Thursday, May 10, 2012

 

I grew up in New York City where I started going to theater and opera at a very young age.  By age 11 I knew that I wanted to make my life in stage design.  The City was alive with performance of all kinds: concerts, ballet, modern dance, plays, musicals, a total feast.  And the museums!  It was an incredible stimulus.

I know that starting some twenty to twenty-five years ago there was concern that the New York stage was losing its edge and becoming about nostalgia rather than new work.  Theater and opera were beginning to decentralize as performers and producers could no longer afford to operate in New York.  the rents, cost of rehearsal halls, the price of everything became prohibitive.  Some left for Brooklyn or Hoboken while others went say out to Chattanooga or Boulder, St. Louis or Minneapolis, Baltimore or Portland, OR.  So this (excerpt of a) NY Times article caught my eye and interest: 

May 8, 2012, 2:40 pm
New York, Cultural Capital of the World? Discuss
Is New York still the cultural capital of America, let alone the world?

To the creative strivers who still flock here, the answer may be self-evident. But when the question was posed point-blank to four cultural critics from New York magazine at the Public Theater on Monday night, they struggled to muster resoundingly jingoistic responses.  “No,” said Jerry Saltz, the magazine’s art critic. “It’s one of several,” said Amy Larocca, its fashion editor. Kurt Andersen, a longtime contributor to the magazine and host of the radio show "Studio 360," was less equivocal, but only barely. “Sure,” he said, but not as much as New York was in, say, 1960. “Now there are more alternatives,” he said.

The event — two back-to-back panel discussions on the question “The Culture Capital: Is New York City Still a Home for Artists?” — was meant as a meditation on the future of the kind of old-fashioned bohemia captured in "February House," a musical about a ramshackle row house in Brooklyn Heights shared by Carson McCullers, W. H. Auden and Gypsy Rose Lee in the winter of 1940. (Previews begin at the Public on Tuesday.)

 I had known about February House for years, bumping into it again and again in the biographies of its many fascinating and highly individual residents, in articles in The Gay and Lesbian Review, or the liner notes of recordings of the musicians who had lived there.  So I Googled the musical "February House" and up came this:


February House, the new musical inspired by a real life artistic commune that fostered some of America’s greatest talents, is beginning previews at off-Broadway’s Public Theater on May 8. Davis McCallum directs the piece, which features music and lyrics by Gabriel Kahane and a book by Seth Bockley. Opening night is set for May 22.


In 1940s New York, visionary and flamboyant editor George Davis transformed a dilapidated Brooklyn boarding house into a bohemian commune for artistic icons like Carson McCullers, Benjamin Britten and his lover, tenor Peter Pears, W.H. Auden and Gypsy Rose Lee. The residents of 7 Middagh Street create a tumultuous and remarkable makeshift family searching for love, inspiration, and refuge from the looming war in Europe.


Located at 7 Middagh Street in Brooklyn Heights, New York it was home to a charter membership of writers and artists that included Carson, Gypsy Rose Lee, W.H. Auden, Oliver Smith and George Davis. Writer Anais Nin gave the house its name when she discovered that Davis, Auden and McCullers had all been born under the sign of Pisces, and described it in her diary as "an amazing house, like some of the houses in Belgium, the north of France or Austria. It is like a museum of Americana which I had never seen anywhere before." Moving in October 1940 into two rooms on the second floor, McCullers says that she loved what she called "living in a real neighborhood."


Carson McCullers lived here on-and-off from 1940 to 1945, until the house was demolished by the city to make way for an expansion of the Brooklyn Bridge. While McCullers was in residence, the February House was home to a host of other notable artistic types, including writers Paul Bowles, Richard Wright and Christopher Isherwood and composers Leonard Bernstein, David Diamond, and Aaron Copeland.

February House stars Julian Fleisher as George Davis,  Kacie Sheik as Gypsy Rose Lee (above), Erik Lochtefeld as W.H. Auden, Stanley Bahorek as Benjamin Britten, Kristen Sieh as Carson McCullers, Ken Barnett as Peter Pears, Ken Clark as Reeves McCullers, Stephanie Hayes as Erika Mann and A.J. Shively as Chester Kallman.

I would be surprised if someone hadn't tried desperately to landmark and save the building for it's incredible history and associations with some the foremost creative artists and performers of the 20th century.  February House's history as a locus for gay and lesbian literary and musical achievement could not possibly be overstated.  Alas, it lives on only in photographs and glimpses of the interaction of its inhabitants in the written accounts they left behind.

The idea of a musical containing even half of the residents of the house is intriguing, but I wonder if any theater piece could be as astonishing as the reality ?

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I think I would file this one under "How petty and bitchy can you get?"
 
Iowa Catholic School Refuses to Allow LGBT Foundation to Present 'Matthew Shepard Scholarship' to Gay Student

Keaton Fuller, a student at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton, Iowa, was encouraged by his school to apply for a $40,000 scholarship awarded to LGBT students. Fuller applied and was awarded the scholarship, but the school that told Fuller to apply for the prize won't let the foundation's representative present it to him, the AP reports:

Bishop Martin Amos in Davenport said the Eychaner Foundation would not be allowed to present the Matthew Shepard Scholarship to Keaton Fuller during the May 20 ceremony at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton, saying the group’s support for gay rights conflicts with church doctrine.The announcement comes after a school official signed a document last month that promised to let a representative of the foundation’s scholarship committee present the award to Fuller.

Writes Fuller, in an open letter to The Prince of Peace Student Body and Staff:
This past March, I was made aware by our school of an incredible scholarship opportunity. The Matthew Shepard Scholarship is awarded to a few LGBT students across the state of Iowa each year by the Eychaner Foundation in honor of a young man who was beaten and later died because of his sexual orientation. The purpose of the scholarship is not only to honor the recipients for their efforts working for the acceptance of the LGBT community, but also to raise awareness and understanding throughout the state.

After becoming one of eight finalists interviewed, I was very excited. The moment I was told that I had been awarded a 2012 Gold Matthew Shepard Scholarship was one of the happiest of my life. It made me feel that my efforts had truly paid off. When word got around about this achievement, I received a great deal of praise from many of you, for which I am extremely grateful.

Part of receiving this generous scholarship includes having a member of the scholarship committee present the award at each student’s graduation or awards ceremonies. This protocol was communicated to the school as part of the scholarship materials and the scholarship committee received written confirmation that should a scholarship be awarded, a representative from the scholarship committee would be allowed to present it in person to me at graduation. Upon being selected for the award in very early April, the scholarship committee wrote to the school confirming that a committee member would present the award on May 20th.

However, on Friday, April 27th, my family and I were told by the school that a member of the foundation would not be permitted to present this award at graduation. The scholarship committee has not been notified of this decision and my family has been put in the middle, so my family has asked for a reversal of the decision.

Fuller plans to attend the University of Iowa on his scholarship.  There's a Change.org petition asking the school to allow Keaton to receive his award from the Scholarship Committee, with dignity.

UPDATE:  The story having gone viral, the general condemnation directed at the Catholic Bishop and school administration has apparently led to a compromise.  The Matthew Shepard scholarship will be presented by a member of the Foundation --who will not speak.  The diocesan Superintendent of Schools will read a prepared message from the Foundation (which the Church is presumably able to edit as its employee will be holding the text), and Keaton Fuller, clearly from the tone of his letter the adult in the room in this case,  WILL get the $40,000 and the recognition he so richly deserves.

No gay person other than Keaton will be heard, and small minds will be served

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Comments:
I think I would file this one under "How petty and bitchy can you get?"

Yup, that about sums it up.

And I love that photo!
 
On the NY front, you know what I think of those Parterrians who seem to believe that the world is Metcentric.

On the last, thanks as always for bringing to our attention tales of shame from the other side of the pond. Not that it couldn't happen here...
 
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