This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001


Large crowds will gather to see the blooming cherry trees at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden this weekend (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Large crowds will gather to see the blooming cherry trees at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden this weekend (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Brooklyn Botanic Garden
900 Washington Ave. at Eastern Parkway
Saturday, April 25, and Sunday, April 26, $20-$25 (children under twelve free), 10:00 am - 6:00 pm

It’s been a ridiculously cold and long winter, but springtime finally seems to be here, and with it comes one of our favorite annual festivals, the Sakura Matsuri at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The weekend celebrates the beauty of the blossoming of the cherry trees with live music and dance, parades, workshops, demonstrations, martial arts, fashion shows, Ikebana flower arranging, a bonsai exhibit, Shogi chess, garden tours, shopping, book signings, Japanese food, and more. Below are just some of the highlights of this always lovely party, with many events going on all day long.

Saturday, April 25

The Battersby Show: Beginner Cosplay Crafting, with Charles Battersby, Ann Milana, Lady Ava, Mink-the-Satyr, and Uncle Yo, J-Lounge at Osborne Garden, 12 noon

Sogetsu Ikebana Demonstration, with Yoko Ikura and Shoko Iwata, auditorium, 1:00

Dancejapan with Sachiyo Ito, Main Stage, Cherry Esplanade, 1:15

Ukioy-e Illustration Demonstration with Artist Jed Henry, J-Lounge at Osborne Garden, 2:00

Samurai Sword Soul, Main Stage, Cherry Esplanade, 2:15

Urasenke Tea Ceremony, auditorium, 3:00 & 4:15

Takarabune Dance, Main Stage, Cherry Esplanade, 3:15

Hanagasa Odori Parade with flower hat dance by the Japanese Folk Dance Institute of New York, J-Lounge at Osborne Garden, 4:15

Akim Funk Buddha’s Urban Tea Ceremony, Main Stage, Cherry Esplanade, 5:00

Sunday, April 26

Children’s Suzuki Recital, Brooklyn College Preparatory Center, auditorium, 11:30

Awa Odori Parade, with Takarabune Dance, J-Lounge at Osborne Garden, 12 noon & 3:00

The Battersby Show: What Is Cosplay? with Charles Battersby, Aleta Pardalis, Dokudel, Mario Bueno, Uncle Yo, and YuffieBunny, J-Lounge at Osborne Garden, 1:00

Rock and Roll Love book signing with Misako Rocks!, J-Lounge at Osborne Garden, 2:00

Sohenryu-Style Tea Ceremony with Soumi Shimizu and Sōkyo Shimizu, auditorium, 2:30

Japanese Folk Dance Institute of New York performs Minbu dances, Main Stage, Cherry Esplanade, 3:00

Magician Rich Kameda, J-Lounge at Osborne Garden, 4:00

NY Suwa Taiko Kids All Stars, Main Stage, Cherry Esplanade, 4:15

The Sixth Annual Sakura Matsuri Cosplay Fashion Show, with original music by Taiko Masala, Main Stage, Cherry Esplanade, 5:15


Jonathan Slaff reads from HENRY VI at 2014 birthday bash for the Bard in Bryant Park (photo by Claire Taddei)

Jonathan Slaff reads from HENRY V at 2014 birthday bash for the Bard in Bryant Park (photo by Claire Taddei)

Who: The Drilling Company, with artistic director Jonathan Eric Foster, managing director Sarah George, and more than fifty actors, including company members Kyle Acheson, Sam De Roest, Nyssa Duchow, and Corley Pillsbury
What: Second annual Shakespeare Birthday Bash
Where: Bryant Park, 40th to 42nd Sts. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
When: Wednesday, April 23, free, 12:30 - 2:30
Why: The Drilling Company, those creative folks behind Shakespeare in the Parking Lot and who brought Hamlet to Bryant Park last year, will celebrate the Bard’s 451st birthday with a free party in the park on Thursday afternoon. At 12:30, a flash mob of actors will be roaming the area, presenting “Wonderful Words,” consisting of famous speeches, sonnets, and lines. At 1:00, folk band Thicket & Thistle will perform original music based on Shakespeare sonnets on the Fountain Terrace. At 1:30, anyone can join the festivities by reading a speech from a Bard play to win a T-shirt. Finally, at 2:00, banners will be raised, filled with quotations that people have been adding to all afternoon. The Drilling Company will be back in the park later this spring and summer, presenting Two Gentlemen of Verona May 15-31, followed by Romeo and Juliet July 10-26 and The Taming of the Shrew September 4-20; they will also perform As You Like It July 9-26 and Macbeth July 30 to August 15 in their new parking lot home on Norfolk St. behind the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center.


Shastri Ethan Nichtern will be celebrating the release of THE ROAD HOME with events on April 21 & 28

Shastri Ethan Nichtern will be celebrating the release of THE ROAD HOME with special events on April 21 & 28

ABC Carpet & Home, 888 Broadway at 19th St., 212-473-3000
Tuesday, April 21, $30 (includes copy of book), 7:00
Shambhala Meditation Center of New York, 118 West 22nd St., 212-675-6544
Tuesday, April 28, $5-$10 suggested donation, 7:00

I first met Ethan Nichtern about ten years ago, when my wife started studying at the Interdependence Project (IDP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to secular Buddhist meditation practice and community activism; its motto is “Change your mind to change the world.” Nichtern, a Brown grad and the son of Buddhist teacher and songwriter David Nichtern, was not at all what I expected; he was wise beyond his twentysomething years, a big sports and indie rock fan, a beer lover, and a pop-culture junkie with a playful sense of humor. The IDP has grown significantly since its humble beginnings in 2006, with a popular podcast, satellite meditation groups around the country, and such online and in-person classes as “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction,” “Tools for Living: Practical Buddhism for Work and Relationships,” and “Core Texts of Buddhism: Essential Writings from the Pali Canon to Today” (as well as a recently completed six-week course that Nichtern taught with my wife, a longtime student of his, a former IDP board member, and a recent graduate of the IDP Immersion Teacher Training program).

This week, Nichtern will publish his third book, The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path (North Point Press, April 21, $25), in which he takes readers on a journey into self-awareness and redefining the nature of home. “Where is your home? Is your address your home? Is your body your home? Do you feel at home in your own mind? Where, oh, where is home?” he asks in the introduction. “In many ways, these have been the central questions of my life. The quest to answer these questions — or at least to feel more capable of understanding them — is the primary reason I have chosen the path of Buddhism and the primary reason I practice and teach the path to others.”

In celebration of the release of the book, the follow-up to One City: A Declaration of Interdependence and Your Emoticons Won’t Save You, Nichtern will be at ABC Carpet & Home on April 21 and the Weekly Dharma Gathering at Shambhala on April 28; in addition, he will be leading the eight-week online series “The Road Home” on Thursday nights at 7:00 from April 23 to June 11, examining “The Path of Awakening in Four Stages.” While preparing for all of these events, Shastri Ethan Nichtern answered some questions about Buddhism, Radiohead, the Mets, and meditation.

twi-ny: The Road Home is your third book. What is the writing process like for you? Are you like the rest of us, panicking as deadlines loom, or are you able to incorporate your meditation practice to create a more calm environment?

Ethan Nichtern: I mean, meditation definitely helps, but it doesn’t cure any of the anxiety of having to complete a project. My writing process is fairly nonlinear. In a way, The Road Home is the first book I’ve written, because the ideas in the book cover the thirteen years that I have been teaching Buddhism in the contemporary world. It definitely feels like the most complete thing that I’ve written. Even though I’ve only really been putting it together the last few years. So I think mindfulness is about being in the process and letting the words and chapters emerge when they need to.

When a deadline looms it feels similar to having an object of mindfulness, a date by which you have to finish which helps to anchor you, just the same way the breath can anchor you in mindfulness meditation. However, if you expect your meditation practice to stop anxiety, you’ll probably be disappointed. Meditation is calming, yes, but primarily because it helps you deal with difficult emotions like anxiety, not stop them.

twi-ny: You’ve become a kind of Buddhist meditation rock star, and now you’ll be going out on the road, on a twenty-four-city tour in which people will be lining up to hear you talk, take pictures with you, and have you sign their books. Meanwhile, in the book itself, Sharon Salzberg writes in the foreword, “Ethan is the future of Buddhism.” How do you control your ego under such circumstances and high praise?

EN: Well, being well known for Buddhism is probably about the same level of popularity as being a roadie for a real rock star! Much of the time when I lead a retreat or workshop it’s just a small group of people who really want to come to terms with their own minds and also benefit others. So it’s very human and very humbling to share tools and discuss with people these very helpful humanistic processes that Buddhism offers. No glow sticks, no stage. It’s definitely true that when I give a talk more people come in then used to, and it’s amazing to think that I have something to offer them that is both very, very modern and very ancient, but the whole thing is so simple and down to earth that there’s really not a ton of room to let your “ego” run wild.

twi-ny: In the new book, you explore the nature of karma. What is the most misunderstood part of karma by the general population?

EN: I’m really happy that I went into karma in depth in The Road Home because it is so important and so misunderstood. I think the biggest misunderstanding, which has actually come up throughout history, but might be more pronounced by our consumer capitalist culture, is that karma is some kind of cosmic bank account. So the thinking is if I do something good, it’s like money goes into my hidden bank account in the cosmos, and then the universe owes me one. This leads to all sorts of weird and manipulative moral positions, and it leads us to resent the very real fact that most of the time we can’t get what we want. It’s a complicated conversation, but it’s much better to think of karma as the study of our habitual conditioning and acquired mental filters that cause us to perceive and react to our experience in certain ways. It’s not a commodity; it’s a study of habit.

ethan nichtern 2

twi-ny: In 2009, you led the IDP in a twenty-four-hour sit in the display windows of ABC Carpet, with you making it through the entire period. What was that experience like? I remember seeing you at one point on a break, looking kind of wobbly as you took in some fresh air.

EN: It was super tiring, because twenty-four hours was really a day and a half of waking time, which I didn’t think about beforehand, but it was amazing to be right there on Broadway with all the crowds passing by, being present with the city, and all the living people passing, especially the kids! It was so cool! The way I was sitting for most of the time was with my eyes open but slightly downward cast, which is often the way it is done in my tradition, the Shambhala tradition, but the window box I was sitting in was a little elevated from the street so I was at perfect eye level to make eye contact with children as they passed. It was a powerful experience for all the meditators involved. I hope we get to do it again soon.

twi-ny: You’ll be back at ABC Home for the April 21 launch of The Road Home. What can we expect from the gathering?

EN: A fun evening and a great conversation. I love how beautifully designed the hardcover version of the book turned out, and am very thankful to the folks at FSG for being so good at what they do. I’m sad the launch sold out so quickly, but I’ll be doing another event April 28 at the Shambhala Center. At ABC Carpet on April 21, which is a really cool spot, I will be joined by Sharon Salzberg, one of the best meditation teachers anywhere, who is a dear friend and mentor, and Dan Harris, the ABC news anchor who is an awesome guy and really down to earth, and has really stepped onto the path of Buddhist meditation wholeheartedly, and creates a great voice for skeptics about the whole practice. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone.

twi-ny: You love sprinkling your writing and talks with pop-culture references, from Radiohead to Star Wars. Are you looking forward to Star Wars: Episode VII?

EN: I am looking forward to the new Star Wars. I feel like J. J. Abrams is really good at sci-fi. He proved it with the new Star Trek movies, so I doubt there will be any Jar Jar Binks type of screenplay mistakes made. I do wish that the Jedi practices were more developed in their meditative and emotional dimensions. I love the early movies, but the spiritual dimension of them always strikes me as a little superficial, like a fortune-cookie version of Eastern thought, and I wish the Jedi practices were unveiled in a more contemplative way. But despite Star Wars feeling a bit superficial as a spiritual text, it’s always a ton of fun! So who really cares at the end of the day if it’s only quasiprofound?

Ethan Nichtern leads a twenty-four-hour sit at ABC Carpet & Home in 2009 (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Ethan Nichtern leads a twenty-four-hour sit at ABC Carpet & Home in 2009 (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

twi-ny: What’s your favorite Radiohead album?

EN: It would be really hard to not call OK Computer the best Radiohead album, because it is now a classic of the 1990s, maybe the best complete album of the last twenty years. I like all of their albums, but I would say that my other favorite is Kid A. One of the chapter titles in The Road Home is “Where I End and You Begin,” which is so related to the Mahayana teachings, which is also one of my favorite songs from Hail to the Thief, which I think is an underrated album. I like them all.

twi-ny: If I’m not mistaken, you are, like me, a Mets fan. How can we use Buddhist meditation to help us through such annual disappointment come September?

EN: I mean, if we even make it to September before disappointment sets in, it means they are having a relatively good season. :-) It’s amazing how quickly we can identify personally with sports, but then when the season ends we have to let it go either way. And it’s that process of intense identification and hopefulness mixed with the annual need to just let go that I think makes being a sports fan in general a really good practice, especially when your team is perennially mediocre. Identify, hope, then let go! Then do it again next year. It’s beautiful.

twi-ny: Both you and my wife have tried to get me to meditate, but I’ve failed miserably. On a very general level, what is the most important first step for someone like me, who could probably benefit greatly from a more relaxed approach to life?

EN: I just think you have to keep it simple and short, like five minutes to start of just settling in with the breath. Everyone seems to be supportive of meditation now, but most people think it’s too hard for them to do personally. They usually have crazy expectations from a more idealistic spiritual standpoint about what is supposed to happen for them, like no more thoughts! And then they just confront their normal busy neurotic mind. So I would just let go of any expectations. You aren’t going to stop thinking! Classes on a regular basis can provide support and accountability, and you also realize that everyone is struggling in their own version the same way that you are, and I think the group environment can help overcome strange ideas about practice, of which there are so many. If I were you, I would just do it a little bit and not worry about how your thoughts feel while you aren’t doing it but instead focus on how you feel throughout the day after doing it for five minutes in the morning.


recital series

Who: Charlotte Rampling and Sonia Wieder-Atherton
What: Recital Series: The Night Dances
Where: Park Avenue Armory, Board of Officers Room, 643 Park Ave. at 67th St., 212-933-5812
When: April 22-26, $75
Why: New York City’s most diverse and captivating space, the Park Avenue Armory, will host the U.S. premiere of “Recital Series: The Night Dances,” what should be a mesmerizing performance that features the one and only Charlotte Rampling (The Night Porter, Swimming Pool) reading the poetry of Sylvia Plath, accompanied by cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton (Little Girl Blue, from Nina Simone; Vita Monteverdi Scelsi) playing suites by Benjamin Britten.


mocca fest

Who: Guests of honor Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Scott McCloud, and Raina Telgemeier, international special guests Pénélope Bagieu, DoubleBob, Annie Goetzinger, Ilan Manouach, Anne-Françoise Rouche, and Barbara Stok, and many other comic artists
What: Society of Illustrators: MoCCA Arts Festival
Where: Center 548, 548 West 22nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves., and the High Line Hotel, 180 Tenth Ave. at Twentieth St.
When: Saturday, April 11, and Sunday, April 12, $5, 11:00 am - 6:00 pm
Why: More than 350 publishers and artists will be exhibiting at the annual MoCCA Fest at Center 548, including Nick Bertozzi, C. M. Duffy, Fantagraphics, Dean Haspiel, Keren Katz, Peter Kuper, Liz Means, NBM, Greg Ruth, and Daniel Zender. Among the special programs (advance RSVP recommended), taking place at the nearby High Line Hotel, are Q&As with Scott McCloud, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, and Raina Telgemeier and such panel discussions as “Work in Progress” with Kim Deitch, Sarah Glidden, Dash Shaw, and Julia Wertz, moderated by Richard Gehr; “Alt-Weekly Comics” with Ben Katchor, Michael Kupperman, and Mark Newgarden, moderated by Bill Kartalopoulos; and “Saul Steinberg 101” with Austin English, Françoise Mouly, Joel Smith, and Patterson Sims.


The opening of “Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks” will be celebrated at free First Saturday program at the Brooklyn Museum

The opening of “Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks” will be celebrated at free First Saturdays program at the Brooklyn Museum

Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, April 4, free, 5:00 - 11:00

The April edition of the Brooklyn Museum’s First Saturdays program celebrates the opening of its latest exhibit on Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks,” a collection of 160 pages from his never-before-shown notebooks, focusing on his use of text and image, along with works on paper and large-scale paintings. The free evening will feature live musical performances by the James Francies Trio and Lion Babe and a DJ set by Natasha Diggs; a curator talk by Tricia Laughlin Bloom about the neew exhibition; a Basquiat crown-making workshop; a Basquiat-inspired writing workshop led by Tom La Farge and Wendy Walker; Cave Canem “Poetry Meets Art” readings from LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs and Roger Reeves; a children’s book presentation with illustrator Javaka Steptoe discussing Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat; a screening of Tamra Davis’s 2010 documentary Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child; a performance of Dark Swan by Urban Bush Women; and an interactive performance and dance workshop with W.A.F.F.L.E. (We Are Family for Life Entertainment). In addition, you can check out such exhibitions as “Revolution! Works from the Black Arts Movement,” “Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic,” “The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago,” and “Chitra Ganesh: Eyes of Time.”


walls around us

THE WALLS AROUND US (Algonquin Young Readers, March 24, $17.95)
McNally Jackson
52 Prince St. between Lafayette & Mulberry Sts.
Monday, March 23, free, 7:00

“We went wild that hot night. We howled, we raged, we screamed. We were girls — some of us fourteen and fifteen; some sixteen, seventeen — but when the locks came undone, the doors of our cells gaping open and no one to shove us back in, we made the noise of savage animals, of men.” So begins Nova Ren Suma’s third YA novel, the ghost story The Walls Around Us. Her follow-up to Imaginary Girls and 17 & Gone, Suma’s latest book is told from the point of view of a convicted killer and a ballerina (Suma herself danced from the age of six to sixteen) and includes quotes from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale to help set the mood. Suma, who we once had the extreme pleasure of working with in the children’s books business, is a master of her craft, creating warm, believable characters, writing sharp, realistic dialogue, and bringing intriguing situations to life with atmospheric dexterity. A very active member of the YA community, Suma took a big leap of faith with The Walls Around Us, letting her ideas run wild and trusting her instincts instead of worrying what her editor, agent, reviewers — and she herself — expected.

the walls around us

The result is a novel that was named the #1 Indie Next pick for Spring ’15, is an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and has garnered numerous starred reviews. Suma, who gave her first official public YA reading at twi-ny’s tenth anniversary celebration in 2011, will be at McNally Jackson in SoHo on March 23, launching The Walls Around Us with her friend and colleague, Michael L. Printz Award winner Libba Bray (The Diviners, Going Bovine). There will be a short reading, a conversation between the two literary stalwarts, a Q&A with the audience, and a signing. In addition, Suma will be giving away lots of Walls tattoos. And don’t worry; Suma isn’t really like one of her narrators, Violet, who explains early in the book, “I slip behind the curtain — it’s almost time, get the spotlight ready, soon I’ll be on. This’ll be my last dance before I leave town. My last chance to make them remember me, and remember me they will. When I’m onstage, I’m all for them, and they’re all for me. I feed off what they give me, and they bask in what I give them. When I’m offstage, these people are nothing to me. I’ve got some level of hate for practically almost everyone I run into on any given day. But in the midst of dancing? When they’re watching me and I’m letting them watch? I’ve got so much love, I’m like a whole different person.” Suma, who teaches writing workshops around the country, will also be participating in the “Exploring Feminist YA” panel on March 21 at 1:10 at the NYPL on Forty-Second St. with keynote speaker Bray, Gayle Forman, Scott Westerfeld, and moderator David Levithan for the 2015 NYC Teen Author Festival.