Teaching in the D

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 03 2011

Adventures on 7th Ave (Non-TFA Life)

At Institute, the staff really stresses taking “personal time” (i.e., not working on Saturdays, having a “stop time” where you promise yourself to go to bed each night, etc). So far, the focus on it seems a little silly. After all, it’s just basic time management to know when you need to stop/break and we haven’t had that much work yet (I’ve been getting about 6 hours of sleep a night weekdays, and about 8 on weekends). That said, I’m grateful to the staff for caring about our well-being and making sure no one’s pull all-nighters the first week. Plus, it gave me a great excuse to go into the city this weekend! (Note: “weekend” in TFA means Friday night and Saturday. We went around talking in my dorm room this morning talking about “how was your weekend?”. No one thought this was strange or pointed out it is still technically the weekend.)

Both Friday night and Saturday, I went into Manhattan, which I have taken to calling “downtown”. New York geography is something of a mystery to me, so I’m probably misusing directional terms like “downtown”, “up”, “down” etc. Some quick observations about New York:

- Starting out on NY mass transit can be a bit difficult. For one thing, their buses don’t take dollar bills! (In Chicago, we can pay with either transit cards, coins, or bills.) No one mentioned this to me, so I was at the mercy of fellow bus patrons the first time I went downtown. Luckily, there was a kind woman who swiped me on using her bus card. They also don’t announce or display stops on NY buses. You just have to know when to request a stop by looking outside. You request a stop by… pushing on a strip of plastic camouflaged in the lining of the windows. (I’ve seen pull cords, stop buttons, and a few other mechanisms, but never one hidden inside the bus!) I’ll take a picture of this soon and try to post it next weekend. That said, transit is everywhere and relatively quick, so I’m not going to hold these flaws against them.

- New Yorkers are surprisingly sweet (which shouldn’t have been a surprise, given all the awesome NYers I know!). In Chicago, there’s very much a culture of “Chicagoans helping Chicagoans”. People are great to each other and always quick to suggest some spot to check out or program that could help them. We are… less fond of tourists. We’re not mean or anything, but they have an unfortunate habit of getting in the way. NYers, on the other hand, seem determined to help you enjoy their city. People have been fantastic about helping me get where I need to go, giving unsolicited advice on how to get there better, and helping me have a great experience. I’ve bought student rush tickets to three shows this weekend and every single time, the usher helped me get a better seat out of the goodness of his/her heart.

So, what I actually did this weekend! Well, first, I headed downtown to try to get tickets to Book of Mormon. It’s sold out until next year (literally!), but they have 22 lottery tickets for every show. So I participated in my first lottery (and then did it again). I didn’t win either time, but it’s still a bit of a thrill and I hope to keep trying and maybe get it sometime. I’ve got four weekends, and I hope to spend at least one day of them doing fun things.

After not getting a ticket to Book of Mormon, I wandered the theater district waiting to see what struck my fancy. I had been leaning towards the new Spiderman musical (I know it’s supposed to be dreadful, but it’s about superheros!), but thanks to one of those costumed ad people that give out flyers, I wound up at Catch Me if You Can. I’ve decided that my favorite thing to do might be to just wander the theater district until I see a show that catches my fancy*. After buying my ticket, I went to chill out at MOMA for a while. They have free Friday evenings sponsored by Target, which I’ve managed to catch twice this year. It’s a great way to kill a couple hours in between dinner and an 8pm show.

*The one problem with this is that sometimes I get very attached to a show that turns out to have already closed! There are posters up everywhere for Wonderland, which I super duper would have loved to see, except it closed in May after only a handful of performances. And, of course, sometimes they’re sold out. But that’s okay because there’s always standing room/next weekend!

I really love going to museums on public free days. When I go on a paying day, especially if I show up right around the opening, I always feel out of place. I always feel like people are watching me look at the art and deciding if I’m legitimate. I also don’t do art museums like a normal person. I just sort of wander aimlessly, sometimes circling a room two or three times, and then stopping in front of something for a while to think and then moving on, just taking it in. I like the feeling of art museums much more than any specific gallery (except for a few!). But public free days are the best, because that’s when the people like me are there. I love watching people take pictures of their kids with a Monet or a couple of high school kids trying to translate the Spanish text on a Kahlo. I especially love going to a museum that I’ve been to before, so I can wander about with just a vague idea of where I want to go and eventually wind up somewhere great. I only had about an hour and a half at MOMA, but they had a great special exhibit about German Expressionism. Very raw and interesting, although I would have loved to bring along one of my German-speaking friends (both because she would have liked it even more, and so I could have a translator for the poster pieces!).

Now, for the shows I saw both days (note: If you’re the jealous, angry, theater type or not interested in theater at all, you probably want to stop reading here. That’s okay. I love you all anyway):

- Catch Me if You Can: This was the show that taught me that Broadway shows offer student rush! For much cheaper than the TKTS booth! The show is based on the book/movie of the same name. The script/production itself isn’t stellar. It’s one of those cliched productions that feels a bit gimmicky and has more musical numbers than plot or character development. That said, I’d still recommend this production because the actors in it are so amazing! Aaron Tveit, who I have adored since he originated Gabe in Next to Normal, is one of the best young actors on Broadway today. His voice fills a room in a way I’ve seen few famous actors do, and the emotion of his performances is amazing. He had me near tears in the second-to-last scene, even though the emotional turn of events was far too sudden and made almost no sense plot-wise. Norbert Leo Butz, a two-time Tony Winner, is hilarious and has talent oozing out of his pores. One of his numbers was the first time I ever saw an actor have to ask an audience to stop clapping so they could move on with the show.

That would be Aaron Tveit signing my program! He is shockingly handsome in person, even for a professional actor.

- Jerusalem: I had no intention of seeing this play, although it had been recommended to me (I’m not that into sad plays).  However, through a series of unexpected errors, I wound up wandering into the theater after several of my plans fell through. It was fantastic! The power of this show (which was imported to Broadway with almost the entire West End cast) comes not from the plot, but from the pacing and acting. I can imagine it going very, very poorly with a different cast. As it was last night, it is part love-letter to that scoundrel who taught us to break the rules (this actually reminded of part of the Father’s Day Freakonomics podcast), part eulogy for that childlike freedom from consequences, and part cautionary tale about breaking ties with a community. It is by no means happy. It’s the sort of play that makes you walk out thinking deeply, feeling somehow shifted into a higher plane where everything feels a bit fuzzy. As I walked out, I saw a couple from the audience standing in the sidewalk holding each other, not saying anything. They eventually shuffled to the side of the sidewalk, still hugging. Jerusalem is that sort of play, the kind that makes you want to hold your loved ones close and never let them go, protecting each other from the world.

- Anything Goes: Despite a very well-advised recommendation from my grandmother, I didn’t really plan on seeing this show either. However, I learned that it features Sutton Foster (who is another of my Top 10 Broadway Idols) and that she was going on vacation from the show on July 17. I couldn’t be sure I would get another shot downtown before then, and I was in the mood for something traditional and happy by dinnertime. Since winning the Best Revival Tony, this show has been mostly sold out for ages. However, they were offering $30 standing room tickets, and I was promised that we could see everything from the back of the mezzanine. Which was completely true. In fact, the show was so amazing that I completely forgot I was standing (I’ve discovered that, like my father, I want to be standing or walking a hefty portion of the day). And, at intermission, the usher let me take someone who hadn’t shown up’s completely-center-second-row-of-the-mezzanine seat (wow!). I would encourage anyone who’s in the NY area to go (I might even go with you!). It has what is certainly the most impressive dance number (the title number) that I have seen in my entire life.

Well, I’m off to print handouts and lesson plan! More updates as interesting things happen!

8 Responses

  1. That looks completely and utterly awesome. MOMA is utterly awesome, and also only affordable on a free day ($20 admission!).

    I was going to say last post: if you’re going to Asian markets to procure vegetables, I strongly suggest that you get eggplant, which tends to be much better at Asian markets.

  2. G rammy

    So glad you liked Anything Goes. At the performance that Elyse and I saw the audience stood with an ovation at the end of act one! Wish I could have been with you for the whole “weekend” – sounds great.

  3. Mindy

    But the whole point of the Spiderman musical is it’s awful! It looks like so much fun. But you might literally end me if you went to see it. Seeing as NOTHING IS SACRED to you and you’ll just GO to my bucket list shows without me.

    • hcook

      Think of it as I’m vetting your bucket list for you. So that you’re not disappointed by anything!

      • Colleen

        That was smooth.

        Sorry you didn’t get to see Book of Mormon. I did not read your thoughts on the other plays as it will cause me to spend the rest of the money I have left on going to see things myself, but I hope you enjoyed them.

        • hcook

          I’m a very suave character.

          I did enjoy them. But being able to eat and whatnot is also good, so I would advise against putting all your funds into a show budget. Of course, you could always eat Jay’s food for a while… ;)

          • Mindy

            Not suave. At all.

            I hope you can imagine the very stern and British face I am making.

  4. I was in NYC for some professional development last week and I saw Spiderman and Memphis while I was there. Spiderman is cute and fun if you can get a ticket for cheap enough. It doesn’t have the “magic” of a good show and the dancing choreography is surprisingly bad but it was still fun. Memphis was amazing, amazing and it’s bee around long enough that you can generally get pretty decent seats for not too much.

    Enjoy New York; I wish I had been there longer!

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