Thursday, July 30, 2009

Towers Of Achievement

New York sprouts out of the bedrock on which it sits like towers of opportunity. There's something about the very nature of New York that is inspiring and encouraging.

Maybe it's because there's a sense of achievement around you, everywhere you go.

Feats of great engineering are speeding through tunnels, millions of tiny light bulbs illuminate great buildings that were just empty lots, that now tower over the city, each of them medallions of somebody's architectural achievement.  

And beyond all of this, surrounding these great towers of achievement, there is art. 

Art, culture, tradition, modernity, and individuals more daring and bold than you could find anywhere else.

Because the population of this city scatter to their destination at speed, and the average New Yorker artfully darts between the power-walking feet of a crowded street, you feel like you need to keep up. And if you miss-step, for just one second, the crowd will beat you.

This has become  major metaphor for me since I moved to New York. The miss-step can as easily be made in business, in friendships, in life... 

There is no text book answer for why New York has the appeal that it does. There's no telling why so any people gravitate here. 

There has always been an almost unspoken sense of challenge here. The theory that new York, being a difficult nut to crack, is somewhere to go and conquer.  It's unspoken, but not necessarily unsung since Frank Sinatra sang, 'If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere"
New York, like London was, is a constant challenge for me. I'm sometimes living on the very edge of my financial means, trying to navigate through the unpredictable storm of the fluctuating economy, the result of which has meant much reinvention for people like myself, who work freelance. And where better to reinvent than in the most inspirational city, at least in my experience, in the world.

If I can make it here, I'll make it anywhere!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

15 Fun Filled Facts...

Here are 15 facts about New York, to which I have added a few select lines of commentary....

1. Dutch explorer Peter Minuit purchased the island of Manhattan (really its southern tip) from the Algonquin tribe for trinkets and tools worth about $24.

...and now with inflation, and a good real estate agent, Bloomberg could sell it and 
make about... $27 - and buy himself a 7 Day Metro Card, since that's his chosen mode of transport.

2. The first known name for Manhattan was New Amsterdam.

...which explains why New York is where women started insisting on splitting the check on dates.

3. New York City was the U.S. capital from 1789 to 1790

...and to some Americans who never graduated high school, it still is.  

4. New Yorkers travel an average of 40 minutes to work each day.

...the time is given as an average, not because of the many people traveling, but because of the huge margin for error in the New York City Subway trains getting them to work on time.

5. More than 47 percent of New York City's residents over the age of 5 speak a language other than English at home.

...and to lots of people at once in one room.

6. New York's Central Park is larger than the principality of Monaco.

...and thanks to Guiliani, now has 4 less prostitutes.

7. Broadway, originating from Lower Manhattan at Bowling Green and ending in Albany, is one of the world's longest streets at 150 mi (241 km). The official name of this street is Highway 9.

...What an achievement:  Bloomberg put deck chairs on a highway. 

8. According to Crain's New York Business, the average sale price of an apartment in Manhattan during the 4th quarter of 2007 was a whopping $1.49 million.

...another statistic showed that the average percentage of foreclosures on these properties owned by finance workers in the city last year was 98%

9. New York's Yellow Cabs are yellow because John Hertz, the company's founder, learned from a study that yellow was the easiest color for the eye to spot. He was right.

...and black is the hardest to spot from the inside of a cab.

10. In 2007, 46 million international and domestic visitors came to New York City. They spent approximately $28 billion while there.

....having never left midtown.

11. The average daily room rate in New York hotels in 2006 (the most recent year surveyed) was $267.

...'Extra services' are no longer available, thanks to Giuliani.

12. More than 250 feature films are shot on location in New York City each year.

...and 4,567 episodes of Law and Order.

13. An average of 4.9 million people ride the New York City subway each weekday.

...of which .6 million know how to properly apply deodorant. 

14. The New York City subway system runs 26 routes with 6,200 subway cars that stop at 468 different subway stations.

...yeah, on weekdays.

15. More than 18,600 restaurants and eating establishments do business in New York City, and the average cost of a dinner in 2006, according to the Zagat Survey, was $39.43. That includes a drink, tax and the tip.

...Tourists will be unable to take advantage of this since the Red Lobster, Oliver Garden, Ruby Tuesdays and Appleby's in Times Sqaure charge $39.43 for a simple burger. Fries additional.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Causing Words

                               "Practically every body in New York has half a 
                                 mind to write a book -and does" 

                               - Groucho Marx

I keep my notepad with me everywhere I go, and when it strikes me I'll make a note of something that inspires something else, that may eventually become the contents of a play or novel that one day I'll write.

I just recently finished my first full length play 'Causing Scenes' which is about the breakdown of a Broadway actress, and her painstaking ''return to the stage.'' I'd like to think I've captured the essence of the theatre, or perhaps more specifically, the New York theatre.

I'm also working on a new television script with a writing partner in Florida. She and I had written together before for Disney, and so we're collaborating again to work on something a little less 'for-the-whole-family' - which is proving to be very successful. So much so, we intend to shoot a demo/pilot for the show later this year here in New York.

'Write what you know' has always been a hard and fast rule for me - I'm not equipped to write an involved political thriller, or military drama - since I have no experience of those things.

Following this rule, I'm now working on a new book called 'Being British: The Quintessential Guide to Acting and Improvising in an Entirely British Context'

The title itself is a somewhat ironic reference to the sometimes euphemistic and protracted usage you see in British English, but the book is essentially a guide for American actors to help maintain consistency of their characters within the context of the play or film they are appearing in.

The book is designed to go hand in hand with my coaching sessions (which I'm now doing out of my studio at home) for actors who want to perfect their British dialects, and apply some societal context to their work.

It's fascinating in researching for this book, since I'm learning a lot about the different regions in the UK, and how even since I left seven years ago, there have been a lot of developments and changes in Britain.

In truth, Britain becomes more and more Americanised every day. Not to say that there aren't massive differences historically, culturally... But the United Kingdom is most certainly changing.

I hope the coaching sessions and the book will help American actors avoid the all too common pit falls in playing 'British' - be it in their grammar, dialect, line readings - even the way they move and walk on stage.

It would be presumptuous to assume an American actor could apply social context to a character based on, say, their birthplace. Though, in fact, especially in the UK, a detail like that is quite important to a character's socio-economic status, politics, speech, grammar and physicality.

I'm enjoying the process of this book. It's quite different to writing a play, with stage directions and dialogue. In fact, in a non-fiction book, there's no narrative at all, so the 'beginning-middle-end' theory doesn't apply. There is no arc, no character development. It just becomes a bundle of research and information that needs to be rewritten, rephrased, re-theorized and put into a digestible format.

About a third of the way into this book, I started to miss the dialogue, and the stage directions, and the character development - and so I swiftly opened a new word document and started hacking away at a new play - this time, a British domestic drama, set in the north of England. The style is reminiscent of British playwrights like Jim Cartwright or Alan Ayckbourn. It is, as yet, untitled, but will be a two person, husband and wife drama.

'Causing Scenes' will soon be performed as a staged reading here in New York, after a few editions. 

In the mean time, I'll continue with my two writing projects - and between those I'll be making random notes in my spiral notebook.... Who knows what may come of that.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Food Inc. et al

This evening I attended a free showing of Food Inc. - a revolutionary new documentary exposing the truth behind food production, the process that makes 'processed foods' processed... and revealing some of the lesser known statistics about the wellness, or should I say, sickness of the United States.

Not turned off by the graphic nature of the films revealing insights into slaughterhouses and chicken farms, a few of us ventured out for dinner at Vino - between 66th and 67th on 2nd Ave.

It's been a busy week for me, but a week of connecting and reconnecting with various entities, friends and business associates alike.

As always, New York has a great feeling of promise, and forward motion, unlike any other place I've ever lived. I almost feel like each corner I turn, a new exciting opportunity awaits....and with the grid system, there's a whole lot of corners to turn around in this city.... which is great.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A City Braced For Emergency

I was part of a mini-drama on the subway today.

A small child had three helium balloons on strings as she waited for the train (at Times Sq-42nd Street)

As I got about three feet away from two NYPD officers, her balloons brushed against something sharp and burst. All three. One after another.

With the platform being such a long and deep space, the sounds were amplified, and truly sounded like three successive gun shots.

The NYPD officers freaked out, pulled the guns from their holsters and shouted "Everybody stay calm"

After a few seconds, the cops figured out what had happened, and the entire subway platform burst into hysterics.

One of the two cops, who clearly had a good sense of humor said "It's ok folks, all the perpatrator has now is a string"

PS - I love living in New York.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

"A Monday Night Soiree..."

This past Monday I was lucky enough to attend a networking event for entertainment professionals in New York, hosted by 'The Actors Enterprise'

The Actors Enterprise is a small company, operated by Erin Cronican who is a professional actress and Acting Career Coach.

The 'mission' of the Actors Enterprise is to assist the working actor with vital business skills, such as promotion, marketing, networking etc. And the aim of the networking event was to bring together actors, directors, producers and various other entertainment professionals for a casual 'meet and greet'

The event was very informative, and I had a great time talking to the numerous guests in attendance. I was able to swap business cards with a variety of different people, and I've already been following up with some of the people I met, regarding upcoming projects for both aacting and photography work.

You can visit the Actors Enterprise website here.

In other news, I spoke with the producer of 'Fifty To Death' - the sitcom pilot I shot, and I understand the scene I'm in is currently being edited. As soon as it becomes available I will post it here for you to see!

Play Update

As of writing this, I am about 60 pages into my (untitled) play. I'm very much enjoying spending a couple of hours a day writing.

A lot of the time, I'll write on the train. Since I'm going between various places on a daily basis, I use my travel time to listen music, catch up on Podcasts and write.

The play is "situational" in style (just like anything else I've ever attempted to write) I'm so intrigued by putting characters of different persuasions, different backgrounds and different opinions in a single space, and creating interaction.

When characters are confined to one common space, (especially if they are either physically or socially 'trapped' in that space) it forces the characters to face whatever situation they're in, and it raises the stakes of the drama. Well, potentially it does.

When I was in college I wrote a short one-act play called 'Discovery' in which a business woman is trapped in an elevator with the building's janitor. Two seemingly different people, of contrasting social status.
At the opening of the play, the two characters are argumentative, and oppose each other. The business woman is the 'high status' character, and the Janitor is subservient. As the play progresses the two level out to an 'even' status, and by the end entirely swap status. By the end of the act, the business woman has broken down completely and relies on the Janitor to comfort her.

I also cast and directed the piece. An added bonus was that, in staging the play, we were able to build the set of the elevator so it was adaptable, and as the piece played out, the walls of the elevator subtly and ever so slightly moved closer and closer in, causing the space to get smaller and smaller. It was a great effect.

I'm noticing this pattern in my writing, confinement and 'situation' based drama.

By no means are the characters in this piece physically 'trapped' but they are trapped in some ways, and forced to be together in the context of the play.

I'm hoping to have it finished soon. The debate then will be, who will I show it to, and what will I do with it?