Sunday, July 15, 2018

An Abundant Life - Photographic Memory

A few months ago I went to see a play that an Actress I've known for a number of years was in. She is a very special person to me, and a wonderful actress, not only to watch but to work with, and I know how great she is because I've been on stage with her before. When I heard she was in a new play and I started reading about it, I told her that I wanted to go to a performance and write about it in my blog if possible. She invited me to the invited dress rehearsal, and helped to connect me with the publicist, and so I went to see what turned out to be an extraordinary play and had the chance to meet with the Playwright and Director and write about it. On the night of the invited dress as I was waiting for the play to start, I saw a man who I recognized in the audience. He seemed to recognize me and said hello, and though I couldn't quite place him I had the feeling he was an Actor or Director or someone else who was involved in some way with the production, and as we talked and tried to figure out how we knew each other, I asked him his name and he said, "Gerry Goodstein," and before he could quite finish his explanation that he was the photographer for the play, I finished his sentence for him and said, "You're Gerry Goodstein the photographer who used to work with Circle Rep."

That was the beginning of a much longer conversation, because Circle Rep is one of the dearest places to my heart and soulful beginnings of living in New York City. As I have written in other posts before, when I first moved to Manhattan I had an internship with the Circle Repertory Company, at the time one of the greatest, and honestly I think the greatest, of the theatre companies in New York City. There are so many stories and so much of my personal history that is tied up with the people I knew and the plays I was a part of that I could write a book, and so whenever I have the pleasure to see someone from those wonderful days I could reminisce for hours. But because we were at another theater and another play and the lights would be going down any moment, we held off our longer conversation until another time. That night I had the beautiful experience of watching a beautiful and powerful play that was so well acted and directed and designed that it was breathtaking and deeply moving. In addition to watching that beautiful play, I was able to experience the additional beauty of watching Gerry Goodstein photograph the actors during the action of the play. I had seen him do just that so many times over the years gone by that it was familiar to me in a way that felt like home. He's a marvelous photographer, but it is also the way he moves with the actors, almost dancing as he finds the perfect moments with care and tenderness that create images of extraordinary intimacy. If you've ever seen great theater photography, chances are you've been looking at Gerry Goodstein's work.

When we followed up, I discovered that his first love was acting, and he is very well trained and passionate about the work of an actor. In speaking with him over a late lunch that stretched into dinner time, it started to make perfect sense to me why it was that he is able to work with actors in the way he does, getting on stage with them in a way that could be distracting if it was someone else. He told me that it had been an Artistic Director of a theater company that had first encouraged him to do that, and because of his sensitivity to other people, he was hesitant at first, and it was that sensitivity that helped him to take those steps and feel intuitively how to work with actors in that way to bring the most powerful work they were doing right into and through the camera lens.

It is also that extraordinary sensitivity that makes him an excellent actor. I had not ever seen his work on stage or film before, and I asked him if there was any way I could. He connected me with Clara Dubau, the Director of a student film he had just recently completed, and she gave me access to view it. Titled "Fabula Rasa," it is an intensely moving piece, and Gerry's work in it is so powerfully and deeply real and moving that the character comes alive in the way that only actors who take their craft seriously and have the commitment to apply technique to their skill can do. The film itself is beautifully and carefully crafted, and the experience of watching it was a powerful one. I have added some screen shots below, and it's a wonderful testament to his work to compare those with the photographs I took of Gerry when we met at a diner on the Upper West Side. It is the same person, but not the same - it could be an identical twin with a completely different personality. That is the power of actors who have learned their craft and respect the painstaking process of building a character, and it is his love and respect for the work and the process that helps Gerry Goodstein work with actors as a photographer and bring their stories and vision alive.

Gerry Goodstein On The Upper West Side

A Selection Of Theater Photography
Photographs Courtesy Of Gerry Goodstein

"King Lear"
Connecticut Repertory Theatre

Fordham University Theatre Company

"The Trial"
Phoenix Theatre Ensemble
*PHNX_ The Trial.psd

"Rosemary And Time"
Independent Production
*INDY_Rosemary and Time.psd

"Guys And Dolls"
Papermill Playhouse
*PMP_Guys and Dolls.psd

"The Belle Of Amherst"

"Murrow's Boys"
Irondale Ensemble

"The Skin Of Our Teeth"
Theatre For A New Audience
*TFANA_The Skin of Our Teeth.psd

"Trip To The Moon"
Paper Bag Players
*PBP_Trip to the Moon.psd

"The Taking Of Miss Janie"
New Federal Theatre
*NFT_ The Taking of Miss Janie.psd

Dorset Theatre Festival

"Florinda's Time"
*SP_Florinda's Time.psd

"Lenin's Embalmers"
Ensemble Studio Theatre

"The Screwtape Letters"
Fellowship For The Performing Arts

"Single Black Female"
New Professional Theatre
*NPT_Single Black Female.psd

"Polaroid Stories"
Marymount Manhattan Theatre Company

"A Streetcar Named Desire"
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
*STNJ_ A Streetcar Named Desire.psd

"Halcyon Days"
Oberon Theatre
*OBERON_Halcyon Days.psd

Screenshots From Film
"Fabula Rasa"
Directed By Clara Dubau


Jannie Susan

Sunday, July 8, 2018

An Abundant Life - Verdure

Gennaro Brooks-Church is an artist. When I met him at the New York Build Expo a few months ago, I was drawn into his display, not just because it was a living wall, but because the way it was constructed and the plants growing in it were extraordinary. I am a gardener, and I love plants of all kinds. I grow indoors and outdoors, and though there are plants that are advisable to only be grown in certain areas, I love them so much I'm always trying to grow them where maybe they might not usually be. I'd never seen a living wall with orchids growing out of it before I saw the living wall that Gennaro Brooks-Church had created for the Expo, and I was drawn to those favorite plants of mine like a moth to a flame. I started taking photos, and explained that I was planning to post a few photos on Instagram from the Expo, but only those things that really caught my eye because there were so many excellent vendors there. Instagram is a wonderful tool, but it's a strange and surprising one in that sometimes the things I think will look great just don't translate. But I knew that a living wall that was as striking as the one I was looking at would be an eye catcher for more people than me, and so I asked if I could have a business card because I wanted to follow up with a blog post if he had the time to meet again.

When I went out to the address he'd given me in Brooklyn, I expected to be visiting his workshop studio. I was, but it is also his home, in a brownstone that I recognized not just because of the address I'd been given but because of the Koi pond with turtles out front and the living wall growing on the side of the building. It was still a bit cool, and the day was rainy, but everything looked thriving and full of life. And that was just the beginning - when I went inside, there were more living walls indoors, and then Gennaro took me out to the back yard terrace that overlooked a fresh water swimming pool with an adult sized child's dream of a treehouse just beyond, with a variety of blooming spring and early summer plants beginning to bud, thriving and cascading in a gorgeous array of living colors and textures, seemingly wild, while being gently landscaped to reach their full potential on the canvas of the back yard.

My grandmother used to tell me stories about growing up in Manhattan on Hudson near Gaansvoort Street, above the bakery that her father owned and all nine children worked in. In those days there were no trees lining the streets the way they do in the West Village now, and when the family moved out to Brooklyn, she told me how surprised she was to see so many trees. She used to sit on her stoop and look at her surroundings thinking, "There must be more to life than this," and I think if she had ever met Gennaro Brooks-Church, she would have experienced the more that she was looking for.

As I began to write this piece and tried to think of a title, the first word that came to my mind was verdant. There is something about the spaces and even the individual walls that Gennaro creates that makes me think about the rich greens of nature in all their many hues. But that didn't seem enough, and then I started to think about adding the word luxury, but somehow that didn't seem right either. Although it is a luxurious experience to wander in Gennaro's back yard and his rooftop where he has a cascading fountain waterfall, what he is doing is bringing that luxury into every day settings and helping to bring us back to the place where we are connected to the earth around us. As I wrote a few weeks ago when I was writing about the artist Sandra DeSando, there have been studies done that show that the more time we spend in nature, even just simply breathing in the air and scent of dirt, the more positive our outlook, the less stress we feel, and the healthier we are in mind, body and spirit. That shouldn't be a luxury, it should be something available to us all, and Gennaro Brooks-Church has the ability to build living walls and green roofs, and to create environments that help us to get back to nature in the surroundings of our urban life. He can also build walls that are gardens, able to feed families during winter months or any months in the city, and he is able to design living walls for out-of-doors and building facades that will winter over and renew in spring. Originally a photographer, he has the eye and creative mind of a visual artist. Not only are the pieces and spaces he creates beautiful, vibrant and unique, they are practical and environmentally sound because he uses reclaimed wood and recycled materials and has developed a system that makes them easier to maintain and healthier over the long term.

For someone like me who loves plants and gardening, or for someone like my grandmother who knew that the trees around her in Brooklyn were just the tip of a verdant iceberg, Gennaro Brooks-Church has the ability to bring us all to a healthier space. And that's why I finally settled on the word verdure - when you look it up the first definition is lush, green vegetation, and the second, the fresh green color of vegetation. The third is a condition of freshness. Then you find greenness, especially of fresh, flourishing vegetation, and then freshness in general, flourishing condition, vigor. All of those things roll into the expression of health and well-being that you find in the spaces that Gennaro Brooks-Church creates, and as much of a language lover as I am, I also like the sound of the word and the echoes of ancient civilizations within its Latin roots. Verdure it is and because of its verdure it will stand, vigorously thriving and growing and bringing health and healing to us all.

Gennaro Brooks-Church
At Eco-Brooklyn

A Natural Fresh Water Swimming Pool

An Urban Oasis

Room For The Family Dog To Explore

Painting Indoor Tapestries With Verdant Life 

Living Walls And Green Environments
For Every Space
Photographs Courtesy Of
Gennaro Brooks-Church

Preparing The Rooftop Waterfall
For Warmer Weather

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn
With Abundance

A Treehouse Built For Gardeners
And Nature Lovers Of Any Age


Jannie Susan