Entries in Time Out New York (5)


Time Out New York: Eve Ensler

June 8 - 14, 2006 issue

Antiviolent femme


Eve Ensler fights domestic violence with a citywide awareness festival.

Ten years ago, Eve Ensler stormed a New York stage to demand freedom for vaginas everywhere. Since then, she's been focusing on another type of female empowerment: freeing women from the dangers of domestic violence. After the success of The Vagina Monologues, Ensler launched the V-Day Foundation in 1998, an organization that raises money and awareness by producing benefit performances of The Vagina Monologues all over the world every February. (The V stands for victory, valentine and, of course, vagina.) Next week, she's focusing her mission here at home, where V-Day started, with Until the Violence Stops: NYC, a two-week five-borough arts festival that combines celebrity power with local activism.

"We want to essentially occupy New York," says Ensler, who spoke with TONY after a May 18 City Hall press conference announcing the event. To do that, Ensler dreamed up a festival of theater, spoken word, film and performance, and then used her reputation as a both a writer and actor to attract big-name talents. Jane Fonda, Phylicia Rashad and Marcia Gay Harden will read Ensler's 2001 play about women and war, Necessary Targets which kicks off the series on Monday 12. On June 19, writers Edwidge Danticat, Edward Albee, Howard Zinn and Alice Walker are among those who'll contribute original works to "A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer," where they will be read by Cynthia Nixon, Rosario Dawson and Isabella Rossellini. And on June 21, Salma Hayek and Rosie O'Donnell perform essays written by women in federal prisons across the country. Several other "marquee" events (as they're called on the website) feature similarly star-studded casts: Marlo Thomas, Idina Menzel, Kerry Washington and Brittany Murphy.

On the grassroots side, V-Day called on dozens of local groups to participate. The result is more than 35 community events, including a self-defense class on Wednesday 15, a panel discussion with women from global conflict zones on Tuesday 13 and a domestic-violence information forum on June 17.

And UTVS won't ignore the fellas. V-Day Men (a committee made up of male leaders in domestic-violence prevention, such as Jackson Katz, author of The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help) has developed "V-Day Men @ Work," a symposium that explores the roots of violence toward women The June 24 workshop also includes a creative session during which the guys will be encouraged to express their feelings about domestic violence and male gender roles. Then some of these works will be presented at It's Hard Out Here for a Girl" on June 25.

"V-Day was born in New York City, and Until the Violence Stops: NYC takes our message directly to the people of New York," Ensler told the crowd assembled at the press conference, which also featured Mayor Bloomberg. The city itself is helping to spread that message through its own subway and bus ad campaign that graphically depicts abused women. The statistics are even worse than the photos: One out of every eight homicides in New York City is due to domestic violence. "We can't hide from the brutality of these crimes," said Bloomberg.

V-Day's efforts are helping, though. Ensler noted that rates of rape went down in areas where V-Day has presented programs, and that the organization has also raised funds for community-abased antiviolence programs and safe houses in places as far-ranging as Kenya, Egypt, Iraq and South Dakota. "It's clear that we're having an enormous impact," she told the crowd. "But [violence against women] is still the issue that people get to later, when they're done with the other issues." Across the globe, Ensler has been inspired by thousands of women who have been victimized. "Instead of picking up AK-47s or machetes, they dedicate themselves to eradicating violence," she explains. "They're full of a wild, extraordinary energy. It's contagious." She's hoping this festival will fire up a similar ardor here at home.


Time Out New York: Tara Bracco

April 27-May 3, 2006 issue

Words Up

Politic and poetry collide at Tara Bracco's annual reading bash

Ten years ago, Tara Bracco, then a recent college grad, was miserable. She'd just been dumped by her first love, she was sleeping on her friend's floor, and she had no clue what to do with her life. But instead of taking a shitty temp job, she decided to figure things out on a cross-country tour: Armed with $600 and an Amtrak pass, she traveled through upstate New York, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, writing and performing new poems about gender equality and love. "I felt cradled by coffeehouses," she said recently when she met with TONY – appropriately enough at Mudspot café in the East Village.

Outspoken and politically-minded since her days as a self-declared high-school drama freak on Long Island, Bracco got hooked on performance poetry while she was a student at Marymount Manhattan College. Her countrywide journey allowed her to fuse her budding activism with her love of performance – and inspired her to work in the nonprofit sector when she finally settled back in NYC. She even spent a week at the Center for Popular Economics last summer – for fun.

And for the past four years, the self-proclaimed punk poetry princess has been returning the love she found in the nation's coffeehouses by nurturing local talent. On Thursday 27, she presents her fourth annual "Poetic People Power" event at the Nuyorican Poets Café, a project that combines literary performance and political activism in honor of National Poetry Month. Each year, Bracco chooses eight poets to write new works on a single issue (This year's theme is "Raise the Wage"). She acts as director, producer and host, structuring the poems into "sets." The readings draw a mixed crowd, from hard-core political activists to poetry-reading circuit regulars.

Bracco, 30, produced her first reading in 2003, in support of Poets Against the War. It went well, but she worried that the antiwar community would disperse when the war got off to a smooth start, so she decided to diversify into other causes. "Had I known how long [the war] would last, I might have kept organizing those events," she says. Instead, she used that first reading as a springboard to an annual series. Since then, while working various day jobs, she's produced two more "Poetic People Power" evenings dealing with, respectively, voting and democracy, and the environment.

To spark ideas for her poets' assignments, she compiles a resource list of websites, articles and other media. "You can't be truly enraged if you're not informed about the extent of the problem," she says. "Two-time participant Erica DeLaRosa says she appreciates the help. "It's a great motivator… . The commission pushes me to learn more about how these issues affect the world that I speak for."

Bracco says she chose the "Raise the Wage" theme because the working poor are among America's most disenfranchised – and least outspoken. "When people's basic needs aren't cared for, you won't hear voices speaking out. If I'm only eating a bagel a day, how does that make me feel empowered to change things?"

The Puffin Foundation recently gave Bracco a grant in support of this year's event. "The prestige and funding passes on to these new artists," she says. "It's not a 'me' project." This attests to the warm and respectful atmosphere she strives to create for her poets. Chris Martin, a recent winner of the prestigious Hayden Carruth Award and a participant in Bracco's readings since 2004, says, "Before Tara, I'd never done a reading where I hung out in a green room."

In the future, Bracco plans to produce a "Poetic People Power" CD, website, book and documentary – projects that will build toward her goal of creating an international community of political poets. "What we're doing is real and impactful. I have people writer me after the event and say, 'I went home and wrote a poem.' " She pauses, then lifts her hands and says, "Remember in seventh-grade chorus class, when we all hummed one note? I envision an activism that's a sustained hum. When one person drops out, you don't notice, because everyone else continues."

Time Out New York: Give 'em Hill

TONY Cover

August 25-31, 2005

Give 'em Hill

An obsessive collector and eccentric sisters share stories from their Brooklyn neighborhood.

Frank Cassa leans against his refrigerator and tries to push it aside, saying, "I want to show you this wall." The wall in question holds part of the world's largest spoon-rest collection (680 and counting), currently housed in his kitchen. Cassa's obsessive collecting has earned the energetic 88-year-old a day in the spotlight as part of Clinton Hill Art Gallery's "Summer Sizzle Series." On Sunday 28, Cassa – along with two other Clinton Hill characters, Joan and Margaret Vincent – will share firsthand accounts of the neighborhood's history.

"These chats are another form of art that we're bringing to the community," says gallery owner Lurita LB Brown. She began the series as a complement to her permanent exhibit of Brooklyn-based artists. "Older folks can chat it up for a long time," she says. The vivacious storytelling style of Cassa and the Vincent Sisters impressed her, inspiring an event called "I Remember When..."

The talk will take new residents and old-timers alike back to the time before Clinton Hill was an "it" neighborhood. What was once "Brooklyn's Gold Coast" because of its wealthy industrialist residents – most notably oil baron and Pratt Institute founder Charles Pratt – changed into a vibrant working- and middle-class neighborhood in the first half of the 20th century. Like neighboring Fort Greene, Clinton Hill lost much of its sparkle in the '70s and '80s. But as anyone who's tried to rent an apartment on DeKalb Avenue in the last few years will attest, the neighborhood is back in a big way.

Frank CassaAnd Cassa has been witness to Clinton Hill's evolution since he moved there in 1940. "My life has been very historical," he says, perhaps referring to his spoon rests, or perhaps his birthplace ("Union Street -- where Al Capone came from"). The spoon rest collection started in 1970, when Cassa's wife Katie – whom he met at a dance in Fort Greene Park in 1940 – brought home a sky-blue spoon rest from the couple's cruise to the Bahamas. After her death in 1992, Cassa continued Katie's collection to honor her memory. Friends and family brought home spoon rests from far-flung vacation spots – enough to garner Cassa a place in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1998. But he shares the glory with the woman who started it all, saying, "When I get to 700, I'm going to inscribe on Katie's tombstone – GUINNESS BOOK WORLD RECORD HOLDER."

The event's other speakers, Joan and Margaret Vincent, first met Brown when they came to her shop to have their baby pictures framed. The sisters – who always dress in color-coordinated outfits -- coyly eluded questions about the age of the photos, saying, "They've been around – well, since we were one."

Joan, who is about four years older than her sister, and Margie (with a "g" like "Fergie") have been turning heads in Clinton Hill since the 1930s, when their family moved to Brooklyn. "They love the diversity of the neighborhood -- they've never considered moving," says Peggy Sammis, Margie's goddaughter. They'll strike up a conversation with anyone, and have only one off-limits subject: baseball. Margie roots for the Mets, while Joan is a die-hard Yankees fan. Though they're Brooklyn gals at heart, the sisters are also world travelers. At press time, they were cruising to England on the Queen Mary 2.

For his part, Cassa has been starting a new adventure right at home. He recently fed $30 into the stamp machine at the post office just to collect the change. "The 2005 dollar coins were coming out. They'll be worth money! Let me tell you, I got the stamps for nothing." He pauses. "I called up Coin World and told them about me, and they're looking into it."


Time Out New York: The aud ball

June 16-22, 2005

The aud ball

"Audio is a different experience from print," says Karen Huyser, president of audiobook publisher Bolinda Audio. For example, you might actually finish Ulysses if you listened to the abridged CD. Skillful narrators and music make Joyce's notoriously difficult classic easier to digest. Huyser promises: "It's not cheating."

Just ask everyone else at the Audies held June 3 at Tavern on the Green. The awards for the audiobook industry were handed out at a black-tie dinner hosted by postmodern writer and narrator Neil Gaiman. "It's the moment of intersection between theater and the publishing world," he says, "where the Tonys meet the National Book Awards." Maybe. It's certainly true no one was watching. Audies were given out in 31 categories, including Audiobook of the Year, which went President Bill Clinton's self-narrated My Life.

Authors often record their own books, says Gaiman (whose reading of his own work Coraline was nominated last year), and when outside narrators are used, the author approves them. This year's winner Johnny Heller says he "goo-goo-ga-ga-ed on the phone to the author for 45 minutes" to win the title role in The Happiest Toddler in the World. What does the Audie mean to Heller? "It validates my decision to wear a tux tonight."

Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva of The Kitchen Sisters flew in from San Francisco for the ceremony. "I consider myself a siren luring people into the world of sound," says Nelson. Their Audie-winning Lost and Found Sound and Beyond was adapted from a book adapted from their radio program on NPR's All Things Considered, a circle that makes them laugh.

Gaiman envisions an exciting future for this genre. He recently ripped several audiobooks onto his iPod and then played it on shuffle. "One minute you're listening to Seamus Heaney reading Beowulf and the next it's Jim Broadbent reading Winnie the Pooh. It's brilliant."


Time Out New York: Dumpster Diving 2.0

Time Out New York CoverMay 12-18, 2005

Dumpster Diving 2.0

Freecycle NYC lets you give as good as you get

Tired of watching dogs pee on that sofa you put out on the curb? Join Freecycle, a national online movement that reduces waste by gifting. "New Yorkers produce 13,000 tons of garbage daily, nearly one ton per Freecycler," says Christina Salvi, who founded a local chapter, Freecycle NYC, in 2003. The group, which now has 14,000 members, connects givers with getters via e-mail. Just join their free Yahoo group and start giving (sign up at freecycle.org). I easily gifted a printer and a suitcase in 24 hours. Posts must be legal, G-rated and, above all, free. It beats Craigslist's "Free" board because "it's more like a community with a cause," says Salvi.

TONYAlastair Ong, an e-commerce entrepreneur whose prize "get" is an industrial microwave, loves Freecycle's e-mails because "you never know what's going to pop up." He's not kidding—daily posts range from Baywatch Barbies to bicycles. Sandrine, a 32-year-old recycling enthusiast ("even my toothbrush is recycled plastic!") who didn't want to give her last name, recently scored an ice-cream maker. Yolanda Brooks is a die-hard Freecycler. She's given and gotten almost 300 items, including her favorite score: a bag of designer shoes.
On Saturday 14, the group hosts its third Freemeet, which is like a spring-cleaning love-in. "You bring what you have, and take what you need," Salvi explains. "Everyone's really friendly."

The strangest offer Salvi has seen? An antique dentist's drill. Still, it found a home: "It was turned into someone's Halloween display."