Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Union

Our day started with a walk through Central Park to the Upper West Side. Funnily enough, as we passed the Rockafella Centre on Sixth Avenue we were greeted by a friendly and familiar face in the shape of a chap called Tim who directed the live footage of our wedding. He was in New York to direct film footage of a six-minute fireworks display at Sachs Department Store, which sounded like it was going to be very exciting.

It's funny: every time we come to New York, we randomly bump into someone we didn't know was going to be here, which bails out my theory that London and New York function in their own unique orbit. This city is full of Brits, particular the mid town area where we're saying. We had breakfast this morning surrounded by English accents! It was bizarre. You hear fewer Brits in cafes in Soho!

Anyway, Central Park looked beautiful in the winter sunshine. You get a real sense of quite how stunning it must have been a month ago in the fall. The few leaves that were left on the trees were the most incredible colours. Reds and bright oranges. Far more vibrant than the colours we get in the UK during the autumn.

Anyway, our trip through the park eventually took us to a lovely yarn shop on the Upper West Side called Knitty City, which is New York's most well-respected wool store. Nathan was wearing one of his double-knit scarves, so it wasn't long at all before he'd become a bit of a celebrity with the old Jewish women who hang out in those parts! I think Nathan may well end up with a new legion of podcast fans.

We took the subway down to the village where we were meeting Jem and Ian for lunch. Rather curiously, at 42nd Street on our way down there, our train carriage doors opened and they got on. Of all the carriages in all the subway trains in the world, they chose ours. Have I just misquoted Casablanca?

Anyway, lunch happened on Bleecker Street, which those who like Menotti operas will be pleased to know generated a discussion about stigmata, Samuel Barber and telephones. Top marks to anyone reading this who has the faintest clue what I'm writing about.

We had a little wander about the shops, which, in the village, are mostly second hand clothes and record shops in the style of Brick Lane. And just like Brick Lane, the independent shop keepers, restaurateurs and artists who gave the place its iconic status are being priced out of the district by greedy landlords, edgy hedge fund managers and fancy brands. It's incredibly sad. The place is fast becoming a theme park version of itself.

From the village we trotted up to Union Square, where, at the Union Square Theatre, we saw the 39 Steps starring our good friend, Billy, who was wonderful. I actually saw the first ever production of that show which I'm told was ten years ago. My mate Nat originated the female role and at one point today I swear I saw something which only she could have brought to the play's stage directions. I think this particular production was created by the original creative team, so perhaps the director said "do it like this..." And out popped Nat! I loved the idea that a little part of her had lodged itself in the character and travelled across the Atlantic!

This production is the last show that will ever be performed in this, the oldest and largest continually-running Off-Broadway theatre in New York. Evidentially, the building's landlords think they can get more money by turning the building into flats, and there's little anyone can do to stop that kind of progress. Seems a shame: all sorts of theatrical luminaries have performed on that stage, including Vanessa Redgrave.

We chatted a little to Billy about how tough it is to be an actor in New York, which is home to 40,000 registered actors. Auditions are like cattle markets. If you go up for a musical, you'll only get to sing 32 bars of a song, which makes a mockery of the last audition I ran where we allowed an actor to sing all eight minutes of the soliloquy from Carousel! Acting auditions here don't allow for any chatter either. There's apparently no sense of working with an actor to get the best out of him or her or a "pull up a chair, let me tell you about what we're dong on this project" type scenario. Billy once received feedback after one of his auditions which merely asked him to "avoid wearing aftershave next time!" Apparently there are sometimes signs in audition waiting rooms warning actors not to wear scent because it "hangs about in the audition room." That's right folks. Once the actors are out of that space they can't leave anything of themselves behind. Apart from, one hopes, a decent memory!


The flip side to all of this is that Broadway actors are, on average, three times better paid than their West End counterparts. They have a union which is incredibly strong and medical insurance which is staggeringly good. Actors in New York can't afford to get lazy, or even whinge, because the rewards are so huge.


We also talked about the difference between Americans and Brits when it comes to self-promotion. Now there's a gulf which needs to be bridged! Within a minute of meeting any Yank, they'll have told you their full name, and probably listed off the high points of their CV. Ask an American how good they are at, well, anything, and they'll reply "excellent." Ask a Brit if he's good at his job and he'll more likely than not say, "oh you know, I'm okay," hoping someone else in the space will big him up. Brits and bragging are just not comfortable bed fellows!


We took the subway home. A brilliant thing happens on some of the subway trains in New York. As they leave the stations, something in their mechanics makes a sort of squeaking buzz which is always pitched to the same four notes - rather wonderfully the first four notes of "Somewhere" from West Side Story! Every time I'm on a train pulling out of a subway station, I feel compelled to join in... "There's a place for us..." It never gets dull!

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad Nathan told us about your blog! I'm loving your travel tales. I used to work in Midtown Manhattan. (Even if it's spelled R. Center and Saks) It's like a trip back. (Subway: what, not the first three notes of "Ma-ri### -a"?) AND I get to hear about it before Nathan's next podcast! Thanks! ("She's a very sick girl" -- Menotti) and sorry for all the exclam. points

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