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.
Ezrath Israel was originally established as a Jewish Community Center in 1917 by the West Side Hebrew Relief Association, a group of Orthodox Jewish shop owners. The area was known for its busy steamship ports, however, the entertainment business eventually became one of the biggest industries in this part of town. As show business grew, so did the number of congregants, and it became the place of worship for many prominent actors and performers, including Sophie Tucker and Shelley Winters. The Actors Temple continued to thrive until shortly after WWII when people in the industry began journeying across the country to Hollywood. The synagogue then found its membership slowly decreasing. By 2005, there were only twelve members left in the congregation. A year later, when Jill Hausman became the rabbi, she found herself resuscitating what had once been a proud shul. Rabbi Hausman was pleased to report to us that in the eight years that she has been there, membership has increased to about 150, a marked improvement. Still, she has hope that the Actor's Temple will continue to grow. "We are a well-kept secret, " she says, "but we don't need to be. " To help maintain the synagogue, the sanctuary is shared with an Off Broadway theater company that performs on their "stage, " just a few feet in front of their sacred arc and collection of eleven torahs. Today, Rabbi Hausman welcomes all denominations of Judaism, even those who are "on the fringes of society. " She is a warm, sweet, bright woman who not only has her door open to everyone, but her heart as well. She emphasizes the importance of love and acceptance in her sermons and is adamant that the Actors Temple is a "no-guilt synagogue. " People should come if they feel compelled to pray – Rabbi Hausman's only goal is to have them leave with a desire to return.
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.
Don't Tell Mama, on Restaurant Row, brings the entertainment, quite literally, to dinner, offering cabaret performances, a restaurant and a piano bar all in a single space. With rising professional singers and musicians serving as waiters and bartenders, the restaurant creates a show worthy of the Theatre District. Opening in 1982, the complex has had numerous staff members who have gone on to win Emmys, Tonys, Grammys and Oscars. There is no question that Don't Tell Mama serves as something of a breeding ground for future artists. Liza Minnelli, Joan Rivers, Paul Newman and Cuba Gooding Jr., among others, have performed at DTM over the years. On one of our visits, we enjoyed mingling with the staff as they were setting up for that night's well-reviewed cabaret show - "Judy and Liza Together Again" - a tribute to the mother/daughter pair performed by Tommy Femia and Rick Skye in drag.
I can attest to the immediate success of Carmine's on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the early nineties as my family and friends stood on the lines to get in on a number of occasions. Owner Artie Cutler's concept of serving large, family-style portions to guests, in a warm, friendly atmosphere connected with diners immediately. It did not take Mr. Cutler long to realize that he had a success on his hands and that it was time for expansion. In 1992, the theater district had another hit in Times Square, in the form of a grand, traditional Italian restaurant.
Teddy Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, and Charles Lindberg are among the noteworthy clients that E. B. Meyorwitz & Dell has been crafting “made-to-measure” frames for since 1875. Today, be it in their New York, London or Paris shops, one can still be fitted for a pair of the same classy, high quality spectacles.