travel, Uncategorized

New York 2017: Take Two

I am awful at blogging! Yay!

Paradoxes goes up on Sunday, and I will post some more thoughts about that in the week to come. Promise. Hold me to that. It’s going unbelievably well and I can’t wait for people to see it — a sentiment I didn’t think I could maintain about my own work.

In the meantime, however, I have a New York trip to report on! Yes friends, your local theatre trash spent her reading week in New York City as opposed to Sackville or Fredericton. While I got so little work done and didn’t get to see my dogs (heartbreaking, honestly), I had what is probably the best week of my life, for a few different reasons. Let’s go.

I’m super grateful (as always!) to my cousin for letting me crash in his apartment again, and this trip was even better because it included real conversations about the future and a trip to visit his fancy Midtown office. I don’t think I can ever adequately express my gratitude for his hospitality, but there’s a lot of it. Steve, if you’re reading this, thanks a million.

This New York trip included a very random assortment of activities (events? things?), including: visiting the Winter shops in Bryant Park, crying in the Whitney museum’s exhibit on protest art, walking the High Line at sunset, amazing seats to a Rangers game (again: thanks Steve), getting to wander the Met with a MtA pal and catch up on life,  going to a party with other MtA pals (where I met more cool arts people! the best!), hitting up a New York club, sitting in the audience for an interview with Daveed Diggs and Jacob Tremblay from the first row, meeting Daveed Diggs (needed to include this because damn it feels surreal), and spending too much money on New York souvenirs that make me too happy.

That was a real quick rundown of a lot of things — and if you want more details, hit me up — but I want to focus more here on what I was able to take in theatrically. As my future as a theatre person gets closer (not terrifying at all), I want to focus on critically consuming art, examining the things I am (SO) lucky to see, and growing by observing. Which I was able to do this trip.

The first show I saw was School of Rock. Now, I’ve seen this one before (two years ago) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now Jena,you’re probably wondering, if you’ve already seen it, why would you go again? The MtA Connection. The actor who is currently playing Dewey Finn five nights a week is MtA alum Justin Collette, who I profiled in September for The Argosy. I was definitely not going to miss out on the opportunity to see him, especially after hearing about his process, so I snagged a front row rush ticket (for $39!!).

School of Rock Thoughts:

  • Those kids!! Are amazing! How are ten year olds this talented?! It is unfair on some level, but also definitely not, because watching them shred on guitars and belt their faces off is a magical experience. Truly. Magical.
  • Justin is honestly perfect in the role.
    • I’m not just saying that because I wrote about him or got to hang out with him after, but because he is. Every moment he’s onstage you can see the work (and the sweat, holy crap) and the care and how much fun he’s having.
    • He really brings a lot of heart (is it a Canadian thing? maybe?) to the role, and drops a lot of hints that add some weight to the show. Dewey’s insecurities are at a closer level to the surface in his performance, which I’m really interested in. It can be a fun show with ear worm songs and guitar solos, but there can also be some depth.
    • If you get the chance to see the show (he plays the evening performances), do it. You won’t regret it.
  • It’s interesting to see something for the second time, which I haven’t been able to do before now.
    • Certain jokes changed. Yes, script-wise (improvised jokes slayed) but also climate-wise. There’s a line later in the show where Dewey says he would vote for Summer (the band manager, one of the kids) if she ran for president. When I saw the show in August of 2016, where there was um…hope, let’s say, the line killed. It still got laughs last week, but there was definitely a moment of hurt that was folded into it.
    • Some moments that I loved last time didn’t quite land for me this time, and I can’t quite be sure if it can be chalked up to acting choices or the fact that I’ve grown up a lot in terms of my ability to engage with something.
      • I didn’t love a song I really liked last time.
      • This is also true the other way, though. I took issue with some female representation last time (and discussed it with my MtA pal the day of the show) but it was far less obvious this time.
  • This show has of the most effective theatrical transitions I can think of. Something that I pay attention to a lot when I’m an audience member now is “how am I being taken care of?” There was never a moment during SoR where I felt like my attention lulled or lagged. I was constantly engaged but not to a point where it was overwhelming.
  • Connection is important. When things don’t connect, big moments can get lost, which happened once or twice in a few of the show’s big secondary character moments.
  • Getting to hear inside information on props or transitions or how a scene actually functions and what it takes to earn a moment will never get old. I live for that.
  • Just one more comment about how great these kids are. Okay, enough.

I was very lucky (very. lucky) after the show to go backstage for a quick look at the stage, some props, and Justin’s dressing room. I hand-delivered a copy of the Argosy with his article, met his wife, and two of his close friends. Then, because they are the kindest people ever, I was even luckier to get to hang out afterwards. I felt like I was getting invited to sit with the Plastics or something; it was a very cool experience. I mentioned earlier how valuable critical engagement is to me, especially at this point in my life. This night really solidified that for me, but also revitalized my love for theatre in a lot of ways. Having discussions about representation and maintaining a show, and the realities of commercial theatre, and so many other important things, was so valuable. To be a bit grandiose, it was one of the coolest nights of my life. I can’t believe I’m so lucky.

On Wednesday, I had a two show day! The first was one of the last previews of The Band’s Visit. Here’s some thoughts on that:

  • Glen Nichols has very much impacted my attitude towards quick shows and intermissions. TBV is a nice quick 90 minute show, with very little plot, and a lot of emotion. Honestly? The perfect show for me.
  • This might be one of the most beautiful shows I’ve ever seen. Every moment is enthralling, every note of the music, every line, every single thing about it.
  • The last song, I think it’s called “Answer Me,” is beautiful and haunting and thinking about it makes me want to cry all over again.
  • I went from a very loud big show with SoR to a quiet show. There’s loud moments, but it is slow (not at all in a bad way), quiet, and soft. It goes big when it has to, but it is constrained, in the absolute best way possible
  • The musicians (onstage and off) are amazing. I guess that was a trend for the musicals I saw this trip.
  • I’m a sucker for a well-used turntable (RIP Groundhog Day) and this show uses its turntable so well!
  • The only thing I didn’t love were the transitions.
    • I am generally not a fan of blackouts, but they can be used to great effect, and were once or twice.
    • Most of the time though, it was a mix of ‘we’ll show the actors moving things in and out of this scene’ and then the next transition would be done in darkness. I think I was confused on the intention? Like either show me the work or don’t show the work. Expose your theatre or keep the illusion working overtime.
    • There were moments of pre-setting the next scene on the turntable that I thought was very effective.
  • The final moment of this show is Tony-worthy on its own. 100%.

Also on Wednesday I saw MCC Theatre’s Off-Broadway production of School Girls: Or, The African Mean Girls Play (ah yes, a title that is Jena-length). Here’s some thoughts:

  • Getting to see a world premiere of a new play — especially one by a woman of colour — was so exciting!
  • I loved the plot and I loved a lot of the acting. Jocelyn Bioh is ace at writing humour but also bringing really difficult topics to the surface but also threading them under the surface.
  • I wasn’t a huge fan of the show’s dramatic arc.
    • The play felt very rushed at 90 minutes. I feel like it may have needed another act to build tension/character relationships and let the audience catch up to the conflicts that we were watching unfold.
  • There were a few very dramatic moments that didn’t feel earned, which I think is linked to my previous point. Yes teenagers are emotionally volatile, but things went from 1-100 quickly on numerous occasions. I think with some room to breathe, these tensions could be teased out, made subtler, or built upon.
  • A one-setting play is a classic, especially when it brings in concepts such as eavesdropping, watching an act of watching, and sense of claustrophobia.
  • The lighting, set and costumes were very simple and effective. Always here for a focus on the text.

The last show I got to see is one that I’ve been waiting for since Dramafest of 2016: The Play That Goes Wrong. Finally. I had planned to see it when I went to NYC in August, but by Sunday I was exhausted and utterly poor, so I abandoned those plans. But it was a perfect final show in New York, and here’s some thoughts:

  • This show is a technical marvel.
    • The illusion of chaos is incredibly rehearsed, on a level that I cannot comprehend. There’s so many moments that lead into other moments, that rely on something from thirty minutes ago, and it’s uncanny to me that there weren’t any mistakes. Or, mistakes that weren’t supposed to happen.
    • I can’t imagine the hell that it must be to call the show. I can’t imagine what their fight call looks like. I can’t imagine what a single put-in rehearsal looks like. I’m shocked.
  • I love this script so much. There are moments that can drag on a little past “funny because it’s awkward” into “this stopped being funny please continue sir,” but they are few and far between. This is a very good play. One could say perfect.
  • The atmosphere-setting rivals that of Waitress, which pumps pie scents through the theatre.
    • You walk in to a too-loud pre show with “ASMs” searching for the play’s missing dog Winston. A little girl sitting next to me leapt out of her seat to help them look, donated her candy wrapper to lure the dog, and checked with the ushers at intermission for an update. She was handed a note by an “ASM” at intermission thanking her for her hard work. It was adorable. 
  • I love when things are so bad they’re good. The Play That Goes Wrong takes this car crash mentality of enjoying less than stellar plays and lets you have it. They let you laugh at this bumbling group of idiots who get trapped drinking paint thinner. It’s amazing and cathartic and rewarding as a theatre-maker.

So yeah, those are my show experiences and some thoughts about them. Now here’s the classic “Jena is emotional and sentimental about something” part of this blog post.

This New York trip was honestly, the best week of my life. It was something that was just for me, my own happiness, and for my own artistic growth. As much as I participate in the idea of self-care, I don’t do things for myself just for my own happiness nearly enough. It’s a shame on some level that this thing for myself included exhaustion, blisters and a drained bank account, but I have never been happier. I am energized (especially after a full day of rest), artistically inspired and renewed, and ready to take on challenges and grow, ready for a future in this business (I hope??). I’m also so damn excited for my next chance to go back. If there is no next chance, at least I’ll have the best week of my life to hold onto.

Thanks again to everyone who was a part of New York 2017 Take Two. Means the world.



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