Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Ryan Raftery

In Ryan Raftery’s suitcase, there’s a sensible pair of wedges, a heap of plastic fruit, a bag of herbs meant to look like weed, an apron, Twinkies, and god knows what else. They’re all props and/or costumes the actor and comedian needs for his Joe’s Pub performance of a show he also wrote, The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Martha Stewart, an 85-ish minute musical based on the (in)famous entrepreneur.

Ryan was born and raised in Brooklyn’s Mill Basin neighborhood and studied theatre at NYU. He began making a splash in New York’s theatre scene with one-man shows, but it was his one-man musical about Anna Wintour, Ryan Raftery Is the Most Powerful Woman In Fashion, that began drawing attention from publications like The Cut, Women’s Wear Daily, Paper, the New York Daily News, and countless others. Wintour sent him a pair of her sunglasses in recognition of his work. He followed up with a show about Bravo’s Andy Cohen--Ryan Raftery’s Watch What Happens — Live on Stage! (Cohen sent flowers)--and completes his “Titans of Media” trilogy with this show about the queen of home entertaining.

The show chronicles Stewart’s life growing up in New Jersey to her time on Wall Street, to the boom, bust, and reinvigoration of her empire. Ryan parodies pop songs to tell her story, like Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain,” Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk,” Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know,” Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love,” and more. Ryan spent nine months researching Stewart, talking to people Stewart knows directly, and learning to imitate her speech pattern and mannerisms. Stewart’s colleagues have come to the show already and left flabbergasted, saying “That’s so Martha!”

Before the show, Ryan sucks on cough drop after cough drop to ready his voice while setting his props onstage--the Twinkie goes with two massive, faux joints that will be consumed later with the actor playing Snoop Dogg; a set of cards bearing Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief goes on the table, “denial” on top; a red apron bearing a white, embroidered ‘M’ is stationed close by.

Then, with the help of makeup artist Kasey Spickard and wigs by Marty Thomas, Ryan begins to morph into Martha. He sips Earl Grey tea with honey while Kasey applies a thick layer of foundation, contours cheekbones for the gods, darkens eyebrows, paints lips raspberry, and whisks Ryan’s already long eyelashes into boldness with mascara. After donning a denim shirt, a quilted hunter green vest, khakis, those sensible wedges, and a blonde wig, she’s a vision realized. Showtime approaches. Ryan warms up his voice and the dressing room is filled with operatic vocalizations.
On stage, Ryan’s luxurious baritone resounds through the space, his expressive face somehow both genuine and campy under a perfectly primped blonde wig. It is such a gift to be watching him send up this oh-so-serious public figure with such care, attention to detail, and love. Martha is a force to be reckoned with. But so is Ryan Raftery.

See Ryan perform The Rise and Fall (And Rise) Of Martha Stewart in Los Angeles from November 5-7 at Rockwell Table and Stage.
Follow Ryan on Twitter and Instagram.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Queens of Rockaway

It’s a blustery day as Mag and I board the new(ish) NYC Ferry to the Rockaways at Pier 11 in Manhattan. Wind flaps loudly, deliciously through our hair and sunglasses, and it’s cool enough to wear a sweater. The sky practically is cloudless, just that bright swath of never-ending blue so beautiful Crayola can’t help but name crayons after it. Mag’s scarf, wrapped with effortless chic around her neck, blows in the breeze and she looks like a European model off-duty. I stand next to her holding onto the railing in cutoff shorts and my mother’s college sweater, feeling Gidget-esque. 

I’m well aware this may be my last beach trip of the summer, because isn’t that always how Labor Day goes—we and 498 of our closest friends have piled into this ferry to feel the sun’s rays on our faces by the sand once more, before the obligations and occupations of fall tie up our weekends until summer comes along again in a year. 

For the price of a subway ride ($2.75, for those outside of the boroughs), the ferries make the trip to the beach at the far reaches of Queens a far more palatable experience than it had been for some of us (namely, me) previously. I remember the first time I went to Rockaway Beach I took the A train, which was an interminable ride through the bowels of first Manhattan and then Brooklyn and finally, good ol’ Queens with at least two switches in between to get on the “right” A train or transfer to the Rockaway shuttle. The prospect of going there left me to the beaches of South Brooklyn, Brighton Beach, Coney Island, and my beloved Manhattan Beach. But given the new ferry, I was eager for a day trip of sorts—the Rockaway Ferry takes about an hour, and you can sit on the top of the boat in the sunshine. Normally it stops first at a pier in Sunset Park, but when we took it on Labor Day weekend it was running express, so it took less than an hour. Friends recently took the A from Washington Heights-ish to get there, and I love them dearly but they did it wrong. To be on the boat feels like being a 1950s glamazon driving a convertible, cat-eye sunglasses, headscarf, lipstick and all. It is not, to say the least, a feeling one gets on the subway. 

Docking at Beach 108th Street in the Rockaway, the sun has risen a little higher in the sky and it’s time to put away my mother’s sweater. We make our way to a Brazilian luncheonette close by, Beach Bistro 96, which serves up modern takes on Brazilian classics in a tiny room patterned with palm leaves. We munch on decadent pão de queijo, fluffy balls of cheese bread, then dive into mushroom quinoto and tapioca, a sort of small Brazilian crepe made of tapioca flour. 

Tummies full, we make our way to the beach and set up shop. And by shop I mean a place that doesn’t have too many people where we can lie down and talk or not talk, getting crispy tan from the sun. Mag lays down a Bloomingdale’s towel from perhaps the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, a “Gold Card” that makes me smile. “Usually I get made fun of for bringing this towel places,” she tells me. “But I was like, I’m seeing Elyssa, it’s fine.” Happiness is having friend who understands, no? 

And our day goes as planned. We talk and don’t talk, I fall asleep, we talk and don’t talk some more. There’s great joy in being able to just sit with another human being and enjoy your surroundings. I think it’s when we get to that point that we don’t have to question our friendships anymore, living in a comfortable silence that doesn’t need to be broken. 

I get a little crisper from the sun than I intend, plus the tide is creeping up to us ever closer. We depart and head for something sweet at the newly-minted food counters built after Hurricane Sandy destroyed whatever was there before. Mag opts for a root beer float and I nibble on a fruit juice popsicle while we listen to the DJ’s eclectic mix and men from a local labor union dance and sip beer in their folding chairs or both. 
Back on the boat later, my skin is warm from the sun. The moon appears over Red Hook as we ferry past, the Statue of Liberty behind us and Manhattan in our midst once more. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Gaby Dunn & Allison Raskin

As I walk down 23rd Street, clouds hang in the sky, unavoidable gloom everywhere until I see the fabulous marquee at the Gramercy Theatre: Gaby Dunn & Allison Raskin.

The comedy duo, who rose to popularity via their zany, odd couple-esque advice and sketch show  “Just Between Us” on YouTube, are making the second stop on a U.S. tour promoting their new book I Hate Everyone But You, published on September 5 by Wednesday Books, a new division of St. Martin’s Press. The book has become an Amazon bestseller, praised by Publisher’s Weekly for its humor, multifaceted characters, treatment of friendship and queer-friendly storytelling.

“Just Between Us” currently has over 750,000 subscribers on YouTube (and more than 100 million views). Gaby and Allison—known as Gallison by fans—both write and star in the show, with Allison as a quirky neurotic and Gaby as an equally quirky laissez-faire libertine. They speak honestly (and hilariously) about everything from sexuality to gender identity to crushes and more. Their work on the show has led to pilots developed with MTV, FX, 20th Century Fox, and YouTube Red, as well as inclusion in the Tribeca Film Festival’s new Digital Creators Market and the Sundance Institute | YouTube New Voices Lab. “Just Between Us” has also been featured in Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Entertainment Weekly, and countless others.

Though the duo is based in L.A. currently, where they met, Allison is originally from Westchester County, New York and Gaby is originally from South Florida. They’ve built their empire in just three years, but are still kind and genuine to everyone whose paths they cross, attentive to their obligations, conscious of both their time and others’, especially as they make their way through their commitments backstage at Gramercy Theatre, running through the shows’ cues, autographing copies of their new book, talking to friends and agents.

Soon the show begins and the theatre is filled with an excited, delighted crowd. The show, which includes a totally improvised advice segment, also features Allison’s standup and Gaby’s storytelling, as well as never-before-seen videos, a reading from the new book, and more. One of the many wonderful things about the show is how Gaby and Allison make each other laugh in addition to the whole room.

Their Meet & Greet with fans is after the show, where they’ll sign books individually, chat, and take photos. Some fans even bring them gifts, like homemade jewelry and a painting. One fan, Grady, comes in with a parent. Grady has just begun high school that week after successfully starting a Gay-Straight Alliance in middle school and looks up to both of them, beaming while standing in front of them. “Thank you ladies for all you do,” Grady’s parent says, and I bite my lip to keep in tears that have welled up in my eyes. In a world that can be so unkind, it’s so beautiful that Gaby and Allison have created something that can have such a positive impact on a young person’s life.

On Instagram, follow Gaby and Allison.
On Twitter, follow GabyAllison, and Just Between Us.
On Facebook, become a fan of Just Between Us.Subscribe to Just Between Us on YouTube.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Cecilia Salama

I've never seen Michelangelo's David in person, but I can only hope it looks as cool as it does on Cecilia Salamas hot pink socks when she shows up for basketball practice on Canal Street. Cecilia has been playing with Downtown Girls Basketball, a women’s only pickup team made of primarily artists, writers, and photographers, for several years. She is herself a multimedia artist whose work has been featured in Purple, i-D (in an article by yours truly, which is how we met), Hyperallergic, The New York Observer, and more. She also works full time as a Production Artist for a luxury jewelry brand.

The team is running drills when Cecilia arrives. Sunlight begins to fade slowly on the nearby Hudson River as the pickup games start, five on five, girls speeding up and down the pavement while Beyoncé and Cardi B play on someone’s speakers. They clap for each basket (Cecilia gets a couple of them for her team). Cars stream past on 6th Avenue. Soon it’s dark and players spill off into the night, lit by bright orange bulbs from a factory nearby.

We head to her studio in Queens. She has a new show called Displaced Desire” opening at LVL3 Gallery in Chicago with another artist later this month. Cecilia’s work for this show comments on long distance relationships, unfulfilled wants, impermanence, and more. While some of her work is multimedia sculpture with unusual materials like latex and plastic sheeting, she doesn’t like to limit herself to one medium and also brings video, painting, and installation into her projects.

The floor of Cecilia’s studio is dotted with splashes of paint and resin, boxes of tools and fabric and rope. Suspended from the walls with orange bungee cord is a swath of fluffy pink fabric. Plastic sheets are nailed to the walls as well, drawn on with crayon, painted on with metallic pastel paint, tied up with rhinestone collars or belts. Hearts made of digital images collaged together have the words “I Want” written on them. Shallow, square plastic trays are filled with paint waiting to dry around Ziploc bags of animal figurines. Cecilia changes clothes and begins painting then repainting different sheets, clawing at the metallic pastel pink with both her hands and a paintbrush. “No,” she says to herself, then takes the nail out of the sheet and replaces it on the wall. This time the placement works and she begins hammering the sheet again, the “I Want” collage in a different location than before. “Okay,” she says. “That’s good.”

She grabs another piece, a sheet hardened into sculpture and painted with a pale pearlized pink, and heads for the elevator. This one won’t go to Chicago. She is nervous about transporting some of her pieces—How do you protect plastic sheeting from being ruined in a suitcase? What if the colored paints peel off or the homemade airplane stickers get torn in transit?—but she seems calm and laughs quietly through a smile: “I’ll just…figure it out.”

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