Founded in 1984 by a handful of political activists and artists, the Castillo Theatre blends cutting-edge theater with social consciousness. It offers a premium focus on avant-garde productions that are multicultural and explore issues of justice. Located in The All-Stars Project center, a national organization that aims to provide theatrical opportunities for underserved youth to promote human development through performance.
The multiple theaters inside this center are stunning and the list of performances impressive. Mikhail Baryshnikov had his dream become a reality in 2005 when he was able to provide a state of the art space for people in the dance, music and theater world to rehearse and perform.
The Maravel Arts Center is the home for Rosie O'Donnell's arts education organization, dedicated to providing as many underprivileged children as possible with a theater experience. Rosie's Theater Kids (RTK) also provides mentoring and academic guidance for its students, in an effort to help them to succeed on the stage and in the classroom. Offering both in-school and on-location programs, RTK serves approximately 1, 900 attendees each year. We felt fortunate to be able to tour the Maravel Arts Center that had been built in 2007 after gutting the decrepit building that stood there before. Today, this updated space is filled with studios and study rooms to accommodate the specially chosen 165 students who come each day. They head here after school to take tap classes, vocal lessons, and do homework with an on-site tutor. The building has a performance studio, two dance studios, a music studio, practice rooms, dressing rooms, a study room, a cafe and, to top it all off, a rooftop garden. Rosie's Theater Kids flourish because of the community that they form at Maravel. Throughout their years at the Center, kids take classes together, foster friendships, as well as develop a passion for the arts. Regardless of what they choose to pursue in the future, RTK prepares its students for life beyond Maravel's doors, providing them with SAT tutoring and help with the entire college process. In addition, each graduate is presented with a new computer. Located a couple of blocks from some of Broadway's most famous theaters, Rosie's Theater Kids do not have to look far to find inspiration for their artistic endeavors.
First designed and erected in 1890 for the Second German Baptist Church, this building has gone through several changes since the church moved away in the early 1960s. It stood as the site of a nightclub at one point, along with that of an alleged Methadone clinic. It was not until 1976 that the space was converted into a theater. Once called the Chelsea Theatre Center, but today known as the Westside Theatre, it continues to show plays in both of its auditoriums. I had the pleasure of seeing the phenomenal, Satchmo, a one-man performance starring John Douglas Thompson, who magnificently portrays the life of Louis Armstrong. Learn more about this historic location in W42ST’s history piece, “Religion, Disco, Death and Drama — Westside Theatre’s History Reads Like a Play in 3 Acts. "
A relative newcomer to the theater scene of 42nd Street, the non-profit, contemporary Signature Center was designed by Frank Gehry's firm and contains a cafe/bar, bookstore, and practice spaces, in addition to its theaters. Whole seasons of well-known playwrights come to life on their stage, while the new Residency Five program is dedicated to promoting new authors.
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.
Manuel Uzhca's story reads like a fairytale. He came to New York from Ecuador when he was seventeen with absolutely nothing to his name and spent time as a dishwasher in a number of restaurants. He met Jean-Claude Baker when both were working at Pronto, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. In 2011, Jean-Claude offered Manuel the position of manager at Chez Josephine — little did Manuel know that only four years later, the restaurant would belong to him. Manuel still recalls the day that Jean-Claude asked him to bring in his passport. Confused by his request, Manuel chose not to comply. Jean-Claude teased Manuel by saying, “If you don't bring your passport, that means you don't want my restaurant. ” The next day, still perplexed, Manuel presented his passport. Jean-Claude marched the two of them to the bank and added Manuel's name to his account, giving him permission to sign checks for the restaurant. Shortly after, Jean-Claude announced that he was retiring, but Manuel did not take him seriously. Jean-Claude then told him that he was leaving and insisted, “I won't be back. ” Jean-Claude proceeded to his attorney's office, changed his will, and went off to the Hamptons. He called Manuel to make sure that everything was in order at the restaurant, and then, very sadly, Jean-Claude took his own life. “I did not believe I owned the place, not even when they showed me the will, ” Manuel declared. Jean-Claude was the last of the children adopted into singer-dancer Josephine Baker’s “Rainbow Tribe, ” created with a mission of racial harmony. He lived and performed with her for a time before making his way to New York and eventually opening this restaurant. It quickly became a haven for Broadway clientele, known for its charming and colorful ambiance as much as its haute cuisine. Since taking over in 2015, Manuel has continued running this famed French restaurant exactly how Jean-Claude left it — paying homage to Josephine Baker, who captured the Parisian imagination in the 1920s and did not let go for decades.
Opened on May 23, 1911 on the site of a former reservoir, this main branch of the New York Public Library is a true wonder of the city. Upon its completion, it was the largest marble structure in the United States, and the classical design elements ensure that it remains as breathtaking now as it was then. In 1965, it became a National Historic Landmark. The Main Reading Room is an enormous hall, with murals and intricate relief work lording overhead and large, open windows allowing for bright sunlight to pour across the books being huddled over. Small exhibitions to art and cultural histories pepper the halls. The entire structure is truly a pleasure to explore, one of the grandest and most wonderful buildings in the entire city, and we spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the halls in a book-drunk daze trying to absorb it all.
Known as the "Center for Social Change, " the Ford Foundation has been committed to helping the world be a better place since 1936. They work diligently to "protect human rights, reform governments, provide education opportunities and create space for artistic creativity and expression. " Without a doubt, one of Manhattan's finest atriums greets visitors. Entering the glass structure from either 42nd or 43rd Street, a world of green awaits. There are trees, plants, a fountain and short paths to wander through. The atrium is a hidden oasis in the middle of the city.
As part of the restoration of Grand Central Terminal in the late '90s, Pershing Square Cafe opened under the Park Avenue viaduct. The fare is American and straightforward, with burgers and chicken pot pies, steaks and fish. The pancakes, served all day, are a big crowd pleaser. Up front, commuters sipping coffee, reading, and chatting while awaiting the next train, inhabit a more cafe-esque area. When speaking with the manager one day, he was proud to tell me that both Friends with Benefits and the Avengers were filmed at Pershing.