Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Lucia Stacey

Lucia Stacey answers the door of her apartment in Brooklyn wearing a black kimono, but quickly changes into a black dress and offers me first a LaCroix, then a coffee. I cannot place her accent right away, but she soon tells me her long vowels are of English origin, her short ones from Atlanta, having grown up splitting her time between the two locations. She moved to New York to work in biodefense, a strange proposition for a person with a poetry degree, she tells me. But she has now for several years been on staff at the dating app Hinge, a workplace she loves dearly and where she was recently promoted to VP of Operations.

Lucia still writes poetry--she has been published in Tin House, The Chicago Quarterly Review, and others--and performs as part of The Poetry Brothel, an immersive literary and burlesque cabaret. Her character is Penelope Strangelight, “a chemist, but uses the Oxford English Dictionary in place of the Table of Elements, for when certain words are combined they can cause far more damage…”

In the last year or so, she’s also carved out another artistic niche for herself with what were first doodles but evolved into more defined drawings, sometimes bodies filled with inky swirls and geometry all erotic and feminine, sometimes a more demure teapot or collection of flowers done in gouache. Since she already has a salaried job, she says, she donates 50% of all the proceeds from her artwork to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence’s name. She has started completing commissions and has even made some of her drawings into wallpaper, which will be covering parts of the Hinge offices as they move into their new space.

Recently, Lucia has taken on another responsibility: becoming a “dog mum” to Hugo, a pughuahua (part pug, part chihuahua). At two years old, Hugo is tiny and fully grown, and to Lucia’s delight is more of a cuddler than a barker.

We sit on the floor of Lucia’s new apartment, which she has just begun outfitting with new furniture and artwork. Light shines in through the window despite the grey day, a sign bearing first the words “Pooch & Saullybear”--the nicknames for herself and her friend and roommate Saul--then the temperature and time until the next arriving L train. Polaroids dance on the wall, as do a Picasso print and some of Lucia’s drawings. There’s a bookcase filled with poetry and dried flowers. They’ll be getting a new couch soon, but in the meantime there’s a collection of colorful cushions and blankets in its place.

Saul comes home and cuddles Hugo. Today is Saul’s birthday, and Lucia blows up a plastic crown for him to wear. Lucia orders dim sum for breakfast then takes Hugo out for a walk, donning her Hinge baseball cap to brave the rain. She leaves it on when she comes back inside. Retrieving stemless wine glasses from the kitchen, she fills them with white wine for herself, Saul, and soon others.

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Firsts

After nearly eight years in New York, it’s a joy that some things are still new not just to me but to the people I love. Watching friends work hard for years on their dreams and seeing them come true is a gift I feel privileged to have seen first hand, these past few weeks especially.

*

The last week of April, I get a text from SW. He is making his Broadway debut as a conductor the following week, and would I like to attend? YES OF COURSE springs from my fingertips and into my phone, because how could I ever say no to something like that? He had been working on the show Escape to Margaritaville, the Jimmy Buffett musical, for a few years by this point, from its early stages to its placement on the Great White Way. I saw this kid work his way through Music Composition courses at our university, to the music staffs of shows like Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, and tonight he’d be in charge of an entire show’s orchestra. I wrote it down in my calendar in big letters: SW MARGARITAVILLE 8PM.

A few weeks earlier, he and I had dinner and drinks in Hell’s Kitchen to catch up; it had been a long time since just he and I had hung out. I heard about the work he had been doing at the show over guacamole and tequila, then the hopes he had for his career over whiskey. It’s like someone had heard him and then a few weeks later there all of us were in the audience of the show watching him.

In all manner of floral or beachy attire--Hawaiian shirts were requested as the show has a less formal atmosphere, to the point of having frozen margaritas at the concession, along with tiki torches and surfboards--we made our way up the escalator to the Marquis Theatre.

While the show was a bubbly ride of delightfully over-the-top song and dance, the best part by far was watching SW pop out from a tiki booth at the top of the stage at the end and wave to the audience in a bright aqua shirt printed with big pink flowers. I’m fairly certain I gasped and shouted YAY SW!!! much louder than one is actually supposed to do that while sitting on a red velvet seat in a theatre. My jaw fell open in wide-eyed amazement: that was my friend on the Broadway stage, whose compositions I had seen first in the student concert halls on campus and later in rehearsal spaces on 8th Avenue.

After the show, we all skittered over to the stage door and cheered wildly for SW, asking for autographs of our Playbills and beach balls while people stared, wondering who he was and taking pictures with their phones just in case. “HE CONDUCTED THE SHOW!!!” I said with glee to elderly women looking on next to us. A magical sparkly feeling ran through me, and I can only imagine how SW felt, having his parents and friends in the audience. I hope it’s the first of many Broadway appearances. And while I don’t wish I ever feel like his appearances aren’t special anymore, part of me hopes they happen often enough that hearing about them becomes old hat. Oh, SW’s conducting again? Well, that’s what he does, my friend the Broadway conductor.

*

While SC has been working in tech for a long time and is good at what he does, since I have known him he has had an artistic side that always lived in more of a hobby space. We met in college doing student theatre while he studied business, and once we moved to New York he worked with arts and gaming non-profits. In the last few years, however, he began taking playwriting classes, really pushing himself to sit in coffee shops and get writing done that he was proud of, thinking about unusual plots and nuanced characters and taking constructive criticism from his workshops.

I am not entirely sure how the play submission process works for workshopping in different theatres, but it happened that one of SC’s plays was accepted at Manhattan Repertory Theatre, a black box theatre in midtown. My jaw fell again with joy. When starting from scratch, everything is a little victory. Not to mention a few weeks earlier he had been granted a playwriting residency in Arkansas for the month of July. The big victories count too, of course…

So the night of the performance arrives, and up I go into a tiny elevator, into a tiny theatre stacked tall with rows of seats. SC’s play is the third of four plays that night, and the only comedy. Called “Et Tu, Padre?” it deals with polyamory and hypocrisy, but it really is funny. I knew SC could make me laugh, but writing comedy is so difficult that sometimes it can be like a game of telephone from the writer to the director to the actors. When the stars do align, though, it’s beautiful, as they do when watching SC’s play. It’s magnificent to see someone stretch their new and developing muscles in such a successful way, where they are nothing but potential. I shake my head again at the wonderfulness of being able to see such lives take shape. Even if something great happens or doesn’t happen in the long run, these are still the moments people look back at and think “I knew you when,” where you smiled and hugged your friends, their joy for the evening also yours. Later at the bar next to the theatre, I buy SC a beer in congratulation. Here's to many more, and may my bar tab runneth over.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Sarah Mucho

Sarah Mucho is having a cigarette on Allen Street. In an oversized denim jacket, a flowered top, and black washed jeans, she inhales. The traffic on the Lower East Side brushes past her, wind rushing through the blonde hair she’s pinned back with bobby pins so it falls gently around her face.

In an hour, the band The Sometime Boys, for which she is the lead singer and co-songwriter, will take the stage at Rockwood Music Hall. It is the second to last show for the bluegrass-country-soul-Americana-roots rock band after having been together for eight years.

Sarah moved to New York 18 years ago from Southern California, which wasn’t her scene. Originally she had been interested in being a musical theatre actor, but branched off into songwriting and singing in bands, prog-rock and pop rock alike. She has now sung all around New York in all manner of venues, from cabarets and piano bars to larger stages like Rockwood. For the last few years, she has spent her summers in Mykonos, where she sings four sets a night, seven nights a week, at The Montparnasse Piano Bar. She’ll be returning this July, and in the meantime hopes to finish recording a solo album.

Before all that, though, Sarah and the other members of The Sometime Boys gather in one of Rockwood’s adjoining bars for a few drinks. Sarah has a Miller Lite. She is nervous about remembering lyrics to some of the songs and repeats them to herself quietly while other members and their friends chat around her. She’s expecting to see a lot of friends and family in the audience tonight, which adds to her nerves. Time has ticked by. Making sure to stay inside the club’s black ropes outside, they move into Stage 2, where the show will be, and head to the Green Room.

The Green Room isn’t so much green as it is dark red with black fleur de lis, a single warm-toned light in the back corner against which someone has leaned their bass. Sarah does vocal warmups and puts on lipgloss while the band currently onstage finishes their set. She grabs her tambourine, shaker, and harmonica and brings them out into the venue, resting them by the bar, still reciting lyrics to herself. You can feel their start time approaching and Sarah turns to me: “Elyssa, do you have the time?” There’s just three minutes to go, and Sarah makes her way to the stage.

The lights are red as the other Sometime Boys take their place on stage: behind the drum kit, behind the bass, behind the piano, behind the guitar. But soon lights turn white and blue and the band begins. Sarah’s voice is like a combination of Grace Slick and Joni Mitchell, all earthy highs and soulful lows. Especially on their song “The Great Escape,” each lyric “fade away” is powerful and dramatic. They make their way through covers, “Summer Wind” among them, and original material. She doesn’t miss a lyric.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Hannah VanderPoel

Hannah VanderPoel tells me she is into old-timey tonics. Sitting down for breakfast at La Bergamote in Hell’s Kitchen, she pulls out two small vials of oil from her purse. One, Mustard, claims to relieve sadness that arises for no reason; and the other, Cherry Plum, is for when you “feel like you are going to ‘lose it.’” You put a few drops under your tongue but you have to be careful because they’re also 20% alcohol, she laughs. She opens the bottle and tilts her head back inconspicuously in the quiet restaurant, and I follow suit.

Hannah currently works in advertising at MTV, where she is the Editorial Director. The day we meet, her team is getting ready to pitch the promotional ideas they’ve conceptualized for the VMAs, which will happen later this summer. There’s a bunch of wacky ones, she says, but there are some that are of course a little more mainstream. For a while, Hannah also was the on-air voiceover artist for several MTV shows and ad campaigns, including the 2017 VMAs, Teen Mom, and Siesta Key.

Hannah is a writer by trade and had previously worked at The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon while freelancing for places like VICE and Funny or Die. She is also an illustrator and started drawing comics a few years ago, a perfect way to combine her love of comedy and her quirky drawing style. Inspired by everything from David Bowie and feminism to Waiting for Guffman and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, her humor is dry and dark and delightfully weird. It even led to work on a webseries that’s forthcoming. Perhaps accordingly, last October she also did several drawings of faux old-timey tonics filled with macabre plants, some of which included “McMalice’s Revenge Capsules,” “Doctor McMudgett’s Female Tonic,” and “Shrewcliff’s 100 Proof Death Elixir.” She hopes one day to have a graphic novel of her own.

Soon we are both diving into eggs and toast and berries and salad, me sipping coffee and her an orange juice. Do people even meet for leisurely breakfasts anymore? Soon it’s a bit too leisurely, though, and we depart so Hannah can be on time for The Big Pitch Meeting. We walk through Hell’s Kitchen and Hannah wonders what it would be like if we got rid of all the men for a day. Just one day. Then she says “Hey, take a picture of me in front of this pile of garbage!” so I oblige. On our way through Times Square to Viacom’s offices, Hannah muses on how her trips to work must be addling her brain--traipsing through throngs of tourists at some of the busiest hours of the day while surrounded by bright flashing lights all the time perhaps does not do wonders for one’s psyche, but maybe she won’t feel the effects until she’s older, she says, when suddenly she’ll start shaking for no reason. “It’s okay,” she imagines doctors saying. “She used to work in Times Square!”

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with a Concussion

Monday night was supposed to go a little differently, but a Hang Out subject canceled. I posted on social media calling for folks who might like to step in, but by the time I received responses the aching around the crown of my head--that I had woken up with that morning and had been present all day--had intensified. I knew if I left the house I’d hardly be able to move the next day, when I had to run around lower Manhattan for several hours. The pain started above my right ear, as it has since I first got a concussion in March, then swooped upward to my forehead and then around the back of my head. The feeling is similar to having been beaten upside the head with a baseball bat three weeks earlier. And then the sting forms itself into a throbbing ring of sorts, like the children’s arcade game where you press a button to stop a neon light in hopes of procuring a jackpot of tickets. Except there is no button to stop it.

And yet, somehow, I have never missed a deadline or an interview or work of any kind. Until now. Knowing my Tuesday evening was full, there would be no way for me to complete a Miss Manhattan Hangs Out this week unless I did one with myself. And maybe that might be interesting, spending my Tuesday setting up shots of myself in different locations around New York, but I knew I’d also have to carry my laptop to do work, and the thought of carrying both all day made my shoulders ache. What else could I do? I decided instead to take a bath and forget about it. But I am not, nor have I ever been, a person who can sit still.

I had an idea as hot water filled up the tub. These headaches had been an on-again, off-again experience since March, this throbbing pain that stops me in my tracks for hours at a time, and I was tired of it. I was frustrated and annoyed and I wanted to feel like myself, to move around the earth like I wanted to, without inhibition. There were a lot of good days, more than not, but it’s scary waking up every morning not knowing what it will feel like to lift your head off the pillow. Fuck it, I thought. It’s time to make some art out of this nonsense.

I lit the candles I kept in my windowsill and got my camera. Looking rather “oyskevepte katz” as my mother would say in Yiddish, meaning “wet cat,” I decided to document this moment, camera on remote shutter. Here I am, concussion headache in full swing. Seeing it now, it resembles (and feels?) like The Death of Marat a little bit. It’s not pretty or glamorous, there’s no makeup and my eyes are even a little swollen. But this is what it looks like when my concussion and I hang out.

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