Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Oriana & Laurel Leckert

When I walk up to Bushwick City Farm, Oriana Leckert is sitting on a handmade wooden patio having a cigarette. Today, she and her sister Laurel are helping out at the communally owned and operated farm on the corner of Lewis Avenue and Stockton Street in Brooklyn. Founders of the space wanted to grow food from the ground at the former gas station but discovered the soil was laughably bad and possibly toxic, so instead built upraised plots to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables. The produce is given to families from the area, many who live in government housing, and their children come to the farm to learn how food is grown. The day I’m there, Easter, tiny radishes have just made an appearance, various leafy greens have made their way through the soil, strawberry blossoms and plum blossoms have just emerged. There’s also a chicken coop from which fresh eggs are given away every Sunday. These chickens are from Brooklyn and they are Not Scared, especially not of my camera, into which they curiously poke their beaks.

Laurel wanders amongst the chickens. She got involved with the farm a few years ago. When she’s not there, she’s a program staffer at the Brooklyn Cooperative Credit Union. She also has a black belt in karate, teaches self-defense classes, and has worked as a bike mechanic. 

Oriana then dips Easter eggs in dye under the patio’s canopy. “I’m Jewish, I have no idea what I’m doing,” she laughs. Though Oriana came to the farm through Laurel, her usual habitat is one of the many quirky-wonderful independent, DIY, and underground art spaces in Brooklyn. She chronicled them in her phenomenal blog Brooklyn Spaces, which became a well-loved book in 2015 (especially by the French, who are apparently obsessed with Brooklyn—in addition to being sold in the U.S., it was sold at department store Le Bon Marché in Paris). 

The sisters are originally from the suburbs, specifically Fairfax, Virginia, but have been living in Brooklyn for almost 20 years. Despite being four years apart, they’ve mostly been very close, and never really went through an adversarial period as I’m told most siblings do. Together, they bike across the city, are involved in national and community activism, and are possibly each other’s biggest cheerleaders. I never had siblings, but if I did I’d hope for a relationship like theirs, a sibling who is also my friend. 

Soon, children come play on the farm and dip eggs for Easter with Oriana while Laurel fixes a bike. Once they’re dry, the sisters hide the eggs and the children go running in search of them, hoping for a prize. Once all the eggs are found, Laurel and the kids celebrate by jumping on a teeny trampoline and leaping through hula hoops. 

Later, after the children leave and the sky turns an ominous gray, the sisters peel the shells off the (hardboiled) Easter eggs to eat them, their hands turning blue and red from the dye. 

Follow Oriana on Instagram and Twitter.
Follow Brooklyn Spaces on Facebook and Twitter(Oriana's Instagram is also the Brooklyn Spaces Instagram).

Sunday, April 23, 2017

From Corgis with Love

There was a corgi meetup in Washington Square Park today, and huge crowds of people gathered around the Large Dog Park (you can't go in without a dog) to observe the mini-celebrities at play. SE and I were among them. What is happiness, really, if not a herd of corgis running at you full speed?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Scott Wasserman

Walking down a coral pink hallway, I’d feel like I was in a tropical ‘80s motel were it not for the framed posters upon posters from Broadway shows lining the walls.

I’m at Ripley-Grier Studios, where performers of all stripes can rent practice space. I’m looking for Studio M, and I’ve made several
wrong turns already. Is this what it felt like to be in A Chorus Line? Someone is singing operatically as I walk past yet another door until I see the room I’m looking for, open with a lone black upright piano. I wait for Scott and Douglas—I’m early, as usual.

Scott Wasserman and I have known each other for over 10 years—a dear friend from college, he’s an extraordinarily talented musician and composer. In the past few years, he’s been on the music teams for Broadway shows like the incredibly successful Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, and The Great Comet of 1812, among many others. His friend is Douglas Waterbury-Tieman, an actor and fiddler most recently in the cast of Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of The Robber Bridegroom, who is working on a new bluegrass musical. They’ll have Studio M to themselves for one hour.

When Douglas writes the songs, Scott tells me later via email, he just writes melodies and lyrics, occasionally with fiddle accompaniment. Douglas then sends recordings of himself singing the songs to Scott, who makes sheet music of them, including ideas for additional musical accompaniment like piano and guitar parts, and more. Tonight, Scott will play the sheet music for Douglas’s newest song and help him edit songs they’ve already worked on.

Scott sits behind the piano and gets out his laptop. With a software called Finale, he’s able to have instruments playing the accompaniments he’s written as he plays the piano parts for Douglas, who is smiling in amazement, as am I. My brain does flips as I’m understanding everything Scott has done—notated by ear not just a song, but a number of things the song could potentially do in the future. Music theory is completely foreign to me and even though this is apparently a very necessary skill for musicians like Scott to have, I am totally blown away.

At one point, Douglas brings out his fiddle to play along. Made of strawberry blonde wood, its name is Chauncey and it belonged to his great-grandfather. He picks it up in his hands and begins to play, and I have the worst visions of myself accidentally knocking it and breaking it into a thousand pieces. Luckily that doesn’t happen.

The clock approaches 7 and the next residents of Studio M let themselves in and begin setting up. Studio time and space is precious around here, it seems. Scott and Douglas finish up in the hallway and say their goodbyes. I tell Scott later about my experience before, if this is what A Chorus Line is really like. “It is!” he smiles. “The cast of the Sunset Boulevard revival is rehearsing down the hall.”

Follow Scott on Twitter and Instagram.