Curtain up! It’s showtime in Midtown Manhattan, where we love to catch a performance at one of the neighborhood’s several historic and unique venues like the Intar Theatre, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Kaufman Music Center or the New York City Center.
“INTAR is a beacon for all Latino artists in New York, ” said Artistic Director Lou Moreno, who was raised in Colombia and naturally gravitated toward the theater when he arrived in Manhattan at the age of twenty-one. At the time, INTAR was still under the management of its founder, Cuban immigrant Max Ferrá. Max created the institution out of a passion for all international art, with a special focus on Latinx work. More broadly, however, “Max was driven by beauty. He always challenged us to find the beauty in everything we did at the theater. ” His successor, Cuban-American playwright Eduardo Machado, sought to continue Max’s vision by producing plays in any venue he could rent as INTAR lacked a space of its own. Lou had been affiliated with INTAR since his first job running the light board in the 1990s. He did acting, directing, and some design before joining as Eduardo’s associate artistic director. When Eduardo departed the business in 2010, Lou took over the reins and endeavored to transform the theater and lift it out of debt. He converted the rehearsal studio on 52nd Street into a workshop space, complete with risers and a full lighting grid, and switched INTAR’s focus to developing new dramatic and musical theater productions. “I tried to honor what Max felt the theater should be. ”To Lou, establishing their own place for performances rather than renting outside theaters was a logical choice: “I can either rent and spend money paying landlords or I can spend the money on the actors. ” Once the unions got behind him, they finalized INTAR’s space within nine months and were able to put on their first show. Since then, the theater has produced about fifteen plays and developed new programming to support fledgling artists. “The heart of INTAR is based on this community of artists, so our organization will never truly die. Our artists constantly feed us, and we try to feed them. ”Though Lou longs for the day when INTAR will no longer be necessary to push Latinx work into the mainstream, he is thrilled to see a shift in the industry in recent years. “We spent so much time chasing the American theater that now we are finally at a time that they are chasing us. ”
A wonderful story of dance lay in our wake on West 55th Street, and how exciting for the Manhattan Sideways team to be able to enter inside and have a firsthand experience. The studio is named after Mr. Alvin Ailey, who began his immersion in dance while in high school in California where he went on to study with Lester Horton. In a style that later came to be known as the Horton technique, rooted in Native American Folk Dance elements and the idea of building strength by using the whole body, Mr. Ailey thrived. After moving to New York in 1954 while in his early twenties, Ailey danced on Broadway in "House of Flowers, " while continuing to study modern dance as well as ballet. In 1958, Ailey founded his own dance company made up of seven dancers. Their first performance was at the 92nd Street Y. Completely redefining dance in America, the Alvin Ailey company, initially comprised solely of African-Americans, sought to interpret and express their experiences through a style based as much in spirituality, soul, and social commentary as it was in technique and innovative movement. Ailey's most prominent work with this group, entitled "Revelations, " quickly established them as the one of the most creative set of dancers in the country. Ailey went on to choreograph works for the American Ballet Theater, the Joffrey Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, the London Festival Ballet, and the Royal Danish Ballet. He received numerous honors and awards, as he became recognized internationally, and in 1969, Ailey took his devotion to dance and the African-American experience to a new level by founding the Ailey School. Although Ailey died in 1989 while only in his fifties, the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation continues his legacy and serves as the "umbrella organization. " Though Alvin died while only in his fifties, the institution continues his legacy of “using the arts for activism, ” said Sarita Allen. Taken under Alvin’s wing as a scholarship student in the 1970s, Sarita is now a longtime instructor at the Ailey Extension. “He was a champion of integration. Even more than his choreography, he demonstrated how people could dance together. They could be beautiful and harmonious, ” Sarita said. Sarita had the privilege of working closely with Alvin, and he personally selected her to join his company. “It was so vibrant compared to the classical ballet world. People of so many different colors and nationalities were given the opportunity to perform. ” This had an enduring impact on Sarita and countless others who were inspired by this portrayal of the grace, elegance, and power of the Black body. With Alvin’s unwavering support, Sarita was able to take a sabbatical from the company to embark on separate projects and work with Judith Jamison — an-other one of Alvin’s protégés who then succeeded him as artistic director of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. In 1988, Alvin asked Sarita to return and help mentor the next generation of dancers, enabling her to spend the last year of Alvin’s life teaching alongside him. “It wasn’t that long that we knew one another, but it was very rich. He was an extraordinary man. ” Today, not only is Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater the home for members of its company and school to rehearse and take classes, but they have an Extension Program that allows for anyone at any level of expertise to take a class taught by one of Ailey's incredible teachers. The stunning views of the surrounding area from the upper floors of the building serve as quite the backdrop for the dancing that takes place within. There are a wide range of classes offered including Salsa, Ballet, Jazz, Contemporary, Hip-Hop, Latin Jazz Fusion, Horton, Zumba, Samba and Afro-Brazilian. The Ailey Arts in Education and Community Programs works to offer the gift of dance to schools, communities, and the world. In addition, there is the Ailey Camp, a summer program that teaches dance to inner-city children in middle school, as well as Ailey Dance Kids, which emphasizes teamwork, self-discipline and creativity with school-aged children and teens. Together, the Extension program and the Education and Community programs serve to bring Ailey's core belief to life: that dance is for everyone, and it has the power to use "the beauty and humanity of the African-American heritage and other cultures to unite people of all races, ages and backgrounds.
Both a space of learning and of performing, Kaufman Music Center is home to Merkin Concert Hall, Lucy Moses School, and Special Music School. The organization was founded in 1953 and receives most of its funding through donations from music enthusiasts. The Merkin Concert Hall has been around since the 1970s and was renovated with the rest of the building in 2007. Vocal and acoustic performances of classical and new music send resonating sounds throughout the spacious 450-seat room, with its well-lit stage and impressive grand piano. Each year, the concert hall hosts the Ecstatic Music Festival, which presents one-night-only artist collaborations from across the spectrum. The Special Music School is the only public school in the city to offer music as a core subject to its gifted students, and the Lucy Moses School offers a variety of classes in music, dance and theater. "Lots of people will come back to play here as an adult having taken classes as children, " explained Communications Director Joan Jastrebski. In the summertime, the classrooms turn into musical theater workshops where specific age groups work with writers and choreographers to develop a performance for their final recital. Because every good show needs its props, a team of designers gets together to go over every last detail. Alex, one of the interns, shared with me the story of how the team scurried around to fabricate a prop microphone out of tape and foam when one went missing from the set, only to find it moments from show time. "What is exciting about the center is what people are doing, " Joan added when she took me to watch little ones dance passionately to playful music in the Ann Goodman Recital Hall. She also allowed me a peak into one of the private practice rooms on the third floor where Genya Paley, who had been with the center for over three decades, was giving a piano lesson to a young boy. "Yes, right, " said Genya as the child played each chord individually, "Now put it together. " The lovely harmony that followed exemplified the intersection of practice and performance.
Members of the Manhattan Sideways team stood in awe when we entered the New York City Center and realized that the extraordinary exterior matched the majestic interior. One of the most beautiful facades on the side streets is here on 55th, but behind its doors is a restored treasure trove. Hawley Abelow and Stanford Makishi, two passionate personnel from the marketing and programming departments, greeted us as we arrived and proceeded to give us a behind-the-scenes tour of what they termed to be “The family business of performing arts centers of New York. ” Stanford called it the “most ‘un-corporate’ large venue” he has witnessed, and he and Hawley both have the credentials to make that judgment, having worked at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Both went on to say that even though they have to book acts with a certain amount of popularity in order to be financially viable, they are mainly concerned with what they put on the stage, rather than the profits. City Center also displays a refreshing lack of competitive spirit: “Other philanthropic programs are our colleagues, not competitors, ” Stanford explained, while detailing his amicable dealings with some of the big theaters in the city. We started out walking on the center stage itself, where we could stare out at the breathtaking view of the tiers of seating. Each level was an intricately carved masterpiece, reminiscent of a Russian cathedral. Stanford said that dancers, actors and musicians love performing at City Center because the theater is built so that every seat feels close to the stage. He told us that their left wing is legendary, as there is a wall only a few feet from the edge of the stage. Apparently every ballerina knows not to make extravagant leaps off the left side unless they have someone waiting to prevent them from smashing into the wall. Stanford is qualified to speak about the performer’s experience, since he was a dancer for many years, and City Center was the first New York location at which he danced. On our particular visit, the stage was getting set up for that evening's performance by Bjork. Though Hawley is not a dancer, her career has similarly come full circle: when we explored the downstairs theater spaces, used by the Women’s Project and Manhattan Theater Company, she relayed that she started in the Production department at Manhattan Theater Company. Though not as grand as the main performance space, the downstairs theaters are more versatile. Stage 2 appears to be a “black box” theater, in which producers have more freedom with how they decide to set up the audience seating and set. Stage 1, on the day we saw it, was completely bare. This is not to say it was empty: cords and lights and ladders filled the stage, showing us a surgical biopsy of the theater. “This is as raw as it gets, ” Hawley commented. We also had the privilege to peek into one of the City Center’s dance studios, where we observed men and women twisting like tilted windmills. Stanford and Hawley told us that the spaces, which are rented out to different companies, are heavily sought after because they are much larger than many studios in New York. Broadway casts covet them, but they often go to not-for-profit groups. “Broadway is not our priority, ” Hawley stated. There was a "throne" at the back of the room, which was originally built as an auditorium for the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, an appendant body to the Freemasons. Stanford told us that they used to hold their secret meetings in the spaces that are now studios, and the man presiding would sit on the throne. It was when Stanford and Hawley began speaking about “Fall for Dance, ” an event that aims to bring the “highest quality dance to the largest possible audience, ” that they became especially animated. As Holly declared, “You can’t come to this show and not fall in love with dance. ” The performances take place in the early fall, and apparently people line up in the middle of the night to be first to purchase tickets when they go on sale the following morning. Our tour continued to the lobby, which reminded us of a receiving hall in a palace. The design is neo-Moorish with murals depicting desert scenes. Hawley remarked that the colorful, intricate designs had been painted over in white during the 1970s due to a misguided sense of aestheticism, but in the recent renovations, they hired specialists who uncovered the original design. At the same time, screens were installed that display rainbow rivulets. Stanford informed us that the video was specially curated by the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton. Another dazzling piece of art was a mural that stretched across an entire wall of the Patron’s Lobby. It was created by a Cuban artist, and had been borrowed to complement his country's dance troupe’s performance. “We try to make performances meaningful for the audiences, ” Sanford commented. Every element of the theater is in place to enhance what is on the stage.
If you’re looking for life-changing live performance, you’ve come to the right place — Manhattan is the center of New York City’s legendary theater, dance and musical arts scene. Snag a ticket to a show at the ground-breaking Intar Theater, showcasing powerful Latinx creators and stories nightly, or take in an evening of movement at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, carrying on the legacy of contemporary dance pioneer Ailey in a state-of-the-art theater and training facility. Check out the future of musical talent at a concert at the Kaufman Music Center, home to the city’s Special Music School and its impressive pupils before capping off your evening with a limited-encore performance or guest residency at New York City Center, where shows are framed by the theater’s breath-taking, cathedral-like auditorium.
62 East 4th Street has had a fascinating history. At its inception in 1889, it served as a social hall housing a musician's union known as Astoria Hall, as well as hosting meetings of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. In the 1930's, the ballroom was revamped as a theater and television studio and renamed Fortune Theater until Andy Warhol discovered it and left his legendary stamp here. In 1969, he rented it out to showcase a series of infamous porn films and called it Andy Warhol's Theater: Boys to Adore Galore. Over the years, the Yiddish theater had performances here, and many well known television shows used the space to film. Since 1987, the Duo Center has been here having raised the funds for renovations, and then remaining throughout construction to become home to what is now Duo Multicultural Arts Center and Rod Rogers Dance Company and Studio. Today the building is part of Fourth Arts Block (FAB) and operates as a center for film, dance, art, theater and music and is among New York's designated cultural districts.
While the lineups at Radio City Music Hall have changed dramatically over the years, the "Showplace of the Nation" has long been at the center of the city's entertainment scene. Opened to the public in 1932, the Art Deco building, with almost six thousand seats, was initially intended to "house high-class variety entertainment. " However, the space was later converted to a movie hall, with films accompanied by stage shows. This lasted until 1979 when, for a variety of reasons, Radio City began transitioning into a concert hall. Besides consistently booking some of music's hottest stars, Radio City has also hosted numerous award shows, including The Grammys and The Tony Awards and is the home to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes, a tradition that commenced in 1933.
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.
Part of FAB, this prominent off Broadway theater encourages artists to express themselves freely and to create contemporary, original productions. The musical, Once, gained recognition after its debut performance here at the New York Theatre Workshop before it won eight Tony Awards on Broadway. My husband and I thought that this was one of the best musicals we have seen in a long time. We highly recommend that you see it too!
Originally known as the Manhattan Opera House, 311 West has had an interesting history. Oscar Hammerstein built the theater in 1906, but after a few short years, the Metropolitan Opera House came to him requesting that he not compete with them, and made him an offer that he could not refuse. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Hammerstein sold the building to the Shubert brothers where they continued to feature a variety of shows and concerts. In 1922, it was sold again, and this time a Grand Ballroom was added. Unbeknownst to the builders, they had created an outstanding acoustic setup where musicians from Harry Belafonte to the Grateful Dead have performed and recorded. Over the past twenty plus years, construction has been on-going as more multimedia studios have been added and a refurbishing done to the Hammerstein Ballroom to accommodate large private events.
Having been raised in New York, and involved in the performing arts since childhood, Rose Caiola went on to graduate from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and fantasized about establishing her own pre-professional ballet program. It was always her desire to provide top-tier instruction in a nurturing environment that discouraged unhealthy competition. In 1994, Rose's dream became a reality when she opened Studio Maestro on 68th Street as a non-profit organization and began Manhattan Youth Ballet. Her program has been recognized the world over with students moving on to dance professionally here in New York with both American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, as well as companies around the country and abroad. While spending time with Rose, she recounted that when the program outgrew its studio on 68th, she had difficulty finding a new space. She turned to her Italian immigrant, real estate mogul father, in the hopes that he could help her secure an appropriate location. After much negotiation, Rose and her father eventually found a beautiful space on 60th Street, and following three years of construction, the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center opened in 2008. Today, it is a multi-functional facility with bright dance studios streaming with sunlight and a 199 seat off-Broadway theater that efficiently transforms into two studios when not in use. Rose proudly told me that with enrollment reaching over 200 students, the center not only houses Ellison Ballet and Rose's Manhattan Youth Ballet, but that many consider MMAC as "home away from home. "Throughout the year, MMAC offers a number of workshops for adults including yoga classes, dance intensives by the Jerome Robbins Foundation, and martial arts training. The center also hosts an alternative preschool and offers children's dance classes. Rose told me that after a chance meeting with actress and author Julianne Moore, Rose wrote and workshopped a production of "Freckleface Strawberry the Musical" in one of the MMAC children's summer camps. The musical went on to premier off-Broadway at New World Stages and has now been performed around the world, launching Rose into a career as a Broadway producer. (Four shows that she recently produced, including "The Elephant Man" and "You Can't Take it With You, " are 2015 Tony Award hopefuls. )As new residential buildings are rising at an incredibly fast pace and surrounding the Center, Rose is looking forward to families and other artistic people finding a haven in MMAC. Rose's ultimate goal is to have more dance companies and Broadway productions utilize the space, which in turn could provide more scholarships to Manhattan Youth Ballet. Already there are organizations recognizing this oasis as Rose told me that Dodgers Theatrical, Alvin Ailey and Cirque du Soleil have been taking advantage of their remarkable facilities for auditions, castings, readings, and rehearsals.
On any given day when passing by, there are legions of young, hopeful actors hanging around outside this building in between classes. Lee Strasberg, known to moviegoers for his role as gangster Hyman Roth in The Godfather: Part II, founded his institute in 1969, almost forty years after he participated in the formation of the Group Theatre (an ensemble of actors that were committed to putting on productions representative of "the life of their times. ") As artistic director of the Institute until his death in 1982, Strasberg continued to train his students through Method Acting - a technique that has been recognized internationally. Paul Newman, Marilyn Monroe, Dustin Hoffman, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Barbra Streisand, and Marlo Thomas are only a few of the actors who were taken under Strasberg's wing and taught to fly. Today, the Institute continues to flourish as it turns out many fine actors both here and at its Hollywood location. For those who would like to watch some of this training in action, there are two theaters (The Marilyn Monroe Theater and the Lee Strasberg Theater) connected to the Institute where students perform.
Once described by writer Allen Ginsberg as “the most integrated place on the planet, ” the lively Nuyorican Poets Cafe is not only a venue for poetry readings. Audiences have witnessed visual artists, musicians, writers, actors, and every other kind of performer pass through its doors. Though the Nuyorican has cemented a place for itself in New York City’s art scene, its beginnings were humble. Puerto Rican-born writer and poet Miguel Algarín founded the group in his East Village apartment to give artists and performers of color a space to develop their craft. Many New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent met regularly in Mr. Algarín’s living room to share their creative efforts, fueling the rise of what would be known as the “Nuyorican” artistic and literary movements. By the 1980s, the Nuyorican went from being excluded from the mainstream to attracting enough of a following to open a new location in a former tenement building on East 3rd Street. Today, the Nuyorican continues to draw crowds at its regular poetry slams, open mic nights, concerts, and art exhibits spotlighting talented people with powerful messages.
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.