Viewing category: New York City
A little preamble…
Note: This post is longer than normal because of the background info on this project. Most will not be long. Stick through it…please 🙂
A few months ago my friend Angel started talking to me about this grassroots movement that had begun in the Asian acting community which led to the formation of the Asian American Performers Action Coalition. They gathered some pretty impressive and shocking data that highlighted the percentages of actors of color working on Broadway, off-Broadway and regional theatres (you can go to my post here to read those stats).
The lack of visibility of actors of color on the stage is not a new problem. This has been a consistent issue that many actors gripe about (rightly so) but have been able to do little about. The last time I heard of a group going to Equity to lodge a complaint they were basically told to shove off and be happy that at least Bombay Dreams was running.
I looked at the stats of my own group which was even more depressing – I talked about it in my post on the Public Theater Blog. I have been disgruntled with my profession for a while and not feeling like it was really worth it at the end of the day to keep trying because a) the default was always going to be white and b) the next default was going to be a name actor. And in my community, pickings is so slim that once one actor gets a major accolade or role (despite talent or lack of) the rest of us are essentially up that well-known creek without a paddle.
But the AAPAC, and my post, and talking to other artists of color got me fired up. I could do what many people do, what has been endemic in the history of humanity, which is to just sit there and ho-hum and realize that the group mentality is the one to go with, or I could do something about it in my own small way. So I decided to try this little artsy initiative of 100 Auditions in 100 Days and to blog/tweet about it to anyone who wanted to listen and join in.
The point: Rather simple. Go to 100 auditions in 100 days (business days that is – let’s not get TOO ambitious). Auditions of all kinds – musicals or plays – for shows of all kinds…even ones with all white casts. I am under no illusion that I will get hired or called back for any of them. For me this is about raising the profile of actors of color in the room. And to encourage others to go out even if they feel it is “pointless” and that the EOE statement on the auditions is a piece of boilerplate tripe (and it is). And it’s some damned good practice and networking anyway. AND if I do get hired, well then, it’s win-win.
What really cemented this for me was talking to a casting director I have become slightly chummy with. He asked me why no actors of color had come in for a show he was casting even though he explicitly expressed interest. And my response: No one buys it anymore. And for the most part, we don’t. I have gotten so used to categorizing myself that I only go out for shows that list an ethnicity I share (and I got three to pick from).
Though to be honest, the last audition I went on that was not motivated by my agent or manager was three years ago. It’s been 3 years since my last EPA. THREE. YEARS. Yeah, sure, EPAs are also somewhat pointless – that is no secret in our industry. But if I want people to start seeing me, and I mean actually see me, and others like me, and take us as serious viable options then I can’t wait to be called in for a role I “fit.” I have to challenge the patriarchy. Present them with a different option. Make people tilt their heads. Cause confusion. And if I am good enough in that moment, make them wrestle with the decision to call me back or hire me despite my ethnic background.
So I am starting this little project. And I started it with an unexpected bang and on a whim this morning. So I’ll write about the auditions, the rooms, the racial make-ups, the funny parts, the frustrating parts, sometimes the sad ones. I’ll blog, vlog, and tweet. I’ll take pictures and post. I’ll gladly tell you when I embarrass the shit out of myself in a room. I won’t really mention the theatres unless they do something horribly egregious and need to be called out. This is not about snark. It’s anecdotalizing and journalism…ok, maybe a LITTLE snark. And I hope that it inspires you (the actor of color) to get out there and do the same thing. To challenge people. To make them pay attention. To realize that we are worthy and viable options.
Day 1/ Auditions 1-4
I wish I could say some big event inspired me to start. But no – it was simply a decision made last night to join my friend Kim on her round of auditions today. She’ll lead. I’ll follow. I’ll audition for whatever she does.
Finding my sea legs again was a bit wonky as I haven’t been to one of these things in 3 years. I got lazy when I got an agent and manager. And the last EPA I went to made me so angry I vowed never to go to another one again. What happened? In this major casting office (you know the one – we ALL want to be on their radar and ALL can’t stand them for always calling in the same people), I heard someone in the office say within earshot: “God, it’s like Slumdog Millionaire out there.”
Oh, yes. It happened.
So I decided to never go back to one of these things.
Today that changed. Also, it’s been 3 years and I’ve gotten over my hang ups (for the most part) and really just don’t care. I’m Brown – suck it up and deal with it.
I had almost forgotten what it was like to wake up at 7am to get ready and downtown by 8am to sit on the floor and wait to get into a holding room to then wait until 9 to get in line to sign up for a slot or to get on the wait list. Today was surprising because I managed to get to four auditions. It was that sparse. I don’t assume it will be like this everyday, but it would damned well be nice.
Amongst the people throwing around idle gossip, dropping names, and trying to intimidate people with their siren warm ups (it’s 8am – shut up and chill out), I sat with Kim and we talked. About nothing. Trying to make one another laugh. Mostly by my making disparaging comments about the non-union folks.
I DID say SOME snark.
The first was for a revival of a musical a major organization is mounting. I was thrilled to get an early slot. And then realized as I looked around the room that I was the ONLY actor of color there. Not even a single African-American. Granted, this may have changed throughout the day, but at that moment, in that holding
pen room, there was nary another skin tone but white and me. And the EOE statement was on the notice.
Kim and I decided to leg it downtown 1 block and try our luck at signing up for a production of I Love You, You’re…blah blah blah. Despite the oppressive heat in the room (BTW, great weather today right?) which smelled like hairspray, feet, and paranoia, we got early slots.
We leg back up 1 block for this revival – Audition #1. I see a familiar face in the room behind the piano, which is always helpful, I sing, I revert back to the non-equity me hoping for some scribbling on the resume or studying of the headshot (and on this day I have no new ones so I am using my old ones where I have a
fatter fuller face and look 5 years younger), then realize to myself: Fuck it. Just sing the shit out of the song and have fun.
And I do. It’s the least nervous or anxious I have been at an audition. And, sure, there’s no pressure because I’m not actively thinking I will get hired. But isn’t that the key really? To just go in there and be yourself and have fun. It’s YOUR time. Enjoy the hell out of it even if the person is texting on their phone, eating potato chips, or picking their nose.
These are all true occurrences.
Kim and I are on a high and we figured, oh what the hell, we have an hour before Perfect, let’s leg it 10 more blocks and sign up for another call. And we got seen within 10 minutes of being there – Audition #2. And for shits and giggles we decided to sing the same song – she stole it from me at an audition a while back. She sounds great singing it. I love the song. So I do the second part of it at my auditions. And since we’re going in back-to-back we figure this will be a great anecdote one day.
This particular regional theatre (a major one) had planned A Chorus Line, Legally Blonde, Sunset Boulevard and 42nd Street for their season. Their notice also stated: Performers of all ethnic and racial backgrounds are encouraged to attend.
I assure you that I, once again, was the only one there of a differing background. EXCEPT for one person who apparently has become a bit of a legend in the audition circles. You know the type: Strange, awkward, over-enthusiastic, in the way, nosey, at ALL the calls. I saw him everywhere I went today. And while I was happy he was another actor of color, and of MY ethnicity, I was also a little let down that he was a little maligned everywhere I went.
But whattayagonna do.
We sing, the room is cold (not temperature, energy – YOU know what I mean). Who cares. No time to think. Dash back up 10 blocks for Audition #3.
Thankfully I see two other actresses of color. African-American, but, hey, for Perfect… that’s not always a given, so it’s good to see them. And, again, this theatre has noted: Performers of all ethnic and racial backgrounds are encouraged to attend.
Why aren’t they there? I know there aren’t that many of us, but there are enough, right?
I sing. I get an arm reach across the table to read my resume. I get some raised eyebrows for the ridiculous high note I hold at the end that’s just vocal masturbation, to be honest. But I am having such a damned good time. I’m on a high. Who the HELL am I?
Kim and I decide, you know what, it’s such a good day, let’s keep it going. We jet to the Equity and sign up for a theatre doing Ring of Fire, Suds, 39 Steps, and the Western Nunsense.
At this point you think: YOU went in for THEM?
Yeah, I know. It’s laughable. But they had the same EOE statement on their notice. And 100/100 is all about going in for anything and everything no matter how insane. And I get to test out new material.
We easily get slots for after lunch. We decide to treat ourselves to…a major chain restaurant in Times Square I can’t divulge because it’s just embarrassing but I had a Xmas gift card for a boys toys store and we’re both broke so…..
But at this major chain restaurant, and you could probably guess it, we eat (snarf down like animals more like it…you don’t realize you are hungry on these marathon days until you stop for a moment), we pay, we get ready to leave and I look over to see Eric Ripert.
What…in…the hell…is he doing at a CHAIN restaurant. The man has the palette of silk and brocade. He’s not a tourist. Does he have a gift card too?
I stifle the urge to say hello and we return to Audition #4. The last. And the most surprising.
This is a lesson in never trying to determine the fate of any room or job. It’s also a lesson in remembering everyone you meet because you never know who you will run into again.
I go in and sing a ridiculous version of “The Gypsy in Me” – I am channeling Mel Brooks and Feydeau. Really the only show I could do is 39 Steps, but I don’t have a monologue because in 5 years of being a professional actor I’ve never really needed one.
And I’ve been lazy.
So I took a risk and went funny-nuts. And I get asked to sing a second song.
And I’m thinking: Huh? Come again.
I suppress the urge to say that and just sing what is asked of me. And I realize that one of the directors behind the table has met me twice before and seen me in a show. And it dawns on me I know his face. And I realize, once again, how beautiful and small this business can be. And how grateful I am that people remember me when I never think anything I do on stage is going to carry over to any future job or audition.
Kim is as surprised as I am. But in completely positive ways. And I find that this little initiative could really be a good thing. For me. For others. Maybe even for the business – small parts of it. We’re going again on Wednesday. I am just tagging along and going for a ride with no plan. Because if there is one thing I learned about this business a long time ago, it was to grab onto the beast by the horns and let it take you for a ride. And sure I may have some shitty days doing it, but that’s all part of it. So I am looking forward to those as well.
And the worst that could happen is I could get a job out of it…and if that’s the worst then what do I have to lose, really?
So what do you have to lose?
The very first thing I did when I came to New York City four years ago to become a professional actor was change my name. I didn’t want people to peg me as a certain ethnicity because I was afraid of being seen as only a “terrorist” actor. And having been spoiled with the opportunity to play some very choice roles in Florida, I couldn’t see myself taking a step back. Within the first 6 months I learned two things:
- Colorblind casting is a joke.
- I was a privileged actor in Florida which somehow was more accepting of actors of color playing white roles.
I also learned that there was such a thing as an Arab-American/Middle Eastern Acting community. Something VERY foreign to me as I had been (self)identifying with Caucasian communities for the first 16 years I lived in the U.S. To be able to rediscover my ethnic identity and to be able to share it with people of the same ilk – to be able to talk in the same language others found abrasive and eat the same foods others found”gross” – was so liberating and joyous.
But the more I became entrenched in the community and in the acting business I realized just how difficult it is to have a career and/or to “make it” as an ethnic actor (anything other than black of Latino – not that they don’t have their own share of casting problems, but as a whole they have jumped over the hurdle my community faces).
In the first two years I was met with the confused stares of casting directors when I would show up to musical and play auditions that were looking for “any race.” Invariably, I was always asked where I was from (which I learned to ignore and say “Florida” which was true). On one occasion, I was told, “I’m not sure what we would do with you.” And on another I was less than overjoyed to overhear, “God, it’s like Slumdog Millionaire out there.”
You know, it’s not my problem if you don’t know “what to do” with me just because I am an actor of color. How about judging me based on my talent and ability to take direction?
I know many of the casting directors in NYC. Some of them I am really friendly with. Some of them I would sooner set on fire. But regardless of how I feel about them, I often wonder what they think about the situation. I have known a small handful who have consistently called me in for roles that were CLEARLY described as Caucasian – and on some occasions I have booked those roles and have been so thankful for the opportunity and for the open-mindedness of the casting director to take a chance. But for the rest, it’s just so much easier to cast white and create a whiteout in the roster.
And the answer is simple really. It’s more than a lack of imagination – it’s the assumption that audiences feel more comfortable and can identify and connect better with Caucasian actors because the majority of entertainment consumers are white living in a majority white country. So who do we blame? Audiences or the folks behind the creative tables?
There are so few meaningful characters of color that aren’t reduced down to the basest stereotype, and I get that that stems from a social agenda and undercurrent of anti-Arab (or what have you) sentiment. And I know this is just the first step in progressing and creating more acceptance of our images so that we CAN play the more progressive roles. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that black actors only played slaves and housemaids (and God forbid if one of THOSE movies gets made nowadays). Latinos no longer just play gang members and drug runners (though there are more than enough of those roles). And, yes, I have even seem some Middle Eastern roles that had some meat and depth to them.
But invariably those roles are all deeply connected to their ethnicity. As if you couldn’t play a Middle Eastern without the character dealing with some issue of that ethnicity. Why not an Iranian architect who is just that an nothing more? An architect who happens to be Iranian and not running from the Shah or connected to Ahmadinejad.
And, by the way, the same holds true for theatre which is supposed to be the last bastion of openness and exploration and frontier-breaking. I swear, if I have to see another play that is there to create or assuage white guilt for some war or refugee I will barf on myself. We have so many more stories than that and are capable of playing more than those roles. My peers are some of the most amazing actors, but they rarely seem to be allowed to show that.
Even as a playwright, I have been told that I would be more easily produced and accepted if I changed roles to Caucasian or wrote mostly for Caucasian characters. The gall that audiences are only accepting of or receptive to those kinds of plays is gross. I get giving in to the sensationalism of a national emotion. Americans were angry post-9/11 so all the Middle Eastern characters were schemers and terrorists and people watched for a feeling of revenge they could not exert in real life. It’s morbid and unfair but psychologically logical. We’re not in those days. We shouldn’t be. And if we keep pushing those kinds of roles then the national consciousness is never going to change.
Why should we be afraid to write plays and movies about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that is pro-Palestinian?
Why can’t we write about the Armenian Genocide?
Why can’t we write about a family living in Ireland who just happen to be Indian?
Recently, a new group popped up on Facebook that some friends of mine are involved in: AAPAC (Asian American Performers Action Committee). The frustration Asian American actors feel not being represented fairly on the stage is completely legitimate. How did we go from 2 decades worth of Asian-American characters in movies, TV, plays and musicals, to almost none? Is it because there is no longer the backdrop of war? The “Japs” and the “Chinks” and the “Commies” are no longer the enemy so why bother putting them on the screen or on the stage to suffer for the enjoyment of the injured national identity, right?
The change has to happen as soon as the word hits the page. It has to happen with a writer doesn’t back down to a producer. It has to happen when a producer realizes that audiences are not idiots and they should take the risk and believe in people wanting good stories not good guys. It has to happen with casting directors who fight to make people think of different options and directors who can see something beyond the ethnic association of skin color. And it has to happen every time we enter a room and bring the confidence of our talent with ego-stance that it doesn’t matter what ethnicity I am, I’m damned good and you should cast me.
And for those who think this is crap, take a moment to carefully read through the statistics below. They are accurate, shocking, sad, but unsurprising.
If any of this stuff interests you, you should check out the following:
- Aladdin, Al-Qaeda, and Arabs in U.S. film and TV
- Colorblind Casting or Color-Consciousness?
- And this response to “Don’t Tell Anyone Your Real Name, or You’ll Never Work Again”
Ethnic breakdown of casting in New York City Theatre*
( 2006-07 to 2010-11 Seasons)
African American: 13%
Hispanic American: 3.6%
Asian American: 2.3%
Middle Eastern/ Arab American: 0.7%
Native American: 0.1%
Non-Traditional Casting by Ethnicity
46% of the roles played by actors of color were roles that did not specify race (non-traditionally cast). Tthis number, however, was still only 9% of total roles available. African Americans were far more likely than any other minority group to be cast in a role which did not specify race. Breakdown by ethnicity as a proportion of all roles which were non-traditionally cast:
African American: 62.8%
Hispanic American: 20.7%
Asian American: 15%
Middle Eastern/ Arab American: 0.6%
Native American: 0.07%
When looking at Broadway as a separate industry, the representation of Asian Americans dropped significantly to 1.5 %:
African American: 12%
Hispanic American: 4 %
Asian American: 1.5%
Middle Eastern/Arab American: 0.25%
Native American: 0.17%
Ethnic breakdown of Casting at the Largest Non-Profit New York Theatre Companies
2006-07 to 2010-11 seasons:
ATLANTIC THEATRE CO
African American: 3.5%
Hispanic American: 1%
Asian American: 0.5%
ROUNDABOUT THEATER COMPANY:
African American: 8%
Hispanic American: 1 %
Asian American: 1 %
African American: 12.4%
Hispanic American: 1.1%
Asian American: 0.6%
THEATRE FOR A NEW AUDIENCE:
African American: 14%
Hispanic American: 2 %
Asian American : 1 %
VINEYARD THEATRE COMPANY:
African American: 21%
Hispanic American: 2.5%
Asian American: 2.5%
LINCOLN CENTER THEATRE:
African American: 17.5%
Hispanic American: 4 %
Asian American: 2.5%
African American: 5.8%
Hispanic American: 3.8%
Asian American: 3.8%
Arab American: 1.9 %
NEW YORK THEATRE WORKSHOP:
African American 12 %
Asian American: 4%
Arab American: 8%
CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY
Caucasian: 85.5 %
African American: 6.5%
Hispanic American: 3%
Asian American: 4%
Arab American: 1.0%
African American: 21%
Hispanic American: 5.6%
Asian American: 6.5%
Arab American: 3 %
SECOND STAGE THEATER:
African American: 8.7%
Hispanic American: 4 %
Asian American: 6.4%
Arab American: 1 %
African American: 44.9%
Hispanic American: 2.4%
Asian American: 5.5%
THE NEW GROUP
African American: 2%
Hispanic American: 2%
Asian American: 7%
Arab American: 1%
MANHATTAN THEATRE CLUB
African American: 11 %
Hispanic American: 1.0 %
Asian American: 1.0%
Arab American: 0.5%
*includes new shows that opened on Broadway during this period (with the exception of “Soul of Shaolin”, a special event imported directly from China), subsequent replacement casts, and the seasons of the fourteen largest non-profit theatre companies. Does not include shows which opened on Broadway prior to this period but may still be running or Commercial Off Broadway shows. Special Note: Ethnic classification was not self-identified though significant effort was made to research interviews and bios which might indicate ethnic self-identification. Asian American actors include those of East Asian, South Asian (India and Pakistan) and South East Asian origin.
My roommate, still job hunting two months into our move, was finally blessed with an interview and spent most of the day preening and polishing. However, after two hours of ablutions he realized that he was incorrect about the interview time. It was now 2:30, his appointment was at 4. We live on 147th and the interview was on Wall Street. He had 30 minutes to get down and catch the train, no doubt on another erratic train schedule (they never run on time when you have to get somewhere quickly). Running around in his boxers and white undershirt, water flinging of his still-wet head as he rounded the corners, he screamed for me to help him iron his clothes which sat in a wrinkled heap on his bedroom floor.
When a hirsute gay black man with all the flair of a gaggle of drag queens and suburbanite housewives shrieks a demand, you do the bidding.
The problem is that we only have one ironing board and his suggestion to use the floor bought out a barrage of horrified WASP-y remarks from me about ruining the cheap varnish which had already begun to blister and crack throughout the apartment. I opted to use the other end of the ironing board (we did, for some reason, have two irons). There we were: a Negro and an Armenian sharing ironing duties, divided only by a lone can of spray starch. I felt the urge to sing a spiritual or don a sweaty handkerchief.
“God. Can you please turn on a light in here? I feel like we are in some Asian sweatshop being made to suffer for our newfound independence.”
And that was our undoing. As soon as the light switch flipped to on, everything died. It was now 2:45 and the post-shower dew was being replaced by nervous beads of sweat on his forehead.
“Shit! Fuck! Great!” New York eloquence at its finest.
Not a problem, I thought, flip the appropriate circuit breaker and we are back in business. But we were in for a slight surprise as we opened the circuit box inappropriately located at the top of a wall opposite the front door just out of arm’s reach. What we faced were not the traditional black switches that could be pushed up and down or left and right thereby resetting the flow of power to our dead outlets. There, in two columns of four, were colored circles with tiny little windows in the middle of each. We looked at each other confused. What fresh New York hell was this?
Turns out, our pre-war apartment was still saddled with the pre-war fuse box which used screw-in fuses. They screw in like light bulbs and have metal threads on the bottom. When a fuse blows an internal metal strip breaks; this break can be seen through the wee peeping tom window. But, we knew none of this at the time.
So these different colored knobs with various amp markings meant nothing to us. And what the hell did “Slow-Blow” mean? I just kept picturing embarrassed men post 5-second lovemaking. We gathered that one of the fuses had blown, but not knowing how to check for it lead to a game of mix-and-match. We were not even sure how many fuses had blown. We had lost power in both bedrooms, in the bathroom, and to the kitchen fridge. What kind of Frankenstein-ish circuit were these four things connected to?
We proceeded to unscrew each fuse, praying there was not a predestined way to do so without being electrocuted. The last one proved to be difficult as it would not budge. Neither of us wanted to turn too violently lest the fuse crack and spew forth a barrage of sparks. I ushered my roommate to move the iron board to the living room to finish up while I manned the box, completely unsure of what to do next.
I braved a set of pliers and managed to wrest the little red bugger free only to realize that I had also managed to pull out the screw base. I whispered a novena, or at least my interpretation of one, and took the base off. I was about an inch away from the box before I realized that screwing the metal base back into a live circuit was probably not in my best interest. I was working against time and necessity.
I went for it, plying it back into place and playing switcheroo with the remaining red, blue and white fuses. Nothing worked. Nothing was flipping on. A call to the super was useless as he was an hour away doing everything except working on problems in the building, like, oh, say, my possessed radiator. At one point I screwed in a fuse so tight I heard a sharp crack and yanked my hand away, jumping back a little with my eyes wrenched shut. I slowly opened my eyes and ungritted my teeth. I walked back to the wall and funereally closed the door on the box.
My roommate is out the door, sans resume, which is sitting in the dead computer, and I pace the house. When the super finally does arrive, half an hour later than expected, I am put to shame as he switches out the fuse in one guess and brings life back to our hideous wired progenies under 10 seconds. He shows me the blue fuse with the broken metal strip and utters something in a form of broken English I have yet to decipher. But I can tell from the “You bothered me for this shit?” tone in his voice that I am going to be yet another dinner table anecdote of the clueless neophyte in 5A. I smile. Usher him out, reminding him about the radiator, and sheepishly walk back to my room where I type. I type in shame.
40 states are coping with budget shortfalls totaling $140 billion, which will threaten America’s 14,000 school districts for the next five years, one analyst said Thursday. Courtesy of CNN.com
I feel like we keep reviving these dead horses into heaving and gasping pointless burdens.
It is no surprise that something like this would rile me up – I’m an educator. It’s my bread and butter. I’ve taught college/university classes since I was a grad school in 2002. I love it and I have my days when I abhor it. There are moments I want to set the self-entitled lazy students on fire. There are days they inspire me to never give up.
I came to highly value education once I got to college. The school I went to back in Kuwait and the high school I attended in Florida were damned good schools (though the latter has horribly slipped into a quagmire of student-centeredness). I was just a shitty student – truly. I cared more about hanging out with my friends and running around the theatre like a fool – surprisingly I only skipped school ONCE in my entire high school career.
But my high school teachers were awesome educators who cared and had their shit together. So did my college profs. Until I told all of them I wanted to be a teacher – they laughed or told me to pick another career quickly. I thought they were just joshing me.
I discovered VERY quickly that being an educator is more than just being able to relate information to brick walls in fluorescent hovels. Aside from the general lackadaisical you-owe-me attitudes of students, who see education as a product thanks to the continued corporatization of the university system and the ever present commodity fetishism of a tech-zombie consumer culture, one has to travel the dangerous gauntlet of education politics which includes everything from appeasing parents and administration to making sure your students pass these (ridiculous) state-designed competency tests (which most school board members would flunk). This doesn’t happen as much in college but manifests itself in worse ways. I split my time between live courses and online education – the latter is a soul sucker but a means of making money. Because you are disembodied voice the students tend to think you’re nothing more than a glorified retail clerk (one student took issue with my correcting they way he addressed me: he chose to use my first name, I preferred my title and last time – he refused to “cater to [my] ego”). In both realms I have to deal with this nasty and morally disgusting practice where if a student complains enough then they get their way because tuition dollars are at risk. And with funding continually being cut it won’t be long before the inmates are fully running the asylum. Don’t believe me? Take a gander”
1) I have had several students who plagiarized essays, in some case the ENTIRE thing, and even with proof in my hand I was asked to change the grade, allow a revision, or had their final course grades changed behind my back.
2) One particular trog of a department head agreed with a student who berated me for not simply giving him the answers to all his questions even though all the information he needed was in the syllabus. As he said, “I don’t pay you to tell me to where to find the info, I pay you to just tell me everything I need.” Note: You don’t pay me you bottomfeeder.
3) “Do your best to help students through all their difficult situations.” Maybe that works in high school (although even when I taught high school for a VERY short stint, I treated those kids like adults accountable for everything. If you pander to them, they smell the blood and run with it.) but in a college that should have NO place. I am not your therapist or your parent – I can empathize and sympathize but at the end of the day you need to do the work and earn your degree.
I could go on and on – but those pro-student attitudes were filtered up from high schools where parents started running the show. Under-performing students just get processed through because we don’t want to “discourage” people. Look, if you’re a lazy bastard with zero brain capability then you don’t need to be in school. The only thing you need to learn is that when the bell goes “Ding!” you shake out and season the fries – harsh, but true. We need to get rid of this babying attitude towards education. It’s a privilege that should be earned and not shoved down throats.
But what is filtering down from colleges thanks to all these budget cuts is the corporatization of high schools (Kathy Black is the first sign of this apocalypse – mark my words). In Brooklyn, a technical high school is being shut down due to poor performances and transformed into a 6-year A.A. degree terminating technical school run by IBM. All the students and teachers get the boot. Now while a part of me agrees with this, because frankly your first two years of college are a rehash of four years of high school, a part of me sees this as somewhat dangerous. Or maybe I am being a luddite and need to step into the light of modern education as being something more transformative and useful. I fear that may result in the complete death of the liberal arts and arts programs, which have become increasingly seen as “not useful.” There are things to be learned backstage in the roiling world of pubescent theatres that one cannot learn ANYWHERE else. Believe me…
But aside from pedagogical concerns and preferred methodologies WHY is there no money for schools? HOW is it possible that we keep raising taxes, keep beautifying pointless public structures (i.e., MTA train stations – I need something pretty to look at and be in while I am waiting for a train?), and keep wasting money on way-too-high salaries of idiots in positions of power? I will freely admit that I don’t get all the ins and outs of education economics, but it seems to me, that if we can freely partition money to making prisoners have better lives with their TV, education programs, therapists, life coaching and job interview training then why not move that money to students? Or better yet, tell your children to commit crimes because they’ll be able to get a proper education from the slammer. (And WHY are we concerned about the conditions of living of prisoners?)
I will freely admit and agree that the education system in the U.S. sucks – and I am a product of one of the worst ones (Florida). Everyone is trapped in this teaching-to-test mentality with teacher-from-the-box classes. We complain that other “backwards” countries keep surpassing us – well – DUH! They VALUE education – not to say they don’t have their fair share of problems. But the expectations are high and there is personal accountability.
And at the end of day, despite all my frustrations, I know that I look forward to getting into a classroom, making my students laugh and enjoy learning, and having them leave my class as better people and students than when they came in. At the end of the day, as underpaid as I am, I like doing what I do. I just wish I was allowed to do it without the ridiculous restrictions and expectations that have nothing to do with education.
Natives of this concrete-washed paradise will often warn newcomers about the crime, the subway schedules, and the pervading smell of summer urine. But the one thing that gets conveniently left out is a wintry harbinger of aural pollution. The radiator. I had the unfortunate luck of moving to the city in the dead of winter. I rationalized that it would be safer because what criminal would want to rob a moving truck while a zero degree wind chill careened down the avenue. So my torrid affair with the radiator began on my very first night in the city.
Growing up, I was spoiled by central heat and air. The joys of moving a little lever left or right to adjust the temperature was now replaced by a metal container that mocked me with drips and hisses. My experience with a radiator was limited to a standing pipe that ran the length of a wall at a friend’s apartment – she had kindly offered me her extra bed while I hunted for a place of my own. Until that point the only thing I knew about radiators was stored in the back of my head as the scene in Beaches where Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey are bundled up singing Christmas carols as they wait for the heat to be turned on in response to the gentle prodding of Midler slamming a frying pan against the radiator.
Radiators are part of the inescapable charm of NY living. Unless you are willing, let alone able, to spend six to seven figures, chances are great that the little lever will be M.I.A. So it is no surprise that I came to share a living space with two floor radiators and three standing pipes – the former split among the two bedrooms and the latter placed in the living room, the bathroom, and the kitchen.
The standing pipes proved to be no annoyance at all. They did not pop and hiss, but they did present other hurdles. The living room pipe was a decorating road block as nothing could be placed directly against it for obvious flammable reasons. But that also eliminated all seating possibilities unless you wanted to suffer burns from the accidental straying of an arm or leg draped over the couch.
The bathroom pipe jutted up against the outside back of the bathtub, and as I quickly learned the first night, a vinyl shower curtain does not make a good partner. This meant making sure there was at least a half foot of space between the pipe and the curtain at all times. It did, however, keep the towels nice and warm.
The kitchen pipe was positively useless as it never worked. This was a minor annoyance until the one night it did kick in while I was preparing dinner using three burners. Even in the dead of winter, with the windows wide open, I felt like the roasting chicken in the oven and I had much in common. I have found that I do not mind that pipe being dead.
The radiators, however, were the albatrosses. My complete ignorance shined through during the first week when I could not figure out how to operate it. The single valve seemed easy enough – right to close, left to open. But right to close only led to a condition known as “water hammer” wherein the radiator becomes possessed and violently shakes in harmony with a noise akin to a sledgehammer meeting the pipes in a passionate kiss. I was afraid for my life envisioning the pipes bursting through the wooden floor or the radiator exploding, spraying shrapnel in every direction, as I slept. Turning left sometimes produced the same results as all the held back pressure was released in one cacophonous rush. I would have to patiently wait until the noise subsided only to be introduced to the rattling of the valve which needed to be jiggled to soothe it.
By the second night I took to wearing ear plugs to drown out the noise as it would sometimes begin its John Cage-esque symphony in the middle of the night. But the noise was not the only problem. The heat generated by radiators is immense. I guess I should have taken it as a bad sign that the floorboards underneath and around the radiator were considerably darker than the rest of the floor. The scorch marks should have warned me not to get near the behemoth, but every once in a while I would foolishly attempt to turn right, knowing full well it would not work, only to be met with a burned hand (because the valve was also cast iron it was not spared from the heating process).
There was no way to avoid the heat, so I slept with my bedroom window wide open. I didn’t care that the fire escape was just outside leaving me prone to being attacked and raped by an intruder. At least I would stay cool. In fact, most of the windows in the apartment remained open throughout the day allowing cross-ventilation to normalize the stifling temperature. This does present a slight problem when rain or snow partner with wind. One morning I woke up to find my curtains had been sucked out of the window and soaked halfway up. The radiator dried them to a starched crispness in 10 minutes.
It took a month before a friendly neighbor, in mocking shock, told me that radiators, no matter the type, should shut off when you turn right. I consider myself rather well-educated and refused to be bested by a century-and-a-half’s old invention. Research showed me that there are two basic kinds of old-school NY radiators: hot water and steam. Hot-water radiators are made of cast-iron with two pipes that come out of the floor into the base. One allows hot water which rises to the top via a pressure pump. As it cools on the way down it is forced through the second pipe. Steam radiators use, not surprisingly, steam which requires no mechanism to push it along as it operates under its own volatile pressure. It is this second variety that most often leads to the hissing release of pressure via a blowhole on one end as well as the orchestra bangs as the steam looks for release like a horny pre-pubescent in the back of his parent’s car.
We were blessed with the second variety.
It was not until a raging leak from my roommate’s radiator solidly proved my neighbor’s tip. His radiator received a new valve with a rubber dial and copper pipe joint. He was rescued from hissing, water torture, and steamy dehydration. I was jealous. I concocted a flimsy lie that would easily pass by our super who had marginal control over the English language. I claimed that the clanking noise bothered our downstairs neighbor and that I had been burned repeatedly by the valve. Help did not arrive until four days after the increasingly frantic calls when the super came to my rescue. But his laziness, the birthright of any New York super, reigned supreme. I was not gifted with a copper joint and a heat-proof valve. I was left with only a rubber valve which did nothing to cease the ebb and flow of steam into the pipes. In fact, the heat managed to weaken and make it so pliable that “turn right to close” became “turn right and can’t stop.” It just spun around the screw in its weakened condition. I could swear the radiator was laughing at me.
Despite its “charm,” it is also an eyesore regardless of the rather pitiful silver painted disguise the radiator wears. It seems pointless to try and gussy up something so aesthetically flat with something as absurd as silver spray paint (although there is a company that designs contemporary and designer radiators). The slip cover disintegrates after a month of direct heat as the paint begins to chip off. Like the trunk of a freshly cut tree you can guess the age by the many layers of paint that are revealed.
There is an odd pride that swells in your chest when you realize that the radiator you have been saddled with is the same one installed when the building was a newborn. You feel like you own a piece of history that you can show off to your friends and relatives. Forget about Kandinsky and Pollock, search for an original SanGalli and put an art lamp above it. Regale your peers with stories of old New York replete with images of tenement immigrants huddling around the very same radiator that is in your bedroom.
I would trade all of that to get one good night’s sleep without ear plugs or the threat of death from an open window. I would call the super back, but I am sure I would only get a new screw this time. Besides, I feel belittled when I register my out-of-town neophyte complaints and he just looks at me like I am insane. It is the same look he gave me when I called him the second day after I moved in to let him know the heating elements were missing from the oven. Those in the know are guffawing, those unaware should know that stoves are gas-operated in New York; this includes the oven which requires no coils.
How the hell was I supposed to know? I can imagine being the gringo anecdote of the evening shared over a plate of puerco asado y arroz amarillo.
So I am consigned to the unhappy lot of sleepless winter nights as I bed with my ear plugs, the comforter over my head, and a spare pillow pinioned on top. My roommate found me like that one morning and thought I was dead when I would not respond to his “Wake up!” That is the consequence you pay when you move to a pre-war building in a city like New York.
There is a poetic charm about something as trivially important as a radiator. After a while you start to learn its habits and predict its moods like a long-time lover. You recognize the difference between danger and warmth. Appreciate it when you are so cold your testicles have become ovaries, and chuckle at every “coo” and “goo” it spits out when you’re near. In a psychologically unsound way, it becomes a member of the family. The relative that just won’t leave.
Even as I sit here writing this, I am humming along to the diatonic scales played out by the silver water hammer with a syncopated hissing counterpoint. I may not be able to tune it out, but I will sing a duet and wait for spring to be fully sprung. For more info please visit : http://www.lovecustomwaterbottles.com
Yes…I know…I take too much time in between blogs.
New York and an acting career are busy things to manage.
Ok, some recent things in the last week have just pissed me off as a human being and I had to blog about them:
I LOVE watching the Olympics. My DVR hates me for it as I managed to cram as MUCH as possible so I can catch events that I miss while I am out or sleeping. However, this year I am vehemently against the Olympics being held in China. I really don’t care about all the technological, industrial and “social” progress that the country has made. It does not deserve to host an event that is about equality when it has the most rigid borders set for its citizens. I mean, for God’s sake, they block certain Internet sites so as not to incite the minds of the people. They are a country of automatons run by megolomaniacal politicians with SERIOUS Napoleon complexes. Now, don’t get me wrong. My ire is not directed at the people, as there have been those brave enough to be subversive and speak out about this hypocrisy on top of the other shite the country tries to hide. It is fully focused on the government and those in control. As dictatorial and puritanical as America might be, China takes the cake and dangles it over its people.
What leads to this tirade is the recent visa denial of several athletes because of their efforts with Team Darfur, an athlete-driven group that has advocated for an Olympic truce and peace in Darfur, a war-torn region of Sudan. But because China has ties with Sudan, and because China is guilty of the same damn thing, they denied the athletes entry into the country and therefore entry into the games. First of all, who the hell do they think they are? And, secondly, how the HELL is the IOA allowing this. Who the hell allowed a majority vote for the games to be held in China. I don’t care how ancient and exotic the country may be. It is rabidly hypocritical for the games to take place there.
Some people want to demonize the atheletes for trying to turn the games into a political platform, but they were not walking around with signs or staging sit-ins. They don’t oppress Tibetans. They don’t keep their people ignorant of the world around them. I am an anal retentive so am impressed with their organizational abilities, but any idiot manning a Staples could organized something given the time (I am reminded of the chimps and Shakespeare scenario).
Now this don’t mean I will be taking an oath of Olympic celibacy, but this doth not maketh me happy.
The New York MTA
Can kiss my ass. Aside from Italy and maybe the UK, New York has the WORST and most poorly organized subway system. The printed schedules they hand out to newbies and tourists is laughable as any New Yorker who has lived here for at least a year, even six months, will tell you that those schedules are nowhere near accurate.
They raise hikes and soak up tax money so they can provide slower service, trains with no air conditioning, and changes in service with little to no notice or explanation.
This past week alone I have been the victim of:
1) Waiting for a downtown train for as long as 20 minutes (during daylight hours) as several uptown trains pass me by.
2) Had my hopes up for a downtown train that only blows its irritating horn and passes through the station without stopping and for NO reason.
3) Service changes whilst on the train announced by some slackjawed trog who can’t ennunciate which leaves riders confused and stuck on a train that starts skipping stationgs…for NO reason.
4) Train rides in sweltering temperatures. There is a serious problem when the temp outside of the station is cooler than in the train. The MTA is hurting for a lawsuit from some parent whose child suffers from heatstroke or fatigue. I mean, you can’t be serious about not making sure all the trains are sufficiently kept cool in the sweltering summer heat.
I don’t know what the MTA thinks it is doing, but perhaps they could look into improving current conditions before they start trying to build a new line on the east side or trying to turn a huge postal office into the new Penn Station. If you want to raise the hikes, give us something in return.
So it is not surprise that I am a fan of So You Think You Can Dance. I am so obssessed that I found and downloaded the Australian version, which is quite odd to say the least. This season was, without a doubt, the most incredible display of dance and choreography and I loved every minute of every episode.
But it seems to me like there be some shady dealings going on. Starting with the kicking off of Will due to murmurs of favoritism, which makes no sense considering Debbie Allan had nothing to do with any judging. And the finale tonight just proves that American voters, in general don’t know shit about dance and are easily duped. Yes, I know the show is not about voting for the technical best. I doubt 95% of the viewers could spell pirouette let alone know what the hell that is. But what angers is me Katee not winning in favor of someone the show kept touting as an untrained hip hop dancer (Joshua), now any idiot could see that boy has had training. And for God’s sake, in his little bio video last night he takes about cleaning out the studio he studied at in exchange for free classes. One of the judges the night they chose the top 20 even pointed it out. Look at the auditions, specifically Mia’s audition sequence. He does a brise, and perfectly. NO untrained dancer can do that. The final nail, for me, was the Russian Trepak. The boy did turns a la seconde and tours en l’air….no untrained hip hop dancer has the technique to do that let alone fake it. Why bother lying about it? I am not saying he was not a great dancer, but it just leaves a really bad taste in my mouth.
I can’t imagine someone like Katee, Will, Kourtnee and Matt won’t have careers (the last two especially who were voted off WAAAAY before they should have been) and maybe they will be better served as respected in the community by not having won or gotten too far, but it’s a slap in the face of someone who spends so many years training to be thrown over for someone with personality and little to no ability.
Now, I am off to find the Canadian SYTYCD episodes as I did not know Blake was a judge on it being as gay as he is, despite claiming heterosexuality as his bag. Right….
Ok, site is coming along…slowly I know…but things are finally aligned in the bigger picture sense and now I attack the small things and make tweaks.
NONE of which would be possible without Dame Cyberdelia. She is my htl sounding board and all around WP guru as I try to position myself into this insane coding nightmare.
Now…the NYC DMV…can SUCK IT!!
My first encounter with them was no pleasant as I traversed their refugee infested hallways about three weeks ago. I stood in a very long line waiting to be helped by only ONE employee in a section with FOUR stations. People were losing their minds. 2 hours later I was 8th in line to be helped and had to leave for an appointment. I was NOT pleased.
The idea of going back has been like an incurable rash on my genitals. But go back I did. Today, the line was even longer.
And still ONE employee.
But hosanna! One more showed up 15 minutes later and the line started moving. Not fast, but compared to what it was before….fast.
I get to the front about an hour and a half later….hand over my documents…and get told that I am missing something and have to come back.
I am not living in my own satirized sitcom scenario where I am in DMV hell and the disinterested bitch behind the counter is Satan. I try pleading my case with the documents at hand which include a court signed and notarized application for a name change.
Beelzey was not having it.
So I left…angry. I am going to attempt to back tomorrow…as laughable as that idea is. I make no promised about my inability to keep my mouth shut.
Should anyone from the DMV happen to ever come across this post, I hand you this idea free of charge:
1) I pay your wages with my taxes…how about you actually use it and hire more people to staff those stations. People DO have lives unlike the trogs working behind the little cameras that are forever breaking down.
2) Make sure you express CLEARLY what it is you need so the NYC denizens don’t have to open a can of whoops ass on you.
3) Is it too much to ask for some kind of air freshener in that place?
The highlight of my 1 1/2 Dantean hours was being harrassed by an Indian man forever talking loudly on his cell in hindi and breathing out the foulest ordor that managed to waft its way to my nose all the time. He smelled of mothballs to boot and insistend on shuffling up closer to me no matter how little space the line traversed. If I was bumped or rubbed up on one more time I swear I would have decked him.
I think he got me pregnant at some point, but can’t be entirely sure.
New York City….