A Backstage Pass to Deaf West’s Production of Spring Awakening

A production of Spring Awakening which incorporates American Sign Language into the the performance is reaching all Broadway audiences .

I’m a huge fan of Broadway. Even before I started living in New York City, my favorite thing to do was going to see a Broadway show. I’ve been seeing a lot of plays coming back as revivals that I saw while I was in college. For some of those productions, I don’t feel that a revival is necessary. However, when I heard Spring Awakening was returning, I was thrilled. I have been hearing about this production since it started out in Los Angeles. This production is unique because the entire show is understandable to both hearing and Deaf members of the audience. I knew I had to see this revival when it came to Broadway not only because of the work that I do as the Education Associate for Access at the Tenement Museum but also because my colleague Alexandria Wailes is part of the production. Alexandria is our educator who is Deaf. About once every other month she leads a tour at the Tenement Museum in American Sign Language only. She was also involved with Deaf West’s production of Spring Awakening in Los Angeles and is involved with its current run on Broadway as an associate choreographer. Additionally, for a handful of performances Alexandria is going on as Marlee Matlin’s understudy. I went to see Alexandria and the rest cast of Spring Awakening last Tuesday and I couldn’t have had a better time. Continue reading

At Home in the East Village: Veselka Serves up Ukrainian Fare

Veselka at it was, a newsstand and lunch counter and so much more.

The moral of this story is: you never know where the next fraternity party is going to take you. The moral of this story is also: never underestimate the power of good home cooking – even if the home isn’t yours.

There are plenty of restaurants in New York City that claim to be the original of something or the most authentic. When considering the many Lower East Side restaurants in the running, Veselka wouldn’t be everyones best guess. For starters, Veselka is run by a man named Tom Birchard. How authentic can a Ukrainian landmark be if it is run by a guy from New Jersey with Pennsylvania Dutch heritage? Well it’s kind of a funny story. When he was at college at Rutgers University, Tom went to a fraternity party. We can safely assume that Tom hoped to meet a pretty girl. Well he did, and he married her.  What Tom probably didn’t expect is that when he married her, he married Ukraine. The young woman was the daughter of Wolodymyr Darmochwal, who had moved to the United States after being displaced from Ukraine when Soviet powers took over the country after World War II. Continue reading

The Voyage Out: Revisiting Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn

The other golden arches. The Brooklyn Bridge. Photograph courtesy of the New York Public Library.

As sharpened pencils and scarves replace popsicles and beach towels, you know it’s time for a book report!

This fall I picked up a copy of Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn. Tóibín  visited the museum to discuss Brooklyn when it was released, in 2009. The total good-book-joy of reading this novel is in no way undermined by how shockingly sad it can be. Just keep some tissues on hand… the history of Irish immigration to America hasn’t always been sunny. The emotional peaks and valleys are stitched convincingly together by the depth of Tóibín’s context. I am hardly the first to note that Brooklyn is a lovingly nuanced re-imagining of Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady.  Tóibín’s pages are heavy with empathy from perhaps his own experience as an Irishman in the United States. Continue reading

“On Tenement Roofs Illuminated”: The Poetry Project’s Inspiring History

Bohemian wonderland: Walter Silver's photographs of 1950s Beat Culture capture the spirit of the downtown freewheelin' creative culture manifest in poetry readings and performances at Cafe Wha? and others. Readings of the so-called "beatnik" culture were one of the predecessors to the Poetry Project. Photo courtesy of the NYPL.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Manhattan, specifically the Lower East Side, was a haven for creative types. Rent on the Lower East Side was relatively cheap (just consult your most convenient Patti Smith memoir to see how cheap). Painters, musicians, and writers lived and worked together. Sure it sounds like a fairy tale, but also it’s true. Continue reading

Tenement Museum President Morris Vogel Honors the Hart-Celler Act

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The Hart-Celler Immigration and Nationality Act: 50 Years Later

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Tradition (and Individual Talent): How the Stories of the Shtetl became a Broadway Sensation

Zero Mostel and the original Broadway cast. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

One of the best-loved musicals of all time returns to Broadway this fall, with fanfare, glossy print advertisements, and plenty of press. When the curtain rises on this new production of Fiddler on the Roof however, that Broadway sparkle will give way to something a little less glamorous: the shtetl. Continue reading

Honoring Adam Purple: a Tenement Staffer Remembers a Community Activist

 

Adam Purple in action. Photograph courtesy of Harvey Wang.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Adam Purple.  His long, white flowing beard moving across his chest rhythmically while he rollerbladed, if my memory is right, up the Williamsburg Bridge.  It was about ten years ago, and I was riding my bike from Greenpoint, Brooklyn to go to a Food Not Bombs meeting at ABC No Rio on Rivington Street in the Lower East Side.  I would see him occasionally after that on a bike, but never standing still. Continue reading

In Vogue: a quick history of the Garment Industry and the Lower East Side

Two styles of dress collars from 1863, hours hand work for the lace and stitching. Image courtesy of the NYPL.

September can be the herald of a fresh beginning. For students, September brings the start of a new school year, for Jews, it brings the New Year, and for the sartorially inclined, it brings  a flurry of fresh fashion fodder and furious Instagramming all for New York Fashion Week. Continue reading

Singing the Unsung: Ben Shahn and Labor in United States

One of many lingering images by Walker Evans for the Farm Securities Administration. This image is of Allie Mae Burroughs an Alabama sharecropper, taken in 1935 or 1936. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Farm Securities Administration isn’t exactly the place you would think to look for art. In 1935, when the Farm Securities Administration was created to provide support for the rural poor, the Administration set out to prove that there was poverty that required immediate ministration. No problem there. In much the same way some Government agencies use auditors and statistics, the FSA deployed artists and photographers to document both the work of the Administration and the continuing need for its existence. Though the subject was bleak- or perhaps because it was –  some of America’s finest artists, Jacob Lawrence, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Ben Shahn did some of their best work for the FSA. In the field, rather than lose faith in the U.S. laborer and the farm, many of these artists developed a new respect for those who had been stricken by disasters both economic and natural. Though some of these artists were born and raised in the United States, growing up with the lore of America’s  strength and endurance, Ben Shahn was actually born in Kaunus, Lithuania. He became one of thousands of his generation who learned to love his new homeland with an articulation almost rivaling his American-born peers. Continue reading