Tag Archives: NYCGo

Museum of Illusions, One of New York City’s Newest, is Packed With Surprises

One of the fun, interactive exhibits at the Museum of Illusions is where a visitor pokes her head out of the middle of the table, but all you see is a head with no body on top of a table Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com)

By Laurie Millman and Martin D. Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum of Illusions, opened September 2018 in New York City’s West Village. You might assume by its name that it is a children’s museum or about magic, which depends greatly on illusion  — it is neither of these. Nor can it be considered an “attraction, ” although many of the exhibits are interactive, as you get to help create the illusions. The purpose of this museum is really about educating visitors on the physical and psychological science behind illusion. With two- and  three-dimensional illusions on the walls and floors that will mesmerize visitors of all ages, placards posted near each exhibit provide the explanations to help you understand what you are viewing and how the illusion is created.  While the museum does not explicitly delve into magic, when you leave, you will have a better understanding of how some magic tricks work.

We thoroughly enjoyed this museum with its many surprises. One of our favorite exhibits was a room with a sloped floor — a monitor shows that you appear to be growing smaller and smaller as you walk across the floor. Another fun, interactive exhibit is where a visitor pokes her head out of the middle of the table, but all you see is a head on top of the table with no body.

Friendly staff are available to give you clues about the illusions, help you figure out where to stand to get the most effective view, explain the science behind a particular illusion, and take your picture. In fact, the museum welcomes photography because the digital photograph makes it easier to visualize many of the illusions. At the front of the museum, a staff member is ready to have two of your party pose as part of an illusion relating to perspective (check out the photo where Marty is patting Laurie’s head — we are literally a few feet from each other! And no — Laurie is not that small).

Photography is encouraged at the Museum of Illusions; a photograph makes it easier to visualize many of the illusions. Friendly staff members are available to help take the photo.

The museum is housed in a bank building dating back to pre-Depression 1920s. Before you leave, be sure to ask to see the old bank vault.

(Be advised: the only downside of the Museum of Illusions is that it has mobility limitations – there is no handrail on the outside steps leading up to the main door and no alternate ramp. The second floor is only accessible by a narrow staircase with a banister — there is no elevator. On the other hand, visitors with mobility issues are admitted free.) 

The Museum of Illusions (77th 8th Ave, New York, NY; https://newyork.museumofillusions.us/) is open Monday – Thursday, 9am to 10pm; Friday  – Sunday 8am to 11pm. To explore with smaller crowds, try to arrive before noon. Plan for 45 minutes to 1-½ hours to walk the entire museum, and bring a camera to capture the illusions at their best! Tickets are $19/adult; $17/senior, military, students with ID; and $15/kids 6-13 years of age (under 6 is free).  Tickets may be purchased online with a small service fee.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

‘Fiddler on the Roof’ in Yiddish is a Theater Experience Not to be Missed; Off-Broadway Run Extended to Jan. 5

A standing ovation for the cast of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, now playing at Stage 42, off-Broadway in New York City through Jan. 5, 2020 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, David Leiberman & Laini Miranda, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

So often, when reviving a theater icon like Fiddler on the Roof, there is the need to find a new, unique, creative way to make it their own, to reinterpret, re-envision to give new audiences a different entry way. And too often, that manipulation warps or distorts what made the theatrical experience so precious to begin with. But you don’t have to insert modern inventions into Fiddler for its moral, both universal and specific, to be relevant to today’s audiences. In fact, it is much more profound to be transported back to that time, 1904, for its truth to be fully realized.

Fiddler on the Roof has that most important aspect of a true classic, to touch every emotion, make you see things more insightfully, to have a real moral to the story, and leave you a better, more understanding person afterward – and be entertained.

Directed by Oscar and Tony Award-winner Joel Grey, Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish (in Yiddish, A Fidler Afn Dakh) adds new depth and dimension to this heart-wrenching story of a community struggling to balance traditions against the forces and threats of a changing world. The little town of Anatevka reverberates with the sounds of mame-loshn (ancestral language).

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, brings you closer, more engaged, immerses you.  The experience seems even more authentic, more intimate.

Partly this is because the Yiddish language, is so expressive – some of the earliest musicals in New York were in Yiddish (Yiddish theater thrived in New York between 1888 and the 1920s; there is even a Museum of Yiddish Theater, www.museumofyiddishtheater.org) – and in a surprising way even familiar. There are words we New Yorkers know very well (meshuganah comes up a lot), and it seems every so often the Yiddish word is similar to English. But you can follow along, opera-style, with titles (in English and Russian!).  

But it is also because Yiddish is the mame-loshn, the ancestral language. It gives the story more authenticity. You are there, in this place so far away. Perhaps you even understand the challenge when the inhabitants of this village, indeed all the Jews from all the villages, are driven from their homes on three days notice to a strange place where they will understand no one and no one will understand them.

One of the most celebrated musicals of all time, Fiddler on The Roof, based on Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the Dairyman stories, features the sensational music by Jerry Bock, meaningful lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and smart book by Joseph Stein, with original New York stage production directed and choreographed by the greatJerome Robbins. This production, brilliantly directed by Joel Grey, has staging and new choreography by Stas Kimec.

We noticed just small deviations from the original book, and a new song that emerges from Pertshik’s biblical lesson, that enhance the experience (not too smart or gimmicky), but otherwise, it is gloriously faithful to one of the best musical theater works ever created.

The direction by Joel Grey is exquisite – just the right timing, emphasis, emotion. These characters seem more approachable, especially without distractions of a complicated set. The Tevye character, played by Steven Skybell (who won the 2019 Lucille Lortel Award for Best Lead Actor) is more sensitive, loving, nuanced than the character is usually played.

The Jews of Anatevka are clad all in grey, white and black – as if looking back in time at old photos or film, or perhaps as letters out of a book – only the Russians have a touch of red and Fiadkah’s outfit is sufficiently differentiated from his erstwhile comrades.

The set is sparse, but you don’t even realize it – long strips of what looks like parchment of Torah scrolls with one with the only world, in Hebrew lettering, Torah that binds the community throughout the ages and is the underpinning to tradition. That hones the message but also focuses attention on the people.

The staging and choreography is fabulous – there are all our favorites: the bottle dance at the wedding; the Russian dance. I loved the way the dream sequence is staged. The voices and acting of a brilliant company are sensational.

And most importantly, a timeless tale more important than ever that needs to be told in these times.

The original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, which opened in 1964, was the first musical theater production in history to surpass 3,000 performances, won the 1965 Tony Award for Best Musical in addition to eight other Tony Awards that year and has performed in every metropolitan city in the world from Paris to Beijing.

The Yiddish translation, so artfully crafted by Israeli actor/director Shraga Friedman, was originally performed in Israel in 1965 just one year after its Broadway debut. Born in Warsaw, Friedman was a native Yiddish speaker who escaped war-torn Europe with his family and made their way to Tel Aviv in 1941. “Well acquainted with the works of Sholem Aleichem, Friedman used his translation to infuse Fiddler with rich literary references to the original Yiddish stories.”

The NYTF production, which was originally staged at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, marks the first time the Yiddish version has been performed in the United States.

There is no problem following what is going on – much like opera, there are supertitles in English and Russian on both sides of the stage throughout the entire performance that translate what is being said or sung on stage in real time. The show is so familiar that it isn’t even necessary, but I enjoyed reading the nuances of difference. And the great surprise is how familiar some of the words are, either because Yiddish expressions have entered the vernacular (at least in New York), or because of the connection to English.

The complete cast of Fiddler on the Roof includes award-winning Steven Skybell (as Tevye), Emmy Award nominee Jackie Hoffman (as Yente), Jennifer Babiak (as Golde), Joanne Borts (as Sheyndl), Lisa Fishman (as Bobe Tsatyl), Kirk Geritano (as Avrom), Samantha Hahn (as Beylke), Cameron Johnson (as Fyedka), Ben Liebert (as Motl Kamzoyl), Stephanie Lynne Mason (as Hodl), Evan Mayer (as Sasha), Rosie Jo Neddy (as Khave), Raquel Nobile (as Shprintze), Nick Raynor (as Yosl), Bruce Sabath (as Leyzer Volf), Drew Seigla (as Perchik), Adam B. Shapiro (as Der Rov), Jodi Snyder (as Frume-Sore), James Monroe Števko (as Mendl), Lauren Jeanne Thomas (as Der Fiddler), Bobby Underwood (as Der Gradavoy), Mikhl Yashinsky (as Nokhum / Mordkhe), and Rachel Zatcoff (as Tsaytl).

Ensemble members include Michael EinavJonathan Quigley, and Kayleen Seidl. Swings include Abby Goldfarb and John Giesige, and Moshe Lobel serves as understudy for the production.

The creative team for the production features new choreography by Staś Kmieć (based on the original choreography by Jerome Robbins), musical direction by Zalmen Mlotek, scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Ann Hould-Ward, sound design by Dan Moses Schreier, lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski, wig & hair design by Tom Watson, and props design by Addison Heeren.

Fiddler on the Roof  is produced off-Broadway by Hal Luftig and Jana Robbins, in association withSandy Block.

This production of Fiddler on the Roof  is the winner of the 2019 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical Revival, a 2019 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award Special Citation, and star Steven Skybell is the winner of the 2019 Lucille Lortel Award for Best Lead Actor in a Musical, as well as numerous nominations for Joe Grey as director, for orchestration, Lucille Lortel nominee for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Jackie Hoffman.

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, a production of the remarkable National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF), began its life with a celebrated run at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, where it had been extended multiple times and played its final performance on December 30, 2018. This production at the Stage 42 Theater has been extended multiple times as well, and now is extended again, through January 5, 2020.

NYTF has its own remarkable history: founded in 1915 the award-winning NYTF is the longest continuously producing Yiddish theater company in the world and offers regular productions. The company is presenting a season of four mainstage productions, concerts and readings curated to accompany the exhibit Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away. now on view at the Museum of Jewish Heritage through Jan. 3, 2020 (https://mjhnyc.org/exhibitions/auschwitz/).

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish is a theater experience not to be missed.

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish is at Stage 42, 422 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues), New York, NY, 10036. For the most current performance schedule and tickets, see http://fiddlernyc.com. Tickets are on sale for performances through Jan. 5, 2020. https://nytf.org/fiddler-on-the-roof/ 

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Roaring 20s Returns With Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island

Jazz Age Lawn Party regulars Heidi Rosenau and Joe McGlynn dance to the 1920s music of Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra, at the event on Governors Island. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra are hosting its 14th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island this summer – as Arenella notes, just one year shy of 100 years since the Roaring 20’s got underway. His homage to the Jazz Age era brings out the best of New York, with ladies donning their flappers dresses, feathers, sequins and pearls, and the fellows their straw hats, suspenders, bow ties and white linen suits. And each year, it seems, there are more and more kids.

Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Michael Arenella, an aficionado of the Jazz Age, has compiled a song book. He transcribes by hand the music from period recordings, and introduces them with quaint tidbits.

“For Michael, the Jazz Age never really ended, it just fell asleep.”

Looking every bit Gatsby-esque in a 1920s Rolls Royce, Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He really gets into character, and everyone thoroughly enjoys the trip back in time, even looking every bit Gatsby-esque when he marches his orchestra out among the picnickers and into a vintage Rolls Royce on display.

Roddy Caravella gives a lesson in dancing the Charleston at the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This year features a return of his popular entertainers: Robert Ross as Emcee; Roddy Caravella and the incomparable Canarsie Wobblers putting on different dance routines; the Gelber & Manning Band; Peter Mintun on the piano; Queen Esther and her jazz trio; Gretchen Fenston; Julie Reiner.

Charleston Dance contest at the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
9 1/2 year old Aidan Hazirovic is congratulated by Roddy Caravella after being declared the winner of the Charleston dance contest at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The event typically starts off with a dance lesson instructed by Roddy Caravella – on the Saturday, it was the Charleston, and in the afternoon a Charleston contest which was won by by 9 ½-year old Aidan Hazirovic.

The romantic mood really takes over on the dance floor as Max Singer surprised his sweetheart, Bryanna Doe, with a proposal of marriage.

She said Yes! Max Singer surprises Bryanna Doe with his proposal of marriage on the dance floor during the Jazz Age Lawn Party, which seems to bring out the romance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you missed out on this rollicking good time, you have another chance: Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra bring another Jazz Age Lawn Party to Governors Island on August 24 & 25, noon to 6 pm. Purchase tickets in advance www.jazzagelawnparty.com.

A dance routine by the Carnarsie Wobblers at the Jazz Age Lawn Party © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Pianist extraordinaire Peter Mintun entertains at the Jazz Age Lawn Party © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Queen Esther and her jazz trio entertain at the Jazz Age Lawn Party © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Canarsie Wobblers entertain at the Jazz Age Lawn Party © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Andrew Hall’s Newark Yacht Club Band perform on the Aperol Spritz stage at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Canarsie Wobblers do one of their dance routines at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here are more special moments:

Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Jazz Age Lawn Party regulars Heidi Rosenau and Joe McGlynn dance to the 1920s music of Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dancing the Charleston at the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dancing to Andrew Hall’s Newark Yacht Club Band at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dancing to Queen Esther and her jazz trio at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra present the 14th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New York City’s Summer Outdoor Festival Season Gets Underway

By Karen Rubin, David Leiberman, Laini Nemett, Eric Leiberman

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Summer is a magical time in New York City, with a burst of the finest cultural institutions opening their doors, coming outdoors and letting all the world in.

Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park

The company of the Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Kenny Leon, running at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park through June 23. (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

The Public Theater (Artistic Director, Oskar Eustis; Executive Director, Patrick Willingham) has begun performances of the 2019 Free Shakespeare in the Park production of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at the Delacorte Theater, continuing a 57-year tradition of free theater in Central Park.  Directed by Tony Award winner Kenny Leon, the all-black staging of this beloved comedy will run through Sunday, June 23.

Then, for the first time since 1979, Free Shakespeare in the Park will present CORIOLANUS, the Bard’s blistering drama about a general voted into power by a populace hungry for change, and the unraveling that follows. Tony Award winner Daniel Sullivan (Proof, Shakespeare In The Park’s Troilus and Cressida) directs a modern-day version of this riveting epic of democracy and demagoguery, July 16-August 11.

This year, there will be voucher or ticket distributions over the course of the summer in all five boroughs for almost every public performance of Free Shakespeare in the Park, continuing The Public’s mission of making great theater accessible to all. This summer’s distributions at libraries, recreation centers, and community partners throughout New York City, will have more locations and dates than ever to provide New Yorkers even more opportunities to obtain free tickets. To see a complete borough distribution schedule, visit publictheater.org/borough.

Kenny Leon directs a bold new take on Shakespeare’s cherished comedy of romantic retribution and miscommunication, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. In this modern production, we find the community of Messina celebrating a break from an ongoing war. But not all is peaceful amid the revelry, as old rivals engage in a battle of wits, unexpected foes plot revenge, and young lovers are caught in a tumultuous courtship – until love proves the ultimate trickster, and undoes them all.

The all-black cast of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING includes Jamar Brathwaite (Ensemble), Danielle Brooks (Beatrice), Grantham Coleman (Benedick), Chuck Cooper (Leonato), Javen K. Crosby (Ensemble), Denzel DeAngelo Fields (Ensemble), Jeremie Harris (Claudio), Tayler Harris (Ensemble), Erik Laray Harvey (Antonio/Verges), Kai Heath (Messenger), Daniel Croix Henderson (Balthasar), Tyrone Mitchell Henderson (Friar Francis/Sexton), Tiffany Denise Hobbs (Ursula), Lateefah Holder (Dogberry), LaWanda Hopkins (Dancer), Billy Eugene Jones (Don Pedro), Margaret Odette (Hero), Hubert Point-Du Jour (Don John), William Roberson (Ensemble), Jaime Lincoln Smith (Borachio), Jazmine Stewart (Ensemble), Khiry Walker (Conrade/Ensemble), Olivia Washington (Margaret), and Latra A. Wilson (Dancer).

To enable as many New Yorkers as possible the opportunity to experience Free Shakespeare in the Park there will be an open caption performance of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING on Friday, June 14; an ASL performance on Saturday, June 15; and an ADA audio described performance on Thursday, June 13.

Since 1962, over five million people have enjoyed more than 150 free productions of Shakespeare and other classical works and musicals at the Delacorte Theater. Conceived by founder Joseph Papp as a way to make great theater accessible to all, The Public’s Free Shakespeare in the Park continues to be the bedrock of the Company’s mission to increase access and engage the community.

This season, The Public proudly welcomes the return of Jerome L. Greene Foundation and Bank of America as season sponsors.

The Public continues the work of its visionary founder Joe Papp as a civic institution engaging, both on-stage and off, with some of the most important ideas and social issues of today. Conceived over 60 years ago as one of the nation’s first nonprofit theaters, The Public has long operated on the principles that theater is an essential cultural force and that art and culture belong to everyone. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Oskar Eustis and Executive Director Patrick Willingham, The Public’s wide breadth of programming includes an annual season of new work at its landmark home at Astor Place, Free Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, The Mobile Unit touring throughout New York City’s five boroughs, Public Forum, Under the Radar, Public Studio, Public Works, Public Shakespeare Initiative, and Joe’s Pub. Since premiering HAIR in 1967, The Public continues to create the canon of American Theater and is currently represented on Broadway by the Tony Award-winning musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Their programs and productions can also be seen regionally across the country and around the world. The Public has received 59 Tony Awards, 170 Obie Awards, 53 Drama Desk Awards, 56 Lortel Awards, 34 Outer Critic Circle Awards, 13 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards, and 6 Pulitzer Prizes.

Tickets to The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park are distributed in a number of ways. On the day of each public performance, free tickets may be acquired in person at The Delacorte Theater, through a digital lottery via the TodayTix website or mobile app, in person at a borough distribution site, and via an in person lottery in the lobby of The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. All tickets are subject to availability. A performance calendar and complete ticket distribution details can be found at PublicTheater.org. A limited number of tickets are also available via advance reservation by making a contribution in support of Free Shakespeare in the Park. To learn more, or to make a contribution, call 212.967.7555, or visit PublicTheater.org. The Delacorte Theater in Central Park is accessible by entering at 81st Street and Central Park West or at 79th Street and Fifth Avenue (publictheater.org).

Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series Features 6 Free Concerts

The Metropolitan Opera’s 2019 Summer Recital Series once again brings free outdoor recitals, featuring established artists and young talents of the opera world, to New Yorkers in all five boroughs.  The series, now in its 11th year, features six free concerts embracing all five boroughs, and has become an operatic summer tradition.

Presented in collaboration with City Parks Foundation’s SummerStage Festival, the first two concerts, on Monday, June 10 at 8 p.m. at Central Park SummerStage (Manhattan) and Wednesday, June 12 at 7 p.m. at Brooklyn Bridge Park (Brooklyn), will feature soprano Ying Fang,who sang a featured role in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito this season,and tenor Ben Bliss and baritone Nathan Gunn,who sang together this season in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. They will be joined by Met pianist Dan Saunders.

Enjoying outdoor concert in Central Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Four additional recitals feature soprano Leah Hawkins and tenor Mario Bahg, current members of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and baritone Joseph Lim, a winner of the Met’s National Council Auditions. They will be accompanied by Met pianist Dimitri Dover. Their concerts will take place on Thursday, June 13 at 7 p.m. in Jackie Robinson Park (Manhattan); Saturday, June 15 at 4 p.m. in Williamsbridge Oval (Bronx); Monday, June 17 at 7 p.m. in Socrates Sculpture Park (Queens); and Wednesday, June 19 at 7 p.m. in Clove Lakes Park (Staten Island).

The Met’s Summer Recital Series will feature arias and duets, as well as Broadway standards and other classical favorites.

The Met’s Summer Recital Series is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council, and in collaboration with the Department of Parks and Recreation. Major funding has also been provided by The Elizabeth B. McGraw Foundation, in honor of Mrs. McGraw.

No tickets are required for any of the performances. There are no rain dates for any of the park recitals. For more information visit metopera.org/season/summer-2019/recitals/

New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks

New York Philharmonic performing in Prospect Park, Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks, Presented by Didi and Oscar Schafer, have become an iconic New York summer experience since they began in 1965, transforming parks throughout the city into a patchwork of picnickers and providing music lovers with an opportunity to hear the best classical music under the stars. 

The concerts will take place Tuesday June 11 in Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx; Wednesday, June 12 in Central Park, Manhattan, Thursday, June 13 in Cunningham Park in Queens, Friday, June 14 in Prospect Park, Brooklyn and Sunday, June 16 in Staten Island.

All performances begin at 8 PM except the Free Indoor Concert in Staten Island, which begins at 4 PM.

The scheduled program includes Rossini, Overture to La Gazza Ladra; Works by Very Young Composers of New York City; and Copland’s Hoe-Down, from Rodeo.

Fireworks at the New York Philharmonic performance in Central Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There will be fireworks by Volt Live following the performances in the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn.

For weather and other updates, call the Concert Information Hotline at 212-875-5709 (https://nyphil.org/parks).

Museum Mile Festival, June 11

Now celebrating its 41st year, the annual Museum Mile Festival takes place rain or shine on Tuesday, June 11, from 6 to 9 pm. Walk the Mile on Fifth Avenue between 82nd Street and 110th Street while visiting some of New York City’s finest cultural institutions, which are open free to the public throughout the evening. Special exhibitions and works from permanent collections are on view inside the museums’ galleries, with live music and art-making workshops on Fifth Avenue at selected museums.

Dancing in the street, outside the Museum of the City of New York, during the Museum Mile Festival © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 23-block stretch of Fifth Avenue is home to seven participating institutions—El Museo del Barrio, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, the Jewish Museum, Neue Galerie and the Museum of the City of New York. In addition to all the art to see inside, there are plenty of outdoor festivities: face painting, chalk drawing, live music and other block-party-type events. (http://museummilefestival.org/)

Jazz Age Lawn Party, Governors Island

Nostalgia doesn’t begin to describe the feeling that permeates Governors Island for the two weekends  (June 15 & 16, August 24 & 25) each summer that thousands of people, many decked out in 1920s regalia, elaborate picnic baskets in hand, disembark from ferries from lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Everybody dance! At the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, a celebration of prohibition-era Jazz Hot © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This, the 14th year of the festival, is especially poignant because it is also the 100th anniversary of Prohibition and all that the counter-culture (women’s rights!) Jazz Age triggered.

It is also one of New York City’s most glamorous and entertaining events of the summer.

Michael Arenella and the Dreamland Orchestra, with a 1920s-era dance performance by The Dreamland Follies, at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Jazz Age Lawn Party started in 2005 as a small gathering on NYC’s Governors Island, and has since grown into one of New York City’s most beloved events. This historically sold out event attracts thousands of time travelers each year, who come together to discover the music and zeitgeist of the 1920s. Consistently selected by the New York Times as one of the year’s most memorable events, Jazz Age Lawn Party offers a unique, interactive opportunity to relive one of the most colorful and formative epochs in American history.

Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, NYC with Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The event is held rain or shine; food is available for sale but people love to bring their own  picnics (outside alcohol is prohibited, but there is alcohol, including Prohibition-era inspired cocktails, for sale).

Though enjoying Governor’s Island is free (and there are fascinating historic sites as well as art and cultural and recreational activities on the island, and you can hear the music, admission to the festivities is by ticket (which cost up to $175). Purchase tickets in advance https://www.eventbrite.com/o/jazz-age-lawn-party-18523813336 (no charge for children 12 and under).

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Global Scavenger Hunt: ‘World’s Greatest Travelers’ Winners Crowned in New York

The Three Graces, a Roman marble statue from 2nd C AD copying a Greek theme from the 2nd C BC, is repeated throughout Western civilization, on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Global Scavenger Hunt teams arrive in New York City for the last leg of the Global Scavenger Hunt that has taken us to 10 countries in 23 days. Bill Chalmers, the ringmaster and Chief Experience Officer of this around-the-world mystery tour, in which the challenges and scavenges are designed to get us out of our comfort zone and immerse us in a culture, fine-tune our skills as world travelers, and most significantly, “trust in the kindness of strangers.” Back in New York, he is delighted all 10 teams circumnavigated the world “in one piece” without dramatic incident, in this, the 15th annual Global Scavenger Hunt competition.

The leading teams vying for the title of “World’s Greatest Travelers” as we enter this final leg of the contest in 4th place, SLO Folks from California with 96 points (where the low-score wins); in 3rd, Order & Chaos, doctors from San Francisco with 81 points; in 2nd place, Lazy Monday, computer networking consultant and think tank professional from California with 46 points, and Lawyers Without Borders, from Houston, with 33 points, five-time winners who are competing in the Global Scavenger Hunt for the 12th time.

There is one more challenge in New York (an easy urban Par 1), and even though, based on points and placement, the winners of the 15th annual, 2019 edition of the Global Scavenger Hunt have been determined, still the teams go out and give it their all. Those in contention must complete at least one of the scavenges in New York, and complete their time sheet and hand in by the 4 pm deadline.

Examples of the scavenges: take in a Yankees game or a Broadway show; have one of each of following: a New York bagel, a New York hot dog, a New York deli sandwich, a slice of New York pizza, New York cheesecake, a New York egg cream, or an old-fashion Manhattan; -locate five pieces from five of the nations you just visited in the Met; visit Strawberry Fields, pay John Lennon tribute; do one scavenge in each of the five boroughs of New York City.

A native New Yorker, this is really my turf (though there is the oddest sensation of feeling like I am in a foreign place, reminding myself of what is familiar like language, money, streets, drink water, eat salad), and I delight in walking up Madison Avenue to 82nd Street to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue.

Hunting for an object from Morocco, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I elect to take up the challenge of going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to seek out objects from five of the countries we visited (Canada, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Abu Dhabi, Jordan, Greece, Morocco, Gibraltar, Portugal, Spain). Greece will be easy, of course, but Morocco and Jordan (Petra), Vietnam and Myanmar (Burma) are just a bit trickier. It is Chalmers’ way of making us experience things on a different level, and for me, it brings together so much of what we’ve seen, learned and experienced along the way.

An object from Thailand, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I first join a docent-led Highlights Tour, knowing from past experience that these always lead me to parts of the museum I am unfamiliar with, and enlighten about aspects of art and culture with the in-depth discussion of the pieces the docents select to discuss.

Not easy to find to complete the Global Scavenger Hunt: an object from Vietnam, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The docent, Alan, begins in the Greco-Roman exhibit with a stunning marble sculpture of the Three Graces, showing how this theme – essentially copied from the Greek bronzes (which no longer exist because the bronze was valuable and melted down for military use) – was repeated over the eons, into the Renaissance and even beyond.

The Magdala Stone, 1st Century, Migdal, Synagogue, on the Sea of Galilee. The stone, whose exact function is uncertain, dates to a time when the temple in Jerusalem still stood. One short side features a 7-branched menorah – the earliest such image known in a synagogue – flanked by amphorae and columns. The Migdal synagogue would have been in use during the lifetime of Jesus, whom the Gospels describe as preaching in synagogues throughout Galilee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Obviously, finding an object from Greece is going to be easy, and I hope to find objects from Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), and Thailand in the Asia wing where there is a massive collection of Buddhist art (it proves just a tad more difficult, but I succeed). Morocco and Jordan (Petra) proved trickier than I expected, but brought me to an astonishing exhibit, “The World Between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East,” with an extraordinary focus on the territories and trading networks of the Middle East that were contested between the Roman and Parthian Empires (ca. 100 BC and AD 250). “yet across the region life was not defined by these two superpowers alone. Local cultural and religious traditions flourished and sculptures, wall paintings, jewelry and other objects reveal how ancient identities were expressed through art.”

The Greek sun god Helios, from Petra, 1st C BC – 1st C AD, found at Qint al-Bint temple in Petra, visited on the Global Scavenger Hunt © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibit features 190 works from museums in the Middle East, Europe and the United States in an exhibition that follows the great incense and silk routes that connected cities in southwestern Arabia, Nabataea, Judea, Syria and Mesopotamia, that made the region a center of global trade along with spreading ideas, spurring innovations (such as in water control), and spawning art and culture.

It was the most incredible feeling to come upon the objects from Petra, having visited the site (was it only 10 days ago?) and having a context for seeing these isolated objects on display.

The World between Empires

The landmark exhibition The World between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East, which is on view through June 23, 2019, focuses on the remarkable cultural, religious and commercial exchange that took place in cities including Petra, Baalbek, Palmyra and Hatra between 100 B.C. and A.D. 250. “During this transformative period, the Middle East was the center of global commerce and the meeting point of two powerful empires—Parthian Iran in the east and Rome in the west—that struggled for regional control.”

The exhibition focuses on the diverse and distinctive cities and people that flourished in this environment by featuring 190 outstanding examples of stone and bronze sculpture, wall paintings, jewelry, and other objects from museums in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.

Wall Painting of Christ Healing the Paralytic/Wall Painting of Christ Walking on Water, ca 232, Dura-Europos, Christian building, considered the world’s oldest surviving church. The paintings include images of Jesus Christ performing miracles, and are the earliest securely dated representations of him © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the highlights is a Nabataean religious shrine, reconstructed from architectural elements in collections in the United States and Jordan; the unique Magdala Stone, discovered in a first-century synagogue at Migdal (ancient Magdala) and whose imagery refers to the Temple in Jerusalem; and wall paintings from a church in Dura-Europos that are the earliest securely dated images of Jesus. Sculptures from Baalbek illuminate religious traditions at one of the greatest sanctuaries in the ancient Middle East, and funerary portraits from Palmyra bring visitors face to face with ancient people. The exhibition also examines important contemporary issues—above all, the deliberate destruction and looting of sites including Palmyra, Dura-Europos, and Hatra.

Ossuaries, Israel, excavated at Azor, Chalcolithic period, early 4th millennium BC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The compelling works of art in this exhibition offer a view into how people in the ancient Middle East sought to define themselves during a time of tremendous religious, creative, and political activity, revealing aspects of their lives and communities that resonate some two millennia later,” said Max Hollein, Director, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  “Further, in focusing on an area of the world that has been deeply affected by recent conflicts and the destruction of sites, monuments, and objects, this show also engages with complex questions about the preservation of cultural heritage.”

Dead Sea Scroll Jar and Lid, ca 2nd Century BC, found in the Qumran caves, the documents now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls represent biblical texts and Jewish religious practices in the last centuries BC and first century AD. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibition evokes a journey along ancient trade routes, beginning in the southwestern Arabian kingdoms that grew rich from the caravan trade in frankincense and myrrh harvested there and used throughout the ancient world. Camel caravans crossed the desert to the Nabataean kingdom, with its spectacular capital city of Petra, which I had just visited, walking through very much as the caravan travelers would have.

Statuette of nude goddess, 2nd C BC-2nd C AD, Ctesiphon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From here, goods traveled west to the Mediterranean and north and east through regions including Judaea and the Phoenician coast and across the Syrian desert, where the oasis city of Palmyra controlled trade routes that connected the Mediterranean world to Mesopotamia and Iran and ultimately China. In Mesopotamia, merchants transported cargoes down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the Persian Gulf, where they joined maritime trade routes to India. These connections transcended the borders of empires, forming networks that linked cities and individuals over vast distances.

3rd C biblical wall paintings discovered in the Dura-Europos synagogue were exceptional because they demonstrated that early Jewish art included figural scenes. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandne

Across the entire region, diverse local political and religious identities were expressed in art. Artifacts from Judaea give a powerful sense of ancient Jewish identity during a critical period of struggle with Roman rule. Architectural sculptures from the colossal sanctuary at Baalbek and statuettes of its deities reveal the intertwined nature of Roman and ancient Middle Eastern religious practices. Funerary portraits from Palmyra represent the elite of an important hub of global trade. Wall paintings and sculptures from Dura-Europos on the River Euphrates illustrate the striking religious diversity of a settlement at the imperial frontier. And in Mesopotamia, texts from the last Babylonian cuneiform libraries show how ancient temple institutions waned and finally disappeared during this transformative period.

In Athens and Petra, particularly, you appreciate this synergy between trade, migration, environmental sustainability and technology (in Petra, the ability to control water supply was key), economic prosperity and political power, and the rise of art, culture, and community.

Bearded God, ca 1st C, Dura-Europos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is rare (if ever ) for the Metropolitan Museum to venture into the political, but a key topic within the exhibition is the impact of recent armed conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen on archaeological sites, monuments, and museums, including deliberate destruction and looting. Some of the most iconic sites affected—Palmyra, Hatra, and Dura-Europos—are featured in the exhibition, which discusses this damage and raises questions regarding current and future responses to the destruction of heritage. Should the sites be restored or will they now only exist “on paper”? How much money and resources should go to restoring or excavation when villages and homes for people to live in also need to be rebuilt?

There is a fascinating, if frantic, presentation of three archaeologist/historians speaking about what the destruction by ISIS and Islamic fundamentalists of Palmyra, Eura-Europos and Hatra – what it means to destroy a people’s heritage, their cultural identity. “It may seem frivolous to focus on [archaeological sites] when people are enslaved, killed…but to wipe out, destroy culture is a way of destroying people.”

Happening upon this exhibit made the travel experiences we had to these extraordinary places all the more precious.

It is a humbling experience, to be sure, to go to the origins of the great civilizations, fast forward to today. How did they become great? How did they fall? Greatness is not inevitable or forever.  Empires rise and fall. Rulers use religion, art and monuments to establish their credibility and credentials to rule; successors blot out the culture and re-write history.

(“The World Between Empires” is featured on The Met website as well as on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter using the hashtag #WorldBetweenEmpires.)

I peek out from the American Café windows to Central Park and see sun and the early spring blossoms on the trees, and dash out to walk through my other favorite New York City place. There is nothing more beautiful than New York City in the spring – brides are out in force taking photos; there are musicians and entertainers. There is a festive atmosphere as I walk through the park toward the Palace Hotel in time for our 4:30 pm meeting.

Spring in Central Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

15th Annual Global Scavenger Hunt Winners Crowned

At the end of the New York City leg:

1st Lazy Monday, completed 10 scavenges earning 385 points

2nd SLO Folks with 6 scavenges, 250 pts

3rd Lawyers, with 150 pts

4th Order & Chaos

And now, drumroll please, Chalmers announces the winner of the 2019 Global Scavenger Hunt: “Only one team wins. The competition was fierce.”

3rd – Order & Chaos, Sal  Iaquinta & Vivian Reyes, doctors from San Francisco

2nd – Lazy Monday, Eric & Kathryn Verwillow, computer networking and think tank professional of Palo Alto, California (“I am in awe of how hard worked beginning to end – embraced the spirit,” Chalmers says.

1st Lawyers Without Borders, Rainey Booth and Zoe Littlepage of Houston, who have competed in the Global Scavenger Hunt 12 times, and won it for the 6th time. “You embody the spirit of the event, to go out of your comfort zone.” (You can follow Zoe’s blog of her experience to get a sense of how strenuous, outrageous, and determined the team was in accumulating their points: https://zoeandraineygreatescape.blogspot.com/2019/05/gsh-2019)

We celebrate at a final bon voyage dinner.

The Global Scavenger Hunt is the brainchild of Bill and Pamela Chalmers, who in addition to forging understanding and bonds among travelers and the people in the destinations visited, use the program to promote voluntourism (one of the scavenges is to volunteer at an orphanage or school during our stay in Yangon, Myanmar, and in the past travelers visited & helped out at: Tibetan refugee camps in Nepal, orphanages in Laos, hospitals in Cambodia, homeless schools in India, hospices in Manila, disabled facilities in Sri Lanka, Ethiopian schools, the slums of Nairobi) and raised money for the GreatEscape Foundation.

“The foundation is one of main reasons we do the event,” Chalmers says. The foundation has raised money to build 12 schools (1 each in Niger, Haiti, Ecuador, India & Ethiopia; 2 each in Sri Lanka & Sierra Leone, and 3 in Kenya), helped build the Tamensa Medical Clinic in Niger for migrating Tuareg nomads which serves as a midwives & nurse training center too. “We know that we saved lives and bettered the lives of hundreds. We have helped over 2400 families in more than 60 countries (mostly women entrepreneurs) with our interest and fee free micro-loans (96% of which have gone to women with a 99% repayment).”

 Through the event this and last year, the foundation will build 2 more co-ed elementary schools , in Ethiopia and Haiti.

TheGlobal Scavenger Hunt travel adventure competition is aimed at returning the romance of travel while testing the travel IQ of the most travel savvy of globetrotters. The travelers (who must apply and be accepted to compete) completed a series of highly participatory, authentic and challenging cultural site-doing scavenges in ten secret countries over a 23-day circumnavigation between April 12 and May 4, 2019 designed to bring people out of their comfort zone and trust strangers in strange lands.

 “The Global Scavenger Hunt covers a lot of extraordinary travel bases,” says Chalmers, who dubs his mystery tour, “A blind date with the world.”

For more information, contact GreatEscape Adventures at 310-281-7809, or visit GlobalScavengerHunt.com.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

First Look at The Shed, NYC’s Newest Iconic Cultural Center Bent on Using Art for Social Action, Public Good

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

The Shed is notable for a design based around flexibility; the new cultural arts center is adjacent to the Highline and The Nest and is the “beating heart” of the new Hudson Yards development on New York City’s West Side © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Imagine a structure 120 feet high that can fit 2000 people for a concert, but that can move, expand, shrink or be completely removed to expose an open-air plaza. An “anti-institution” cultural institution to provide a home and nurture the full spectrum of the arts, where emerging artists, local artists, and established artists have parity, and audiences represent the diversity and inclusivity of New York with low-priced ticket holders dispersed throughout the house.

This is The Shed, the newest cultural center to open in a city which prides culture above all, sure to be gain a place among the pantheon of iconic art institutions, along with its leading-edge approach to harnessing the arts as a force for social action and public good, its astonishing architecture, flexible, versatile and adaptable enough to enable artists of today and tomorrow and fulfill their vision to be a platform across multi-disciplines.

It’s “the Swiss army knife” of culture,” said Daniel L. Doctoroff, chair of the board, during a press preview prior to the April 5 grand opening, when the principals involved with the genesis of the project spoke of what The Shed, and its mission, meant to the city and society.

Indeed, they noted, in a city of 1200 cultural attractions, The Shed had to be different, beginning with its commitment to commissioning new works, creating a platform – the space and place – for artists across disciplines, engaging audiences across a spectrum of backgrounds and interests, but most significantly, creating a building, that like a “living organism” would keep morphing to accommodate artists’ visions today and decades from now, accommodating the unimaginable ways art and culture might change over time.

Six and a half years ago, after seeing a 60-second animation of what The Shed could be, purpose-built to house various forms of culture and building would move, John Tisch, vice chair of the new institution, told his wife, “The Shed is about future of NYC and we need to be involved.”

“6 ½ years later, here we are discovering the future of NYC and how we as citizens and creators of this institution will discuss culture and humanity, how we all need to be together in the 21st century in NYC.

 “There are many cultural institutions – many are about the past. The Shed is about the future.”

“The dictionary defines ‘shed’ as an opened-ended structure with tools,” said Doctoroff. “We designed The Shed as a platform, uniquely adaptable, to liberate artists to fulfill their dreams.”

More than a dozen years ago, Doctoroff said, The Shed “started as small square on map, a placeholder for To Be Determined cultural institution.

“Mayor Bloomberg said ‘Make it different from anything else in New York City.’ That’s not easy in a town of 1200 cultural institutions. It had to play a role in a new edge of New York City, keeping New York City as leading edge of the cultural world.”

The principals of The Shed, NYC’s newest iconic cultural institution housed in an architectural marvel: Hans Ulrich Obrist, David Rockwell, John Tisch, Dan Doctoroff, Liz Diller and Frank H McCourt, Jr. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Liz Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, lead architect, and David Rockwell of Rockwell Group, collaborating architect, responded to the mandate for flexibility, a one-of-a-kind structure.

“Just as it was to be designed to be flexible, we wanted it to be of and for our time and inclusive of artists across all disciplines,” Doctoroff said. “We proposed commissions of emerging artists across all art forms – the mission drives our work.

“It is a remarkable public/private investment of $500 million to design and construct building and create original works of art.

“New York City continues to be perfect partner under Mayor DiBlasio. The city provided $75 million and the land.

“We are standing in The McCourt, a spectacular space that can do anything an artist can imagine. It was named for the Board member who gave $45 million.

“Griffin Theater was named for one of most generous philanthropists, Ken Griffin, who gave $25 million.

“Altice USA is the founding fiber network partner – so that The Shed is an accessible arts organization with global reach, the first cultural institution with connectivity partner.

“Above all, Mayor Bloomberg, who had vision to transform West Side and create cultural institution as beating heart. The Shed is housed the Bloomberg Building, named for Mayor Bloomberg.

“It’s been a 14-year journey – kind of crazy, new kind of cultural institution in a completely new building in new part of town, new board, new team, performing miracles every day, producing our own work.

“Great architecture demands great purpose,” Doctoroff said. 

Alex Poots, on stage in The McCourt: “The Shed is place for invention, curiosity where all artists and audiences can meet.”  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Alex Poots, the Artistic Director and CEO, said, “I started to imagine the possibilities: a flexible building, built on city land. That was the draw to lure me from England –a  public purpose. It was a no brainer, building on what I had been doing for 15 years. [Poots is also involved with the Manchester Festival and with the Park Avenue Armory.]

“Parity among art forms; the ability to commission art – visual and performing arts. And it would not matter if the artist were emerging, established, or a community artist – we don’t need a false hierarchy.

“The Shed is place for invention, curiosity where all artists and audiences can meet.

Alongside all the venerable institutions of city, we hope The Shed can add something.

“It’s rare for a place to be open in the day as a museum, and in the evening a performance center.”

Alex Poots, Artistic Director and CEO of The Shed © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

First Commissions

Poots introduced the 2019 inaugural season’s first commissions (and the press were able to watch some rehearsals):

Soundtrack of America, a new live production celebrating the unrivaled impact of African American music on art and popular culture over the past 100 years, conceived by acclaimed filmmaker and artist Steve McQueenand developed with music visionaries and academic experts including Quincy Jones, Maureen Mahon, Dion ‘No I.D.’ Wilson, Tunji Balogun and Greg Philliganes, is a five-night concert series (April 5-14) celebrating the unrivaled impact of African American music on contemporary culture, with performances by emerging musicians.

The opening commissions at The Shed feature the world premiere of Reich Richter Pärt, an immersive live performance installation from iconic artists Steve Reich, Gerhard Richter, and Arvo Pärt, featuring new works by Richter and a new composition by Reich, performed with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, here in rehearsal, that showcase The Shed’s support for mixing cultural disciplines © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Reich Richter Pärt, a live performance/exhibition pairing works by master painter Gerhard Richter with a new composition by Steve Reich and an extant composition by Arvo Pärt, performed by The Choir of Trinity Wall Street (April 6-June 2).

Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, a reinvention of Euripides’ Helen by poet Anne Carson, starring Ben Whishaw and the opera singer, Renée Fleming (April 6-May 19).

Björk’s Cornucopia, the multidisciplinary artist’s most elaborate staged concert to date, directed by Lucrecia Martel (May 6-June 1).

Chen Shi-Zheng discusses “Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise,” a futuristic kung fu musical conceived © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise. a futuristic kung fu musical conceived by Chen Shi-Zheng and Kung Fu Panda screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, with songs by Sia, choreography by Akram Khan, and production design and costumes by Tim Yip (June 22–July 27);

There are also, expansive exhibitions devoted to extant and newly commissioned work by trailblazing artists Trisha Donnelly and Agnes Denes; and an unprecedented opportunity for New York City-based emerging artists of all disciplines to develop and showcase their work throughout The Shed’s spaces via an Open Call commissioning program.

Beneath the stands and stage in The McCourt is the only permanent art installation, “In Front of Itself,” a large-scale, site-specific work by artist Lawrence Weiner embedded into the plaza. It serves as a walkable outdoor area when the movable shell is nested over the fixed building, or as the base of The McCourt when the shell is extended to the east. The 20,000-sq. ft. work features the phrase, “In front of itself” in 12-foot high letters fabricated with custom paving stones.  

These first commissions, Poots said, “shows the range of The Shed.” The flexibility of the building makes it possible to transform from one show to the next in just two days.

Dan Doctoroff, Alex Poots and Tamara McCaw discuss community outreach and the Open Call © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Art as Social Action

Tamara McCaw, Chief Program Civic Officer, is responsible for fulfilling the mission of The Shed to use art as social action.

“It is my responsibility to serve the community, particularly those under stress or have barriers [to artistic expression]. ]

McCaw oversees the Open Call program, an unprecedented opportunity for 52 New York City-based emerging artists and collectives to develop and showcase their work throughout The Shed’s primary spaces, free to the public (May 30-August 25) and continuing in 2020.

The 52 artists were selected from 930 applications in its first open call. Alex Poots said that The Shed will embark on its next round of emerging talent in 5-6 months.

The Shed has year round social justice residencies, serving 700 students a year

 “We are providing a platform for local and emerging artists – selected by diverse panel and Shed staff (2 are on the panel – to present in principal spaces, plaza, theater.” These performances and exhibits will be free to public.

“It is our civic responsibility to reflect, respond to the diverse communities of NYC – with affordable tickets ($10; free for 18 year olds and under and CUNY students), and reserve 10% of low-income seats that will be distributed throughout house (not the back or nosebleed section)

Addressing how The Shed intends to be responsive to diverse audiences, Doctoroff noted that the building is open – the restaurant, café and lobby. Anyone can come through without a ticket, and every gallery and theater can be separately ticketed. The goal is to make access to exhibits and performers and accessible as possible.

McCaw added, “People from public housing are already are coming because they are of process. We did outreach for open call. There are artists who live in public housing here. When you come with respect, people want to be involved.

“We are creating inventive new work, supporting creative expression, cultural equity and belief in power of art to effect social change.”

Ticket prices are intentionally low. Every gallery show – except Richter – is $10 ticket and free for those under 18. Open call programs are free (18 weeks of programming)

At the end of the first year, he expects that half  the entire audience will be admitted for $10 or free.

The Shed, a not-for-profit arts institution, expects to operate at a loss.

“That means we have to raise money,” Doctoroff said. “But we regard it as investing in society, not as a loss. The less box office, the more generous we are. There are high ticket prices for those who can afford it and low for those who can’t – low cost tickets are equally dispersed through theater, to promote equity.”

The Tisch Skylights © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A good source of real money, though, could be in renting out space in The Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Skylights and The Tisch Lab  on the top floor, Level 8, where there is a 1,700-square-foot creative lab for local artists, a 3,300-square-foot rehearsal space, and a 9,500-square-foot flexible, multipurpose space for events.

“The Top floor is engine for that flexible space – dinners, small performances – will be rented year round while operating as not-for-profit art center.”

Frank H. McCourt Jr. reflected, “There is something else here – civic imagination, ideas put into action to serve people – address societal issues, change lives, make a better nation, a better humankind.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Frank H. McCourt Jr., Shed board member and entrepreneur, reflected, “There is something else here – civic imagination, ideas put into action to serve people – address societal issues, change lives, make a better nation, a better humankind.

“It is artistic creation but also social innovation. Human creativity for the greater good. My hope for The Shed is that it is home for both art and other intellectual activities. This place, including the institution created to animate it, is a bold, living example of civic action. An idea put into action for greater good.

“It’s not finished, just getting started. This week a milestone. In a world replete with cynicism, The Shed is the opposite.”

An Architectural Marvel

“We started the project 11 years ago – when it was a dotted line on a satellite photo and a question mark. It was the 2008 recession,” reflected Liz Diller, lead architect, who described what it was like to design a building around a mission.

“Arts in New York are siloed – dance, theater, music, visual. That’s not how artists think today, but how will artists think in one or two decades? We can’t know. We started a project without a client, an anti-institution institution, to serve artists of all kinds in a future we could not predict.

“How could architecture not get in the way of that? Art is in flux, so the building had to be able to change on demand, be flexible without defaulting.”

What she and collaborating architect David Rockwell devised is a fixed building with column-free exhibit and performance space, the Bloomberg Building.

Architectural discussion with David Rockwell, Dan Doctoroff and Liz Diller © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Shed’s Bloomberg Building—an innovative 200,000-square-foot structure designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Lead Architect, and Rockwell Group, Collaborating Architect—can physically transform to support artists’ most ambitious ideas. Its eight-level base building includes two levels of gallery space; the versatile Griffin Theater; and The Tisch Skylights, which comprise a rehearsal space, a creative lab for local artists, and a skylit event space.

The McCourt, an iconic space for large-scale performances, installations, and events, is formed when The Shed’s telescoping outer shell is deployed from over the base building and glides along rails onto the adjoining plaza. The McCourt can have theater seating for 1400, or open the glass wall to expose the balcony for 300 seated and have 2000 on the floor.

The Plaza: When the movable shell is nested over the base building, the 20,000-square-foot Plaza will be open public space that also can be used for outdoor programming; the eastern façade can serve as a backdrop for projection with lighting and sound support. The Plaza is equipped with a distributed power supply for outdoor functions. Oversize deliveries can be brought by truck up Hudson Yards Boulevard and loaded directly onto The Plaza and into the base building or the shell when deployed. Those doors can be opened while the audience is under cover, for an open-air effect.

“It is the architecture of infrastructure:  all muscle, no fat,” Diller said. “Alex, an inspirational alchemical force, challenged the building to be smarter, more flexible, agile. This is a perpetual work in progress – always getting smarter more agile.

It will respond to the challenge of artists and challenge the artists back.”

“New York is so defined by art and its artists. Art creates community, at its best, and empathy with audiences,” said Architect David Rockwell.

 “What we created is a Swiss Army knife of culture,” said Doctoroff. “A beautiful design with practicality to respond to the notion that we don’t know where art will go, or where artists will be in 200 years.”

Gerhard Richter’s work is on view in The Gallery, a massive column-free space © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Shed’s eight-level base building includes two expansive, column-free galleries totaling 25,000 square feet of museum-quality space; a 500-seat theater that can be subdivided into even more intimate spaces; event and rehearsal space; and a creative lab.

A movable outer shell can double the building’s footprint when deployed over the adjoining plaza to create a 17,000-square-foot light-, sound-, and temperature-controlled space, named The McCourt, for large-scale performances, installations, and events for audiences ranging from 1,250 seated to 3,000 standing (when combined with space in the two adjoining galleries of the base building). When space is not needed, the movable shell can nest over the base building, opening up the plaza for outdoor use and programming.

Diller explained how the movable shell travels on a double-wheel track based on gantry crane technology commonly found in shipping ports and railway systems. A rack-and-pinion drive moves the shell forward and back on four single-axle and two double axle bogie wheels that measure six feet in diameter; the deployment of the shell takes approximately five minutes.

The exposed steel diagrid frame of the movable shell is clad in translucent pillows of durable and lightweight Teflon-based polymer, called ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE). With the thermal properties of insulating glass at  1/100th of the weight, the translucent ETFE allows light to pass through and can withstand hurricane-force winds. Measuring almost 70 feet in length in some areas, The Shed’s ETFE panels are some of the largest ever produced.

“Systems were adapted from other things but it is novel in the way we put together,” Diller said, adding that the architecture is “based on industrial crane technology, brought to 21st century” with an emphasis on functionality. But there were no real models among arts institutions.

“It was a constant process of invention, reinvention,” said Doctoroff. “We have 14 blackout shades. We had to rethink the system of shades – particularly when Alex came and knew he wanted concerts. They needed to also provide sound protection. We went to the sailmakers who designed sails for America’s Cup boats to design shade system. Extra performance capability of holding back 108 decibels (loud). The thickness, density had to be able to roll up.”

Form and function: the back wall of McCourt can be removed to open up a balcony © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Asked why New York needed another cultural institution, Doctoroff retorted, “Why have we been so successful raising money? Because people sense New York does need this. The criteria was that this had to be different from anything else in New York. We went to talk to artists and leaders of cultural institutions around the world to ask what do they not have and need. There were similar themes –the internet era gives artists the capacity of collaborating across distances and disciplines, but also producing work that didn’t fit in traditional institutions. Out of that came idea of flexibility.

“This is different: our mission of inclusivity embedded in value system,” said Doctoroff, said in a small discussion group with journalists.

“We prove it every day. This is personal for me: 36 years ago I imagined a new West Side – saving the Highline [now one of the most popular attractions in NYC, with 8 million visits a year], the subway. I always believed having a cultural heart to the new West Side was critical and would need to change over time to keep New York leading edge in culture. I believe cultural institutions are critical to New York,” said Doctoroff, who is also chairman and CEO of Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet company that looks at sustainable solutions to designing urban communities.

“The Shed will never be finished,” said Doctoroff. “The word ‘unfinished’ ends with ‘shed’. It will always be evolving because what we’ve done is created a platform for artists to use as their own. The building enables their vision – they will push, stretch us in ways we can’t imagine, they can’t imagine today. The Shed is an organism that keeps morphing.”

And that’s how Liz Diller expects not to go through post partum blues. “We will respond to the challenge of artists and challenge artists back.”

See also: The Shed, New York’s Newest Iconic Cultural Center, Opens April 5 with Commissioned New Works

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Spy v Spy in New York City: New KGB Spy Museum is Window into How Spies Impact World Affairs

 

Sergey, a KGB Spy Museum guide, describes the conditions that political prisoners would have suffered in a society where opposition was suppressed by fear © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you really want to be freaked out by the KGB Spy Museum that opened just a few months ago in Manhattan, do what I did: come directly from Spyscape, where you learn about the whole business of being a spy, and be in the middle of reading a book like “The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West,” by Malcolm Vance.

The KGB Museum would be scarier if it were not laid out somewhat like an antique shop (but aren’t all spy centers sequestered behind something innocuous like a tailor shop?). Row by row, there are some 3500 artifacts, all of them real, many on view publicly for the first time. They date from 1910 until 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union when the KGB was replaced by the FSB. But these mundane objects – a lipstick, an umbrella, a pen – were lethal weapons; a tie pin and belt buckle were cameras; a heart reader could seek out a live person hiding even in a refrigerator. Another important tool? A thermometer to determine if a person were truly dead. And if a master key couldn’t unlock an apartment to install a bug? No matter, a transmitter could be aimed at the window from a huge distance to decipher the sound vibrations and eavesdrop anyway. There is even a letter remover which could take out a letter from its envelope, read its contents and replace it back in the envelope, without leaving a mark.

The Patient Chair, used for interrogation, one of some 3500 artifacts on view at the KGB Spy Museum © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

And then there is the “patient chair,” used in a psychiatric hospital, with scary restraints, that were used for interrogations under truth serum or other means.

It turns out that those fantastical gadgets from the James Bond movies, and even the Get Smart spy spoof, were actually based on the real thing. It seems that there is nothing too absurd in the spy world.

The KGB story is really scary though. KGB (КГБ in Cyrillic) stands for “Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti,” which can be translated as the Committee for State Security. The KGB was the main security agency for the Soviet Union, and during the Cold War the KGB was in direct competition with the CIA and other state security agencies around the world for cultural, economic, and military dominance.

Some 3,500 artifacts from the KGB, from 1910 to 1991, many seen publicly for the first time, are on view at the newly opened KGB Spy Museum in Manhattan © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The KGB was born in the Russian Revolution – one of the artifacts is the carpet memorializing Lenin (not his real last name, it turns out) and the beginning of the Revolution in 1917 – and was initially designed to ferret out counter-revolutionaries, or enemies of the Communist state.

One of the world’s largest and most sophisticated intelligence operations, the KGB served a multifaceted role as both a spy agency outside of Soviet Union and a force of secret police within it.

You realize how pervasive and ruthless the KGB was (is), and sense the constant terror that the people must have lived under, as that term “enemies of the state” was broadened to mean any one who criticized or opposed the ruling party, the leadership or policies.

There are real doors from jail cells, and you look through at real video of real prisoners. Those who were placed in solitary were allowed nothing to wear but their underwear; they could sleep only four hours, when the bed would be closed up, and fed only bread and water for 5 to 15 days.

Sergey demonstrates robot hands used to handle dangerousmaterials in a lab © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the world’s largest and most sophisticated intelligence operations, the KGB served a multifaceted role as both a spy agency outside of Soviet Union and a force of secret police within it.

Some of the best engineering and scientific minds were employed to devise gadgets and gizmos – miniaturizing cameras, maximizing surveillance and detection, inventing new ways of transmitting.

“Virtually undetectable, the agency used its state-of-the-art tools and ruthless methods to seamlessly monitor the citizens’ lives and keep them in constant fear of repercussions for any subversive behavior. The investment in the spy technology had a devastating toll on the country’s economy yet it was deemed the most effective and necessary way to keep the state isolated from the rest of the world and keep the Western world out.”

With spies operating in countries all over the world, the KGB had a vast influence on world affairs, which reached its peak during the Cold War. KGB Spy Museum presents a never-before-seen collection of items used in the missions of prominent KGB agents, illuminating the strategies and methods that underlay many of history’s top-secret espionage operations.

In addition to perusing artifacts and learning about the history of the notorious agency, you can read and listen to real stories from spies, witnesses and journalists as well as explore and interact with authentic objects, such as telephone switchboards (most of the operators who connected the calls and then listened in on conversations were KGB), encryption machines, an interrogation chair, designed to extract information from suspects and enemies.

he KGB managed to hide a listening device in this wooden replica of the Great Seal, which hung over the US Ambassador’s desk in Moscow for 7 years before being detected. It took another 1 ½ years to figure out how it worked. The inventor won a Stalin Prize. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the most interesting stories surrounds a wooden Great Seal in one of the cabinets, that was also one of the KGB’s greatest triumphs, that arose out of the famous summit in the Crimea of Stalin, Churchill and FDR. The head of the KGB, Lavrenty Beria, had a replica of the Great Seal made as a gift for Ambassador Averell Harriman, presented most charmingly by cherubic Young Pioneers (like boy scouts) as a “gesture of friendship.” But inside was an ingenious bug that used electromagnetic energy instead of an external power supply. It hung above the Ambassador’s desk in Moscow for seven years before it was exposed in 1952. “The Americans couldn’t figure out how it worked for a year and a half,” my guide, Sergey, says. (The original is in the NSA’s Cryptology Museum in Washington.)

The inventor of the Zlatoust/Receiver LOSS, Lev Sergeyevich Termen, was a physicist and a musician, who began his career by developing previously unseen electronic musical instruments. In 1947 he won the Stalin Prize for Inventions of Listening Devices.

One of the objects that is literally one-of-a-kind, is a record player made expressly for Stalin; there is also a safe, made by the Bernstein company in Berlin, that came from KGB HQ, still containing the currency that would have been enough to buy 30 cars. Both indications of the privilege along with the power amassed by the Communist leadership despite their calls for a equal society.

The one-of-a-kind record player made especially for Stalin © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the rarest objects, which are a point of pride, also seem mundane but were “mechanical masterpieces”:

Tool set КАРОЕД/KAROED (Bark beetle): This is a manual set of special drills and instruments for drilling very narrow holes less than 0.04 inches without any sound in the tree or plastic. Holes were needed to listen to secret conversations with a help of secret microphones. These sharp and pointed drills are specially machined from the very hard metal. The set includes drill extensions, which can be used to drill holes in 3.3 ft and even thicker walls or wooden floors. A special hand-held drill holder had a stopper to drill holes of a certain depth to protect the drill from coming out across the wall by making only a small, hardly visible hole. A special container collects shavings in order not to leave any suspicious marks.

Also very rare: KGB secret drill ИГЛА/IGLA (needle): “It is a unique mechanical masterpiece – the drill IGLA. This very complicated drill reflects the name ‘needle’, because it drills a very thin hole through the concrete. It drills with the help of air compressor with abrasive dust to avoid the sound and vibration. Even the drilling sound was designed by the constructors to simulate that era washing machine Малютка/Maliutka. The person at home thought that a neighbor was probably doing the laundry. The Igla drill had a hole through which the air pressure was inflated according to the manometer readings, and when the drill approached the outside of concrete wall, the air pressure dropped in the drill as the air went out and the drill automatically shut off. The hole was 0.04 inches in size. If the walls were painted or lined with ceramic tiles, the eye did not even see the hole or dust outside. With this drill, the abrasive powder and concrete dust were absorbed by air. Agents who were very patient, slow and responsible were chosen to drill such a hole. In order to drill a 4 inches concrete wall took about 4 hours, and with the preparation – the whole day. Agents, through drilled miniature holes, installed listening or photo devices. After the operation, they applied a hole with the cement mixture and no suspicious marks were left.”

Mundane objects like a belt buckle hid miniature cameras © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

There’s an old fashioned phone where you can “dial” a selection of officials. My guide, Sergey, dials Putin and hands me the phone so I can hear Putin talking (it’s like listening to the LBJ telephone tapes at the LBJ Presidential Museum in Austin). There are also actual phones on display from KGB offices that would have features to disguise the voice at the push of a button.

The two spy experiences – Spyscape and the KGB Museum – have completely different approaches and perspectives, but they complement each other so well, especially when visited one after the other.

Spyscape is modern, state of the art, interactive, pulse-pounding, engaging, immersive experience. KGB is old-school but so relevant today, with the Russian actively hacking elections and using social media to impact US and other elections, policy, and political discourse.

“The KGB Spy Museum aims to present espionage and intelligence operations in an educational and interesting way, emphasizing the importance of human intelligence and setting out a frame of reference for the public to appreciate the great extent to which spies have always influenced world events. The Museum has a policy of presenting the history of espionage without political bias, thus offering visitors a factual and balanced view of the subject. “

The Museum is open daily 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets are available online or in the museum. You need about 1 ½ hours to visit. Tickets are adults (18-64)/$25; Children 7-17, seniors, students, $20; a guided visit, minimum 3 people is $43.99.

KGB Museum, 245 W 14th Street, NY 10011, kgbespionagemuseum.org.

See also: Spy v Spy Has New Addresses in NYC: At Spyscape Find Your Place in World of Espionage

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Spy v Spy Has New Addresses in NYC: At Spyscape Find Your Place in World of Espionage

The most chilling part of Spyscape, New York’s new spy experience, is the up-to-the-minute, torn from the headlines stuff: Here, Anonymous, as seen from two sides © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Are you Bond or Bourne? Once you leave Spyscape, you will learn there are many more roles to play in the complex and ever more ubiquitous world of intelligence. After going through eight “tests” and many stations which do their best to insert you into the realm of espionage and profile you to figure out what job you are best suited to, I would make a sorry spy. I knew from the start I wasn’t either Bond or Bourne. But I found a new calling.

I was expecting a museum, even as museums have become more interactive and engaging and multimedia. But Spyscape, one of the newest attractions in New York City, is not a museum. It is an interactive experience more than anything else, designed to inform you, yes, about the world of espionage and surveillance which, it turns out, is ubiquitous today, but put you in the picture so that you see yourself in the complex enterprise that is intelligence.

Spyscape is modern, state of the art, interactive, pulse-pounding, engaging, immersive experience that lets you peek into the world of espionage, spycraft, intelligence and counterintelligence today from the inside.

You don’t just get taken on a journey through the history of espionage from World War II and on, but become immersed in up-to-the-minute, ripped from the headlines events. Edward Snowdon. Wikileaks. Stuxnet. Black hat hackers.  Anonymous. “You might be persuaded not to vote.”

Pandora has truly been let out of her box.

There is a feeling of intensity from the moment you arrive – intended to give you that sense of tension and excitement that must be omnipresent in espionage, and visitors will enjoy as much as the adrenaline rush of skiing down a double-black trail. But is there a place for me?

I am risk adverse. I’m not a gamer. I don’t do puzzles. I’m frightened of going into small dark rooms when I don’t know what is there. I frighten easily.

As you arrive, you are given a bracelet that identifies you at scanning machines that basically track your progress as you go about the exhibit – you complete a series of tasks and quizzes and at the end, are assessed as to what role you might play in the spy apparatus – it turns out there are many, many different functions.

Your entrée into the world of spycraft is the largest passenger elevator in New York City,  escorted by a very professional person with a clipboard – it turns out that the ride up is also a multi-media orientation (think “Mission Impossible”).

Your mission: What kind of spy will you be? Or put another way: Where do you fit in the pantheon that is the world of espionage.

The experience is constructed as if a job interview, to immerse you and personalize what would otherwise be technical machines and bios. But it turns out that not all spies work for governments – corporations engage in some of the same techniques, so do journalists, and so do hackers and criminals. And it turns out that the profile you wind up with at the end of all the tasks and quizzes is authentic and serious – not tongue-in-cheek or hokey. I can see some young people seeing new career paths in intelligence (most of the CIA are analysts, not cloak-and-dagger operatives) or even outside, since, as is noted, the skills of a spy are broadly applicable.

The layout (Spyscape takes up a massive amount of space) is purposefully cold, grey, institutional, with constant pulsing sounds – sometimes electronic music, sometimes sound effects, sometimes narration.

I am quite unprepared for the experience, expecting a more conventional exhibit, so am put off stride when all of a sudden confronted with quizzes and tasks. It would have been completely different if I were primed and in a game mode.

One of the tasks I find more engaging (once I got the hang of it), was in the room about coding/decoding, the German’s Enigma machine and the Bombe that British mathematician Alan Turing and colleagues at Benchley developed to break the Enigma code. Here the task is to organize a spy’s escape, but you only have 3 minutes before the Germans will cut off communication to her, and you have to convert a message to code and then decode the response. I do this for the “Limping Lady”, who turns out to be a real person (I later realize she is the spy Virginia Hall) and this was a real scenario.

See what it would be like to code a message on a repiclica of the German Enigma that so confounded the Allies in World War II © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

You get personal insights into Alan Turing, the mathematician who developed a program to break the German “Enigma” machine code. (A fascinating artifact is a copy of Turing’s notes, as a teenager, summarizing Einstein’s Theory of Relativity as a gift for his mother). There is also a brief bio of Joan Clark, one of the Enigma codebreakers who rose to become Deputy Head of the Hut eight. You get to type code on a replica Enigma machine.

After one “test”, in which I fail to figure out patterns, I am given these words of encouragement: “You didn’t do too well today, but you are obviously better in other things.”

Another that is sure to delight is a room of laser beams where the timed task is to shut off lights without piercing the beams – very Oceans 11. (This task gauges your agility.)

All through, the exhibits personalize the serious issue being raised – the history, technology, impact on society – with real people, real events and real artifacts. This is serious business after all with real life and death consequences. Double agents have been exposed and executed; moles have exposed agents who were executed. Wars declared or averted, extended or curtailed, won or lost.

As you weave through, taking your own quizzes and tasks, the exhibits tell stories about real spies, double agents, like Robert Hansen and how he was discovered. Hansen’s treachery led to the unmasking of three soviets who spied for the US, two of whom were executed. – how he was discovered and trapped. Would you have detected Hansen’s deceit?

I have all sorts of trepidation about going into a small dark room which turned out to be the test of how well I could detect Deception (I think I do well at that one, probably by accident).

“Gadgets of defiance” describes the devices that British and American operatives used to carry out perilous missions in Nazi-occupied Europe – forged documents to support their cover identifies; one-time encryption pads and miniature radios to communicate with handlers. They supplied downed Allied pilots with escape maps and compasses and targeted the enemy with weapons and explosives.

I learn about Virginia Hall, an American special operations officer who, as a girl, had dreamed of joining the US foreign service and became fluent in foreign languages, but after she lost part of her left leg in an accident, her dream was cut off as well. When Hitler invaded Paris in 1940, Hall was working for a French ambulance service. She made her way to Britain and joined British special operations. She worked as a journalist for the New York Post in occupied France, and the Germans nicknamed Artemis;the Gestapo  considered her “the most dangerous of all Allied spies”. Virginia Hall was the “Limping Lady” of the code scenario.

A spy plane camera from the Cuban Missile Crisis © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I learn about Oleg Penkovsky, known as “HERO” who was a Soviet military intelligence (GRU) colonel who was responsible for informing the United Kingdom about Soviet installing missiles in Cuba. The information he provided helped Kennedy through the Cuban Missile Crisis because he realized that a naval blockade could force the Soviet Union to stand down. Penkovsky, the highest ranking Soviet official to provide intelligence for the UK up until that time, is credited with altering the course of the Cold War. He was executed six months after being arrested.

I learn about the British couple, Ruari and Janet Chisholm, who were his handlers in Moscow. Ruari was Moscow Station Chief for M16, the British secret intelligence service. Janet collected much of Pankovsky’s intelligence. During one “brush contact” he walked casually over to her in a park and offered her children a tin of Vitamin C pills. Janet quickly swapped the tin which contained military secrets for another identical one hidden in her baby stroller. The thought of exposing children like that was chilling. (There’s a photo of Janet with her children on a park bench.)

We meet the real life “Q” gadget wizard, Charles Fraser Smith, who was Ian Fleming’s inspiration for the character he used in James Bond. The new multi-sensory James Bond experience explores the creative process behind the 007 movies while revealing the secrets of James Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5. You get to peek at gadgets in Q’s lab, examine original concept art in Oscar®-winning Production Designer Sir Ken Adam’s studio and look behind the scenes of Skyfall’s explosive finale.

Surveillance. It’s all around you. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

At another section, you go through a dark curtain and find yourself in this dark round room, illuminated only by giant screens,that give you some sense of the state of surveillance (it is all around). This area showcases whistleblower Edward Snowden who exposed the NSA’s surveillance programs and the reporters who have unmasked government secrets – Laura Poitras  and Glenn Greenwald, the journalists who exposed modern day slavery(old school pad and pen, videocamera and computer are the weapons of choice).

This is where you see the message blazing out of a giant screen: “You might be persuaded not to vote.” This is the brave new world of intelligence – not extracting secrets, but in distorting and implanting messages to shape, disrupt or derail society.

Anonymous, the new face of intelligence/counterintelligence; governments no longer have a monopoly..© Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the last stations is actually the most chilling: Hacktivism discusses hacking, hackers – by anarchists, profiteers as well as nation states. Stuxnet, which was used to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program (a centrifuge is on view). After Iran realized what had been done, it called for the hackers to join in an army.

We learn that Stuxnet is now open source, sold on the blck market, and could be used by any number of actors to shut down electric grids, water systems or air traffic control or remotely give instructions to launch a nuclear attack. And no one knows who has it.

Whistleblower Edward Snowdown, at Spyscape © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

And now, I am really to go into my “debrief – encryption, deception, surveillance, special ops, brainpower (7/18), which comes up with my spy role: Agent Handler (I suspect they give that one to all those who don’t measure up as real spies).

But it isn’t done flippantly or tongue-in-cheek. The authentic personal spy profile is based on psychologists and a former Head of Training at British Intelligence, and sounds pretty authentic (as were the short tests for which I was totally unprepared):

“Your Spy Profile is your unique (and ever evolving) combination of attributes. When compared to others, it allows us to determine the Spy Role you are best suited to.”

My profile – “empathetic, inquisitive, composed” – turns out to be fairly accurate and also serious, developed with real psychologists.

At Spyscape’s Debriefing, you learn your role in espionage, based on the profile compiled. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Later in the day, I am sent a comprehensive profile to my email and a Welcome letter. “Your Spy Skills can be valuable in everyday life. We’ve evaluated your Core Attributes and Spy Skills to determine your Spy Profile. Top psychologists and spymasters helped us build our Spy Profile system. We hope the self-knowledge in your Spy Profile will empower you, and inspire you to further develop your Spy Skills.”

The missive gives me more detail about my role as Agent Handler: A manager of agents who provide secret intelligence or operational support, and an insider view from General David Petreus.

In the real life example, I am given the bio of the agent handler for my new spy hero, Oleg Penkovsky (his code name was Hero) and the background that I found so compelling in the exhibit, about his handler, Ruari Chisholm, and an example of a typical operation, procuring cover material for an agent in the Iranian government who wants to provide info on Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons.

(This makes me think of important omissions in Spyscape: Valerie Plame, the CIA undercover agent who was infiltrating the Iran nuclear program until Plame’s identity as covert officer of the CIA working in counter proliferation was leaked to the press by members of George W Bush administration and subsequently made public  as retribution for her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s reveal about the false information that led to the US invasion of Iraq; she also had knowledge to disprove Bush’s contention that the aluminum tubes that Iraq had could be used as centrifuges for nuclear material. Also, how Andrew McCabe, the foremost counter-intelligence expert on Russia, was drummed out of the FBI by Trump to short-circuit the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign and the 2016 election).

Spyscape will excite and thrill as it informs and intrigues. It helps to be prepared in advance for what you will encounter – I think I would have done considerably better and had better attitude.

And like skiing, it is an experience that adults and older children will relish doing together.

There is a continuing relationship – they send you the profile, and follow up with articles, stories, spy challenges, sharing news about factual and fictional worlds of spying and hacking “and helping you develop your own spy skills. We will be adding content from top hackers and spies to spyscape.com/academy so check in regularly to see what’s new.”

I think I’m being groomed. I’m definitely intrigued.

From Spyscape, I walk down to the KGB Museum in Chelsea. It is an interesting Spy v Spy counterpoint that enhances the experience of each one separately.

Visiting:  SPYSCAPE is optimized for adults and teens, but children are welcome. Bringing pre-school-age kids is not recommended. You need about two hours. There is a pleasant café and the gift shop is loaded with spy-related merch.  Open Monday-Friday, 10 am-9 pm and Saturday-Sunday, 9am-9 pm, last entry at 7:30 pm. (Adult, $39; child 3-12 $32).

Spyscape, 928 8th Avenue (entrance on SE corner of 55th Street), 646-585-7012, spyscape.com

Next: Spy v Spy in New York City: New KGB Spy Museum is Window into How Spies Impact World Affairs

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Parade through Chinatown, NYC Welcomes in Year of Pig, Showcases Chinese Heritage

20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate,  goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dragons and dancers paraded through New York City’s Chinatown on Sunday, February 17 to usher in the Year of the Pig in the city with the largest population of Chinese descent outside Asia.

US Senator Charles Schumer at 20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The parade is a colorful pan-Asian procession that incorporates the great variety of Chinese traditions – with a smattering of Brazilian drummers, Hispanic dancers, and Irish bagpipers. Tens of thousands lined the parade route as it wound from Hester Street, Mott, Broadway, and Forsyth to Sara D. Roosevelt Park, with US Senator Charles Schumer and NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio among other elected officials, along with leaders from the Chinese community, leading the way.

US Senator Charles Schumer at 20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In his remarks to the gathering before the parade got underway, Senator Schumer applauded the contributions of “immigrants from all over who made America great.”  

NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio and other officials at 20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With a population estimated between 70,000 and 150,000, Chinatown has been a favored home for Chinese immigrants. Indeed, Lower Manhattan has long been a haven for immigrant communities, from Jews in neighboring Lower East Side (the Tenement Museum), and Italians in Little Italy, and today, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Burmese, Vietnamese, and Filipinos among others add to the multicultural mosaic.

NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio at 20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Lunar New Year is cherished as a time to embrace family and heritage.

“Lunar New Year is the liveliest and most important celebration in Chinese culture and Chinatown is the place to experience it!”

Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019

And the parade is an expression of celebration for Chinese heritage in America – as evidenced by the sheer variety of costumes and traditions on display.

Here are highlights:

Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum of China in the Americas (MOCA) offers a walking tour that takes visitors through Chinatown to learn about holiday traditions and customs observed by Chinese households. Witness how the neighborhood transforms itself in preparation for the New Year and discover the characteristics that make this holiday unique.”

Tours are conducted in English and are led by MoCA docents with personal or family roots in the neighborhood. In case of inclement weather, tours will be held in the galleries. Advance reservations are required. For information and reservations call 212-619-4785 or purchase tickets online, www.mocanyc.org. (Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre Street New York, NY 10013, 855-955-MOCA).

For more information, visit www.chinatown-online.com.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Holiday Lights in New York City: A Walk in Photos

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Crowds flock to Rockefeller Center for its traditional scene of angels lighting the way to the giant Christmas tree © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My favorite activity for the holidays in New York is an evening stroll to see the holiday windows and decorations. My route typically goes from Macy’s (this year’s theme, “Believe in the Wonder of Giving”), up to Fifth Avenue to Saks Fifth Avenue which is directly across from Rockefeller Center (from which you can see the amazing light and sound show that is projected onto Saks building, this year, a “There’s No Business Like Show Business” vibe) and across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral (stop in), up to Bergdorf Goodman (still the most artful, creative windows of them all).  Returning along Sixth Avenue, stop in at the Rockefeller Center skating rink and then to Bryant Park with a fantastic skating rink and holiday market.

Enchanted by Macy’s holiday windows with a whimsical snowy spaceman theme © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My walk this year led me to “The Lifespan of a Fact,” a new (and timely) play at the reincarnated Studio 54. The play, based on what is apparently true events turned into an Essay/Book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal, stars Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale who play (respectively) Jim Fingal, an intern/copy editor, magazine publisher Emily, and prominent, respected writer John D’Agata.  I had been wanting to see it, intrigued by the subject (fact-checking an important essay) and the issues it raised (“What is truth?” “What is poetic (embellished) truth in the service of a greater good?” “What is truth and trust in the scheme of journalism business, liability and viability?”). And so took a chance, and walked up to the box office and bought a ticket. I was so delighted I did: it is smart, intelligent, extremely interesting and thought-provoking and oh-so relevant in light of truthiness, “fake news” and the Rolling Stone Magazine affair.

Seeing the play was a serendipitous and satisfying addition to my holiday stroll regimen, something that is oh so possible in New York.  Broadway and off-Broadway theaters add performances during the holidays, one of the most popular times of the year for theater.

Some of the best places to catch some discount tickets include Broadwaybox.com, Theatermania.com, Stubhub.com, and Tdf.org, and waiting on line at the TKTS counter at Duffy Plaza in Times Square (a happening in itself), with two other locations, at Lincoln Center and South Street Seaport. Some hard-to-get shows, like Aladdin (which we thoroughly enjoyed over Thanksgiving), offer daily lotteries for discounted tickets.

Here are highlights:

Macy’s “Believe” theme and Empire State Building, two iconic images of holidays in New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Salvation Army guy, a familiar sight during the holidays, surprises with a spirited performance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Chestnuts roasting © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Saks Fifth Avenue’s façade becomes the canvas for a dazzling light and sound show for the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Saks Fifth Avenue’s façade becomes the canvas for a dazzling light and sound show for the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
One of the imaginative holiday windows at Bergdorf Goodman © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
57th Street, with its crystal snowflake and Tiffany’s © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For more information regarding the most wonderful time of the year in the five boroughs, find NYC & Company’s official guide to the holidays in New York City at NYCgo.com/holiday.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures