Sunday, October 28, 2018

An Abundant Life - The Power Of Theater

From a very early age, as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an actress. I'm not sure exactly when I got the idea, but there was a family friend whose glamour and poise and presence along with a certain sense of mystery and romance about her who gave me a glimpse of what I wanted to have in my own life. She was an actress, a normal every day working actress - she did summer stock and community theater and appeared in the occasional local tv ad or late night movie, and because up until the time I met her it had not occurred to me that an actor could be an actor without being famous, the very fact of her glamorous life was so attractive to my little girl's mind that I decided that's what I wanted to be. In recent years I've started to understand that part of the reason I wanted to be an actress was because I loved theater - a few years ago I discovered an old journal in the house I grew up in and realized that even longer than I've been an actress I've been a writer, and I began to remember and look back on those long ago years and understand that it was the writing of plays that in part led to my wanting to produce them, and in wanting to produce them I wanted to be in them because it was a wonderful thing to do. These days I don't act as much as I used to - when someone needs a hand with something I'll gladly do readings and parts in plays and in films - but the writing is the thing that has stuck firm with me all of these years, and it's through the writing that I often find myself judging performances I see. A great actor can make a not-so-great play tolerable, but even a not-so-great actor can't ruin a great play. And if you're lucky enough to find great writing and great acting together, you're in for a treat of a lifetime.

I had that experience recently when I went to see a reading of a new play by the actor and writer Daniel Damiano. I had been invited by the actress Judith Barcroft, whose amazing work I wrote a bit about in this blog earlier this year when I wrote about the playwright Jennifer Fell Hayes and her beautiful play "Rosemary and Time." As I wrote in that post, the play, the Director and Actors, and every part of the staging was astonishingly excellent. The Director for Daniel's play was Kathy Gail MacGowan who had directed "Rosemary and Time" so beautifully, and I knew it would be a wonderful evening because as I've written before, if Judith Barcroft is involved it's always something amazing and memorable, but as with "Rosemary and Time" I was not prepared for the profound experience I had that night. Daniel Damiano's play was deeply moving, thought provoking and funny - the type of piece that makes you think, surprises you by laughter, and stops you in your tracks with the emotional life that brings you to tears. His work touched something very deep in me, and after the reading I asked if we could meet again so I could write about him. He was in the process of preparing for a performance of a one man show he had also written, and he and Judy Alvarez, an actress who is the Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of their company fandango 4 Art House, invited me to see it.

"American Tranquility" is a play that you don't want to miss. It was in a short run when I attended, and at the end of the evening Daniel told the audience that the play will be extended for a few more weekends through the month of November. Go see this play. There is so much that is so excellent and inspiring - it is not just the fact that his acting is first rate and his writing top notch - the content touches at the heart and soul of so many important topics that are a resonant part of our lives today, and he gives life to the four characters he portrays with deep understanding, humor, pathos and love. Each character is so diverse and so richly imagined and embodied that we begin to feel as if we know these people. In his writing and his performance there are so many nuances of emotion and understanding and empathy, things that are sometimes lacking in characterizations of people from backgrounds and philosophies that we may not share. To be able to express their inner life with such grace and to bring humor and compassion to their stories helps us all to consider ourselves and the others around us in a deeper and more meaningful way that can lead to a better understanding of the world we live in and the things that affect us all in a myriad of ways. Something very powerful can happen when we experience theater like this. We can find ourselves learning something new and opening our minds and hearts to the experiences of others which in turn can help us to learn how to navigate our shared experiences and open up a space for dialogue and healing.

There is a mantra that Daniel read when I went to see the reading of his play, and he read it again after his performance in his one man show. He had written it after the election of 2016 and had read it as part of an evening he had produced at that time, and he has continued to include it in his performances ever since. I'm including it here because it is such a beautiful piece to share, and it will give you a glimpse into the mind of this intensely talented and inspiring artist.

A Mantra by Daniel Damiano

Now more than ever, we need this –
to be in a room, together.
To share something, together.
Well beyond the acerbic tweets,
the cyber jabs,
the bumbling bumper sticker catch-phrases.
We are individuals, after all.
We have our own lives,
our own loves,
and our strength lies with each other
in a room, together.
Sharing something, together.

Not a lonely forest, where no one can hear a fallen tree,
but a room with all of us alive to hear and see everything.
This is how mountains are moved,
voices are heard.
How the earth’s rotation can be changed for the better,
as long as we don’t succumb to sadness.
For, in the end,
our life is not reduced to the victory of certain individuals;
we are bigger than this,
and the fact that you are here speaks volumes.
It echoes off the skyscrapers like a canyon.
It is our victory.

And while I can further ado to the cows come home,
until the sun comes up,
for as long as the buffalo may roam,
I’ll instead conclude, simply,
and say that we are so glad that you are here –
with us,
in a room, together.
Sharing something, together.

Now…more than ever.


I couldn't agree more. If it's a play by Daniel Damiano, and if he's in it, we need to be in that room.

Daniel Damiano
In His Play
"American Tranquility"
Directed By Kathy Gail MacGowan
Photographs And Images Courtesy Of Daniel Damiano
Photo Credit Gerry Goodstein

Daniel Damiano
An Actor And Playwright
Sharing Some Time In Madison Square Park
After A Performance By Dianne Wiest
Of Selections From Samuel Beckett's "Happy Days"

The East Village Playhouse
340 East 6th Street
New York City


Jannie Susan

Sunday, October 21, 2018

An Abundant Life - Creating Space

As I've written in these pages before, I met the marvelous Artist Norman Kirby because of a beautiful work of art of his I saw before I knew who had created it. I was walking by a chain link fence in the Newport area of Jersey City, and I saw something different and more wonderful than I'd ever seen on a fence before. I lived in Manhattan for many years and had seen street art and graffiti art that was beautiful, engaging, provocative and truly astonishing, but I'd never seen anything as lovely and whimsical while at the same time being as powerful as the piece I saw on the fence that day. It was so amazingly beautiful that I took a photograph of it because I wanted to be able to print it out one day and frame it, and when I got home I kept thinking about it, so I decided to post it on Instagram. At the time I had mainly been posting photos of people I knew and home furnishings or fashion items that I had found or that had been given to me or that had been bought from thrift stores or vintage stores, artisans or boutiques - people or places and things that were a part of my experience in daily life. This was the first time I posted a work of art that I didn't know anything about, and so I simply put the caption, "Unexpected Beauty" along with the location and the words, "Unknown Artist." A friend who saw the post tagged Norman Kirby, on Instagram @normkirby, so I added the tag to the post. And then a few weeks later when I was visiting with that same friend in the coffee shop he ran at the time over on Bergen Avenue, someone came in to talk to him who I recognized as Norm Kirby from his Instagram page and I introduced myself as the person who had taken the photo and tagged him. As I wrote in a previous blog post about him, he is a very nice person, very humble and very kind, and though I was very effusive about how much I loved his work, he just kept saying thank you as if it was something he couldn't believe anyone would like so much. The truth about Norm Kirby is that everyone loves his work - people who know who he is and people like me who see his work all say "I love that guy!" whenever his name or the work he does comes up in conversation. After meeting him I started photographing his pieces all over town and posting them whenever I had a good photo to share. Eventually I started to post the work of other artists and to write about them when I was able to meet them in person, and it was that piece of Norman Kirby's that inspired me to expand my Instagram posts to include them and started that phase of my blog.

Over the years since I met him, I've written about his work and visited his studio, and I've seen him at different openings and events around town. Recently I ran into him at the closing party for JCAST, the Jersey City Art & Studio Tour, when he was wearing a t-shirt he had hand painted with one of his designs. I love all of the phases of his work, and I'd heard about the t-shirts from another artist friend who also admires him - he has many admirers because his work brings joy to so many people all over the area. I told him I wanted a t-shirt if he had any more left, and as we talked he told me that he'd started a gallery near the location of that other friend's coffee shop where we'd first met. I told him I'd love to see the gallery and write about it and the work he was doing now, and so we arranged for a meeting at the closing of the current show there. It turns out the space is in the basement of the former thrift and vintage store that the friend with the coffee shop owned during the time that I first met him, and so visiting brought back some very lovely memories of some of my earliest walks of discovery around that neighborhood of Jersey City.

Norman Kirby in his own quiet and unassuming way has created a wonderful space that helps other artists to shine. His own work is in areas outside on the block and sprinkled throughout the space within, but his focus as always is on creating a space for others to create in. It takes a rare person to curate a space in a way that it feels both welcoming and at the same time reverential to the work of the artists contained there, and there is a respect and a feeling of warmth that in combination creates a space to enjoy and learn and engage in dialogue about art and life. Six Columns is a special gallery, a place where artists can show their work to its best advantage and others can enjoy a space to feel the life of creativity in. The name refers to the six columns in the space that are heavy brick and mortar columns that provide structural support for the building, but there are reverberations of much more - something that hearkens back to the places of Greek history where people of all walks of life could come together and listen and learn and converse and grow. And as I shared time with the artists and art lovers visiting the space and felt the creative energy there, I realized it could only be someone like Norman Kirby who could create a space like that, a space where we feel the magic of history and the promise of the future while being firmly planted in the present, the here and now, the things that are and are to come.

Norman Kirby
At Six Columns Gallery

His Artwork Down The Block
And Outside
Lighting The Way

A Wonderful Piece
Added To The Walls
When Another Artist's Work Had Sold

The Six Supporting Columns
Lending A Name
And Character To The Space

A Collage By Luis Alves

A Sculpture By Jerome China

A Space For Conversation
And Inspiration

Another Beautiful Work
By Artist Norman Kirby

The Original Piece
That Started My Norm Kirby Adventures


Jannie Susan

Sunday, October 14, 2018

An Abundant Life - A View To The World

There are places in the world that from the moment you walk in they feel like a place where you want to stay forever. The first time I walked into Antique Bar & Bakery I felt that way, and as I've written before in this blog that feeling and my affection for the restaurant continues to grow the more I visit and get to know the Partners, Joe Castelo, Rocco Ancarola and Executive Chef Paul Gerard.

When I heard that they were opening a new space, Antique Loft at Riverview, I was excited for them, but I was also excited for everyone who would go there because I knew it would be something special. As I have written here before, I had the opportunity one night to see it in the process of being beautified by Chef Paul Gerard and his son Frank, and though that evening some areas were still unfinished, the space itself was so beautiful that it gave me that feeling that this would be a place that would be even better than I could dream about. Then a few months later a friend who was planning an event asked me to join his group for a meeting with the Events Coordinator. As I took the elevator to the Penthouse, I started thinking back to wonderful spaces I'd been around and part of over the years, but there was nothing in my memory that would have prepared me for its exquisiteness. The views are simply astonishing, and though that would be enough in itself, the use of the space and design touches make it perfection. The open floor plan gives sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline along with the evening splendor of sunset over Hoboken, and it can be configured for larger parties and smaller gatherings, for sit down dinners, intimate evenings and special events. There is no end to the possibilities, and over time the Partners have planned different phases to continue to grow and nurture their vision into even greater heights.

Recently I attended an evening meditation and wine tasting event as well as an Open House. On both occasions I found myself taking photographs as the light changed and the moon rose and the space and views took on a different character with each lovely moment. The food and wine are of course the best, being prepared and curated in the amazing kitchen of Antique Bar & Bakery under the careful and expert supervision of Chef Paul Gerard. Events Coordinators Kelli Carucci and Elena Perdikakis have many years of excellent experience and history in planning events, and whatever your whim or delight is they can help you plan something that surpasses it. Not one touch goes awry in this place of surpassing beauty, with excellent staff and delicious tastes to beguile you. Antique Loft is a space of dreams, a palace for making memories that will last a lifetime.

Antique Loft
At Riverview
33 Newark Street
Hoboken, New Jersey

Events Coordinator Kelli Carucci
Meeting With The Hoboken Rotary Club
Gala Fundraiser Planning Committee

An Evening Of Yoga And Meditation

At The Open House

As Manhattan's Lights Begin To Shine

And Friends Enjoy The View


Jannie Susan