematography, they investigate the Banksy ethos with depth and humor. First, they chronicle his origins in Bristol, UK. Next, they trace his evolution from the 1990s. For then he painted by hand. Subsequently, he decided upon spray painting. With it he could cover more mileage. Therefore, upping the ante by preparing stencils in his studio beforehand, he left off labor intensity. Most probably, stenciling offered the ease and speed to get in and out of locations without detection.
More recently, Banksy’s evolution extends to outrageous, live installations. Irreverently, he painted a live elephant in Los Angeles riling animal rights activits. For the sheer cheek of it, he unleashed 200 rats in a London gallery. And with a nod to her sainthood, he embellished a portrait of Mother Teresa with the words “moisturize everyday.”
Identifying his most famous works in Bristol, London, Paris and New York, Rouvier and Healey relate the impact of these Banksys on the surrounding community. In one instance a town litigated a dealer who took “their Banksy” which had great significance to them. They refused to allow him to steal the honor of Banksy selecting Port Talbot, Wales as a site for his art.
To establish ownership the dealer purchased a garage wall with the Banksy located in Port Talbot, Wales. Subsequently, he removed it with cranes to carve the images from the concrete to auction them off. As a result, the town sued him. During the litigation he discovered the art’s value to the community. Indeed, they believed Banksy had chosen their town to bless with his work.
Interestingly, the court found that the town’s freeholder rights as a community superseded the dealer’s free-holder rights. This was a Banksy triumph for the little people and a gut-wrenching blow to the stomachs and wallets of art dealers everywhere.
The filmmakers explore a few of Banksy’s satiric, temporary art installations. For example, they revisit the 2008 Porta-Potty Stonehenge. With self-demeaning brio, Banksy dubbed it “A Pile Of Crap.” Likewise, the 2015 Dismaland Bemusement Park offered a tortured happy rides with macabre convolution. Dismaland was a “sinister twist” on Disneylands everywhere. Banksy described it as “a family theme park unsuitable for children.”
Additionally, the directors highlight his adventurous pranks. One of these incurred self-shredding the print “Girl With Balloon” at a Sotheby auction right after the banging gavel closed the purchase.
Throughout, the filmmakers question the Banksy ethos. His stenciled works increasingly find their way into areas of economic repression and cultural upheaval. Some appear in the West Bank. These, include the restored Walled Off Hotel positioned across the street from the Israeli-Palestinian West Bank barrier. All of them raise questions. Indeed, Banksy fans and critics alike interpret them as an addendum to his political activism. And they label him a postulate critic of the dominant powers who would prevent others from securing a viable place at the table of life.
With his works having become ubiquitous, Banksy globally imprints his perspective to sound the underlying truths of our reality. And his searing and irreverent statements against imperialism, capitalism, earth destruction, climate change, consumerism, poverty, corporate fascism, racism empower the viewer.
However, all is not anti-establishment. Occasionally, he counterbalances these themes and subjects with images of love, innocence and endurance. For the documentarians focus on how he makes his guerilla art a velvet weapon to war against killing and uplift peace. Furthermore, they reveal how his dichotomous images heighten the culture’s oblivion to their being accessories to enslaving and harming Third World Countries. With singularity and precision the directors emphasize how he employs juxtaposition in his creations. And they do justice to Banksy’s indictment of the West’s contributions to crimes against humanity in its greedy value of money over people.
Throughout the visual explication of Banksy’s subject matter and themes, the filmmakers delve into his message to the art world. Another lucid indictment emerges. For Banksy, great artistry moves beyond boundaries and walls of brick and mortar. It remains exclusive of hyped-up, artificiality and “Tulip mania” trends.
For this reason he has left the art world spinning in circles. As they chop up walls to obtain his works in the hope of making a bundle, he intentionally dislocates their obsession. Most recently, to thwart the rapacity of dealers, owners of buildings have become Banksy fans. They refuse to sell. Instead, they plexiglass their Banksys to protect them. With an irony of their own, they reinforce Banksy’s overarching instruction to street people. Art exists everywhere
Over the years Banksy has garnered himself and a beleaguered art world a delicious, capitalistic profit. Reputedly his worth totals up to a rumored $50 million. So, for those who admire his anti-capitalistic, anti-consumer spirit, think again. Perhaps, this anonymous rogue doth protest too much. However, the vital question remains.
Who is Banksy? For me peaking behind the anonymity becomes a crucial high point of the film. With incisive interviews, the directors weave in and out to explore three possible identities. And these they unravel, playing with the uncertainty of facts and details of “reliable” narrators. Afterward, they suggest a fourth possible Banksy.
Clearly, the directors love their subject. And they have done their homework. They’ve presented the diorama that his anonymity has served a charitable purpose . Yet, they’ve proven Banksy also serves his own interests.
Thanks to his anonymity, others have been able to claim his work, either legally or emotionally. And his fans love adding to his aura by fantasizing about who is hiding behind the name. These investigations reveal a novel perspective of the artist, his salient/sardonic world view, his links with the music scene and his entrepreneurial acumen. They also expose the importance of identity to art and society and our need to triumph over invisibility.
Through the testimonies of those who know him and have worked with him, but also of those who exploit him, hunt him down and claim him, Banksy Most Wanted paints a profound portrait of “one” of the foremost artists of our time. It concludes with the vitality of the spirit that channels through the group of artists that effect Banksys. And that makes all the difference in the world.
Banksy during the pandemic.
Apparently, Banksy is staying indoors following the UKs sheltering in place lockdown orders. However his famed mural “The Girl With A Pierced Eardrum” has received a COVID-19 update which includes a blue surgical mask.
First appearing on the side of a building in Bristol’s Harbourside in 2014, this Banksy spoofs Vermeer’s “Girl With A Pearl Earring.” But the earring incorporates Banksy’s thoughtful wall selection, an outdoor security alarm. Banky’s “girl” sports not a “pearl,” but a ‘stretcher’ supplied by the security alarm.
Wild speculation deems Banksy broke the lockdown and sneaked out to spray paint his work to give a kick in the pants to those who will tour his graffiti most probably with masks and appropriate social distancing when Bristol “opens.” However, fans argue the COVID-19 mural can’t be by Banksy who usually reveals his works on his Instagram account.
For official COVID-19 works Banksy, on his account you will find rats running amuck and making themselves at home in his bathroom. It’s captioned: “My wife hates it when I work from home.” Banksy’s irreverence during this pandemic makes this Plague go down a bit easier. #Banksy
New York Botanical Garden is helping New Yorkers and global fans enjoy Spring in New York by maintaining social distancing during New York “Pause.” They have been holding online watch parties and have kept their virtual programming alive to involve those sheltering at home with interactive events and online classes that stream via YouTube.
While the Garden’s gates may be closed temporarily, their virtual gates are wide open. The Garden invites its community near and and far to stay connected during this challenging time. Earth Day 50 with NYBG at Home is one way to do that.
Each day the COVID 19 pandemic takes another swipe at the New York theater community as notifications of deaths (playwright Terrance McNally, actor Mark Blum, former Drama Desk President William Wolf) darkly bloom. Theaters will remain closed for the end of the month and most probably into the summer, if state and federal projections are to be believed. Thus, we wait and create and pray supporting each other with phone calls, emails, social media posts virtual presentations, meetings and parties on Zoom.
Show business folks have always helped one another. Currently, Brad Paisley, John Bon Jovi, Dolly Parton and other celebrities have stepped up donations. And beautiful financial flowers are burgeoning from GoFundMe campaigns springing up to support artists. Along with smaller operations, tried and true foundations like the Actor’s Fund and Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS, Dramatists Guild, League of Professional Theatre Women and New York Women in Film and Television to name a few are available with support for their members and freelance artists.
Freelancers are especially hard hit. They do not number amongst the 6.5 million who have filed for unemployment insurance (the number was posted on the news this morning). Not having a regular paycheck but living gig to gig, they are the invisible casualties of this war against a deadly molecule that strikes through those who are asymptomatic and “healthy,” but who are carriers of the spread. Clearly, more needs to be done by those of means who love theater and are devastated that COVID 19 has slammed into New York.
On that note The Bret Adams and Paul Reisch Foundation has decided to create an uplifting way to distribute the funds for their 2020 Idea Award for Theatre. This spring, the foundation will offer up to 40 emergency grants of $2,500 each to playwrights, composers, lyricists and librettists who have had a full professional production cancelled, closed, or indefinitely postponed due to the COVID-19 closures. A total of $100,000 will be distributed to theater writers.
Eligible playwrights, composers, lyricists, or librettists should apply at this link. Writers who have had a professional production canceled may submit their name and proof of a professional show’s closure. (“Professional,” in this case, is defined as LORT, Off Broadway, or Broadway). Each artist can submit only once. If there are more than 40 applicants, the Foundation will award grants by lottery, allowing them to give out the greatest amount of money directly into the pockets of the artists who have been most affected.
The submission deadline is April 14. The Foundation hopes to make funds available to artists as quickly as possible to forge a path to provide a bit of hope and relief and especially to guide others to do the same for artists in this unprecedented time.
The Bret Adams & Paul Reisch Foundation is a charitable foundation. Its mission is to give money to writers to write plays with ‘big ideas.’ This year, their ‘big idea’ is to help those “who have had productions cancelled,” said Bruce Ostler, V.P. and Board Member of The Bret Adams and Paul Reisch Foundation.
Ostler’s point is well taken and unfortunately, true when he affirms, “The economic model of theatre in the 21st century works much like it did in the 16th century, in that a playwright receives a percentage of the box office sales; without an audience, the box office receipts and royalty to playwrights dry up. In no uncertain terms, the business of theatre today has ground to a shocking halt due to the pandemic. Playwrights are not salaried workers and therefore are NOT eligible for unemployment for a cancelled production. That is the harsh reality of theatre today.”
Theatrical Agent Bret Adams and his partner Dr. Paul Reisch loved the theatre with great passion. As an agent, Bret shepherded the careers of many actors, writers and directors and designers, including Phylicia Rashad, Judy Kaye, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Sherman Helmsley, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Eve Arden, Christine Ebersole, Kathleen Marshall, Jayne Wyman, Andre DeShields, Kathy Bates, and more.
After Bret and Paul’s passing, in 2006 and 2015, their foundation was created at their bequest. The Bret Adams and Paul Reisch Foundation champions visionary playwrights and embraces diversity in all its forms. It especially encourages fresh perspectives – particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds – to create idea-driven new plays and musicals. These may include a variety of themes, i.e. science, history, politics and sexual orientation. For more information, visit www.BretnPaulFoundation.org.
New York Botanical Garden is growing bountifully with springtime beauty. We are not able to appreciate it live and in our mortal flesh at this time because of the ferocious virulence and communicability of Covid 19. The Garden is temporarily closed as all non essential services in New York City are doing to practice social responsibility and save lives.
However, the Garden is online and broadcasting via virtual platforms. For the springtime beauty of the magnolias, CLICK HERE.
Jeff Leatham’s Kaleidoscope, The 18th Annual Orchid Show at the NYBG is also presenting a pre-recorded tour given by Marc Hachadourian, head orchid curator and orchid expert at the Garden. The tour features each of the galleries and Jeff Leatham’s vision of the wild colors manifest in a kaleidoscope employing his superb horticultural artistry and brilliant design. For Marc’s virtual tour, CLICK HERE. And for my review of the show with photographs taken in February, CLICK HERE.
Whenever I become nervous or stressed at night, contemplating the news of what is happening in New York City and globally, I do one of two things to calm down since jokes are not seeming to help at this time. I go to Youtube and watch Governor Andrew Cuomo with his brother Chris (pray for Chris, he tested positive for Covid 19) as they kid around and take loving jabs at each other with rapier wit and gentle insults.
Playing back Governor Cuomo’s daily record of the state’s progress to save lives as together we take on the responsibility to extirpate this plague from the planet, I feel emotionally calmer. I swear his father’s spiritual presence is there strengthening him for this incredible challenge to lead the nation as THE go-to governor in the forefront as New York is in the forefront of this virus with the most cases to date. It is Cuomo’s calm, commanding truthfulness as he uplifts the values of love and the sanctity of life that makes a tremendous difference to me as I shelter in place. During this historic time his stolid example and his stories of his family and the interplay with his brother have helped me reaffirm, even relearn the treasure of my own life and the preciousness of friends and family.
Secondly, I take Marc’s tour to witness the beauty of the Garden and orchids which I adore. I reviewed Jeff Leatham’s work on this blog when it opened in February. Then, the orchid placement was different in some of the galleries. In the Desert gallery I am happy to see that the poppies are blooming which they were not earlier in the year. After I watch Marc’s tour I have decompressed. I am ready to fall asleep as the beauty of the orchids, Jeff’s horticultural artistry and Marc’s soothing voice restore me to an inner state of peace.
Also, the Garden is sharing one of its most memorable live performances in a Facebook Watch Party on Wednesday, April 1, beginning at 1 p.m. EDT. Chorus of the Forest, a site-specific work by composer Angélica Negrón, premiered last November in NYBG’s 50-acre Thain Family Forest, the largest remaining tract of old-growth forest in New York City.
Weaving together choral performances, robotic and percussive electronic instruments, and live and recorded forest sounds, this immersive, specially commissioned work was performed along a half-mile of trails. This choral and instrumental experience was created to explore humanity’s relationship with the forest and our connections–and disconnections–with nature.
Negrón, a Puerto Rican-born multi-instrumentalist who was NYBG’s 2019 Composer-in-Residence, will join the Facebook Watch Party for a live chat during the screening to discuss this ambitious project and answer viewers’ questions.
Take a break from the news when you can and enjoy the Watchbook Party by CLICKING ON THE LINK BELOW.
The Medieval 21st century plague of Covid 19 has swept into the United States with insidious tyranny. Sadly, with insufficient testing, the nation doesn’t realize the extent of its invisible spread, just yet.
However, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill Di Blasio are aware of the implications of the tragic events in Italy as that country goes into more weeks of quarantine. Thus, these prescient and dynamic New York leaders with the efforts of our heroes in the medical professions and essential services, are making the invisible visible with massive testing.
New York is to be commended for being in the forefront to scale up the protocols, supplies, research and data to nail down this nefarious, highly communicable virus and siphon off its power so that its replication in New Yorkers is incapacitated, and its ability to kill even the most vulnerable is obviated.
To the left is a photo of The Plague Doctor’s outfit circa 1650 in Edinburgh, UK which I took from a tile I purchased after a tour underneath the streets of Edinburgh, in the Old Town. The tour was amazing. It featured how the denizens of the city lived during the 1700s and revealed how they confronted the terrible plague which wiped out a goodly number of city dwellers. The uncertainty about what was causing the disease (the flea on the rats who lived in close proximity with citizens) led many to escape to safety in the country for fear of contagion. Those who had the means to leave, left. The remaining citizens suffered and died or caught it and recovered, or never caught it at all because they practiced quarantines or had the antibodies to keep the disease at bay.
The Plague Doctor’s outfit was the hazmat suit of the time that protected the wearer. The bird like beak held curative herbs (rosemary, lavender, hyssop, marjoram etc.) that the doctor breathed in, an unwitting prevention which stopped their inhalation of droplets of contagion which would move into their respiratory system and infect them.
Of course, curative plants, herbs like those found in the NYBG Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden. were used extensively in teas, tinctures, etc., and in the toolkit of the practitioner of the healing arts. The herbs listed on the page of the Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden are examples of prodigiously used herbs which were thought to be helpful in staving off contamination.
In the 21st century we are light years away from such a crisis, and yet our Covid 19 plague has strange reflections of that time in the “sheltering in place,” “hunkering down” and “pausing” that the proactive states in the nation have enacted so that all but essential services and workers must stay inside. In California, New York, Ohio, Illinois and Louisiana, this pertains if individuals are in an age range of 65 and older while all others practice social distancing, social responsibility and self-discipline to self-monitor and not congregate anywhere whether on street corners or in parks. Surely, if other states follow, effectively managing this highly communicable pestilence Covid 19 will happen sooner than later.
During this time until it opens its gates once more, New York Botanical Garden offers hope, beauty, resilience and peace, the immutable themes it displays year-round. In these extraordinary times, these spiritual powers resonate more than ever. The Garden as a place of emotional healing continues to stand as a hallmark that we who live in New York City and New York State and those who visit from around the world, can be nourished soulfully during this gravest of pandemics. Currently, the Garden provides an online beacon of light as it flourishes during glorious spring. The Garden’s virtual offerings are an antidote to calm troubled souls and stressed spirits.
First, their new content page is on NYBG.ORG CLICK HERE. This page provides a way to stay connected to the Botanical Garden through our collections’ digital resources, creative educational programs, and other online offerings. For the home site NYBG At Home CLICK HERE.
As spring unfolds, NYBG at Home will showcase the brightness and color seasonal spectacle. On March 20, the first day of spring, they presented a brief “first day of spring video walk” around NYBG’s grounds. The video can be viewed: CLICK HERE.
Through NYBG at Home, plant lovers can find out about upcoming virtual events such as a Facebook Watch Party video tour of The Orchid Show: Jeff Leatham’s Kaleidoscope on Wednesday, March 25, at 12 p.m. EDT. The site also provides convenient, one-click links to NYBG’s blogs; the digital collection of NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library; teacher resources; plant-based, kid-friendly recipes; ways to get involved in virtual research projects; and much more. The Garden hopes it will be a reminder of how the natural world brings joy and a respite from troubles.
We do not know how long we will be monitoring each other, collaborating to keep everyone across the global as safe as possible and as healthy as possible through our social responsibility. It is a domino, butterfly effect. What we do here will impact our neighbors across the Pond, in Europe, in Oceania, in Asia and other places around the world. If we keep ourselves healthy with social distancing, we reveal our care and concern for our brothers and sisters in our human family. One way to keep our souls enriched is through visual online viewing of beauty and peace. Plants are our key. They can be silent representatives of love if you open your souls to them. Keep yourselves safe=healthy and enjoy the Garden. Together, we can get through this as we watch each other’s backs and remain uplifted. #plantlove
Life is a whistle stop away from dissolution and death in the soulful, atmospheric, other-worldly Girl From The North Country by Conor McPherson (Shining City, The Seafarer) with music and lyrics by Bob Dylan. The production had an extended run off Broadway at The Public Theatre. With a few cast changes and a bit of slimming down, the McPherson/Dylan collaboration is an enlightened one as Dylan’s songs have found an amazing home threaded from decade to decade with McPherson’s canny naturalistic and spiritual characterizations
Dr. Walker (the fine Robert Joy) provides the frame of reference (like the narrator in Thorton Wilder’s Our Town) revealing the depression-era setting and introducing the lead characters. Interestingly, all of the characters by the end of the production must confront the state of their lives during the dire times during 1934 in Duluth, Minnesota. McPherson’s expert sense of story-telling and familiarity with the Depression-era literature of the time has enabled him to cobble together the John Steinbeck-like (Of Mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath) characters and storylines. These have been reinforced and inspired by Bob Dylan’s music from various decades. Together, theirs is a marvelous depiction of unity in desperation, longing in torment and hope in uncertainty. Finally, the musical’s theme of timelessness wafts like a beaming streak of gold throughout this must-see production.
A number of the actors double as musicians and Dylan’s song selection ranges in a combination of pop, country, folk and blues. All the songs are recognizable and illustrative of the mood and tone of this stirring piece about characters who yearn for a brighter tomorrow but know that the result will be a more challenging ever-presence of sorrows. Nevertheless, the characters snatch from the mouth of woe bits of humor, song and dance which create shining moments that move them to give solace to one another to help get them to the next day.
Chief among these every-day-heroes is boarding house owner, the stalwart, self-immolating Nick Laine (the fine Jay O. Sanders) who keeps a brood of homeless, down-and-outers together for a time, until they must all move on because Nick is broke and losing his home to the banks. The reference to Steinbeck’s Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath after they lose their house and prepare to leave for the “promised-land” of California is unmistakable.
Nick must negotiate his wife Elizabeth (the incredible Mare Winningham in a sterling performance). Elizabeth has dementia and ironically serves as Nick’s conscience, seamlessly moving in and out of sentience selecting a time when she can most effectively jab at Nick’s soul about his sister whose death he negligently caused and his mistress Mrs. Neilsen (the excellent Jeannette Bay Ardelle).
Mrs. Neilsen and Nick receive a respite from misery in each other’s arms as she rents a room and helps out with Elizabeth during the time she stays in Nick’s boarding house. Mrs. Neilsen lures Nick with her deceased husband’s scheduled inheritance which she dangles in front of him as bait to fulfill their dream of running away together. Ardelle easily slides into Dylan’s songs with full-throated abandon that is rich and lustrous.
Winningham’s Elizabeth is willful, prescient and edgily funny. She brings down the house with her rendition of “How Does It Feel,” as a foreboding reminder that fate comes for all of us and especially Nick and the various borders who are skulking away from life and the law in this temporary haven from both. She nails Mr. Perry for his sexually predatory abuse of her when she was a child. And she questions Nick why he would pimp off their adopted daughter Marianne Laine ( the wonderful Kimber Elayne Sprawl) to old Mr. Perry in a quid pro quo exchange of Marianne for the payments on their mortgage. Elizabeth to a large extent discourages the deal to Nick, Mr. Perry and her daughter, and though she will miss her, she doesn’t discourage Marianne from running off with boxer Joe Scott (Austin Scott) who blows in one desolate night looking for shelter at Nick’s place with his companion Reverend Marlowe (Matt McGrath).
Thankfully, Nick’s boarding house provides “a welcome for lost souls.” There, Nick feeds them, they celebrate Thanksgiving, they dance. However, Mrs. Burke (the fine Luba Mason), Mr. Burke ( the superb Marc Kudisch), and Elias Burke (the wonderful Todd Almond) hide secrets. So do the slippery Reverend Marlowe and accomplished boxer Joe Scott. Each of the characters is “on the run!” They carry the baggage of their fears, failures and hidden torments to Nick’s guesthouse where eventually their inner hell is exposed to the light and we feel and understand their suffering with empathy in a kind of redemptive soul evolution and hope.
Perhaps the most poignant of fears concerns the Burkes, whose strong, powerfully built son Elias manifests the mind of a three-year-old. Like the character Lennie in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, he understands little of his world around him and stumbles into heartbreaking trouble.
The poignance of his demise is uplifted when Todd Almond as Elias magnificently sings “Duquesne Whistle.” As a spirit he has gone to the afterlife. No more materialistic pain and suffering shackles his mind and heart in darkness. Dressed in a white suit, free of his mental challenges, he and the chorus celebrate that other dimension McPherson beautifully presents (a theme in many of his works). It is a full-on, gospel “coming home” ceremony. Elias (like his name-variant prophet Elijah), “makes it to the other side” of the Light in a wonderful capstone to Almond’s complex and nuanced portrayal.
Thanksgiving as an ironic celebration of a country that has not stood by any of them, initially is filled with song that follows fast with grim realities. At this juncture after the toasts come the tragic truths that explode all of their yearnings that are pipe dreams (in a reference to Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh). Though Marianne escapes with Joe Scott who airily convinces her he will protect her and her child in Chicago, it is one more grabbing at a brass ring on the merry-go-round of life that has stopped spinning and has lost its glory in a break down that will never be repaired.
Nick’s hopes shatter as his daughter Marianne runs off, leaving Mr. Perry without a wife and Nick without house payments. And the final blow is delivered by son Gene (Colton Ryan) whose alcoholism allows him to tell his father at the celebration that he lost the railroad job his father moved heaven and earth for him to get. Gene’s girlfriend Kate (Caitlin Houlahan) leaves him and he is left relying on his father when Nick has nothing more to give him and feels an abject failure at his inability to raise his children to help support the family which is now bereft. No wonder Nick considers suicide (Dr. Walker implies this) but is too dependent on Elizabeth needing him to take it beyond contemplation.
Only Elizabeth, after her marvelous speech about love and her marriage to Nick, afterward singing “Forever Young,” remains serene in her sentience and canny distraction. Indeed, with Nick’s help she has mastered the art of balance even in her dementia.
With finality, we look in the background at their last Thanksgiving together in tableau, as Dr. Walker narrates what he knows of the characters’ futures, again reminiscent of the narrator in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. And as McPherson is wont to do and does believably, Dr. Walker (Robert Joy) shares his passing to “the other side” in Christmas of 1934. We realize then that he has been speaking to us as a spirit, sharing with us his fond memories of the Laines, the guests, and that time.
What more can be said about this marvelous must-see Broadway premiere that has been directed by Conor McPherson and shepherded with care and love from The Old Vic, to The Public Theater, to the Belasco Theatre? The chorus/ensemble (Matthew Frederick Harris, Jennifer Blood, LawTerrell Dunford, Ben Mayne, Tom Nelis, Chiara Trentalange, Bob Walton, John Schiappa, Rachel Stern, Chelsea Lee Williams), are exceptional in voice and movement. Kudos to Rae Smith (scenic & costume design), Mark Henderson (lighting design), and Simon Baker (sound design). Simon Hale’s orchestrations and arrangements of Dylan’s music are exceptional. Additionally, without Dean Sharenow (music coordinator) Marco Paguia (music director) Lucy Hind (movement director) the actors who played in the band (Todd Almond, Marc Kudisch, Luba Mason), and musicians Martha McDonnell, Mary Ann McSweeney, and others, the full impact of the production would be lessened.