Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Finding your light

Fifth Avenue. 2:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, June 7, 2017. Rain and rainy with temps in the mid-50s yesterday in New York. Weatherman says it’s going to the summer mid-70s tomorrow.

Jamee celebrating with the birthday boy, Peter.
The night before last, rain or shine New Yorkers were out and about. Over at a private club on Park Avenue, Jamee and Peter Gregory celebrated his birthday — number 75 (hard to believe but true) — surrounded by legions of friends, and although I wasn’t present, I can assure you it was a big crowd.

Peter is a New York boy.  He grew up on Park Avenue, one of three illustrious sons of an extraordinary couple who immigrated here from Russia — back in the day when a certain set had to get out.  Mother and Father reared their boys in their large and fascinating and worldly life, and their sons reflect that heritage. Peter and Jamee have lots of friends, having been prominent in New York for decades, in several charities as well as an active social life here and in Southampton.

So it was one of those nights when the bedbugs of life don’t bite, and everyone was delighted to be there and for awhile at least, it was a place warm and safe, and sound, and a happy birthday for friend Peter.

Me, I couldn’t be there because I was over in Central Park at the Delacorte where the Public Theater was hosting its annual Gala, this year entitled “HAIR to HAMILTON; 50 Years of Revolutionary musicals from The Public Theater. This particular gala usually starts with a dinner set on tables on part of the lawn in front of the amphitheater. This year with the forecasts for rain — and some heavy misting off and on – they decided to make it a cocktail party held in the same area, followed by the performances.
The Delacorte is one of the great New York summer gifts to us. Just the walk through the Park on your way there, is a comfort to the city’s senses. There were two separate baseball games going on the Great Lawn (which can accommodate six at a time).
Once inside the theater, tucked into a corner of the Turtle Pond overlooking Turtle Island and Belvedere Castle set high on an outcropping of rock, from your seat you see only the stage and the trees surrounding.

Because of the weather forecasts, when we picked up our tickets at the box office, we were also handed a little plastic baggie containing a hooded one-size-fits-all plastic poncho, so small you could put it in your back pocket. As it happened, we didn’t need it. But it’s reusable, so I brought it home.
The 1800 guests waiting for the show to begin, 8:15 p.m.
Every year at this event there is a special performance. This year, the 50th anniversary of The Public’s production of musicals, the entire program was numbers from those musicals that originated with The Public – some of which went on to Broadway, and breaking attendance records such as “Chorus Line,” “Pirates of Penzance,” “Hair,” “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and now the super-duper hit musical “Hamilton.”

There was a huge cast of singers and dancers performing.  The “I Hope I Get It” number from “Chorus Line” was exciting with all the amazing talent performing in chorus. I haven’t seen “Hamilton” and so I’ve had no idea what the colossal demand was all about. Just seeing Bryan d’Arcy James come on stage dressed presumably as King George III, singing “You’ll Be Back” spelled it all out for me: wonderful, witty, funny, get-down; GO!
The chair of the Public Theater Board Arielle Tepper Madover greeting the audience.
The chair, Ms. Madover. Oskar Eustis, the Artistic Director.
Then there was a special performance by John Lithgow (wearing a business suit and tie, glasses and a big hook nose) singing “I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General.”  A snickering hilarious pleasure. I loved that I had to look on the program as to WHO was performing it, now having been used to his “Churchill” on “The Crown.”

It was a fantastic evening all around. Again, another reminder of the massive talent of performers, writers, composers, choreographers (Chase Brock) and directors (Dan Sullivan) that we have right here in New York. It was a fete to remember.

I’m glad I wore a sweater, as every now and then a boisterous breeze would blow chilly down through the seats. It felt like sitting on front of an air conditioner with its fan on the back of your neck. As for the cocktails, they were serving Hangar 1 Vodka with lemon juice, a bit of honey and some mint, on the rocks. Yum. I nursed it through the performances so that the ice melted. There was a name for it that I didn’t get. But it was Sweet.
Sasha Allen and chorus performing "This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius."
The Chorus Line finishing their number.
The final bows. You can spot John Lithgow in the suit, with glasses and nose off, in the center of the group.
Finding your light. Also, the night before last down at City Winery on Varick, Josh Groban's Find Your Light Foundation hosted its second annual A Celebration for Arts Education. The intimate evening focused on the power of arts education and included cocktails and dinner and fabulous up-close performances by Joshua Bell, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Josh Groban, who was accompanied by the cast of Broadway's Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. Idina Menzel closed out the night with young singers from New Arts, a performing arts program from Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, performing "Let It Go." Richard Kind served as the auctioneer for the evening, helping to raise over $600,000 for arts education in the schools that need it the most.
Jack Groban, Josh Groban, Chuck Close, Lindy Groban, and Chris Groban.
Chuck Close was the evening's honoree, whose passion and dedication to the arts has inspired a new generation of artists. Sarah Arison and Diana DiMenna served as event cochairs. Guests included Jason Mraz, Alfre Woodard, Ariana DuBose, and more.

Josh Groban's Find Your Light Foundation has funded over 80 children's arts education programs around the country (particularly in low-income areas), educates the public on the importance of arts education, and advocates for arts education funding through a myriad of different channels. With falling funding and access to arts education, FYL is working to fill the gap for those students most in need. To learn more, click here.
Diana DiMenna, Chuck Close, and Sarah Arison.
Josh Groban and Alfre Woodard. Jason Mraz.
Andrew Mayer, Nick Gaswirth, Heath Saunders, and Reed Luplau.
Heath Saunders, Erica Dorfler, Brittain Ashford, and Lulu Fall.
Dave Malloy and Rachel Chavkin.
Joshua Bell and Josh Groban perform.
The cast and creative team of THE GREAT COMET.
Richard Kind, who was hilarious as auctioneer.
Chuck Close and his award.
Brian Stokes Mitchell singing "What a Wondeful World."
Joshua Bell and Josh Groban perform.
Idina Menzel and students from the NewArts Program closing out the night with a rendition of "Let It Go."
Last night; who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf. I went over to the Park Avenue Armory for a preview of their latest installation Hansel & Gretel which opens officially today, Wednesday and will remain on view through August 6th.

I had no idea how the famous fairytale would “play” in the great Wade Thompson Drill Hall where most of their installations are set. I pictured a house from a book of the fairytale that was I was read to me as a kid. I couldn’t have imagined what followed.
660 Park Avenue looking like a Christo creation.
I should add that I was invited by a friend to attend, and I attended only out of respect for my friend’s recommendation because I also had other commitments. Not only could I not imagine what they were doing with Hansel & Gretel, I didn’t care. My friend, however, emphasized how extraordinary it was without hinting what or why.

From arrival, everything was a surprise and a wonder, and many other things beyond wonder. The following is a description in the program I received when I left:

“Entering from a small street-level doorway on Lexington Avenue through a long darkening tunnel, the visitor experiences both psychological menace and exhilarating wonder upon exiting into the expansive landscape of the dimmed Wade Thompson Drill Hall, animated by interactive projections mapping the visitor’s every move. Utilizing state of the art surveillance technology, the installation is both an enticingly playful and unnerving experience of what it  means to be constantly watch, of public space without anonymity."
The entry tunnel to the Drill Hall. It looks like this and there was just enough light so that you could see the floor you were walking on.
“Only upon leaving the Wade Thompson Drill Hall and entering the hallways of the historic Head House, does the visitor discover through a continuation of the installation the extent of what has been seen and captured. An extensive digital library of surveillance histories and technologies is available for further research.  In an age of constant scrutiny and data storage beyond the knowledge and control of ordinary citizens, Hansel & Gretel  is perhaps less fantastical and more menacing than it may at first appear.”

Of course I tried to photograph but once inside, but it was so dark it was difficult to see until my eyes were used to it. There were dot-like red and blue lights moving around above. Otherwise the room was entirely black dark. Although there were squares and rectangles blocked out that had a few lighted blurry images with red squares around them.
I'm looking down on the floor. You can see my hand holding the camera. I thought I was shooting an image on the floor. I had no idea I was being photographed from above.
I had no idea what this was about. When I finished moving around this vast hall trying to comprehend what was going on (besides darkness and these squares bordered in red). Having “seen” what little there was to see, I moved across the hall, following instructions, to the north door in the back. As I was exiting a guide told me to go around to the Park Avenue entrance to the building  “for the second part of the installation.”

Entering the front of the building, I saw that there were large tables and chairs set up in the galleries on the north and south sides of the entrance. Some were occupied by people looking seriously at small iPad-like screens.
The tables in the main gallery with the iPads.
I still had no idea what this was about. Except I happened to run into Susan Sawyers and her husband who were getting up from a table. After greeting and my asking her WHAT this was, she told me to look at the computer screen on the table. When I did, I saw my own images, the way you see them on an iPhone. Susan touched a button on the screen and a blurry black and white photo of me appeared next to the color photo I made of myself. The b&w photo was taken in the dark of the Thompson Drill Hall without my knowledge, by a drone over head (the blue and red lights).  Then Susan instructed me to type in my email, telling me that the b&w photo would be sent to me. (It was.)
There's another photo of me at some point when I was in the Drill Hall.
When she had done the same thing, she recounted to me, two images of her came up, except  she suddenly realized that one of then was not her but someone who bore a close resemblance. The subject of the evening was Surveillance and all of its creepiness, reminding that we are now surveilling ourselves to an end that defies imagination and confirmed an instilled paranoia.

Later leaving, I saw another photo of myself, (not the same as the first) also taken somewhere in the visit.

Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, the Big Bad Wolf, the Big Bad Wolf ...? Afraid of your shadow anybody? Maybe you should be.

Photographs by Henry McGee (Find Your Light Gala)

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