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


Nora Woolley channels multiple characters in Williamsburg-set HIP

Nora Woolley channels multiple characters in Williamsburg-set one-act HIP (photo by Sarah Rogers)

IRT Theater
154 Christopher St. near Washington St.
Through January 12, $12-$15

A pair of one-woman multicharacter shows that explore self-identity and searching for one’s place in the world, Nora Woolley’s thirty-minute Hip and Kim Katzberg’s hour-long Darkling were developed to run in tandem with each other, and they are doing so beautifully at the tiny IRT Theater on Christopher St., where they continue through January 12. In Hip, Woolley first appears as Wythe, an angry, leather-jacketed, mustached Williamsburg musician who claims that Julian Casablancas and the Strokes stole songs from him. She also plays Wythe’s temporarily bed-ridden grandmother, a trendy lifestyle photographer whose child Wythe baby-sits, and an Eastern European landlord attempting to rent an apartment to the cash-poor musician. Woolley’s knowing, spot-on portrayals of hipsters in their unique little worlds are searingly recognizable as well as extremely funny. As she changes costume for each character, videos by the Strokes and Wythe’s band are projected onto a back screen; the short films were made by Mariclare Lawson.

In Darkling, Katzberg appears as Trinity, a thirteen-year-old girl with terrible buck teeth who is just beginning to experiment with boys, especially an older hottie named Kevin. It’s 1987, and Trinity is deep into the awkward phase of adolescence, although she doesn’t realize it. A bold girl with seemingly no boundaries, she worships her older sister, Morgan (Katzberg), who has been sent off to a home for troubled girls but has escaped with her friend Chiara (Maia Cruz Palileo); their exploits are shown in a series of video postcards Morgan sends to Trinity. Katzberg also plays their mother in a very clever scene as well as a Goth marketing witch on-screen. Darkling is breathtaking in its ability to both attract and repel the audience’s identification with this most unusual yet quintessentially archetypal adolescent; Katzberg dives right into that nameless raw emotion that exists between laughing at and crying over something, at times evoking Todd Solondz’s cult classic, Welcome to the Dollhouse, in addition to the multimedia oeuvre of artist and filmmaker Ryan Trecartin.

Under Raquel Cion’s confident, smartly paced direction, Hip and Darkling work extremely well together. Cion — who is also an actor and cabaret performer performing as herself and sometimes as her alter ego, Cou-Cou Bijoux — knows how to get the best out of Woolley and Katzberg, who show off their mad skillz as they go from character to character and scene to scene, holding nothing back. The three women recently discussed collaboration, the Strokes, virginity, and more with twi-ny.

twi-ny: The three of you met back in 1998. Did you immediately hit it off?

Raquel Cion: Oh, we’re going back to the twentieth century, now are we? Okay, so, in ’98 my dear friend Raïna von Waldenburg’s play Das Kaspar Theatre was produced at the Experimental Theater Wing (ETW) at NYU. I was the associate director. Raïna was my classmate at ETW and then became both Kim and Nora’s acting teacher there. I can say from the moment Nora and Kim auditioned that they made a huge impression on me. The show dealt with very intense subjects: family dysfunction, sexual abuse, how one survives and heals. They were both so incredibly facile with their acting and willingness to jump into anything thrown at them. We later did a reading of a revised version of Raïna’s play for the hotINK Festival in 2006 that I directed.

Nora Woolley: Raquel and Kim have always been two of my favorite artists. I remember being blown away by Kim’s brave and charged work in acting school. Raquel directed us in a play and I could tell she was intensely gifted at getting actors to hone in on the meat. I asked Raquel to direct another show of mine (Selling Splitsville, cowritten by Christine Witmer) and she really understands me as a performer, so of course I hoped she’d direct Hip.

Kim Katzberg: I was pretty intimidated by Nora when I was in college in 1998. I had an inferiority complex back then, not to mention zero self-esteem. Plus, Nora was one of the stars in the drama department at NYU. Raquel scared me as well. She was very blunt as a director and she didn’t let you get away with any bullshit acting.

Thirteen-year-old Trinity (Kim Katzberg) gazes into her future in DARKLING

The very strange thirteen-year-old Trinity (Kim Katzberg) gazes into her future in DARKLING (photo by Sarah Rogers)

twi-ny: How did this collaboration come about?

NW: I saw Kim in Penetrating the Space and thought it was one of the most beautiful solo plays I had ever seen. Still do. She was doing and saying things I had never seen before. Referencing white tigers, taping her eyes for effect, talking about suicide with humor — it blew me away. I had never made a solo piece before, so I asked Kim if she wanted to get together and just play around in a rehearsal studio. We each brought some work we had been thinking about and then we began improvising for each other. This continued every couple of weeks for a couple of years. Our rehearsals were so important to me — they were a space to take huge risks and to challenge ourselves emotionally, physically, etc., a mini acting school. I secretly hoped, but for the first year or so I never considered, that we would present them together. Then it became clear to me that I wanted to create a shorter piece and perform both pieces in the same evening. That sounded fun and really interesting — a structure I had never done before. Plus, I was kind of terrified to devote a whole evening to myself. :)

RC: Though New York is a huge city, it’s also a very small town amongst the like-minded and we just were in each others’ circles, I suppose. Nora asked me to direct Selling Splitsville at the undergroundzero festival at PS122 in 2009. Kim came to that show and was beginning work on Penetrating the Space. We discussed working together then but schedules didn’t allow it. Kim and Nora had told me that they were developing work together. They kept me in the loop and here we are in 2014 collaborating and it is pure joy! We’re having a blast, all three of us.

KK: A bunch of years ago I saw Selling Splitsville. I thought it was brilliant and hilarious. I could relate to the kind of character work that Nora was doing and I loved Raquel’s bold direction and thought maybe both of them would be interested in my kind of characters too. Then Nora saw Penetrating the Space and liked it and asked me if I wanted to meet up twice a month in a studio space so that we could bounce work off of each other. Then Nora reintroduced me to Raquel and the rest is herstory.

twi-ny: What’s the single best piece of advice you’ve received from one another?

NW: I learn so much from Kim on a daily basis — for real. I don’t know any performers who own silence like Kim does. Her timing is profound in that she creates these incredibly moving, suspended moments that land in your heart. She takes her time in a way that is supremely rare and extremely hard to pull off. At some point early on in our rehearsal process, I remember watching her work and thinking that I should challenge myself to take lots more time in my own work — it was a revelation. Also, of course, Kim’s characters are beyond comparison. She has always encouraged me to let my characters say what they were afraid to say. I could go on. . . .

Raquel is an acting savant, so it is hard to define one piece of her advice as “best.” She has an impeccable eye and can navigate any moment onstage — from helping me find the deepest, most interesting route to emotional-connectedness to filling in the occasional flimsy playwriting with the perfect single word or two. I always feel like Raquel is an acting surgeon with X-ray vision. It blows my mind how often she hones in on that heartbreaking space between funny and sad, then makes it possible for me to repeat. After a show the other day, she called out the exact moment in the performance when I was not enjoying the work. Raquel reminds me not to take myself too seriously.

KK: The best advice I got from Nora was more that she didn’t offer advice but instead gave me unconditional support throughout the process. I felt free to be a bad actor sometimes and to bring in work that totally failed. We were able to create a safe space in which to take risks and explore. I also felt incredibly challenged by Nora being that the work she brought in was always at such a high level. I felt that I had to at least try to match that in order for her to want to keep working with me. I was also continually inspired by Nora, as a human being and as an artist, so that made the rehearsals thrilling and motivating.

Working with Raquel felt equally safe, challenging, and inspiring. Raquel pushed me to go farther than I thought was possible. The audition dance in Darkling where I put on the horse head and get down to Patti Smith’s “Horses” scared the shit out of me, and at first I didn’t want to do it. It was Raquel’s idea to put that dance in and I felt so embarrassed by it and didn’t think I could go there. That is one of the riskiest moments in the play for me as an actor, and it’s because of Raquel’s genius and bravery that moments like that burst through in the show.

twi-ny: Raquel, you met Nora and Kim some fifteen years ago. What were they like then, compared to how they are now?

RC: Hmmm, when we met, I believe, there was an implied hierarchical structure in place since I was coming into a school. However, I do feel that both Nora and Kim are profoundly themselves and have always been. They are both huge risk takers as performers. Now, though, we are fully equals, friends, all artists making our own work. I don’t know, it may be an age thing. When you’re older the commonalities become more present. Once one’s passed thirty, the years all kind of meld together anyhow. I am still blown away by their talent, as I was when we initially met, but being let into someone’s process for their own work is a very different dynamic than being cast in another’s play. Simply put, they are freaking amazing creators of theater with very distinct points of view. Not to mention that they are incredibly versatile and just damn good actors and writers. So whip-smart, funny as hell, and so poignant. That comes with time and trust for themselves and each other. I am so honored that they trust me with their work. I really am in awe of what they create.

Burlesque and cabaret performer Raquel Cion directs HIP and DARKLING at IRT

Actor and cabaret performer Raquel Cion directs intimate doubleheader at IRT (photo by Colman Domingo)

twi-ny: What’s the difference between the Raquel of 1998 and the Raquel of 2014?

KK: The Raquel of 1998 was a scary, cool, untouchable older sister–like figure. The Raquel of 2014 is a close friend and colleague that I feel very bonded to. She is an equal now, as opposed to an authority figure.

NW: I have always called Raquel “the smartest girl in the room.” She is one of those people who knows not even a little, but a lot, about most topics. It is kind of amazing, actually. I am not sure I have ever referenced something that she didn’t have some solid familiarity with. When she is directing, those smarts are, of course, funneled into the scene, so working on original material is especially fun with her because she will encourage me to take it in the most interesting (and scariest) direction. I remember feeling that way in 1998 but was more shy around her and probably a little intimidated because I wanted her to think I was “good.” Actually, let’s be real: I still want her to think I am “good,” but I can laugh really hard with her nowadays.

twi-ny: Hip partly revolves around Wythe’s obsession with the Strokes. Why the Strokes?

NW: It’s funny. I didn’t really listen to the Strokes when they first came out. I liked one or two songs I had heard, but I never actually owned any of their music or gave them much thought. When I first started conceiving of this piece, I thought a lot about what it means to be “cool,” like cool as hell — something I have never been. The image of a musician came to mind and when I started physicalizing him, the dark side of cool — self-consciousness — really came out, and with it a flood of pain and heartbreak. I happened to know that one of the Strokes was in my class at Tisch, and dramaturgically that meant that I could tap into the feeling that all struggling artists have in regard to the fact that so-and-so “made it” and why haven’t I. I did some research, which consisted mostly of watching lots of early Strokes videos ad nauseam and listening to their music day and night and found that they were the exact embodiment of cool that I was looking for in that early 2000s era — young and absolutely on fire, raised in NYC and Europe, children of supermodels, seemingly really nice guys, and distinctive looking.

twi-ny: How much of Darkling is autobiographical — or, at least, how much are you willing to admit to?

KK: My sister did go to a lock-up boarding school and ran away. She was punk and I did worship her. I did lose my virginity to a punk on acid and it did hurt like hell. Lots of other things in the piece are true too....

twi-ny: While you both go through numerous costume changes, Nora, you do it behind temporary walls, where the audience can’t see you, but Kim, you change in front of the walls, in the corners, where the audience can peek if they want to. Is there any specific reason for the difference, or is it merely a case of time and/or personal modesty?

NW: Modesty? Please. I was very adamant early on about each piece using the stage space itself very differently. Kim’s piece needs to breathe and I wanted mine to feel a bit claustrophobic, hence the walls and their configurations. I only change behind the walls because they are there and changing in front of them would quite literally take center stage.

RC: Modesty?!? You should see the dances Nora does in her white leotard for us. She’s said that one night she’ll take her bow in said leotard. We are working in a tiny black-box theater, putting up two very different shows. Each of the shows has a very distinct aesthetic. We worked very closely with our wonderful lighting and set designer, Josh Iacovelli, who has made magic with our small budget and space. We have four flats and a box with a two-sided “headboard” that serves as two beds and a car. Both shows use projections and video to further expand the narrative. In Hip, along with video there are projections that are very funny and very text heavy. It’s tough to read when you see someone off to the side in their underwear. So it simply serves the piece better to give that reprieve. Kim’s videos are filled with fast cuts and multiple characters. There is a very DIY quality to them that is very compelling, so seeing Kim change becomes another aspect to that visual component and doesn’t detract from it.

KK: I liked the idea of Darkling being kind of Brechtian in that the audience can also see me in a stripped-down aesthetic as just myself. I stole it from Karen Finley. Every time I saw her perform she changed right in plain view; it was part of the performance, and I always thought it was punk rock.


Matthew Rushing

Matthew Rushing will be celebrated in special Alvin Ailey program at City Center on December 17

New York City Center
130 West 56th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Celebrating Matthew Rushing: Tuesday, December 17, 7:30
Season runs December 4 - January 5, $25-$135

Born and raised in the Inglewood section of Los Angeles, Matthew Rushing has now spent more than half his life with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He joined the company in 1992, when he was just seventeen, and he quickly became a featured dancer. In 2008, artistic director Judith Jamison asked Rushing to choreograph a piece as part of her twentieth anniversary celebration, and he created Uptown, about the Harlem Renaissance, as a tribute for her. In 2010, Jamison named Rushing rehearsal director, a job he continues under artistic director Robert Battle, who took over the reins in 2011. Rushing also performs regularly as a guest artist with the company. It is still a thrill to see him take the stage, his every movement filled with emotion and the intense joy of the dance. In an August 2012 Dance magazine article entitled “Why I Dance,” Rushing wrote, “I don’t dance out of obligation, I dance out of an overwhelming feeling of necessity. Dance is literally a form of life to me, and I can’t imagine functioning without it!”

On December 17, as part of AAADT’s annual season at City Center, Rushing will be honored with the special program “Celebrating Matthew Rushing,” which will include Rushing performing in Ronald K. Brown’s Grace, excerpts from Ailey’s Love Songs and Pas de Duke and Rennie Harris’s Home, and the classic Ailey finale, Revelations. A gentle, soft-spoken man, Rushing recently spoke with twi-ny, answering questions about his storied career with great care, as if choreographing every thoughtful, carefully composed sentence.

twi-ny: On December 17, AAADT will be honoring you at City Center with a special tribute. Are you more nervous, scared, or excited about the evening?

Matthew Rushing: I think I would be more excited. There will be a little bit of nerves, because I think there’s a responsibility. This evening will be different from any other performance, because the way I see it, in any other performance, the audience is coming to see the Ailey company, but I would say that because it’s an evening celebrating the years I’ve been with the company, [laughs] the majority of the company will be coming to see me. So I would kind of feel like throughout the whole evening, all eyes will be on me, or at least the majority of the eyes. So I guess I would feel a certain responsibility that I normally wouldn’t feel. But I would also feel excited because I would feel support. I know that as well as the audience coming to see me, hopefully they will be coming to support me, so how special will that be to have a theater full of audience members coming to actually support you and celebrate you. So at the same time it’ll be exciting.

twi-ny: You’ll also be performing that night in Grace and what is being called “Matthew Rushing Highlights”; how did you go about choosing which pieces and excerpts you will perform at the event?

Matthew Rushing: The associate artistic director, Masazumi Chaya, came up with the initial program and presented it to me and asked me if there was anything that I wanted to change. I think the first change was, originally we were going to do Four Corners by Ronald K. Brown, and I requested that we do Grace. Chaya knew that I wanted to do a work by Brown because he’s one of these choreographers who has had a huge impact on my dance career and also me as a person. Chaya knew that Ron would have to be a part of this program, but I requested Grace because Grace was the first time I was introduced to working with Ron, and I’ve just had an incredible history with that ballet — what it’s taught me, the experiences I’ve had actually performing it, and even watching it. So that had to be part of the program.

The other highlights are works that I feel have been pivotal in my career, like A Song for You, which was originally choreographed for Dudley Williams, and I had the privilege and opportunity to be coached by Dudley Williams in A Song for You, as well as Pas de Duke, which was a huge turning point in my career because I was challenged with this role that was originally created for Mikhail Baryshnikov, and it taught me how to rely upon my own strengths and not try to imitate or be anyone else but actually really realize who I am as a dancer, what gifts I have to offer, and really focus and concentrate on those to help me articulate and communicate and have impact on the audience. And as well as the piece’s being choreographed by Mr. Ailey, that has a lot to do with it as well. The other piece is Home, which was choreographed by Rennie Harris. One of the reasons why I wanted to do this piece was because I was honored that he created this role for me when he created the ballet, and there’s something about the hip-hop, house culture that’s also had a huge impact on my life, growing up in New York, and for all these elements to come together — me respecting Rennie Harris as a choreographer, respecting the art form of hip-hop, and being honored that he would create a role for me, all that went into including this work in the evening.

Of course, Revelations has to be a part of it, because Revelations, I always tell people, this piece is kind of like part of who I am. It’s not just a work that I perform at the end of an Ailey evening. It’s something that I have a very close connection to and that feeds me, that inspires me, that changes me from performance to performance, so it just had to be a part of the evening as well.

twi-ny: You’ve now been with AAADT for more than twenty years and are currently the rehearsal director and a guest artist. How has that transition been?

Matthew Rushing: The transition has been very difficult. I think I’ve told anybody that asked me that question, I’ve always said that it’s difficult. I have yet to get to the point where I can say, “Oh yeah, I’m very comfortable, I’m thoroughly enjoying it.” No, not right now. It’s still a challenge. It’s stretching me in so many ways as far as being compassionate, leadership skills — it’s forcing me to organize my time better, it’s stretching me as an artist because I don’t have as much time as I used to to focus on my work and my dance, and I have to still be responsible for my work as far as the roles that I dance, but I have less time because the other time is devoted to the dancers and rehearsing the dancers and taking care of the dancers and making sure that they have what they need to be artists.

So I feel like I’m switching my hat a lot, and also my energy, time, and focus is split, much more than it used to be, so I feel like I’m never in a comfortable place. I often feel like I’ve missed the mark that I’ve set for myself, but I try not to get frustrated; I try to kind of dust myself off and give it another try, but, like I said, I think I’m still finding myself in it. That would be the most honest answer, that I’m still trying to find myself in this rehearsal director slash guest artist role.

twi-ny: In August 2012 you wrote, “I dance out of an overwhelming feeling of necessity,” while also pointing out your age, as forty approaches. Are you anticipating any further changes?

Matthew Rushing: At this point, because of how things have developed, I’m at a point where I can’t make any assumptions. Things have happened in ways that I would never expect them to, so therefore I’m at a point where I’m just making myself open and available to whatever comes my way. I’m trying to make sure that I’m prepared for whatever comes my way by doing whatever work that’s given to me at the present moment, and I’m hoping that that work will help prepare me for the next step, but I have no idea . . . I do know it’s gonna be within this Ailey organization. This is my home. This is where I was birthed artistically. And I know this is where I want to end my dance career. So I just know I’m here at Ailey. Ailey is it for me. That’s my only definite. Everything else is just open, and I’m ready to receive whatever’s coming next.

Matthew Rushing

Matthew Rushing will perform an excerpt from Alvin Ailey’s LOVE SONGS at program honoring his ongoing career with the company

twi-ny: You’ve choreographed Acceptance in Surrender and Uptown for AAADT and, more recently, Moan for Philadanco. Do you have any more pieces coming up either for Ailey or another company? Do you get a different kind of satisfaction out of choreographing a work than dancing?

Matthew Rushing: Choreography is another struggle of mine, that I don’t feel absolutely comfortable in, so again, it’s just another thing that stretches me and I feel helps me grow. One of the reasons why I like to choreograph is I like to be creative. I usually get ideas that are motivated by music or themes or ideas and I like the work of trying to make them happen. Sometimes it doesn’t come as easily as I would like, and that’s where I get frustrated. Often I feel like I can’t come up with enough steps to articulate the ideas that I have. I usually can come up with ideas easily, but the articulation and coming up with the movement and style is very difficult for me. So the choreography, I feel, is more of a struggle than dance. Dance is something that I have always felt comfortable in, and I think I always will, so there is a huge difference between choreography and dance, and I feel much more comfortable in dancing than I do choreography, but I feel that choreography is another voice that I’m developing, as far as me having an impact on people and being creative.

twi-ny: In September 2011, you were one of a large group of dance people who performed in Continuous Replay with Bill T. Jones at New York Live Arts. What was that experience like? Many of the performers, including Mr. Jones, went au naturel, but you kept your shorts on. Were you tempted to take it all off?

Matthew Rushing: The experience of dancing with Bill T. Jones was absolutely awesome. The man is a genius. He inspired me, he opened my eyes to new ways of choreography. He taught me how to think differently, without even talking to me directly. It was me being able to be around his work and his process and his dancers that totally changed me. I love being around people who can say things that you’ve never heard before or be able to articulate things that you feel cannot be expressed through words. But somehow this man, this genius of a man, knows how to do that. I love him dearly, and I’m so excited that he’s choreographing D-Man in the Waters in the company, because he recently came to rehearsal and did the exact same thing to the other dancers as far as inspiring them and speaking into their lives. So the experience was awesome.

Um, dancing in the nude? No, I wouldn’t go there. I wasn’t even tempted. And I was so happy that he was accommodating enough [laughs] to allow me not to go nude. Even though I work hard on looking the best I possibly can . . . Nude? In front of thousands of people? No, not me. That’s just not me. I’m so glad that I’ve never had to do it here at Ailey as well.


Nitehawk Cinema
136 Metropolitan Ave. between Berry St. & Wythe Ave.
Wednesday, October 30, 9:30

This past August, Amy Nicholson’s compelling, bittersweet documentary Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride opened to wide acclaim during an extended run at the IFC Center. Winner of a Special Jury Prize at the 2012 DOC NYC festival, Zipper follows the fate of Eddie Miranda’s Zipper amusement park ride as a microcosm of the controversial rezoning and commercialization plans that threaten to change Coney Island forever. In her director’s statement, Nicholson, a longtime marketing creative director in New York City who has taken the film, her third documentary, all over the country, explains, “I have two ambitions for Zipper. First, to expose how and why the ‘poor people’s Riviera’ became the prize in a fight between a billionaire developer and a billionaire mayor. Second, to remind the world of Coney Island’s true character, so that other great cultural icons might be valued more for their sense of place than for their real estate.” Her next stop is Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, where she’ll take part in a Q&A following a special “Local Color” screening on October 30 at 9:30. As an added bonus, each attendee gets a free Coney Island beer. In anticipation of the Nitehawk event, Nicholson recently discussed with twi-ny the Zipper, the advertising business, the future of Coney Island, and more.

twi-ny: What was the genesis of the Zipper project?

Amy Nicholson: Believe it or not, I was looking for the Jumble in the Daily News when I came across an article about the Zipper leaving Coney Island and my heart sank. I loved that ride as a kid; it’s the quintessential crazy carnival contraption and the perfect symbol of all that’s great about a place like Coney Island. Originally I was just going to do a short homage to the Zipper, but I got sucked into the politics of why Eddie Miranda and a lot of other small operators were leaving. The more I looked into it, the bigger it got.

twi-ny: What kind of personal connection did you have with Coney Island prior to starting the project? How would you say it has changed since then?

Amy Nicholson: I have lived in New York since the late ’80s and my best friend and I would go down to Coney Island on hot summer nights and just hang out and people watch. It’s really the best place in the world to soak up that beach/carnival/melting pot atmosphere. As Joey says in the film, “Once you get the sand in your shoes....”

(Sidebar about riding the Zipper in Coney: Eddie’s Zipper was an older hydraulic model, which meant it used a lot of oil. If the temperature was hot during the day — and cooler at night — the Zipper would spin a lot more aggressively as the oil cooled. The loader, Freddie, and I made a pact to ride on the last night after the very last shot, but when he chickened out, so did I. Apparently the conditions were perfect for making the Zipper spin like crazy that day and he said there had been a lot of barfing!)

twi-ny: How would you say it has changed since the late ’80s?

Amy Nicholson: Coney Island is a really addicting place for so many reasons. I can never sum it up as well as the guys do in the last scenes of Zipper. But I can tell you for certain that’s been the biggest change. The complexion of the place is very different now and not in a good way. There are still a few of the old guard there, but the rest is either an empty lot or new construction that feels soulless. The new rides are nice, but Coney Island is well on its way to being sterilized.

twi-ny: Has anything changed in the rezoning/development fight since the film was released?

Amy Nicholson: When the film leaves off at the end of 2009, Bloomberg was just reelected to a third term. A deal was made with Thor Equities to purchase about half of their property for around $100 million, and the city leased newly created parkland to a single operator. Since then, Thor has built one retail building and Central Amusements International has brought in new rides, primarily in areas where there were rides before the fight began. There have been some nice improvements, but there are still plenty of empty lots and none of the promised affordable housing or hotels have materialized. Nor is Coney Island year-round — the reason the public was told the rezoning had to happen. We are also coming up on the one-year anniversary of Sandy, which did some horrific damage, but almost all of the rides and games survived. The final super[title] of the film that states what the resolution was after all the years of battling still stands.

ZIPPER director Amy Nicholson celebrates documentary at Coney Island History Project

ZIPPER director Amy Nicholson celebrates documentary at Coney Island History Project

twi-ny: How do you think documentaries like yours can make a difference in such battles?

Amy Nicholson: I think documentaries like mine not only serve as a record of history, but I hope they exposed the truth about how politics and the constant need for growth can change cities far too quickly and not necessarily for the better. As a regular citizen, you would have had to follow the story for six years, digging around, attending meetings, and asking questions. It’s a lot to ask for a busy public, and in the end, the public process is pretty much a joke. So on the most basic level, you can watch Zipper and see the whole story unfold in seventy-seven minutes and at least walk away with a basic understanding of why there’s an Applebee’s in Coney Island now.

twi-ny: You’ve shown the film all over the country. How do audiences in other cities react to such a New York story? Coney Island has a unique legend, but most of those people have probably never been there.

Amy Nicholson: The film speaks to people everywhere because there has been such an increase in development like this where cities decide to proactively stimulate economic growth with developer incentives. The easiest way to do that is to change the zoning. Right now, Los Angeles is doing exactly what New York did with a huge zoning overhaul. It hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention that small businesses everywhere are being displaced by chains.

And then there are the sweetest older people everywhere we go who attend the screenings and they just want to relive a little bit of their Brooklyn childhood. When we get compliments on how well we captured the feeling of the place, that’s when I think we’ve been successful. That’s the best.

twi-ny: You’ve spent a lot of years in advertising. What kind of impact do you think that has on your filmmaking style, as well as the film’s promotion?

Amy Nicholson: Well, in this case it gave me a fairly keen understanding of the attempted branding of both Coney Island and Brooklyn. (In the case of Brooklyn, the city has been far too successful!) It definitely gave me the radar to know when I was being sold something. I could feel it in the interviews, and twice I found “talking points” left behind in the rooms we were in. As far as how it applies to the marketing of the film, I can’t take all the credit. Coney Island was the most amazing place visually. And I had help. That best friend who I went to Coney with on hot summer nights is also an amazing designer. We just did our best attempt to bring it to life.

twi-ny: You’ve previously made Beauty School and Muskrat Lovely. Do you have any plans yet for your next film?

Amy Nicholson: I have to recover financially from this one first (we could not get funding), but I have a few ideas rolling around in my head. Stay tuned....


Hilly and Mary

Hilly Kristal and Mary Zadroga take a break during the 1997 Warped Tour on Randall’s Island (photo by Tracy Almazan)

Hank’s Saloon
46 Third Ave. at Atlantic Ave.
Friday, October 11, free, 7:00
Festival continues through October 12

When Hilly Kristal, owner and founder of CBGB — Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gourmandizers — passed away in 2007 at the age of seventy-five, a year after closing the club following a highly publicized rent dispute, Wives bass player Mary Zadroga posted an online tribute, writing, “When I first met him and started working with him, I was so scared and intimidated. I loved his voice, though, his deep, low baritone voice. He took good care of us, touring, practicing in CB’s basement, and coming up with all kinds of crazy schemes and plans for us. . . . We lost touch over the past eight years, but I would stop by, now and then, with the kids. Last time I saw him, he called my five-year-old a little monster (which she was), and he had that lovely smile on his face when he said it.” Kristal managed the Wives, which recently reunited the original lineup, with Sue Horwitz singing, for its twentieth anniversary, from 1996 to 1999. Zadroga will be playing this year’s CBGB Festival with one of her other bands, the fast and furious Futurex (which stands for Future Ex Wives), with Susan Horowitz on guitar and vocals and Paul Andrew on drums. They’ll be at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn on Friday night, along with other bands and crew members that have CBGB connections, including Drugstore and Brunch of the Living Dead. Zadroga, who has also been in such groups as Jane Lee Hooker, Celebrated Cherry Sisters, and Browniehead, recently discussed the seminal punk-rock club with twi-ny.

twi-ny: How did you feel when you first heard that CBGB was closing?

Mary Zadroga: Even though CBs was well past its prime, I felt nostalgic and sad. The floodgates were open once CBs was gone, of EV clubs disappearing. Hilly was sick by then, and I was worried it would do him in.

twi-ny: When you were in the Wives during the late ’90s, Hilly was your manager. What was that experience like? Was the Hilly who ran CBGB different from the Hilly who managed the band?

Mary Zadroga: He wasn’t nearly as grouchy with us. He liked our music, and us three as people: drummer Tracy Almazan, singer Zu Leika (Horwitz had moved on), and me. He sounded kind of addled sometimes, but he really wasn’t. Just round about how he got things done.

twi-ny: Who are some of the groups you either saw or played with at CBGB?

Mary Zadroga: New Bomb Turks, Iron Prostate, Wig Hat, Lunachicks, Sex Pod, Patti Smith, Tub, Molotov Cocktail, Ff, 7 Seconds . . . I don’t know, I have a terrible memory. Lots of bands: Helldorado, the Lone Wolves, Sea Monkeys, Rats of Unusual Size, Maul Girls, Sisters Grimm.

Mary Zadroga and Futurex will play Hank’s Saloon as part of second annual CBGB Festival (photo by Mark Reinertson)

Mary Zadroga and Futurex will play Hank’s Saloon as part of second annual CBGB Festival (photo by Gene Sturges)

twi-ny: What is your favorite CBGB memory?

Mary Zadroga: My favorite memory was of Joan Jett standing right in front of me while we were playing. I remember she was bald? I may be way off on that one.

twi-ny: How about your least favorite?

Mary Zadroga: The years of calling [CBGB booker] Louise [Parnassa Staley] to get a show. It was nuts. “Call me back in five.” “Call me next Tuesday.” “Call me after four.” Then, finally, we’d get a show! I was like a pit bull; I very literally would call exactly when she said.

twi-ny: Futurex will be playing Hank’s Saloon on October 11 as part of the CBGB Festival, with other CBGB survivors. How did that come about?

Mary Zadroga: Jme Gorman [guitarist for Brunch of the Living Dead] and his wife, Ellen, have been booking nights there for years. They both worked at CBs. Jme was sound and knew Wives. These Hank’s nights are amazingly good, a local underbelly of the scene, older bands. It’s interesting to see it dressed up as a CBs Festival night.

Are there any other venues out there that come close to capturing the spirit of CBs, or is that just impossible?

Mary Zadroga: CBs by far had the best sound system, and you could record your set and get a decent tape out of it. There were so many places to play: Spiral, Brownies (loved Brownies!), Space at Chase, Acme, Continental, Nightingale (my favorite!), then later 269 and Otto’s. . . . I never played Lakeside or Banjo Jim’s but loved going there. Um, now I don’t know great places to play. Wives just had a reunion at Delancey and that was decent. Fontana’s . . . Arlene’s . . . Nothing compares to CBs. Well, you know which does? With layout, and sound, and overall great vibe? The Shrine up in Harlem. It isn’t punk or rock n roll; it is more blues, soul, reggae, but that club has it going on.


Dick Valentine

Dick Valentine and Electric Six ride into the city in support of latest album, MUSTANG

Bowery Ballroom
6 Delancey St. between Bowery & Christie St.
Sunday, September 29, $18-$20, 9:00

For nearly fifteen years, unpredictable Detroit band Electric Six has been having a blast, playing wild and crazy live shows and releasing such intoxicating albums as Danger! High Voltage, Señor Smoke, the splendidly titled I Shall Exterminate Everything Around Me That Restricts Me From Being the Master, and Heartbeats and Brainwaves. Although they’ve gone through numerous personnel changes, Tyler Spencer, aka Dick Valentine, has always been front and center, the group’s primary songwriter and lead vocalist. On their new record, the galloping Mustang (Metropolis, October 8), Valentine, guitarists Da Ve and Johnny Na$hinal, bassist Smorgasbord, drummer Percussion World, and keyboardist Tait Nucleus? take listeners on a rollicking journey through multiple genres, from the opening blast of “Nom de Plume” to the yearning ballad “Iron Dragon” to the Nick Cave/Roxy Music-like finale, “Cheryl vs. Darryl.” Electric Six brought its “Save the World, Save the World” tour to the Bell House this past Wednesday and will next be at Bowery Ballroom on September 29 with My Jerusalem and Les Sans Culottes. While in town, Valentine discussed with twi-ny the new record, Adam Levine, and the misspelling on the cover of Mustang.

twi-ny: Mustang explodes out of the speakers in a burst of heavy metal, punk, funk, hard rock, prog rock, black metal, disco, dance pop, and other styles. What is your songwriting process like? Do you set out to tackle specific genres in advance?

Dick Valentine: We just knew that having just done a synth and drum machine record for our previous studio release, we wanted to have a lot of guitars on this album. And live drums on every track. I have to say of all the albums we’ve done, this was the one where I came with the least amount of concrete ideas and finished songs on my end, so the rest of the guys, especially John Nash, really stepped up and got it done.

twi-ny: On “Adam Levine,” you tell the Maroon 5 frontman and “The Voice” coach to “burn in hell, motherfucker”; tell us, how do you really feel about him? Are personalities like Adam Levine good or bad for the music industry?

electric six mustang

Dick Valentine: This song is not actually about Adam Levine. . . . That’s a popular misconception. It’s about feeling awful and then feeling worse because you know it will just continue. I’ve never met him, but he seems like a fine example of a human being. A human being who grew up in Beverly Hills. As far as his impact on the music industry, you’d have to ask Donny Osmond because that’s where this shit started.

twi-ny: In the past, you’ve said that your songs are “about absolutely nothing,” so should we not read any political metaphors into “Late Night Obama Food,” especially when you say, “We are starving, but we’re eating more than we ever did before”?

Dick Valentine: Yeah, that’s right.

twi-ny: Going back to “I Buy the Drugs” for a moment, what actually happens if you send a self-addressed stamped envelope to P.O. Box 900, Los Angeles, CA 90212?

Dick Valentine: I have heard it has something to do with FOX broadcasting. That was not intentional, but that makes sense as I believe that ZIP Code does in fact cover Century City and Westwood.

twi-ny: In “Gimme the Eyes,” you say, “When you come to New York see what your money buys.” You played the Bell House on September 25 and will be at Bowery Ballroom on September 29; what do you spend your money on when you’re here in the city?

Dick Valentine: Diapers. In a Park Slope parent way, not in a David Vitter way.

twi-ny: We can’t let you go without asking about the cover of Mustang; what was your initial reaction when you saw that the band’s name was misspelled on the back of the woman’s jean jacket?

Dick Valentine: We were elated.


Megan Sprenger will premiere her latest evening-length piece, FLUTTER, this week at the Chocolate Factory (photo by Tei Blow)

Megan Sprenger will premiere her latest evening-length piece, FLUTTER, this week at the Chocolate Factory (photo by Tei Blow)

The Chocolate Factory
5-49 49th Ave., Long Island City
September 18-21, $15, 8:00

Since 2005, dancer and choreographer Megan V. Sprenger and her MVworks company have been exploring the relationship between audience and performer, individuality and personal identity, and the making of connections in today’s world, drawing on inspiration from such visual artists as Gregory Crewdson and Jacob Landau and such mathematicians as Blaise Pascal and Fibonacci. In her first evening-length piece, 2007’s quietly affecting No where, Sprenger incorporated Pascal’s triangle both thematically and structurally, built around three woman dancers moving within a confined space. Two years later, Sprenger went in a different direction with the immersive, explosive . . . within us., in which four dancers interacted with the audience members first by speaking with them, then charging around them in a flurry of energy. Sprenger, who has also choreographed and performed such solo pieces as One-Shot, While Waiting, and Direction Lost, will be holding the world premiere of her third evening-length piece, Flutter, this week at the Chocolate Factory in Long Island City, examining abstract and non-narrative methods of storytelling through movement and sound. Between preparing for that and working in public relations, the always amiable and charming Sprenger took time out to discuss her creative process and more with twi-ny.

twi-ny: For Flutter, you developed movements that were very particular to the unique personalities of each of the four performers. You’ve worked with Tara O’Con since 2007, while Donna Cicchesi, Michael Ingle, and Anna Adams Stark are new to MVworks. What was that process like, especially because you are much more familiar with one of the dancers than the others?

Megan V. Sprenger: One of the most fascinating and rewarding aspects of making this work has been getting to know all of the dancers better. Regardless of how long I’ve known or worked with each of them, the process of making their “mini movement biographies” was the same. Each of the dancers was asked to improvise for a set amount of time that varied slightly per rehearsal. This process resulted in hours of footage that I culled down into four-to-five-minute solos that became the base for the work.

twi-ny: In most of your pieces, including Flutter, the dancers perform to silence or to avant-garde soundscapes, never to more traditional songs or music. Is that something you consciously set out to do with each new dance? How would you describe the role of music/sound in your creative process?

Megan V. Sprenger: Working with original sound is a critical part of my process. Jason Sebastian and I have worked together since 2007, and with each process we begin by discussing the inspiration and tone of the work and then decide what we think might be the best general direction for the composition. It’s true that both No where and …within us. utilized more of an environmental soundscape; however, for this work we decided that we wanted something more melodic and the result is a composition that is much more instrumental than what you might expect.

MVworks rehearses FLUTTER this past June

twi-ny: For many years you worked in the marketing department of Dance Theater Workshop and then New York Live Arts, specifically promoting dance. You’re now at a company that handles much more than just dance. What has that experience been like?

Megan V. Sprenger: What I love most about working at Polskin Arts & Communications Counselors is how much I am learning about other artistic fields such as music, visual art, and architecture. It has been extremely rewarding to see how what I know about dance is transferable and at the same time to be learning more about other genres.

twi-ny: In 2006, 2008, and 2010 you performed solo pieces, and in 2011 you participated in Bill T. Jones’s Continuous Replay at New York Live Arts. Are you getting the urge to get back on stage yourself? Might you be working on something you will perform in?

Megan V. Sprenger: I haven’t decided what will be next for me artistically. Making work for yourself can be a tricky business, though I love performing and I do miss it. Who knows, a short solo for myself isn’t out of the question.

twi-ny: You’ve now been involved in the New York City dance world for ten years. What are some of the most important changes you’ve noticed over the last decade? One thing that strikes me is how the internet has come into play; for example, people can go to your website and follow the progress of Flutter, as you’ve posted videos of a number of rehearsals going back nearly a year.

Megan V. Sprenger: Over the past ten years the internet has definitely played an increased role in the dance industry. In particular, crowdsourcing platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and RocketHub and video sharing websites like Vimeo and YouTube have changed the way dances are made, promoted, and shared. I would also add that popular culture interest in dance through television shows like So You Think You Can Dance have significantly shifted how dance is viewed and appreciated across the country.

twi-ny: In your free time, if you have any, do you try to keep up with what’s going on in the dance world, or do you prefer to see other types of art and live performance?

Megan V. Sprenger: I try to see as many dance performances as possible. That’s honestly one of the things I miss most about working at New York Live Arts, where I was constantly exposed to new work and artistic voices.

twi-ny: Are there any companies that you consider a must-see?

Megan V. Sprenger: Must-sees? That’s a really hard question. I suppose I would just encourage people to try something new. I vary rarely regret going to a show that I know very little about or created by an artist I am not familiar with.


Sara Farizan will be at McNally Jackson on September 10 talking about her debut novel, IF YOU COULD BE MINE, as part of the launch celebration of the Alquonquin Young Readers imprint

Sara Farizan will be at McNally Jackson on September 10 talking about her debut novel, IF YOU COULD BE MINE, as part of the launch celebration of the Alquonquin Young Readers imprint

McNally Jackson
52 Prince St. between Lafayette & Mulberry Sts.
Tuesday, September 10, free, 7:00

In her debut novel, If You Could Be Mine (Algonquin Young Readers, August 2013, $16.95), Sara Farizan details the dangerous love between two seventeen-year-old Tehran girls who must keep their relationship secret from everyone. The story is narrated by Sahar, who has wanted to marry Nasrin since they were six, but same-sex relationships are punishable by death in Iran. “It’s difficult, hiding my feelings for her. Tehran isn’t exactly safe for two girls in love with each other,” Sahar explains at the beginning of the book. “We are always around each other, so I don’t think anyone will suspect that Nasrin and I are in love. She worries, though, all the time. I tell her no one will know, that I will protect her, but when we kiss I can feel her tense. She keeps thinking about the two boys who were hung years ago in Mashhad.” When Nasrin’s family arranges for her to marry a doctor, Sahar considers taking extreme measures to continue their secret love.

In the book, Farizan, a gay woman born in Massachusetts to Iranian immigrant parents, explores the very serious subjects of homosexuality, gender identity, gender reassignment surgery, and other aspects of LGBTQ life in Iran with tenderness, intelligence, and humor. On September 10, Farizan will be at McNally Jackson with fellow novelists Hollis Seamon (Somebody Up There Hates You) and Amy Herrick (The Time Fetch) celebrating the launch of Algonquin Young Readers, with each of the writers reading from their works, speaking with AYR editor and publisher Elise Howard, and participating in an audience Q&A, followed by a signing. But first, Farizan took part in an exclusive twi-ny talk, discussing the book, her influences, her family’s reaction when she came out to them, and more.

twi-ny: If You Could Be Mine is a deeply intimate story about two very different girls. Would you say there are parts of you in each of them, or do you most closely identify with one of them?

Sara Farizan: I suppose I am more like Sahar but to be honest they are both really nothing like me. They are both a lot braver than I am; I’m a big scaredy cat. I think I know people that have elements of Nasrin’s personality, but I created them pretty much from scratch.

twi-ny: Sahar and Nasrin have to hide their love from their parents. You’ve stated that your own coming out to your family was very difficult. How is your relationship with them now, especially with the publication of the book, which explores some very complex themes that are rarely dealt with in YA novels and are often not discussed between parents and children?

Sara Farizan: My parents have been amazing and I am so lucky to have them in my life. I came out to them about ten years ago and it wasn’t always easy but they have never treated me differently and truly love me unconditionally. My mom is a big champion of the book and loves the idea that it might help other families discuss these issues. Dad still hasn’t read the book because I think he’s a little scared but he Googles me a lot, which I find adorable. I give them a lot of credit and am so proud of the growth they have shown in just ten years.

if you could be mine

twi-ny: You’ve traveled to your parents’ home country of Iran several times, including to research the book. How does the gay community over there deal with the apparent contradiction that the government openly supports gender reassignment surgery but outlaws homosexuality?

Sara Farizan: Well, I can’t speak for the whole community because it’s a country of 70 million people, but there are a lot of groups that have to deal with things privately. I think there is a huge distinction between gender identity and sexual orientation and everyone has their own opinion. I imagine it must be frustrating for both groups because the two have a tendency to get blended together.

twi-ny: What books and authors, either YA or adult, served as influences while you were writing If You Could Be Mine?

Sara Farizan: My mentor, Chris Lynch, is amazing and lovely. I read books by Deborah Ellis, Marjane Satrapi, Khaled Hosseini, Julie Ann Peters, Cris Beam, and many others.

twi-ny: How long did the research/writing process take?

Sara Farizan: It took me about two and a half years with all the research and finishing a final draft.

twi-ny: Your undergraduate degree is in film and media studies. Iran has a rich yet complex cinema history, with such directors as Jafar Panahi, Abbas Kiarostami, and Mohsen Makhmalbaf making often controversial films that sometimes get banned and can get them arrested. Did any specific Iranian films play a role in your research?

Sara Farizan: I’ve grown up watching a lot of Iranian films and they have kind of informed me about many issues that I may not have been privy to in my Western bubble. Some favorites include Children of Heaven, Santoori, Leila, No One Knows about Persian Cats, and the documentaries Be Like Others and The Iran Job.

twi-ny: On September 10, you, Amy Herrick, and Hollis Seamon will be featured at a launch party at McNally Jackson for the Algonquin Young Readers imprint. What’s it like to be part of this launch? What are you personal expectations for the event?

Sara Farizan: It is so surreal and I still can’t really believe it. I keep thinking someone is going to call me and say, “Actually we've made a mistake.” I love Algonquin Young Readers and I don’t want to ever disappoint them. I hope it will be a special evening and I hope people see how much passion we put into our novels.