Subway Sketches Part LXXV

Is It Winter Already?

Tonight New York City is going to plunge into temperatures in the 20's, and we had a brief snow flurry earlier. I find myself asking why, and I believe I know the answer.

Christmas Decorations.

I believe that the global ecosystem is punishing us as a society for celebrating the premier winter holiday too early. I heard Christmas music and saw decorations before Halloween this year. Two months early! It's my opinion that the weather has seen this, and decided that if we are so damned anxious for winter, then we can bloody well have it.

I'm sure it's too late for this year, but remember this next year and keep the wreaths in the boxes. Maybe we can actually have an autumn for once.

Subway Sketches Part LXXIV

Holidays, An Essay

Holidays are one of those things that everyone loves to hate, or maybe hates to love. In that spirit I thought I'd offer some writing by someone far better at it than me, Christopher Durang. Here is his take on holidays, from Act 2 of "The Marriage of Bette and Boo."

"Holidays were invented in 1820 by Sir Ethelbert Holiday, a sadistic Englishman. It was Sir Ethelbert's hope that by setting aside specific days on which to celebrate things-- the birth of Christ, the death of Christ, Beowulf's defeat of Grendel-- that the population at large would fall into a collective deep depression. Holidays would regulate joy so that anyone who didn't feel joyful on these days would feel bad. Single people would feel bad that they were single. Married people would feel bad that they were married. Everyone would feel disappointment that their lives had fallen so far short of their expectations.

A small percentage of people, sensing the sadism in Sir Ethelbert's plan, did indeed pretend to be joyful at these appointed times; everyone else felt intimidated by this small group's excessive delight, and so never owned up to being miserable. And so, as time went on, the habit of celebrating holidays became more and more ingrained into society.

Eventually humorists wrote mildly amusing essays poking fun at the impossibility of enjoying holidays but no one actually spoke up and attempted to abolish them."

Enjoy your holidays everyone!!

Subway Sketches Part LXXIII

This young woman had the most pronounced cheekbones I have ever seen. When I first glanced at her I thought that she had the mumps, or a bee sting on her face. I was so happy with the arrangement of her face and hair that I decided to forego sketching in any details about her clothing, it was just so perfectly framed.

Subway Sketches Part LXXII

My Love/Hate Career

There are days when I really hate my chosen career. This week being one of those times. The show that I am currently working on is in it's last week of rehearsals, which means that I have to attend every night. This show has a very simple set, so the set has been completed for a few days now. There are no changes to the set during the run of the show. If there were then part of my job would be helping to choreograph the changes, making sure the actors knew how the mechanics worked, etc. None of that this time though. So essentially I am having to attend rehearsals to do... not a lot of anything. Tonight I spent the three hours sorting through the songs I have in iTunes and removing duplicates. After I finished that I started creating a 'zine version of my subway sketches to mail to some friends. I'm glad I thought to take my laptop with me. I still have to do this two more times!

At the same time if I wasn't in this career I would miss the opportunity to hear people, with a perfectly straight face, seriously say sentences like "Well, I put it over my head and pretended I was dead and I could breathe just fine."

Subway Sketches Part LXXI

I'm Sorry, Do I know You?

Yesterday at Pearl Paint I was standing in front of the glues, trying to decide which one was useful for what I needed, when a woman reached over in front of me to grab something for herself. In the process, she bumped into me and so we locked eyes for a second. She smiled and said, "Hey!" in a way that seemed to indicate familiarity. It was the sort of greeting that you'd give someone that you met once, six months ago, at a friend's birthday party.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I don't have a good memory for names. Working in theatre exacerbates the problem because for every show I do I meet six or a dozen actors, with whom I become passingly familiar. Quite often I see people on the subway, or in passing on the street that I recognize. It usually takes me a few minutes to place exactly how, but it usually winds up being that I worked with them on a show in some capacity.

With that in mind I responded the way that most anyone would, with a non-committal greeting that acknowledged that I knew her, but didn't directly use her name. It went along the lines of "Hey! How have you been?" Her face went immediately slack, to a sort of neutrally pleasant expression, and she responded, "Uhm... Fine." Her smile never wavered, but the words had the tone of dismissal. She turned and walked away. It was then that I realized that, in fact, I didn't know her at all, but that she was Rebecca Cole, from the television show Surprise By Design. Obviously I had misread her original familiarity, and the reality show nature of her series had added to the feeling that I knew her from somewhere. I tried not to look too embarrassed.

Today in Borders I looked up from the art books I was flipping through, and at the other end of the aisle was a man who had a very familiar face. The embarrassment of the previous day still fresh in my mind I chose not to say anything to him. He hadn't noticed me anyway. I turned my back and tried to figure out who he was, afraid to say hello, in case he was a contestant from Survivor, or a former Real Worlder or something. After a minute or two it came to me, he had been in a show that I costumed last year. I turned to say hello, but he was gone.

Every couple of days I stumble across a celebrity, or a pseudo-celebrity at least, and then of course the people I see who I actually DO know. New York is really just a small town, with a lot of people crammed into it after all. My faulty memory just means that I don't even know the people that I know.

Now THAT'S A Show!!

Wrapping up my week of theatre Roommates K & M and I saw "The Great American Trailer Park Musical" tonight. So much more satisfying than my previous theatre going experience.

Here is a show that shouldn't work at all. Set in a trailer park in Florida it liberally mixes rock, country, and Broadway musical styles, for songs about huffing cooking spray, the joys of watching Sally Jesse Raphael, and what to do when a stripper is sleeping with your husband. Polyester and fake wood paneling are both featured heavily in the design. Somehow though, it all gels. The show is funny, touching, and a pleasure to watch.

The set design features such authentic touches as a tire cover with a naked girl riding a horse airbrushed onto it, an oversized satellite dish on a camper, and a rusty water tower overlooking everything. The designer was clever and innovative in finding ways to shift to other locations, and moving inside and outside the various trailers. Good old fashioned scenic design, that worked.

The plot and execution of the songs was spot on perfect in the show as well. How can you resist a show with lyrics about spray cheese, road kill, and pole dancing? The phrase "Like a nail, I will press on" will forever be a part of my language now.

THIS one, I'll recommend to anyone who'll listen.

Subway Sketches Part LXX

The Woman In What Now?

Tonight I had the inestimable honor of seeing Andrew Lloyd Weber's newest theatrical endeavor "The Woman In White."

If I believed in God I would have prayed to have this abomination struck from the face of the Earth with a fury not seen since Sodom and Gomorra were obliterated.

This show, in the simplest terms is BAD. The songs are boring. The acting is overblown and melodramatic. The set is ill-conceived. The plot is barely discernible. The characterization, where it exists at all, is inconsistent and the character choices are illogical. The single best thing in the show is (I shit you not) a white rat who performs tricks during one of the songs. The rat doesn't come on until Act 2, so if you get tricked into seeing the show don't leave during intermission, even though you'll be tempted to, because you'll miss the rat. I promise you, you'll want to see the rat after sitting through Act 1.

This appears to have been adapted from the Victorian era novel by Wilkie Collins, but from reading articles on the book it seems that all the good stuff went out the window. Gone are the comedic characters of the nurse and the maid, gone the detail that one of the sisters about who this story centers, the smart one naturally, is supposed to be gargoyle ugly, and the other pretty, but dumb as a bag of hammers. Also gone seems to be most of the plot. What we are left with is, unfortunately an idiot plot that could have been cleared up early in Act 1 if either of the girls had thought to press their uncle for information on the title character.

The set. I applaud innovation in scenic design, and theatrical presentation. Really, I do. The scenographer responsible for this set conceived a set of semi-circular moving walls that could reconfigure and revolve around the stage. 99% of the scenery is computer generated and projected onto these walls. This allows for movement within the scenery, almost instantaneous shifts between location, and would seem to give the opportunity for dramatically different looks for each location since the only limits would be the imagination of the artist doing the computer renderings. In reality the whole thing looks like something artistically on par with the first generation of Doom type games (and I was really wishing I had my shotgun). It looks doubly bad when very realistic furniture and costumes are put in front of it. There were also inexplicable oddities in the renderings. Why for instance would a designer choose to render some of the objects grossly out of scale with the people on stage? Occasionally the audience was confronted with fireplaces that were 12 feet tall, and books on shelves that were 3 feet tall. One scene played out in front of the exterior of a pawn shop for no reason that I can figure out. Being outside made the dialogue seem forced and unrealistic, and in the end the scene didn't make sense. They had to render both the exterior and interior of the shop. It would have cost them nothing to play the scene "inside" why not do it?

The most annoying thing about the show was the blocking. (The movement of the actors for those not familiar with the jargon.) The center of the stage was a revolve, (a circular floor that "revolves," get it?) and the walls were roughly circular, making the whole show seem like it was happening inside a hat box. All this circular stuff meant that the actors spent an awful lot of time running... in circles. I could not begin to count the number of times that the actors, singularly or in groups, literally jogged in circles around the stage. Or walked. Or danced. Or (again, I shit you not) skipped. In circles. I get it, we were supposed to be, metaphorically, watching the show through a zoetrope, the Victorian equivalent of animation, but it would have been SO much more satisfying and affective if the director could have figured out a way to break the pattern and work both within and against the shape of the set.

I won't speak directly to the songs, or the singing, or the acting because I don't really have the authority to do so, being neither a director or a singer. Other of course than saying that I didn't enjoy them. I will say this: you know that you are in trouble when at the pivotal moment of the performance, when the audience should be most enraptured and absorbed... they giggle.

This show cost $8.5 million. I'd have given them a better design for half that.

Subway Sketches Part LXIX

I spent an INORDINATE amount of time on the A train tonight, traveling almost the entire length of the line. It was made worse by the fact that the train was having some troubles, and seemed to be pausing at almost every station for a lot longer than normal, so I had over an hour to work on this. It started with her, and grew and grew the longer I was on the train. This is the longest subway sketch that I have ever done, and the first one that grew over a two page spread in my sketchbook. I'm pretty sure that the guy was aware that I was sketching them. Over the course of the hour he met my eyes several times. He never let his companion know though, at least not while on the train.

My Theatrical Week

Three times this week Roommate K and I have had a conversation along the lines of: "What have you been hearing about show A?"

"Good/Bad/Indifferent, but I really want to see it."

"Yeah, me too."

All three times, within 48 hours of that conversation, one or the other of us has been offered free tickets to the show that we were discussing. (My amazing powers of coincidence at work again.) So within a week I will be seeing three Broadway shows: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Woman in White, and The Great American Trailer Park Musical. None of these shows have gotten great reviews, in the case of Woman in White Roommate K and I spent about 20 minutes brutally dissecting a sampler CD that he received in the mail, mainly trying to figure out what the hell the plot might be.

We've already seen Chitty. The effects were AMAZING, even beyond the flying car the show was full of effect driven moments that were alternatively funny and breathtaking. The show itself... kind of a yawner. The songs were good, but weren't "big" enough for the stage. The story and especially the songs seemed subsumed by the visuals. It was a fun show though, and I was happy to have seen it, if for no other reason than I got to see what Disney money can do onstage.

Tomorrow is Woman in White, the show I'm anticipating the least. The songs I've heard sound like something that would have gotten cut from Phantom, and as I said, I cannot discern what the plot is supposed to be either from the commercials or from the mailer that they sent with the CD. But again, I'm happy to be going. Maybe I'll luck out and it will be one of those shows that are so bad that they loop back around to being good again.

Subway Sketches Part LXVIII

Subway Sketches Part LXVII

Subway Sketches Part LXVI

Subway Sketches: METAPOST

Turns out that I'm not the only person in the world that sketches on public transportation. In the past few days I've become aware of several other people that share my peculiar hobby.

Miyuki posts her sketches from the Toronto Metro system to a Flickr set that can be found here. She has a lovely, soft, feminine style with just a touch of manga/anime influence. She makes me want to expand the colors of pen that I carry around with me.

Tom posts his sketches to a blog, along with his other work. He gets tons of sketches on a page, I'd love to be as fast as he must be. From reading his posts it seems like he has a whole crew of other subway sketchers that get together regularly to troll the trains looking for interesting subjects. He too is sketching in Toronto.

I'm not sure where Omwo is sketching from, but he has several sketches from the train and bus system on his blog. He uses pencil for his sketches, something that I haven't seen a lot in any of the other subway sketchers. He's also come up with the odd sport of sketching people from behind while follwoing them down the street. Observing, sketching, and walking sounds like a HUGE challenge.

Still no one else from the NYC area that posts their sketches online, at least not that I've found yet. I've bumped into a few on the train though.

Subway Sketches Part LXV

A Small Family Album

I've been thinking a lot about family lately. I'm not sure why. The influences and small factors that they add to your personality that you may never even be aware of.
From my mother I've taken far more than I'm willing to admit to... a tendency to procrastinate, a certain unwillingness to confront people, an internal clock geared more towards evening than morning. But she also fostered in my sister and I a love for education and the knowledge that we could be successful at anything that we tried hard enough to do. I also hope that I'm as willing to give of myself as she is.

From my paternal grandmother I also carry positives and negatives. Her tendency to carry a grudge was balanced by her unwavering loyalty when she felt it necessary, and her occasionally heavy handed way of dealing with her family never seemed to get in the way of rescuing one of them if it was needed.

I can't find any photos of my maternal grandmother to scan but I know that I carry on her curiosity about family roots and beginnings. I wish that I had the knowledge of those things that she had, and took to her grave with her.

My paternal grandfather is also absent from these pictures, but thing I most often associate with him is his unwillingness to complain, and his total acceptance of circumstance. I can't remember ever seeing him flustered over much of anything.

My father has been outside of my life for so long that it's hard for me to view him objectively and to see what pieces of him I might be burdened with. I do know that I see his face in my mirror some mornings, and have a general body shape similar to his. I hope that I've learned from his mistakes.

Something else that I have my parents to thank for... a superb sense of fashion.

Subway Sketches Part LXIV

Subway Sketches Part LXIII

Subway Sketches Part LXII

I don't get to sketch a lot of children, mainly because they rarely sit still long enough. Unless they are sleeping or extraordinarily absorbed in something I have little chance to get them onto paper because they squirm around. This little guy, on the other hand, was one of the single most well behaved children I have ever witnessed. He had one of those looks, the kind that would cause most people to term him an "old soul." He sat stock still beside his father, with one hand on his father's knee and the other in his lap for the whole long trip between 42nd street and 145th. For most of the trip he stared at an imaginary point between us, with a small grin on his face contemplating some mystery that the rest of the world will never know about. It was a joy to try and capture that look on paper. This sketch is already one my favorites from this second sketchbook.

South Street Seaport

The reality. The subject of my sketch is the barely visible man in the rigging of that ship. I put in the giant green hand to help you find him.

The sketch.

You're Kidding Me Right?

There are times when my love for this city are severely tested.

Like right now, when at 11:55 p.m. a city utility crew begins jack hammering the middle of the goddamn street in front of my goddamn apartment.

Judging by the location of the crew I am guessing that this is the new waterline for the brownstone next door. I love the woman for refurbishing the former crack den in a truly stunning way... but jackhammers I can do without.

There's a front-loader and two dump trucks down there. Ugh.

Subway Sketches Part LXI

Insert Long Tracking Shot Here

Today I saw my third movie in three days. Prime, The Weatherman, and Elizabethtown. One of the many things that movies have in common is the fairly standard cinematic device of the montage scene. You know which one I mean, it usually occurs about two thirds of the way through the movie, when the lead character is at their lowest, just before they make the decision, or perform the action that will set the final act of the movie into motion. It is scored by some sentimental song, most often these days by Ryan Adams, and we see the character walking through a city, then sitting by a window with rain on it, then and then silhouetted against a sunset. The scene ends with the character shot in profile, then looking up into the camera with a look of resolve.

I feel as though I've been trapped in my own personal montage scene for about a week now. I have the feeling that there's a change coming, or a decision to be made, or a choice around the corner somewhere. I'm not sure why, there's nothing like that scheduled to happen that I know of, no impending decisions or events, but the feeling remains.

I hope it's something good.