Theatre. We. LOVE – Ensemble Studio Theatre’s “Year of the Rooster”

“YEAR of the ROOSTER” – An EST/Youngblood Production – Eric Dufault asks you to “WAKE the F*#K UP!”

Year of the Rooster - Ensemble Studio Theatre - NYC - Theatre. We. LOVE. - Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

The EST/Youngblood production of Eric Dufault’s ‘YEAR OF THE ROOSTER’ begins its extended run January 2014.

Theatre. We. LOVE at the Angel Orensanz Foundation sits down with the cast and crew of EST’s production of “Year of the Rooster.”

by: Zoe V. SpeasThe Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

The wintry months of January and February mark my second anniversary with the City of New York. Most of my time was spent with one hand gripping onto the handrail of “back home” while I tried to skitter around the perimeter of the city on borrowed ice skates. I’m still here, surviving, but it has taken all of those two years for me to come around to letting go of the rail. I have let go, and it’s due almost entirely to the three-month-long relationship I’ve had so far with the Ensemble Studio Theatre/Youngbloods production of Eric Dufault’s Year of the Rooster.

Year of the Rooster - Ensemble Studio Theatre - NYC - Theatre. We. LOVE. - Angel Orensanz Foundation for the ArtsAs you’ll see by the title of this blog and subsequent headers, the point of my post is to tell you about all the brilliant, hilarious, inspiring things that the creative team of Rooster had to say when they generously sat down to talk to their fan (me) for an interview. I will do that. I promise. And let me tell you, sitting around a modestly-sized conference table surrounded by people whose transformations into warrior-roosters and  power-hungry McDonald’s managers – it can be pretty overwhelming.

Not to mention the fact that proximity to playwright Eric Dufault (in all of his humble, talented niceness) kind of makes you torn between wanting to hug and bake for him or beat his brains out in a jealous rage. At least then you could see close-up what the brains would look like of someone who can invite his audience into the world of cockfighting and middle-America and give it the grandeur of gladiators fighting in a Roman coliseum.

Grandeur, I need to add, made possible by director John Giampietro‘s excellent choice to underscore the action of the play with classical symphonies and fugues by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Ensemble Studio Theatre - Year of the Rooster - Theatre. We. LOVE - Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

Playwright Eric Dufault has always had a strong connection with animals, and much of his work incorporates the idea of “talking animals”, including the ongoing production of ‘YEAR OF THE ROOSTER’ at EST.

“I’ve always written plays that involve talking animals, including chickens,” Eric told me. He explained that he grew up surrounded by animals as a kid, chickens and roosters included. “But I read this book called Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some we Eat and that sparked the idea for Year of the Rooster. It included a section on cockfighting.”

Here’s a kicker. Rooster was the first play he’d written for the Youngbloods.

“I write pretty quickly,” he said.


Anyway, so this relationship – this three-month-long relationship I mentioned having with Year of the Rooster, it began back in the fall when the nightshift bartender from my favorite local pub – McCoy’s, on 9th Ave in Hell’s Kitchen – showed me a graphic postcard advertising for the show at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. It’s this very image (at the top of this blog), the one of a rooster devised entirely out of matchsticks scorched to various degrees, that now graces the front of the program for the show.

The postcard instructed me to “Wake the F#$k Up.”

Which, honestly, I hadn’t managed to do yet since moving to the city two years ago. I figured I could use the caffeine.

Year of the Rooster - Ensemble Studio Theatre - NYC - Theatre. We. LOVE. - Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

Ensemble Studio Theatre presents: Eric Dufault’s “Year of the Rooster”. Above (left to right): Delphi Harrington, Bobby Moreno. Photo Credit: Russ Kuhner

“The energy of this piece – it’s not something you watch. It’s something you go through,” EST’s Bobby Moreno said to me later. Bobby plays the character of Odysseus Rex aka ‘Odie.’ He’s the rooster you root for, the one who wants to murder the sun. You know. That one. “The structure of the play and the way the audience is arranged around it creates an inescapable intimacy in the experience.”

In other words, Dufault’s storyline and Giampietro’s direction wakes you the f$&k up.

By the end of the show, I was doubled over in pain. My stomach muscles were on fire with the pain of laughing way too much and way too loudly.

I didn’t know where I was for much of the production. We sat in a small, intimate theatre on the second floor of the EST building on W. 52nd, but with just a few, sparse blocks of furniture (and an amazingly accurate recreation of a McDonald’s restaurant), I was transported to middle-of-nowhere Oklahoma. Yet it was the physicality of the actors like Denny Dale Bess, an EST member since 2000 who plays Dickie Thimble in Rooster, as he strode through the space, cowboy-booted with a massive ten gallon-hat that transformed the location for me.

The production was so grounded and sincere in its commitment to each given circumstance – circumstances that grew more and more ridiculous and tragic as the plot progressed – that I forgot the Rooster world was one we can all agree is not “of us.” It’s an “other” world. Cock-fighting. Isolation. McDonald’s (both as an employee and gentically-modified chicken aka the brilliant Megan Tusing, I might add).

Year of the Rooster - Ensemble Studio Theatre - NYC - Theatre. We. LOVE. - Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

EST’s “Year of the Rooster” – From left to right: Thomas Lyons, Denny Dale Bess, Bobby Moreno. Photo Credit Russ Kuhner

Suddenly, we’re all from Oklahoma. Which we are, in our own ways. We’re all from that town, the one Eric Dufault creates with the characters of Gil Pepper and his aging mother, Lou. With Philippa and Dickie Thimble.

Of course, Denny’s family actually does originate from Oklahoma, I learned later in our interview, and these ties created a special bond for him with the environment of Rooster.

“I know these small towns,” said Denny, “each character in this piece is a part of my family.” In fact, the actors and Eric told me Denny’s relationship with Oklahoma was in large part the reason for the creative choice to isolate the play in his home state.

 But my wake-up call continued.

Year of the Rooster - Ensemble Studio Theatre - NYC - Theatre. We. LOVE. - Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

From the Ensemble Studio Theatre production “Year of the Rooster.” From left to right, Thomas Lyons and Bobby Moreno. Photo Credit Russ Kuhner.

I was already shifting uncomfortably in my seat by intermission as I realized I was watching something happen that I dreamed was possible someday for my own writing, my own performance. The stagecraft was genius, reality grounded, characters as specific and genuine as ink-stamped fingerprints. I won’t go on and on about the beauty of the roosters when they really start to rage. It’s like watching a fully-staged battle scene in the opera, Carmen, but it’s just two guys and a bucket of feathers. You have to see what fight director Qui Nguyen came up with for the fight scenes in Rooster. You just have to.

But the wake-up call, it continued long after I had exited the theatre, having trouble focusing on my feet as I descended the stairs to the street, program clutched in my fingers.

I remember calling my mom (because who else do you call when you have one of your twentysomethings’ revelations about life?) as I walked to McCoy’s and telling her I’d found artists, real artists – the ones that create universes out of nothing, the ones who give everything of themselves to it without a thought. As much as I felt it, as a witness, imagine how the actors feel it every night they come together.

“I’ve never been involved in a cast where they show up two hours early to a call to do a line-through,” said Megan Tusing (seen below) during my sit-down. “They never do this show at less than 110-percent.”

Year of the Rooster - Ensemble Studio Theatre - NYC - Theatre. We. LOVE. - Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

EST’s “Year of the Rooster” – from left to right: Megan Tusing and Bobby Moreno. Photo Credit Russ Kuhner.

Stage Manager of Rooster Eileen Lalley, who calls such a tight show every night that I’m barely conscious of the passage of time, quickly added to this. “I’ve seen this show over a hundred times. I never get tired of it. I never sit in the dark checking my email, killing time. I can’t. The show always changes every night.”

EST member Thomas Lyons (Gil Pepper) pointed to his face, which had a pretty impressive shiner on the day of our interview and said, “Look at my face. This show doesn’t work on cruise control.”

Year of the Rooster - Ensemble Studio Theatre - NYC - Theatre. We. LOVE. - Angel Orensanz Foundation for the ArtsYear of the Rooster - Ensemble Studio Theatre - NYC - Theatre. We. LOVE. - Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

EST Member Denny Dale Bess in “Year of the Rooster” as Dickie Thimble. From the Unfiltered Production.

Watch Thomas for ten minutes as he battles with Megan, Denny, and his deliciously degrading mother played by the fabulous Delphi Harrington, and you see what he means.

EST has been operating for over forty years in New York City, developing new theatre in America to the tune of 6,000 new titles throughout their history. Programs like Youngbloods for playwrights under 30 serve to keep this mission alive.

We’re not blind to it. Budgets hurt. Theatre suffers as we suffer as the economy suffers, and there are no gymnasts flying from the rafters of EST dressed in spandex and shooting webs from their wrists.

I know I sat there among the actors and creative team, gushing about EST and Year of the Rooster, without a real clue of the difficulties and challenges behind keeping even such a historic company as the Ensemble Studio Theatre afloat.

I know, I know. I know. It’s tough. It’s tough as nails. We’re all roosters in a ring in New York City, fighting the biggest, meanest mother of a bird we’ve ever been up against.

But that art like Rooster can exist? Can be born into the world of commercialism on stage and celebrity-driven box office revenue and survive? And thrive? Here?


I guess it’s time to let go of the hand-rail, Zoe. It will all skate right past you if you don’t.

 Like I said, wake-up call.

Year of the Rooster - Ensemble Studio Theatre - NYC - Theatre. We. LOVE. - Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

EST’s “Year of the Rooster” left to right: Bobby Moreno and Thomas Lyons. Photo Credit Russ Kuhner

So it’s been three months now, and I’ve followed with proud fanaticism the progress of the extension of Year of the Rooster at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. I see the team passing through McCoy’s every now and then and each time I unabashedly sprint towards them and repeat the same garbled lines of “being super excited to see it” when it re-opens.

They’re mercifully patient with me, but I think it’s because we see the same thing when we see that rooster devised of burned matchsticks. We see possibility. We see fire and power and drive. We see the future of art and theatre. And despite the cold and the money and the work and the fatigue, we know that we’re a part of it.

We’re part of that message that EST and thousands of other theatre artists are screaming throughout New York City:

Wake. The. F#^k. Up.

Year of the Rooster - Ensemble Studio Theatre - NYC - Theatre. We. LOVE. - Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

Year of the Rooster - Ensemble Studio Theatre - NYC - Theatre. We. LOVE. - Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

Setting the Stage: New Year’s Eve 2013 in Times Square

Setting the Stage: Times Square at New Year’s Eve

A closer look at the spectacle of Times Square on December 31st.

By: Al Orensanz, Ph.D and Zoe V. Speas

, The Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

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The spectacle of Times Square at New Year’s Eve 2013 consumes the attention of viewers of all ages.

In 1904, the owners of One Times Square assembled parties of friends and co-workers on the rooftop of their building to ring in the New Year. Three years later, in 1907, the first ceremony of lowering the Ball was held in the iconic heart of Manhattan. Tomorrow night, over a century later and in the face of biting cold and ungodly congestion, the tradition continues.

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The New Year’s Eve Ball, made of Waterford Crystal, which will descend at 11:59pm on December 31st.

New Year’s Eve throws Times Square into the spotlight as the single point upon which the urban attention and media distribution of the world focuses as a beacon of celebration for the holiday. The city center becomes a international center, and, despite the performances and A-list appearances, it will be the sea of people gathered along Broadway and Seventh Avenue who are the true stars of the show.

They will make the stage of New Year’s Eve come alive and millions of eyes across America will watch the last few seconds of 2013 tick away with them, wishing they stood beneath the downpour of confetti and flashing 
lights. They are why, for those last ten seconds of the previous year, Times Square becomes the center of the universe. The people.

Paris has fashion. Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe encompass the city of London. St. Peter’s Square has been the cornerstone of Rome for centuries, as with the Acropolis in Athens. But in New York, the energy of the people within provide the city with its most famous trademark. New York City is not the capital of the United States, nor even the State, itself. The people – regardless of personality or social strata – are the character of the town that has sealed its renown.

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The people create the character and the energy of the city, and not just in Times Square on New Year’s.

The official event lineup features live performances such as Blondie, Miley Cyrus, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis; John Lennon’s Imagine, to be performed by Melissa Etheridge, is another beloved classic. Traditional Chinese performances featuring Kung Fu and a colorful fan dance will kick off the festivities early in the evening. The celebration also will be highlighted with exclusive trailers and clips featuring views of Times Square and the surrounding neighborhood.

The backdrop for the festivities tomorrow night will consist of over a hundred buildings coated “from the crown to the toe top full” of neon advertisements and billboards. Thousands of LED lights illuminate Times Square, making it a fully-functional, 24/7 commercial advertising theme park of giant, electronic ad/art that render the buildings they cover completely unidentifiable. Even in “ordinary time”, the buildings along Times Square operate as embodiments of virtual information, carrying very little relativity to the tenants within as opposed to the advertisements assigned to them. The immersive experience of Times Square at New Year’s Eve, as well as the live recording of the night’s events, create blissful accomplices of those assembled beneath the world’s most spectacular advertising strategy.

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New York City at New Year’s Eve.

However, another layer of the visual and perceptual experience of New Year’s Eve at Times Square must be accounted for – the generation of advertisements originating directly from national television networks which are delivered into the living rooms of viewers throughout America and beyond. The messages transmitted through pixels and sound-bytes are intermingled with the physical world and surround the crowds beneath the crystal ball, those gathered around a television at home, or at their local watering hole, blocks away from the hub of it all.

Tomorrow night, Times Square will transform even more potently into a vortex of action and movement for its New Year’s Eve celebration. Technicians and cameramen from New York networks synchronize the activities of the Square among the people, upon the stages, and from the microphones of honored speakers who preside over the event. The reporters and cameramen who supply video feed will move rapidly and efficiently through the crowds, engaging with them in repetitious spurts of gratitude and celebration. The snapshots of the crowds, when viewed remotely, provide the international audiences with the visual representation of their own emotions: smiling, static faces, undulating hands and arms, cameras held high, holiday truisms and well-wishes.

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The fluorescence of New Year’s Eve at Times Square, New York.

The phones in the hands of these representatives feed parallel worlds of messaging and communication systems; there are tens of thousands of smart phones, twitter networks, and Facebook accounts documenting the event from innumerable personal perspectives.

The various elements that create the unique atmosphere of Times Square on New Year’s Eve will change and evolve throughout the progress of the night and its proximity to the sixty-second descent of the Ball at 11:59pm on December 31, 2013.

The only element of permanence in the night, other than the overwhelming joy and hopefulness of a population at the start of a new year, is the backdrop of the city, the enveloping architecture, and the direct flow of communication and advertisement for the multimillion vieweres throughout the world following and celebrating the event from the comfort of their homes.

Musicians. We. LOVE. Katy Gunn & Fred Baker – New York Music

Musicians. We. LOVE. – KATY GUNN and FRED BAKER take on the New York Music scene.

by: Zoe V. SpeasThe Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

The “We. LOVE.” series at the Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts is proud to present a new chapter - Musicians. We. LOVE. This week, we’re excited to introduce to you the talents and stylings of Katy Gunn and her brother Fred Baker. 

New York Music

Musician. We. LOVE. Katy Gunn in performance.

FOLLOW THESE LINKS for a sampling of Katy Gunn’s track, “Beautiful Things” and Fred Baker’s “Pocket Full of Detritus”.

New York Music

Musicality as an inherited trait: Katy Gunn practices the violin with her older brother.

I’ve believed for a long time that musicality is an inherited trait as specific and definite as brown eyes vs. blue, or a crooked thumb vs. straight.

Katy and Fred have the gene, it’s undeniable, and while they both trained from their youth in classical violin and guitar respectively, today they’re searching for the soul of the city in their respective songwriting and poetry-rap explorations in the world of New York music.

New York Music

Fred Baker performing his unique style of what his sister refers to as “poetry-rap”

I first encountered these musicians at a private concert hosted by the Lower East Side’s New York music venue - the Living Room – a gorgeously intimate “talent incubator”  established in 1988 by Jennifer Gilson, who owns it with her husband, Steve Rosenthal.

Katy Gunn was one of the last few performers to have a night at the Living Room before it closed its doors temporarily.

It was not Katy’s first time at the venue—she has performed there before with other musical groups—but the evening was made even more special by the invitation I received by two wonderful members of the team at NOoSphere Arts on East Houston Street in the Lower East Side. Founding Artistic Director Sol Kjøk and gallery manager Annemarta Mugaas are friends of Ms. Gunn’s and have adopted her as a musician-in-residence at NOoSphere, where the brother and sister team have performed frequently in the past, often in conjunction with performance art and dance pieces sponsored by the gallery.

New York Music

Katy Gunn and Fred Baker perform at NOoSphere Arts on E. Houston Street in the Lower East Side.

Before I first parted the curtains to the private backroom performance space where Katy and her brother were performing, I was expecting a fully stocked band complete with percussionist, strings, guitar, and back-up vocals.

New York Music

Katy Gunn performs at the Living Room in New York’s Lower East Side with Fred Baker and vocalist, Thea Beemer.

When I stepped into the room and found only Katy and her brother and vocalist Thea Beemer, I was amazed. The trio created such fullness and variety of sound through Fred’s work on the sound pad and Katy’s ability to sing and orchestrate her violin simultaneously as Thea harmonized seamlessly with her melodies.

New York Music

Musicians. We. LOVE. Katy Gunn, New York Music.

The problem with my music,” said Katy of this complicated blending process, “is that there’s so much wacky instrumentation and orchestration—it’s a challenge to make it work live.

Through use of live sampling, Gunn’s multifaceted sound elicits the intimacy of a jazz/blues background, with an infectious pop/electronic dance beat.  The lyrics she composes touch on a variety of issues, from religion and faith (“All the People”) to the obsessive and all-consuming nature of love (“Beautiful Things”)—they speak to the search of an artist trying to understand the world and New York music through louder questions, and more colorfully.

“The more we divorce ourselves from religion, if art doesn’t replace that idea of spirit, we’ll all be in trouble,” Gunn says.

Learning about the process and resultant navigation of the New York music world can be an overwhelming experience, even sitting across from Katy Gunn and Fred Baker at a cozy Thai restaurant on the Lower East Side. Especially when she doesn’t seem to recognize it as such in the least.

Katy Gunn - New York Music

from – Katy Gunn’s photoshoot in Brooklyn.

As I ask her about the process she undergoes to develop a new song or new lyric idea, and she begins to explain – with difficulty, at times – I’m comforted to realize that it’s the same challenge, the same difficulty even that I face as a writer, grasping at wisps of an idea in the hopes of weaving it into something resembling a story.

It starts as an imprint,” says Gunn. “One I keep coming back to. I get a beat down, and then find lyrics that match with that rhythm. Sometimes I’ll wake up after sleep with ideas and I’ll try to go and find them again. When it’s something, I’ll listen to it and think, ‘I must have heard this somewhere before…’”

I’m nodding and swallowing heaps of Pad Thai at this point. I think Katy notices my far-off expression and dismisses my confusion with a sweep of her hand. Then she says something to me and to Fred that I’ll remember forever. Especially his response.

New York Music

Katy Gunn and Fred Baker, in performance.

“Anyone can do it, if you put your mind to it,” Katy Gunn assures me. Fred looks up from his curried chicken and rice dish and lifts an eyebrow. “Not anybody,” he adds firmly, and she doesn’t argue. Just smiles.

The truth of the matter is that Katy and Fred do what they do for the same reason that an artist creates, or a writer composes, or an actor takes the stage.

“When I do it well, it’s the only thing that makes me happy,” says Gunn.

“I’m totally paranoid leading up to it, but if it goes well, I’m lost in this lovely place—there have been times I’ve performed when I find myself in a separate world, watching it all happen. There’s no self-identity. It’s a living meditation.”

Listening to her music – and to the music of other up-and-coming new singer/songwriters of the New York music scene – is to participate just as fully as performing it. You become aligned with the artists’ message, you’re rooting for them, like noble underdogs fighting for the survival of art in the face of an increasingly oppressive Gotham City.

Follow Katy Gunn at her website for updates about performances, music downloads, and album releases!

Zoe V. Speas is a writer and editor for the Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts. Follower her on tumblr and twitter.

Banksy Street Art: The End of an Era

The End of an Era: A month of Banksy Street Art in New York

by: Zoe V. SpeasThe Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts

Banksy Street Art residence in New York City - from October 27 in Greenpoint.

Banksy street art residence in New York City – from October 27 in Greenpoint.

October has been a busy month in the art world. We had a government shutdown, a Banksy street art residence, and consequent reactions ranging from outrage to a revitalization of  the question of defining art.

It all ties together, really, and that’s what I wanted to talk about before Halloween hits us full-force tonight and it’s November before we know it or remember how it came upon us so quickly.

banksy street art

The shutdown. Remember when that happened?

(Hey.  Remember when THIS happened?)

The first piece I wrote for the Angel Orensanz Foundation was a discussion about the definition of art, creatively entitled, “What is Art?” I scratched it out in a pitifully banged-up notebook during the long train ride from Richmond, VA to Penn Station, NYC.

I talked about how art is fundamentally dramatic—there are countless full-length theatrical dramas and comedies featuring characters that are artists or connoisseurs of art because of this quality. Whatever definition you assign to art, I believe it must allow for the drama and the conflict that is created by putting brush to canvas, hands to clay, etc. We thrive off of this drama, we need it, and we live for it because it illustrates the constant questions that percolate beneath the surface in us from day to day.

banksy street art - angel orensanz

Tahir Square. Angel Orensanz. Politics in art.

Too bad our society isn’t crafted to allow for the necessity of art.

In fact, we spend a lot of effort and money marginalizing art into something to do with leisure or entertainment. But there’s a difference—a monstrosity of a difference—between leisure/entertainment and art. Leaving the theatre after a production of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal or Shakespeare’s Richard III, I’m certainly not at my leisure. Entertained? More like slapped in the face by humanity.

By the way, those productions I just listed? Totally playing right now in NYC. Check them out. You’re welcome.

So, of course, when the government shut down for the first time in seventeen years, what’s the first thing to be cut from funding?

banksy street art

Always the first thing to go: shutting down the museums, shutting down the government.

The National Endowment for the Arts. In other words, the museums—the culture hubs, the “non-essentials.”

And in the middle of that conflict, Banksy comes to New York City for a self-curated artist’s residence and stirs the pot for us.

Banksy - Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts - New York City

Banksy street art at Yankee Stadium. October 30, 2013.

Banksy’s street art residency is called “Better Out Than In: an Artist’s Residency on the Streets of New York”, and beneath the stencil-outline header, a quote from Paul Cézanne triumphs the mission statement of the work.

All pictures painted inside, in the studio, will never be as good as those done outside.

I’ll say that perhaps the “outside” to which Cézanne referred might be of a slightly different context than the interpretation apparent in the Banksy street art, but in terms of impact? Banksy’s been spot-on.

banksy street art

“Better Out Than In” – Bansky street art residence in NYC. October 2013.

All of a sudden art—regardless of how you define it—emerges as a buzzword, a hot topic, the spark that ignites a city of people, young and old, desperate for a cause to impassion them enough to speak out.

It’s impassioned me, anyway.

I’ve spoken to gallery owners, artists, event planners, businessmen, and students about Banksy street art in New York this past month and I encountered no one who had nothing to say, no comment to add. In fact, the topic has served as a jumping-off point to larger issues of politics and society and the boundaries that divide generation from generation.

For myself, I have always been loath to discuss political leanings with friends and acquaintances—the ensuing arguments inevitably evolve into a loop of misunderstanding and personal affront. I prefer to stay within the realm of art and theatre where I feel comfortable arguing my beliefs—and yes, maybe that makes me a coward, being afraid of engaging in a dispute for fear of defeat or humiliation.

banksy street art

Banksy’s Greenpoint portrait being painted over by a masked woman. Which is the graffiti – the Banksy street art or the silver paint obscuring it?

Graffiti does ruin people’s property and it’s a sign of decay and loss of control,” the mayor said, “Art is art, and nobody’s a bigger supporter of the arts than I am–you running up to somebody’s property or public property and defacing it is not my definition of art. Or it may be art, but it should not be permitted.” 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, October 2013.

And yet, this October, I found myself spewing fire over the contradictions arising between vandalism and art, between art as a necessity and our unhesitating cessation of its funding when goings get tough, between the opinions of the Mayor of New York and the arts community of his city.

Banksy’s residence brought me to a single, perhaps obvious conclusion:

If I argued before that art is fundamentally dramatic, then it also must be deeply political.

I’m going to risk sounding like a college sophomore writing a term paper and quote the dictionary at you here—a definition of the word political“relating to relationships of power between people in an organization; to affairs of the state or government.”

Relationships of power between people. Yup. Sounds about right.

Art becomes the venue through which people can argue rights of individualism and power upon a level playing field. There are no mayors, governors, nor presidents: only personal expression and paintbrushes. And regardless of what you think of the Banksy street art and its artistic merits, his residence challenges us to question our relationship to one another, to our government, and to the city walls that house and protect us. 

Call it graffiti or call it art.

It was swift, it was dramatic, and it defined the month of October for me and countless other New Yorkers. Happy Holidays, everyone.

TEDx Lower East Side at the Angel Orensanz Foundation

TEDx Lower East Side at the Angel Orensanz Foundation

by: Zoe V. SpeasThe Angel Orensanz Foundation

TEDx Lower East Side comes to the Orensanz

TEDx Lower East Side comes to the Orensanz.

I’ve been watching TEDtalks forever. I rely on them constantly to fill me with inspiration and renewed purpose to pursue – uh, whatever it is I intend to pursue in life. That part’s a work in progress.

Point being: TED is brain food.

Favorite TEDtalk? Easy. Larry Smith: Why you will fail to have a great career

TEDx Lower East Side

“Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy” – This is Lucy. Lucy wants a green lawn with a picket fence with a team of rainbow unicorns grazing inside it.

Actually, I’m not the first of my friends to report this talk  as one of their favorites.

Especially seeing as most of us between the ages of 21-30 have no real clue as to what we’re doing, if we’re being honest – there’s a particularly relevant Huffington Post article entitled Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy that speaks to this predicament.

It’s all about this formula:

TEDx Lower East Side

From the Huffington Post website: Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy.

TEDTalks and TEDx Lower East Side help with that, you know, the confusion thing? Somehow having visual and auditory proof that people out there have their stuff figured out makes you a little bit more confident that you’ll figure yours out, too.

TEDx Lower East Side

Angel Orensanz, founding artist of the Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts.

But the thing about working at The Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts is you have to learn to be content to watch from the sidelines as people from organizations around the world walk through our beautiful front gates and transform the space into a vessel for change, development, art, science, and the future. Whether it’s Target’s Launch of Chris March’s designs for Halloween or a fundraiser for the Lowline project,  - I peer out from the office in the corner of the great hall and watch with eyes wide as saucers as the place just explodes with life and innovations.

That’s me: the wallflower of the Orensanz. 

Until now. Forget sidelines. I’m jumping into the game on this one.

Why, you ask? Oh, I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you.

TEDx Lower East Side is coming to THE ORENSANZ.

That’s right, folks. Lovers of knowledge from around the world rejoice. TEDx (in which x = independently organized TED event) is hosting their TEDx Lower East Side event at the Orensanz this Friday, October 25th between the hours of 11:00am and 8:30pm.

TEDx Lower East Side

From the TEDx website: TEDx Lower East Side comes to the Orensanz.

The TEDx Lower East Side event this Friday is entitled The Hero’s Journey and deals with the questions of why we are drawn to stories like Star Wars or The Matrix – basically, the journey of extraordinary people, or better yet, ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Speakers in attendance may be found here with bios and links to more information on their background and speaking points. TEDx Lower East Side describes their mix of presenters as hailing “from a variety of backgrounds including scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, yogis, monks, educators and activists.”

Bring your brains and and prepare to melt them. I’ll be the one gnoshing on popcorn from the rafters with my ear pressed to the floor to listen in. 

A Lapse in Art: The Government Shutdown

A Lapse in Art: The Government Shutdown

Closing Up Shop and Shutting Down the Museums?

by: Zoe V. Speas

It’s finally here. The long-awaited school trip of an eighth grade class from Small Town, USA to Washington D.C. The itinerary has been set, tickets purchased, museums targeted as essential tourism destinations.

After many hours and countless dollars spent in tolls, fuel, and hotel reservations, they’ve arrived inside the city limits of our nation’s capital, which teems with experiences that will last any young student and their chaperones for a lifetime.

And then it hits – the shutdown.

 government shutdown



Imagine the young minds and future leaders of our country as they tumble out of cramped seats on overcrowded buses. Imagine as they arrive upon the steps of the National Museum of American History or the United States Holocaust Museum or ANY BRANCH OF THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION to discover:

This Museum has been closed due to the shutdown of the Federal Government. It will reopen when the Federal Government resumes operations.

This is where it hits home. The cultivation of knowledge and historical significance effectively impeded by the inability of our leaders in Washington, D.C. to come to an agreement about the appropriations of funds?

On the United States Government homepage, with its oddly disconcerting slogan – “Government Made Easy” – a list of the effects of the government shutdown may be found for information on what exactly the shutdown means to us.

There’s a long bulleted list of the institutions whose operations have been suspended, followed by a shorter list of five vital organizations of the government that proceed uninhibited by the shutdown.

government shutdown

This is by no means to diminish from these aspects of our government as any less significant than we hold them to be. They continue to operate because we, on an individual level, would be virtually unable to function without them.

That being said, click below on the museum webpages for our invaluable government-funded programs in Washington, D.C. Look at their statuses.

The Museum of American History.

government shutdown

The United States Holocaust Museum.

government shutdown


The American Art Museum.

government shutdown

The National Park Service. 

government shutdown

All closed.

Fun activity?


Click on the museums found on the Government-sponsored museum homepage and explore the various manners – and various level of subtlety – with which each website has used to announce the suspension of their activities.

government shutdown

When her home catches fire, a mother looks immediately towards her child out of an instinct to save and protect. The fire alarm goes off in our place of work or in our homes, and we reach out to grab the items we cannot live without. It’s human nature.

Yesterday, the fire that threatened us to make the toughest choices as citizens of our country closed the doors to museums, barricaded memorials, and left the trash to sit uncollected in the National Mall as a result of the first government shut-down in 17 years.

At the end of the day, we let art and history burn for the sake of the greater good.

We’ll pick up the pieces and reopen the doors when the fire goes out. We’ll be grateful for the soldiers who continued to defend our freedom, for the prison guards and air traffic controllers who kept us safe, and to the government workers who delivered our paychecks.

But are we brave enough to look a little deeper and ask the uncomfortable questions? Can we live with the implications of our choices?

Examine what this says about our country. Our government. Our culture and our people. What does it say about you?

Art in New York City (artful weekends)

No plans for the weekend yet? The Angel Orensanz Foundation blog has great suggestions for you to have a weekend of arts in New York City.


First, this Friday, there is the Etsy Craft Party, so head to Brooklyn (if you have time, go ahead and explore the area, the Brooklyn Museum has great exhibitions) to learn decoration and design tips from Stenciling guru Ed Roth and artist Aya Rosen. Get to know more here.


If you are a big fan of Jazz, than don’t miss the additional weekend of the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival. Today at 7 pm in Marcus Garvey Park you can enjoy Bird With Strings with Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and Special Guests. The concept is a celebration of the classic Charlie Parker album Charlie Parker with strings. The festival goes on for the weekend. To know more, click here.


Saturday is always a day for arts in New York City, right? Like the Live in HD series by The Met in Lincoln Center. The opening movie is The Enchanted Island, staring Joyce DiDonato. A baroque fantasy with a Shakespearian inspiration. To see the whole schedule, click here.

Shakespeare is also present on the Riverside Park. You can see the famous drama Richard III on the North Patio of the Soldeiers and Sailors Monument. To know more, click here

Not a big fan of Shakespeare? Than head to Gallery One Twenty Eight, here on our beloved Lower East Side to see and take part on  “In & Around C: A participatory Music and Art Installation” , where you can create your own sound, by stepping onto a gigantic staff.

Like to hear music better than making it? No worries, the WFC Plaza, is hosting the Grammy-nominated 18-piece steam punk band Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, who joins forces with the disco band Escort for a night of groove music, featuring the talents New York musicians. To know more, click here.

On Sunday, make sure to check out the New York City exhibitions that are closing. Terracotta Warriors on Discovery Times Square, Playing House on Brooklyn Museum, Gustav Klimt: 150th Anniversary Celebration on Neue Gallery, Weegee: Murder is My Business at the International Center of Photography and The Parade: Nathalie Djurberg with Music by Hans Berg at the New Museum.

Art in New York City (artful weekends)

Finally it is Friday. And before we share with you our artful suggestions for what to do in New York this weekend, let us do a recap of the week: Calvin Reid shares his view of Angel Orensanz, we how you the art gallery exhibitions in the Lower East Side, we share same musicians inspired by artists and Angel Orensanz new exhibition here in The Angel Orensanz Foundation is coming!

Now, for our weekend picks so you can enjoy a very artsy weekend in New York City:


First off, this Friday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, staring at 5pm, enjoy An Evening of Art and a Summer Sunset on the rooftop garden, where you can view Tomas Saraceno’s Cloud City while listening to DJ Widowspeak. You can also appreciate special tours of Naked before the camera and Spies in the House of Art: Photography, Film, and Video until 7 pm.


On Saturday there is lots of art in New York City for you to see. Like the exhibition Dialog in the Dark, where you will get to discover NYC by its sounds, tastes and textures, since you will be blindfolded! You will get to be guided through your senses by the people that know the city that way best: your guide will be visually impaired! So, prepare for the ride of your live starting at the South Street Seaport.

Not ready for the adventure? Don’t worry, New York City is boiling with art. So, how about the American Folk Museum? There you can see the exhibition Jubilation/Rumination: Life, Real and Imagined, the pieces from their permanent collection are organized by the museum’s senior curator Stacy C. Hollander and display samples of all varieties of artistic expression by artists from all over the world, from all the possible backgrounds. Maybe you wont know their names, but you will for sure remember their works once you see them. The exhibition addresses the space between reality, truth and imagination. Or as the curator puts it: “Life is not lived in black and white: reality may have the tinge of dreams and dreams an air of reality. “


On Discovery Times Square you can explore China’s past in the exhibition Terracotta Warriors. The 6-foot tall, 2000 year old statues are bound to impress. They are the legacy of Qin Shihuangdi, China’s first emperor. In fact, they were buried with him, in his tomb. But, someone decided to take them out for a Long March, all over the world, creating exhibitions that were always sold out. The army, or just a small piece of it is now on Times Square and you can learn the history of the warriors commissioned by Qin, each one different, placed in battle formation, with terracotta horses inside the first China emperor’s gigantic tomb.

Sunday is your last change to see  “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations,” so head back to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to enjoy the conversations that never happened between to genius Italian fashion designers and appreciate the display of dresses and shoes and hats of the fashion creators that were ahead of their time. And since you are inside the MET, how about spending the day there?

Finally, Sunday Night, if you like dance, then you shouldn’t loose the screening of Never Stand Still in Symphony Space at 6 pm, including a Q&A with director of the documentary Ron Honsa. The movie features legendary dancers and new innovators that reveal the world of dance. The trailer is here:


It is time to be outside (artful weekends)

Finally, it is Friday! And it is time for the Angel Orensanz Foundation blog to share suggestions for what to do in New York City this weekend, because we want you to have a very artful one.

First off start Saturday with Summer Streets! Along the route (that goes from downtown Lafayette St to uptown Park Ave) you will be able to enjoy Urban Art, provided by DOT(New York State Department of Transportation), like LOVE TV by Australian artist Rebecca McIntosh and art producer Victoria Johnstone an interactive work that explores people’s love for places, individuals and things; Bench Press by BroLabCyclo-phone by Marcelo Ertortguy and Sara Valente, a bike-powered band of musical instruments and Bus Roots by Marco Antonio Castro Cosio, a mobile garden. To see the whole schedule for summer streets in New York City, just click here.

After strolling along this route, you can make your stop on Central Park to enjoy some music. The bands Carolina Chocolate Drops, Buckwheat Zydeco and Abigail Washburn, in their Summerstage performance at 3 p.m.. To check the whole schedule for Summerstage, just click here.

Don’t feel like being outside? No worries, you can head to Brooklyn to enjoy the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival, in St. Francis College, features 54 independent filmmakers—both first-timers and Hollywood vets—who have lived and worked in the borough. To check the schedule, just click here.

On Sunday, how about a trip to MoMA to enjoy the opening of The Quay Brothers installation? Titled Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets the exhibition showcases the London-based godfathers of alternative animation Stephen and Timothy Quay better known films, never-before-seen moving image works and graphic design, drawings, and calligraphy.

Don’t feel like going uptown? No worries, there are many places to see art in NYC. Take the ferry to Governors Island where you can enjoy “Graphic Design now in Production” an exhibition of posters, books, magazines, typography, branding and film and television graphics created since 2000, organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City and displayed on building 110

Finally, the Downtown Dance Festival starts this weekend; you can see the schedule here. Also, The Fringe Festival is back for another year! The calendar is here.

And last, but not least, we hope you have a lovely and artful weekend and we want to remind you , a month (and 2 days, to be more exact) from  now we will be presenting Angel Orensanz’s Burning Bronze exhibition in our gallery! You shouldn’t miss it! More info is coming soon, so get excited!

Art in New York City (artful weekends)

Finally it is Friday! And, we here at The Angel Orensanz Foundation are pleased to serve you up our selection of several of the art events going on in NYC this weekend.

First off, this is your last chance to go see Telettrofono, the audio walking tour that sound artist Justin Bennett and poet Matthea Harvey created for Stillspotting NYC: Staten Island, a program by the Guggenheim Museum. The sound tour intermingles history and fantasy as it takes you along the waterfront, mixing ambient sounds from the borough with invented noises to pay homage to the unacknowledged inventor of the first telephone, Antonio Meucci, a Staten Island resident of Italian descent.

In another borough of New York City, more specifically Brooklyn, you can enjoy Target First Saturdays in the Brooklyn Museum. This Saturday is Caribbean Rhythms, starting at 5:00 p.m.  While you are there, don’t forget to go up to the 4th floor of the museum to see the exhibition Playing House, set in the popular American period rooms. Since the rooms become a little less exciting after the first time you go, the museum decided to give a white card to four artists to create new life inside the space. Mary Lucier added videos, Betty Woodman and Anne Chu opted to add polka-dot ceramic shards and bouquets, and Ann Agee decided to transform an 1850 parlor into a sculpture workshop.

On Sunday, it looks like it is going to rain, so how about staying inside? So how about the inside  of Guggenheim? Where you can enjoy the critically acclaimed Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective.  The Dutch photographer knows how to manipulate and she makes it all look really natural, portraying images of teenagers with such reality that they transport you into their universe.

Don’t feel like seeing still images? How about a movie? Head to the Anthology Film Archives for a screening of Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film, a documentary that explores avant-garde cinema, showing rare interviews and movie clips that can make you fall for the style. From filmmaker Pip Chodorov’s own description: “I wanted to share a few of the films I love and introduce you to some of the free, radical artists who made them.” Or you could stroll north to Lincoln Center to watch A Heart In Winter, by the French director Claude Sautet, a love and jealousy story between a violin maker, his business partner and a violinist.

sources: artinfo, guggenheim, nytimes, brooklynmuseum,