The Neighborhood Playhouse is both a great community resource and an old-fashioned reminder of the timelessness of great theater. Virtually invisible from the street, the only clue to its existence is a red, unmarked door and a modest sign. Once inside, however, I discovered that this almost one hundred year old building holds within it a proscenium theater, a full-size dance studio, and plenty of dressing rooms and classrooms. What a fascinating tour I was treated to by Emily Duncan, the admissions administrator, where I learned about their history and mission. The lobby, with its shabby elegance, features photos of famous graduates, as well as scenes from plays over the course of the school's history. The top two floors of the building are devoted to a beautiful dance studio with wood floors and soaring ceilings. A lover of dance, I was particularly moved when Emily announced that I was standing in the former domain of dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham, who taught at the Neighborhood Playhouse alongside actor and teacher, Sanford Meisner. I was also enrapt by Christine Cirker, the librarian, who proudly discussed their vast collection of plays and theatre criticism. Incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the world of theater, she told me that she also teaches classes on script interpretation. Christine went on to explain the playhouse's claim to fame: the Meisner Technique, a method of acting that emphasizes that one should "live truthfully under given imaginary circumstances. " Sanford Meisner developed his famous improvisation-based technique at the Playhouse in the mid-1940s, which continues to train actors to this day. It counts among its list of prominent alumni names: Gregory Peck, Robert Duvall and Steve McQueen; and more recently, it has added to its roster, Allison Janney and Chris Noth. The playhouse trains about one hundred students at any given time, seventy-five first-years and twenty-five second-years who have been invited back as a result of a unanimous faculty vote. According to Emily, graduates have an easier time finding work than most aspiring actors due to their alma mater's extensive network of influential writers, directors, and actors. Much of the faculty is closely involved in the theater world, and as Pamela Moller Kareman, the playhouse's executive director, shared, "It's a big leap to become a professional actor; we want people to know that you can do this with your life. " And from the time that I spent here, it became apparent that the staff at Neighborhood Playhouse is there to guide and support students every step of the way.
To his knowledge, David Klass is Manhattan's last sculptor. At least, the last sculptor to have a large private studio in New York’s most expensive borough. His work space is fabulously cluttered with tools, busts, tables, drawers, dust, and splattered plaster. Horses, humans, and Judaica abound. David showed me the brass menorah he was working on, saying, “I’m having trouble with these pits and holes. " Rubbing his finger over a pock mark, he continued, “I think I’ll have to do this again. ” I was prepared to poke around the studio but David had other plans. He led me around the corner to a large room with couches, book shelves, and an open kitchen. “Welcome to my home. ”I discovered over the course of my visit that David Klass is the sort of man who is far more mischievous than he appears. He walks slowly, speaks softly, and gives the impression that he would rather be alone, smoothing the imperfections out of his latest creation, so one would never guess that he has a penchant for fast cars, blow torches, and dissecting human bodies. David’s reputation for crafting objects pertaining to the Jewish faith is well known, and he takes commissions from temples across the country. When I mentioned that he had entered into a long tradition, creating pieces that throughout history have been defaced and destroyed, he replied, “I don’t think too much about that stuff. What’s nice for me is shaping something like an abstract Sanctuary Lamp. That’s when the difference between making ‘things’ and making ‘art, ’ or the difference between ‘applied art’ and ‘fine art, ’ shrinks. ”A moment later, a woman entered the apartment accompanied by three small dogs: Tank, Boo and Nuttley. C. C. the cat also joined us. “I’m Naomi, ” the woman smiled, “I’m his third wife. ” “C. C. stands for crazy cat, ” David said. “No, it does not, ” said Naomi, “It stands for Cecile. ”Naomi, I learned, was a longtime friend of David’s. “I introduced him to his second wife. When that didn’t work out, well, I stepped in. ” With Naomi's entrance, the conversation began to pick up. Naomi proved to be quite practiced at eliciting information from her husband, often prompting him to share interesting tidbits that he had forgotten. “I fell into sculpture because of my love of cars and motorcycles. When I went to college at the Pratt Institute, my father said I should be an architect because I was always building things like treehouses when I was little kid. Art was not on my mind. One semester I took a welding class on a whim, mostly so I could rebuild my Austin-Healey. I found that I loved shaping metal; I loved the heat. I liked it so much I switched to art school. ” Klass would go on to apprentice with Theodore Roszak (the artist, not the theorist) before striking out on his own. I referenced the fact that in 1973, David studied anatomy at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. It turns out that this is not strictly true. “My friend Elliott and I wanted to study the human form, as artists, and we knew about the General Studies program at the med school. So we just crashed it. We would walk in, put on lab coats and greet everyone, saying 'Hello doctor, how are you doctor? ' Then we would observe dissections, simple as that. After, we sometimes had the bodies to ourselves. They didn’t let us cut, ” he assured me, “Just manipulate and probe. You could do those things back then. ”Today, David teaches anatomy at the New York Academy of Art. “Tell him about the device you invented, ” Naomi prompted. “Well, ” David said, “I created this contraption that allows me to affix a head with a pin in each ear. This way the corpse can be hung and stabilized in a vertical manner. It makes for a more effective class demonstration. ”In 1980, David moved to his current building. He and Naomi expressed multiple times how sad they were that artists could not afford to live in the neighborhood today: “Tadaaki Kuwayama lives upstairs, but there is hardly anyone left from the old days. Now it is mostly stock brokers and attorneys. ” The “old days” refers to a time when the area was populated by war vets on meth. It refers to establishments like Billy’s Topless bar and people with names like “Crazy Norman. ” Some of what David was up to during those days is off the record, but what I can say is that he started the Chelsea School of Fine Arts. Twenty-five years later people still gather at his studio to sketch and take lessons in what may be the longest running life-drawing group in the city. I heard about some of David’s apprentices, such as Lee Ranaldo of the band Sonic Youth, as well as “a young man who listened to Rush Limbaugh on the radio every day and then just stopped showing up. He disappeared along with several bronzes. ”As David eyes retirement, he would like to be “more art-focused versus 'making things'-focused, ” but he is always happy to work whether it be a commission for a Synagogue in Texas or a project for someone down the block who needs the expertise of a master welder. As for future projects, David is currently working in pastels. He also has a massive piece of marble covered by a tarp in the back courtyard. “I may decide to chip away at it one day, ” he said. When I made my exit, I looked over my shoulder to see David walking back to the solitude of his studio - or he may have been returning to the love and company of his cat, three dogs, and wife.
I was intrigued from the moment I stepped inside the cafe and encountered the vast space surrounding me - even before I engaged in a conversation with the marketing director. Opened in 2012, the original concept behind Mist Harlem was to build something that would be a state-of-the-art event space - to have a place where people could spend a great deal of time. "People really do come for an entire day. " They begin their day with a cup of coffee while working on laptops, move onto lunch, and then to have a drink at the bar. Towards the end of the day, patrons can dine in the restaurant before participating in the evening's poetry reading, dancing, or other activities. Mist hosts a variety of events, both corporate and artistic, for organizations throughout the city.
Inside an historic brick building that dates back to 1859, the Actors Studio is a bastion and celebration of every aspect of the theater. Elia Kazan, Cheryl Crawford, and Robert Lewis founded the organization in 1947 as a place for actors to hone their skills together. Based on the observation that actors are often either typecast into roles they play in hits, or left out in the cold when they are associated with flops, the Actors Studio is a safe haven where members are encouraged to experiment with their craft and to delve into new areas. For some thirty years, Lee Strasberg, the father of Method Acting, was in command. Over the years, the studio has produced some of the country's most iconic actors – among them James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Al Pacino (who is now at the helm alongside Harvey Keitel and Ellen Burstyn). The Actors Studio is just that – a studio. Members come in for sessions where they can perform scenes and receive comments from other members, as well as guidance from the session's moderator. As one might imagine, the Studio has quite a bit of cachet among the New York acting community. Since its inception, it has expanded to other roles, offering acting MFA courses of study in conjunction with Pace University (previously with the New School) and hosting the show "Inside the Actors Studio, " with James Lipton, exploring thespian subjects with actors, playwrights, directors and other artists. For almost seventy years now, the Actors Studio has inspired and revolutionized acting methods. Living as it is on the same block as the New Dramatists, the artistic passion is palpable.
Roberto's Winds and Jon Baltimore Music Company, Inc. appear to be the two last remnants of the music industry on 46th. Roberto Romeo, a tall, longhaired Italian who immigrated in 1982 to play jazz, remained in New York after finding a job in Saul Fromkin's shop doing saxophone repair work. When Mr. Fromkin retired to Florida in 1989, Roberto took over, gradually expanding the business to its current state: a three-level rehearsal space and music shop, right across the street from where he used to work as an assistant repairman. When we arrived at Roberto's to take photos one afternoon, we found several artists practicing in the rehearsal spaces, filling the hallways with their music. Roberto explained to us that "This shop remains one of the best places available in Midtown. " While, in the 70s and 80s, rehearsal spaces and repair shops were in abundance two blocks north on 48th Street, most have now shuttered. "It was a mixture of aging proprietors, rising rents, and decreasing business, " Roberto went on to say. Roberto's Winds, however, seems to have found a niche and is quite busy, so much so that Roberto has even started to try his hand at building his own saxophones, a series of which he displays proudly near the front of the store. Roberto counts Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Sonny Rollins and David Murray among his customers, along with numerous other jazz greats. A highlight of our visit was when Roberto showed us his Selmer Mark VI Room, filled with vintage saxophones from 1954 to 1975 created by Henri Selmer and widely reputed to be one of the greatest models produced. With a variety of altos, tenors, sopranos, and baritones, the room holds many saxophones formerly used by top professionals.
Olivia, a Manhattan Sideways team member, who sings and performs in New York, is no stranger to Ripley Grier. Even though she has spent countless hours rehearsing in the rental studios, she was surprised to recently discover the other organizations housed in the Ripley Grier building. Along with having provided performing arts groups with space in which to practice since 1990, the building on 72nd is also home to the United Stuntman's Association and Patricia Ripley Fitness.