The Improvised Shakespeare Company

After all the theater and New Year’s celebrating I did the week before last, I decided I needed a quiet week and weekend. Besides a choir rehearsal and a brunch, my evenings and weekend were left wide open, perfect for relaxing. I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason I made it to the gym three times last week. If I do it again this week, it’ll be cause for celebration.

Anyway, it was late Sunday afternoon and I had just gotten home from my brunch, with a short stop on the way back from Manhattan to run some errands. I was sitting at the kitchen table eating some cereal and counting down till 6 p.m., when I could pick up my laundry.  Around 5:30, my cell phone buzzed. One of my friends from brunch had told me she was going to see a performance by the Improvised Shakespeare Company that evening, and now she was texting to say one of her friends couldn’t make it and did I want to come along.

The show was at 7 p.m., at Theater 80 on St. Mark’s Place, a small theater I’d never heard of before. It was going to be a bit of a rush to get there, and I’d have to wait to pick up my laundry on the way home, but I’d heard about this show from friends before and it sounded like something I would love. Besides, it was only an hour – I wouldn’t even get home all that late.

I’ve said it before, but one of the best things to do when you live in NYC is to be willing to say yes to random opportunities. The only other improv experience I’ve had since moving to NYC was Freestyle Love Supreme, but I knew this was something I shouldn’t miss. I made it to the show with just a few minutes to spare and found out my friend had front row seats. I sat down, met her other friend who was there, had a nice chat about “Downton Abbey” (don’t spoil it, I was coming back from the show when it was on and haven’t watched yet!), and then the lights went down on the house and up on the stage and it was time for improv.

The title of the one hour improvised performance was suggested by an audience member: THE MASK OF MURDER. It was, as one of the players noted, both the opening AND closing night of this very special Shakespearean show. Hee. Five men proceeded to enact a show that was a mishmash in themes of Macbeth, Hamlet, and perhaps King Lear, with some interludes with French soldiers that reminded me of the mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the Watch from Much Ado About Nothing.

It was over-the-top and absurd, and while I’m not sure their speeches were all in iambic pentameter, the language WAS decently Elizabethan – except when they were quoting song lyrics. There was a long running gag involving references to songs by R.E.M. My friend and I both had a little trouble catching this since neither of us know that many R.E.M. songs, but most of the audience got it. I cracked up when crows became an important plot point, since a group of crows is called a murder, and we all laughed when a character said he hadn’t done something because he’d been too busy counting crows.

Each actor portrayed at least three and sometimes more characters, and by the end of the hour practically everybody was dead, as they should be at the end of a tragedy. The only one left was the mad wife of a duke, who was now queen due to everyone else being dead, in large part because of her machinations. I’ve forgotten her closing speech already, but it was one of many that included great rhyming couplets.

The show was silly, the jokes were dirty, the actors were clearly having a fantastic time – I’m sure Shakespeare would approve!

The Improvised Theater Company is based out of Chicago but they come to New York every few months. Check out their site to join their mailing list and find out when you can see a show. I know I’ll be going back!


A sunny day at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

It is bitterly cold in New York this week, which makes it to perfect time to remember warmer times and places. I mentioned my California trip on this blog a few times last year, but I never quite got around to sharing many pictures of it. I’m feeling especially nostalgic now because for my first three years here, I spent MLK Jr. weekend in San Diego with one of my best friends. Last year I went in June instead as part of a larger California visit, and this year she’s visiting me in March, which is exciting! She’s only been to visit once since I moved here as her PhD program keeps her very busy.

But I am kicking myself a little for not scheduling a trip. We’ve had a mild winter up until now, but the claws have come out, and San Diego is just so lovely all the time. The weather was always in the sixties during my January visits, and we usually spent at least one afternoon sitting and reading in the sunshine and another visiting one of the many outdoor attractions of San Diego.  We also spent a lot of time watching movies, especially Jane Austen adaptations and whatever TV show my friend has decided I should watch next. (She has very good taste.)

If you ever find yourself in San Diego with a day to spare, consider checking out the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Located a ways outside the city, it’s different from the famous zoo (which is also definitely worth a visit – I went a few years ago and enjoyed wandering around). For one thing, it’s huge – 1,800 acres. The zoo is only 99 acres. For another, there’s a huge range of “safari” experiences you can choose to follow. My friend and I mostly walked, except for a tram ride which went around one of the enclosures, so we were tired at the end of the day, but it was totally worth it. If you’re a bit leery of zoos, know that this one has a really great mission: “San Diego Zoo Global is committed to saving species worldwide by uniting our expertise in animal care and conservation science with our dedication to inspiring passion for nature.” Their goal is to end extinction. And at the Safari Park, the animals really seem to have a lot of space, which is something I appreciated after the other zoos I’ve visited.


And some of the animals are RIGHT THERE, like these flamingos. I’m pretty sure there was only a wooden fence separating us from their pond.


Or this deer — we were walking along a path and happened to notice it crossing into the brush and away. You can just see its back leg and tail as it disappears.


The gorillas were a bit farther away. There was a deep ditch, almost like a moat, between us and them, but in person we could spot the tiny baby gorillas.


We even got a glimpse of Pumba’s brother, a warthog, hanging out with some zoo employees who were telling us all about him. Here he is, lying on his side. Can you spot his tusk?


The lemurs are in a special enclosure. You can walk through and visit them, but make sure to shut the door tightly behind you so they don’t escape!


A view of part of the park from above, just to give a little perspective!


The Africa Tram! It travels around a large enclosure while a guide points out the many animals visible from the tram.


I’m pretty sure this is an adult antelope and its baby, but if I’m wrong, let me know!


A rhino, resting. I remember hearing about the plight of the white rhino on this tour, and I was sad to hear that one of the zoo’s white rhinos (possibly this rhino?) died last month, meaning there are only five left, all in captivity.




And because I can’t resist, three giraffe pictures. They were almost my favorite part of the Africa Tram ride. My favorite part, which I couldn’t quite capture on my camera, was a few animals (maybe wildebeest, but I can’t remember) taking off at a run across enclosure for no apparent reason, and all the other animals pausing and then following them. I’m not talking about one or two other animals — it was dozens. Herd instinct, perhaps?



After the tram ride, we visited the lions, who were resting.



And then we stopped by the elephant enclosure – just in time to see a young elephant get his tusk capped!


We poked our heads in the petting zoo…



…and rounded out our visit by visiting the new tiger enclosure. One of the tigers (I think his name was Teddy) was new and got fed through the fence by a zookeeper who explained to us the work she was doing with the tiger to get him trust and obey her.


On our way out, we each purchased a souvenir — for my friend, a stuffed elephant, and for me a stuffed tiger. And we did spot one last friend on our way out — this wandering turtle!

Hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of California sunshine — I know I needed it! And I may or may not have looked up last minute airfare prices for flights to San Diego… Too expensive, unfortunately, so I’ll have to find some warmth here in NYC!

What’s your favorite winter getaway, and what do you do to think warm thoughts when you’re stuck in the cold?








Stories in the Theater


I’m on the subway on a local train. It’s Saturday night and even though I’ve just left Times Square, the train isn’t crowded. I spot an express train across the platform and consider switching, to save some time, but decide it’s not worth it.

It’s my third night of theater in a week, my second in a row, and I keep thinking about the shows I’ve seen. I’m listening to the Broadway cast recording of “Into the Woods” to drown out the teenagers – or maybe they’re college students – talking at each other at the other end of the car. But I saw the movie last week, and I’m seeing the stage show soon, and it fits in with the where my thoughts about the other shows are going.

“The Real Thing”, which closed this weekend and starred Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Cynthia Nixon, is a Tom Stoppard play about a playwright and his complicated relationships. It had me thinking about writing, and storytelling, and the way we talk to one another. If we rehearse something we want to say, or write it down, before we tell it to someone, does that make it less genuine? If words are polished instead of spontaneous, what does that do to their meaning? And what about the stories we tell about our lives? When I’ve told a story so many times that it has its own rhythm when I tell it, does that make it more real or less real? Does a story lose truth when it’s been shaped, or does it gain it?

“Side Show”, which also closed this weekend, is a musical based on a true story about conjoined twins. But it takes liberties with their history, and within the show there are stories shaped around the characters that aren’t always true, stories shaped to achieve certain goals, from freedom from abuse to entertainment and profit. Even though the story isn’t all true, there’s truth there – isn’t there? Even though it’s been molded and retold to provoke a reaction from the audience, the heart is still there – and if some of the themes in “The Real Thing” are to be believed, the shaping of it might be what reveals its truth.

I don’t want to give too much away about “The River”, starring Hugh Jackman, since you can (and should!) go see this well done, thoughtful play before it closes on February 8. Knowing too much about it might spoil it. But I will say it’s about the parts of ourselves we choose to share with others, and the patterns we find ourselves in. How do our histories and baggage impact our present relationships? If we tell someone something about ourselves, something true and special, is it diminished by having been shared with someone else?

“Into the Woods” is about stories too – it takes familiar fairy tale sand subverts them, going beyond the happily ever afters for a glimpse of what happens next. We tell stories to make sense of what happened, to remember and understand – that’s why the Baker’s Wife says that the Baker must tell their son the story of how it all happened. But I think one of the (many) messages of “Into the Woods” is that our stories don’t really have endings. Until you’re killed by a giant, there’s always an after ahead of you.

I’ve talked about stories on this blog before, and it’s obviously a lens through which I view life and theater. This blog itself is made up of stories of mine, some better told than others. Often they’re condensed, refined – I don’t put the raw cut of my life or experiences on display here. Does the fact that they’re polished versions of my life, neatened up around the edges and given a beginning and an end, make them less true? Or is that just what has to happen when you write something down? Writing gives stories a different life and form – maybe it doesn’t have to be a question of better or worse. Maybe it’s just a question of getting the story told.

And of course, all of these pieces of theater which I’ve talked about were themselves shaped, each word carefully chosen and expertly crafted to present the writer’s vision. But “The Real Thing” and “Side Show” and “The River”, and when I see it in a few weeks, “Into the Woods”, are all live theater productions where the interpretation of the writer’s words is found in the dialogue between how the actors choose to live the writer’s words and the impact their actions have on the audience.

I’m not on the subway anymore. I sit on my couch, typing up what I wrote the other night by hand, tweaking and adding and shaping it until it says what I want it to. The thing about spontaneity is that it’s easy to get it wrong the first time, to say something that you don’t actually mean, or forget to say something you desperately wanted to. Once you capture your thoughts in words on a page, it’s up to the reader – or the audience – to decide what you meant. You’ve done your best – now sit back and be ready to be misinterpreted.

The Angel Tree at the Met


One of my best friends was in town this weekend, and because she’s an art history person we had to make one of our annual visits to the Met. Her boyfriend had never been, so we gave him a quick highlights tour — and during it we came across a holiday exhibit that I liked almost as much as I love the origami tree at the Museum of Natural History. It’s called the Angel Tree.


My photos came out a little blurry, but I loved the angels on the tree and the variety of figures on the ground. If you look at the picture above, you can just see an elephant. According to the Met’s website, the scene is a nativity, with 18th century Neapolitan figures. It’s the legacy of a woman named Loretta Hines Howard, a passionate collector of creche figures whose collection was first exhibited at the Met in 1957. Howard began donating figures to the museum in 1964 and they’ve been exhibited at the holidays ever since.


Howard’s daughter, Linn Howard, worked with her mother on the displays for many years, and now continues the tradition with her own daughter, Andréa Selby. There’s more information on the Met’s site, but I definitely recommend popping into the Met before January 6 to check it out — especially since the Met’s admission is pay-what-you-want. Make sure to visit the period rooms in the American Wing while you’re there! They were closed when I went this weekend but are always worth a visit!

I’ve covered some of the major NYC Christmas trees, but I’m sure I’ve missed some! Anyone have a favorite to share?

A City Singing at Christmas concert, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 12/18

First posted on December 13, 2013. Updated with new details.

To continue on the Christmas tradition theme, I have to tell you about a concert that’s happening this Thursday, December 18, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s the 35th annual A City Singing at Christmas concert, and this year it features the St Patrick’s Cathedral  Choir, the Young People’s Chorus of New York, and the choir I sing with, the New York City Master Chorale. This is the second year since I joined the choir that we’ve been invited to sing at this concert, and I am hugely excited.

If you’ve never been to St. Patrick’s—well, I’ll save talking about it for another post. But, you should go, and this concert is a perfect time. Three choirs perform beautiful Christmas-themed sets, with sing-a-long carols interspersed, and it’s free! The most magical part is at the end of the concert, when all three choirs sing “Silent Night” together. The lights are turned off in the cathedral, the audience and the singers are given candles, and then the singers process down and back up the aisles. According to a friend of mine, one year, when as the concert came to its end the back doors were opened, she looked out on the cinematic sight of snow falling gently on the Atlas statue on Fifth Ave.
If you want to attend on Thursday, December 18, make sure to get there early. The concert starts at 7 p.m., but the line will begin a while before that. Two years ago my mom went to 5:30 mass and that helped her to secure a seat. Seating is limited this year due to construction, so it’s especially important to beat the crowd.
Music is, for me, the most important part of the season—or at least right up there with Christmas tree and lights. I’m sure it’s different for anyone—what’s your favorite sign that the holidays have arrived?
Looking for more holiday inspiration? Check out the marathon reading of A Christmas Carol at Housing Works this Saturday, December 20 (and my post about it from last year), or visit Bryant Park and go shopping and ice skating (read about it from last year here!) Or check out the NYC Master Chorale’s other holiday concert this Friday at St. Mary the Virgin, where we’ll be performing Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols”. 

Avoiding the Rockefeller tree lighting

My BFF Kari Lin and I last year in front of the Rockefeller tree -- but NOT during the tree lighting!

My BFF Kari Lin and I last year in front of the Rockefeller tree — but NOT during the tree lighting!

First posted on December 3, 2013. Updated with current information.

The number one thing you should not do tomorrow night (Wednesday, December 3) under any circumstances? Go anywhere near Rockefeller Center.

Tomorrow is the lighting of the Rockefeller Center tree, and according to the events website, tens of thousands of people will crowd the sidewalk in an attempt to see the tree be lit and to catch some of the performances. While the lineup is impressive, even if I didn’t have a choir rehearsal I would be staying away from the tree tomorrow evening.

One year while in college I happened to be in the city on the Wednesday of the tree lighting and I decided to wander by Rockefeller Center on my way back to Grand Central. I never got close enough to even see the tree, let alone find a spot to settle in and hear some music. The sidewalks were packed with a tide of people relentlessly moving toward Rockefeller Center, where they’d stop and I’d be squished in the crowd–without even being able to see anything. I took myself out of the flow, stopped in a pizza place for a slice, and headed back to the train station.

Last year a friend told me that there are usually police barriers up on the streets, forcing people to walk single file, and they put all the spectators in pens. So while it may be possible, if obnoxious, to be near Rockefeller Center tomorrow evening, I’d still say, skip the tree lighting. Who wants to be in a pen?

But the tree—and the skating rink—at Rockefeller Center are a NYC Christmas tradition, as much as the Rockettes (of whose performance, which I saw when I was little, I remember…well, little. Mostly I remember the wand with a snow globe on its end that I got my parents to buy me). The tree is huge, covered in colored lights, and lovely, so I do recommend visiting it. The rink (which is a bit of a rip off compared to Bryant Park and even Wollman, which I refuse to call Trump Rink) is open till midnight, and the tree is usually lit till 11:30, so while it may thin out a bit later in the evenings, your best bet for having slightly fewer tourists to deal with is probably to go early in the week.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something on Wednesday night, consider staying home and watching the tree lighting from the comfort of your own couch! And then tell me how it was, because I’ll be in rehearsal.

Any other NYC tourist spots to avoid this week and check out another time?

The Origami Tree at the American Museum of Natural History

First posted on November 26, 2013. Revised with current information. 

When my alarm went off this morning, I awoke to Light FM playing Christmas music—Transiberian Orchestra’s “Christmas Eve in Sarajevo”, to be exact. I groaned, partly because it felt too early for Christmas music, but mostly because I didn’t want to get up yet. It’d be hypocritical of me to really be annoyed when I was excited to realize one of my favorite new holiday traditions is about to start.

A few years ago I visited the American Museum of Natural History just after New Years, and on that visit I was introduced to the Origami Tree. For the last forty years, volunteers have folded hundreds of origami objects and used them to decorate a Christmas tree within the museum. In 2012 the tree featured various groups of animals—herds, flights, even a parliament of owls. Another year the tree honored the collections of the museum and had everything from dinosaurs to space shuttles. Last year there was an ode to poisons, because of an exhibition that was on.


I’ve always loved origami, though cranes, fortune tellers, boxes, cups, and really bad water lilies are the only things I can make without instructions in front of me. The origami pieces adorning the tree are works of art. Often there will be a volunteer nearby who is happy to talk about paper folding; one told me that the rounded heads of some of the animals were created by wetting the paper. The intricate details of the different objects, the delicacy the folds, and the perfection of the final products all fascinate me, and I’m sure I’ll be going to visit the tree for years to come, just to see what these artists come up with next.

Next Monday, November 24, is the first day this year’s tree was available for viewing. It’s located in the Grand Gallery on the first floor.  This year’s theme is Origami Night at the Museum, a reference to the movie Night at the Museum, and spotlights items and people (including Teddy Roosevelt!) that play roles in the movie. I haven’t been to visit yet, but I’ll be sure to make my way up there before January 11. If you’re in the city over Thanksgiving and want to kick off the holiday season without braving the Thanksgiving Day Parade, consider a trip to the American Museum of Natural History—and say hi to the dinosaurs for me while you’re there.

Now that you’ve heard one (of many) of mine, what are your favorite NYC holiday traditions?

Come to the Cabaret… again


I went to see Cabaret again this weekend – my friend who I went with last time had an extra ticket and so I got to go again! We had the same table as last time, except on the other side of the theater. Like I said when I went last time, I thought it was a fascinating show and I was really happy I got to go.

I still feel that way, so why am I writing another entry? Because it was a very different experience, starting from when we were waiting for a friend in the lobby. I looked over and saw a man who looked a little familiar, but didn’t think anything of it. My friend leaned in and said, “Is that Liam Neeson?”


It wasn’t. But her friend quickly realized it was Ralph Fiennes, who we all knew best as Lord Voldemort. We tried not to stare too much, then or the four or five other times we passed by him over the course of the night. Okay, I did crane my neck a little to figure out where he was sitting (same row as us), but that was it.

The celebrity sightings continued at intermission. While waiting in the bathroom line I thought I spotted Gail Carson Levine, author of Ella Enchanted (not technically a celebrity, but definitely a hero to many women in their twenties whose lives were changed by that book). When I got back to the table, my companions told me that sitting in front of us, in the front section of tables, were two more movie stars: Woody Harrelson and Edward Norton. Sure enough, they took their seats right as the second act started. In one night I just about doubled the number of celebrity sightings I’ve had since moving to NYC.

The real celebrities of the night, though, were the stars of the show: Alan Cumming and newcomer Emma Stone. Emma just started last week and was the reason I was so keen to go see the show again. I saw the understudy last time, and she was good, but Emma took the part to a different place. She was funny and over-the-top and warm and heartbreaking.


She’s scheduled to perform through the beginning of February, so if you can, you should go! And Alan Cumming was as fantastic as last time – he is the show. We went to the stage door afterward and saw both of them, as well as Linda Emond as Fraulein Schneider (who was also fabulous), and got our play bills signed. They were all lovely and gracious, and totally worth waiting for in the cold!

So I said it already, but let me say it again: If you get a chance to go see Caberet, you should go!

As for me – I may go for a third time, adding Cabaret  to the short list of shows (A Christmas CarolInto the WoodsLes MisPeter and the Starcatcher, Camelot – okay, maybe not that short) I’ve seen three or more times. Because it was worth it! Tell me, what shows have you all seen an embarrassing number of times?


Watching the NYC marathon

First posted November 2, 2013. Updated with photos and links. 

If you live in NYC, you are almost definitely aware that the marathon is tomorrow. If you’re like me, you know at least two people personally who are running. Wikipedia tells me that the first NYC marathon was held in 1970 and has been run every year since, except for 2012, when the aftermath of superstorm Sandy led to its cancellation. My dad ran the marathon when I was a kid, long ago enough that I mostly just remember how tired he looked when we met him in Central Park at the end.

NYC Marathon 2013

NYC Marathon 2013

I’m not a runner, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be one, but there’s something about watching the marathon that makes me want to be. When I lived in Clinton Hill I spent at least an hour each marathon morning cheering as first the handcyclists, and then some of the fastest men and women in the world, sped by. And then the ordinary runners, still faster than I would ever be, ran by in masses. Two years in a row I saw a man running in a Minnie Mouse costume, possibly (hopefully?) the same guy. Sometimes there were couples or groups of friends. Sometimes I’d cheer for someone wearing a shirt from my college, or just slap hands with the people nearest to me as they passed. Last year I knew three people running and got to see one of them go by. This year I know at least two people and can’t wait to cheer them on!

NYC Marathon 2013

NYC Marathon 2013

The first time I went to watch, Time Warner was giving out bells to ring. I kept mine and brought it with me the following year because it’s very easy to get hoarse while watching the marathon. I never wanted a single person to go by feeling un-cheered-for, which was probably silly since they had 26.219 miles to run and surely there would be several times where there wasn’t cheering. But there’s something about watching people in the midst of such an amazing feat that makes me want to support them as much as possible in the only way I can.

Tomorrow, if you live near the marathon route, consider wandering over and checking it out. I guarantee you’ll be inspired by the runners, you’ll probably make friends with some cute kids who are cheering from the sidewalk, and you may lose your voice. Sorry about that last one.

If anyone wants a buddy, let me know–I’ll be out there with my bell!

Pumpkin bread

Too busy tonight to do a real post because I’ve been baking! Brownies from a box and two loaves of pumpkin bread.

I adapted this recipe, since I didn’t have a few of the items listed and I’ve found that it definitely needs more spices than the original calls for! Ingredients list below. Preheat oven to 350 F, mix dry ingredients (except spices) first, add wet, mix, add spices. Bake in a greased pan for about 40 minutes, but check on it. Makes one 9 inch round loaf (in a cake pan). I usually double it and make two, since a can of pumpkin puree comes to just shy of double what this recipe calls for.

  • 1 1/2 cups (200g) flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup (200 g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup (240 ml) pumpkin purée*
  • 4 ounces (1 stick, 112 g) butter, melted (can sub 1/2 cup light olive oil)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup water

Quick, easy, and delicious! Any fall recipes you all love to make????????????????????????????????