Monday, January 31, 2011

Best Laid Plans

I live in one of the most exciting, fast paced cities in the country - in the world. Arts, culture, history, New York has it all. And yet, I can sometimes lose sight of that in the daily grind, traversing the same tired blocks between work and home, home and work. And it's worse in the slush and grime of winter; It doesn't exactly encourage one to take in the sights. But (amazingly!) I'm coming up on two years here, and have yet to see some quintessential New York neighborhoods and must-see attractions. So I've made a new goal for 2011: I'm going to get out and see my city.

In the spirit of this resolution, Aidan and I journeyed to the Upper East Side this past weekend to visit the Whitney Museum. Smaller than the Met and less visually striking than the iconic Guggenheim, the Whitney nevertheless boasts an interesting and varied collection in its five galleries. The Hopper exhibit currently on display was particularly engaging, as it put his work into context by displaying it alongside his contemporaries.

We also saw "workworkworkworkwork", a bizarre yet intriguing collection of pieces by New York artist Charles Ledray (picture). Composed mostly of miniature clothing, tiny ceramics and other textiles, it wavered between absurd and thought provoking. I admit I was somewhat annoyed at first by what looked like just a single shaft of wheat in a glass case - I mean, I'm all about modern art, but really? It wasn't until I was about two inches away that I realized it was actually sculpted out of human bone. Pretty incredible to see.

The Singular Visions exhibit had some arresting pieces as well, incuding"The Wait" (which juxtaposed a decaying, skeletal woman waiting for her beloved with a live parakeet twittering and chirping to itself) and "Running People" (a piece of art installed by projecting a gel onto any surface and painting it in, therefore making the installer a co-artist of sorts). Musing on these works as we made our way out to the street, Aidan and I both agreed that there's something to be said for a smaller museum. The sense of completion you get after making it through all the galleries is very satisfying.

But it also makes one hungry.

Fortunately, we knew exactly how to fix this problem: Soom Soom falafel. We'd discovered it last summer while he visited, and were so eager to try the delicious little place again that we gladly traipsed across Central Park to get to its west side location. Normally, this would be a pleasant jaunt across gorgeous woods and sprawling meadows. However, in January, these gorgeous vistas turn into a blinding, slippery tundra studded with pint-sized sledders and their exhausted parents. Needless to say, it took a little longer than normal to slog through the drifts, but it was actually very refreshing to get some fresh air. And we knew the falafel would be worth it...

Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men.

Our paced quickened as we saw the awning, both of us eagerly anticipating fried chickpeas and mint-lemonade ... and then it faltered, slowed, and screeched to a halt. Soom Soom was closed! I would like to report that the skies darkened and a dreary rain began to fall at this moment of cinematic disappointment, but the crisp sunshine refused to play along. Resigned to believe our quest was for naught, we slowly made our way towards the subway. But then, a glimmer of hope: Aidan spotted a tiny place called Sido Falafel, and we decided to give it a try (our rumbling stomachs both had a large say in this, they being not so discerning).

Wow. These are the moments that make men believe in fate.

It was delicious - dare I say, better than Soom Soom - and the staff was super friendly to boot. We both downed way too many of the scrumptious fried bites, and left heartily satisfied with our find. Trying new things was working out pretty well for us, we agreed. But that didn't stop us from visiting another old favorite, Levain Bakery. When a place sells cookies the size of your face, it's almost automatically worth a repeat visit. And sometimes, rediscovering the old is just as important as discovering the new.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Snow Blankets

This post is dedicated to an avid reader who has recently celebrated a birthday AND is powering through rehabilitation after his knee replacement surgery. As my belated gift to you, grandpa, this post brings the blog up to (drum roll please)... TODAY!

Now back to September.

The play I directed at Manhattan Rep was called Chinatown is Full of Rooms. A dark look at relationships and how we hurt ourselves, the play packed a lot into one act (and managed to pack the house most nights). I loved sinking my teeth into the near-poetic language, especially equipped with the stellar cast we put together. We had some issues with the venue (ie, them keeping all the profits, trying to insist we use an air mattress, etc.), but the team made up for it. We even got a nice little review on a blog. We also partnered with a local bar called The Hourglass Tavern, which allowed us to have an opening night party there - replete with show-themed drinks!

This past fall also saw a lot of visitors swing through our new Brooklyn home. My cousin Sara and her boyfriend Michael bought the awesome Jet Blue "All You Can Jet" passes, and used one of their flights to come check out the Big Apple. The plan was to check out the baking scene in as many city as possible, since Sara has started her own baking business after going to culinary school. Read about their NYC journey on their Jetsetters blog... and then continue to read, because it's a great blog!

Aidan's sister Taylor also visited us for a weekend (before leaving to spend six months in Patagonia!), and gave me an excuse to check out the amazing "Big Bambu" installation on the roof of the Met - otherworldly! Then a week later Rachel and my parents came out too. It was great showing the family around the new neighborhood, especially with all the gorgeous fall foliage. Brooklyn Heights also goes all out when it comes to Halloween decorations; Stoops were filled with giant pumpkins, ghoulish gravestones, and enough webbing to encase a fleet of toddlers. But the night of Halloween found us very far from home - in Queens, in fact. Dressed in the most horrifying of New York costumes (a bedbug and a bedbug victim), Aidan and I made our way out to Astoria to my friend (and former roommate) Stephanie's house, where she had put together a wild haunted house party. Spooky appetizers, dry ice, great costumes... and oh yeah, fire spinners.

Steph knows how to throw a party.

After Halloween, the rest of the year just flew by. Aidan and I had our own mini-Thanksgiving with lots of friends (and TONS of stuffing), and then flew home to be with our families. Following tradition, the Bisker women ran the Flying Feather Four Miler again, despite the miserable drizzle outside. But we also got some news: Someone made an offer on the house! It'd been on the market since Spring, and Mom and Dad were definitely getting anxious to get into a new place. Not that there was anything wrong with it; It was a great house for the twenty years we were there, and a wonderful neighborhood to grow up in. But with Rachel and I officially out of the nest, they were ready to start the next chapter. And after a few counter offers - they did. In fact, just this past Monday they officially closed on the new place. A very exciting start to 2011!

Of course, that meant A LOT of packing between Thanksgiving and January. Before I knew it, I was back home again for Christmas, enjoying such time-honored holiday traditions as cookie baking and visiting with family ... and the not-so-traditional cleaning out the basement, running things up to storage, and filling up the dumpster parked in the driveway. But of course, we managed to have a lot of fun with it, discovering all sorts of fun things during the process. I also became quite the Craigslist seller, posting everything from old TVs to my dad's 70's record player. We met the most interesting people through it; The college student who was just getting into vinyl, the boy who was using his Christmas money to buy his very own ping pong table. A very cool experience.

As it turns out, I spent more time at home than I had anticipated, thanks to the NYC blizzard. Between canceled flights and standbys, I was at Port Columbus for the better part of the week - NOT my idea of a good time. But it did allow me to catch up with some friends while I was home, so it all worked out okay.

And though the snow was still thick when I got back to New York, that didn't stop our New Year's celebration. We rang in 2011 with a raucous party in our apartment and then drank champagne on the roof while watching fireworks over the Hudson. A pretty good start to the year, I think.

But it wasn't long before our apartment was again filled with visitors. This time it was my sister and two of her friends, checking out different neighborhoods and seeing how they liked the feel of NY life (the picture is us walking through a snowy Fort Tyron park). Our cozy one bedroom bulged a little at the seams, but held everyone in the end. We also had some Michigan friends stay this past weekend while they attended a music festival, and then had a small birthday celebration for me last night with cake and euchre!

And 2011 is just kicking off... Many more adventures to come!

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Thousand Words of Summer

It’s a balmy, overcast day here in the city. Particularly calm and pleasant for this time of year, yet somehow it feels ominous, like the deep breath before a long dive into winter. I guess it is about that time though. Fall has turned out to keep me plenty busy already. So busy in fact that I figured I’d do a whirlwind back tracking session now to allow for a bit and focus on more recent events in upcoming posts. And so, without further ado, here it is: My summer in one thousand words or less.

May started off with a bang. I got to see Aidan graduate from Michigan with two degrees (and hear a commencement speech given by President Obama!). I also got in another bike adventure, putting in a solid 35 miles during the trek from Inwood to Far Rockaway Beach. The brisk spring air was invigorating, but also deceiving – the sunburn I got wasn’t spring-like at all. My legs are STILL retaining the oh-so-sexy mid-thigh bike short tan line. Everyone was sympathetic at the BBQ I attended afterwards out in Brooklyn (the scrumptious meal and homemade marshmallows were a good consolation too). I also flew home for Memorial Day weekend and thoroughly surprised my mom and sister for their shared birthday. Besides getting to share in the celebration, I got to catch up with neighbors and friends at all the graduation parties, which made it an extra fun time.

When I got back to New York after all the burgers and cake, I got some more good news: Once my internship with A.R.T./New York was finished, Carl wanted to hire me on full time! I was thrilled at the prospect of steady work in my industry, especially with such great people. So in mid-June, once the A.R.T./New York Gala (the event my internship was designed around) was finished, having gone off beautifully without a hitch, I said goodbye and began what is now my full time job with Eleven Entertainment and Ambassador Theatre Group.

But the next round of excitement wasn’t far off. With Aidan finally graduated and ready to move to the city, it was time to tackle, yet again, the nefarious beast that is New York city apartment hunting. Even though I (finally) had a steady job, we wanted to be cautious about our price range – Aidan hadn’t received any programming offers yet, and dance can be just as fickle as theatre when it comes to steady pay. So we threw a wide net, looking at Inwood, Brooklyn, and the Upper West Side as possibilities. Our wants seemed pretty reasonable: a place in a safe neighborhood that was close to a subway (preferably the A, C, E) that had enough room for two people live in relative comfort. But this IS New York we’re talking about, so to be on the safe side, we booked several appointments with different brokers.

And by several I mean seventeen.

In one day.

Armed with bikes, diligent notes, directions, and a few farmer’s market muffins, we began our quest early on a Saturday morning. We saw every sort of place imaginable… duplexes, new renovations, bad new renovations, garden levels, elevator buildings, walk-ups, brownstones. We took lots of notes and snapped pictures of our favorites to help us keep track. But by midday, we were pretty convinced that we would stay in Inwood, just a few blocks from where I’d been living. The amount of space you get for your money made the apartments up there the best value by far. And besides, I already knew it very well.

By that time, our quest had taken us to Brooklyn, where we’d be seeing the rest of the apartments. This sprawling outer borough (home to 2.5 million New Yorkers) is just as varied and culturally rich as its Manhattan sister, and it boasts neighborhoods just as distinct and varied. Our first stop wasn’t too far out though – just one subway stop away from Manhattan, picturesque Brooklyn Heights definitely fit the location bill. And as we rode up a tree-lined street towards our appointment, passing rows of cafes and snug 1800’s brownstones, the old world charm of the neighborhood began to work its magic. In fairness, it’s hard NOT to be taken in by sun-dappled lanes and lovely promenades – but trust me, we weren’t complaining.

Not large by any standards, the apartment we viewed was still comfortable and very well laid out. The kitchen was gorgeous, and there was also a surprising amount of closet space. And then, there was the roof deck; Offering a sweeping, unobstructed panorama of lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge, the view was both breathtaking and mundane – you have, after all, seen it on hundreds of postcards from NYC. It was a little outside of our conservative price range though, so we trekked on to our other showings.

But try as we might, this little one bedroom on Cranberry Street continued to haunt us. It became our point of comparison through the remainder of our search, and our wistful “If only…” as we put down the deposit on a new building in Inwood. Then, that very afternoon, full of relief at having secured a residence, we got the good news – Aidan had three job offers! And, what’s more, they were offering enough that our Cranberry Street dream could actually work. We sprang into action, retracting our deposit (amazingly, we got it all back) and starting the new application process.

A month later, we moved into our first apartment together, happily assuming the title of Brooklynites.

August was a blur. After our busy move-in on the first (using a Zipcar pickup named “Thunder”) I dove right into MCC Theatre’s Freshplay festival, where I was working as a production assistant. With that in the evenings, and my new full time job during the day, it make for some long hours. Aidan was busy as well, balancing dance auditions with his job at American Express Publishing, where he works on the website for Food and Wine Magazine. We barely had time to unpack! But we did manage to make a short trip to Philadelphia, where we visited with my Aunt Linda, her family and my grandparents. It was only for short time, but it was nice to catch up with everyone and get out of the city for a bit. Of course, by the time I got back the MCC festival was finished, and I was already itching for a new project of my own. Luckily for me, my fellow Michigan alum Seth had a new play he was looking to get up. We submitted it to a festival at Manhattan Repertory Theatre – and got in! With September right around the corner, it was nice to have the familiar rhythm of auditions and rehearsals to look forward to. So nice, in fact, that I think I’ll leave you with it too.

Friday, September 3, 2010

S'Mac and Awe

Brittany and I have been friends for a long, long time - over eighteen years, actually. From the first day of first grade, all the way through our joint high school graduation speech and beyond. But what with different colleges and career paths, we hadn't seen each other as often as we would have liked to over the last few years. Needless to say, we were both thrilled when she was able to come visit for a weekend in March. (One perk of her travel-intensive consulting job? "Alt-Travel" - instead of flying back home to Ohio, she can fly to somewhere else... like NYC!)

Once she arrived, we dove headfirst into New York activities while catching up on our crazy lives. We hit up classic touristy stuff (Times Square, the incredible roller coaster-esque indoor elevator at the Marriott Marquee, the M&Ms store) but also visited Fort Tryon and walked the length of Central Park. She also got to see some theater - directed by yours truly! I'd been working on this show "Hearting Linds" for the past month, and it worked out perfectly that Britt was in town to see the performances. It was a fun, quirky new play about falling in love with your heart, and everyone in our packed houses seemed to enjoy it. I think she especially enjoyed seeing the show multiple times, seeing exactly how unique each performance really is.

Even though it was a brief visit, we had a great time. We both enjoyed catching up, and I was pleased that the weather had cooperated and allowed a bit of spring sunshine into the mix, letting us take leisurely strolls around the city (instead of the sprints from building to building I'd been experiencing most of the winter). But no sooner had I said goodbye to Brittany than I was saying hello to yet another fun visitor - Rachel! I'd been anxiously awaiting her visit for a while, eager to show her around "my" city and get in some much-needed sister time. But Rachel was in for a little surprise: Before our adventures could begin, she'd have to put in some work... at my job! A little back story: One of the biggest projects I was working on at A.R.T./New York was readying the save-the-dates and invitations for the annual gala - I helped streamline the organization's contacts, mail merged everything, and went through stacks of returns to find correct addresses (Tangent: Researching the addresses of the returned mail was actually an incredibly interesting project. While Googling the addresses and names I ran across stories of lost homes, estate sales, death, love, even parents of famous playwrights. Read my favorite one, about a couple who fell in love after WWII, here; I found it while trying to trace where Elmer had moved to. Who never RTS could be so interesting?) But the culmination of all this work was, naturally, a day of mass stamping and envelope licking, otherwise known as actually sending out the invitations. It just so happened that Rachel's visit coincided with this monumental day, so she tagged along and was a huge help throughout the process.

To celebrate our success, Rach and I headed to a scrumptious Indian dinner and a really fun, unique show: The New York Neo-Futurists "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind." In this wild production, the Neo-Futurists put on 30 plays in 60 minutes... some are 5 minutes long, some only 15 seconds. But the real fun is in the sequencing: the numbers 1-30 are strung up on a clothesline across the stage, and as you're seated each member of the audience is given a "menu" with all of the thirty play titles. Once a play finishes on stage, the audience yells out the number they want to see performed next. It made for a hilarious evening and I highly recommend it. (P.S. The cost of admission? $10 plus the roll of a die. They always find a way to work in the random...)

But the fun didn't stop there. Our numerous other adventures included The Strand bookstore, the West Village, and the Central Park Conservatory Gardens. Our gastronomical adventures were pretty impressive too, including old favorites like Red Bamboo and new ones, like S'Mac - serving incredible gourmet Mac 'n' Cheese (our favorite was the Parisian, which included Brie, Rosemary, Mushrooms and Figs)! As you can see from the picture, Rachel was not a fan of sharing. We also stumbled upon Baked by Melissa miniature cupcakes ... tiny bites of awesome! (If your mouth isn't water after looking at that website, have your eyes checked). And by the end of the trip, Rachel even (mostly) figured out the subway. Not a bad visit, if I do say so myself ... All in a day's (or week's) work for big sis!

Thursday, August 5, 2010


The first week of March was Michigan's spring break, which meant that Aidan got to come up for a whole week! Of course, that turned out to be the week of the MCC performances at AND the week I started with A.R.T./New York (seriously? Break couldn't have fallen during all those weeks of unemployment?). He managed to fill up the time while I was at work though, both with job interviews and a dance intensive at the Paul Taylor Dance Company. We still managed to fit in lots of mini-adventures too, like going to The Moth Mainstage with our friend Meagan, who was also visiting that week. This series of shows is held at a variety of locations around NYC, and at each event people get up on stage karaoke style and, well, tell a story. There's always a theme to the evening (at the show we saw it was "The Distance") but you'd be amazed at all the different ways people incorporate it. And each story (5 minutes or less) is judged by several random groups around the room on presentation, content, and how well it relates to the theme - an aspect that adds a nice competitive flavor to the whole thing. A really fun time (even worth the freezing cold trek to Brooklyn and the wait to get in!). You can also listen to their podcast online - definitely recommended!

Later on that week, we explored some other parts of lower Manhattan that I hadn't really been to yet, like Battery Park, Ground Zero, and the Financial District. There was a lot to take in, but I was most fascinated by the beautiful Trinity Church at the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street. It's history dates back over 300 years and is full of interesting tidbits: It served as the British Headquarters during the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton is buried in the cemetery next door, and the beautiful sculpture in its courtyard (that we're standing under in the picture) is made from the branches of a giant sycamore tree that was downed during the 9/11 attacks. It was pretty amazing to read about how much it's been through.

All in all, it was a great visit. It was so nice to see Meagan, and of course I loved seeing Aidan for more than a long weekend. It made it hard to say goodbye again, but I got some great news the next week that helped to cheer me up: I got a second internship! I had applied on a whim late one night, and was shocked to find an interview request in my inbox the very next morning. I wasn't familiar with the company - all I knew about the place was that it was a theatrical producing organization - but it sounded interesting (and it paid!) so I went in for an interview before heading to A.R.T./New York for the day. Turns out that the position entailed working on projects for two separate companies: the New York branch of Ambassador Theatre Group (one of the largest producing entities in the U.K.) and Rock of Ages Broadway. Needless to say, I was pretty stoked. After spending so much time in the non-profit world, I'd been very curious about the commercial side of things, and this was the perfect opportunity. They offered me the internship the next day, and with that added on to my A.R.T./New York work, I suddenly went back to a 40 hour work week.

Life was good. Not only was I fully employed again, but my roommate Stephanie was also back in town for the Brooklyn leg of the tour she was working (she was on the road from January - March with the children's musical "Frog and Toad"). We got to hang out a bit, catch up, exchange crazy stories. And I also began rehearsals for the staged reading of "Hearting Linds" I was going to direct in the coming weeks.
Not a bad way to welcome Spring to the city.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


At one point during the course of my "f-unemployment" I was given some helpful advice: broadcast your need. Seemed like a good idea, seeing as how people won't usually offer you work if they don't know you're looking. And when that friend of a friend mentions they have a gig, you want YOUR name to be the first one to pop up in your friend's head. So I forced myself to stop being embarrassed and managed to slip my job hunt into every conversation I had. Friends, acquaintances, random people on the subway... throw the net wide, right?

Then one random afternoon in the first few days of February, I got a call from a number I didn't recognize. It was the co-producer of MCC Theater's Youth Company's winter show. He explained that he needed a production assistant for this show, maybe even an assistant director. And the job started immediately. And it paid.


Turns out my friend (and former summer camp RA) John had mentioned my name when they were brainstorming ideas of people to help with the show. I'd worked with MCC's Youth Company a few years back on their annual UNCENSORED show as an unpaid assistant, so I was a good fit for this project - many of the kids I'd worked with then were still involved. Naturally, I was overjoyed to have this new show to work on, especially when I got to see the great team they'd assembled. Working with such bright, talented High School kids was a good reminder too, proving to me again that I did love this, despite the hardships of the field. (The picture is from opening night!)

I didn't stop looking for other jobs though. I was still applying like mad, checking Playbill's online job postings every day. And then I heard back from one, an organization called the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York (or A.R.T./New York for short). They were looking for a development intern, which wasn't exactly what I was looking to do, but their mission sounded so interesting I figured I would at least go to the interview (watch the video on the front page of their website, and you'll understand!). As soon as I met the Director and the Associate Director of Development, I knew I wanted to work there. They were funny, smart, and excited about what they they were doing - and why wouldn't they be, since their job was to get money for the use of nearly 300 member theatres?

I found out I got the job a few days later, and started with them right at the beginning of March. Most of my work involved cleaning up data related to their annual gala (to be held in June) and making it usable. It was decent pay too, but it was only twenty hours a week, so I kept looking for other jobs to fill up my days/wallet. And it's a good thing I did...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Bounced Reality Check

Never thought I'd catch this blog up to the current year did ya? Yeah... neither did I!

I spent New Year's Eve in Chicago with Aidan, where we had a lovely dinner with friends before bundling up and trying to head downtown for the fireworks. We just missed the train though, and decided to trudge back and watch the televised ball drop (slightly ironic that I end up watching Times Square coverage after having just left? Perhaps). Then after the festivities, we kicked off 2010 right - with an all night road trip. Yes, it was back to Ohio for us, in preparation for my friend Julie's wedding (!) that Saturday. I was the maid of honor, and after being hundreds of miles away during most of the planning, I was determined to be there for all of the day-before prep.

We pulled in as the sun was rising, and I managed to get in a few hours of sleep before heading to her mom's house (which is exactly 5k/3.1 miles from my house; Julz and I used to run from one to the other for cross country practice)! We got working right away, assembling bouquets, packing up reception supplies, and running errands. The day flew by, but we manged to get just about everything finished. Saturday dawned bright and chilly, with a gentle snow. Of course, there was last minute rushing and a few frantic moments, but everything turned out beautifully. Most importantly, Cory and Julie seemed to have a great time.

A few days later, I packed up and headed back to the city. It was a little surreal; I'd done several internships before in places like Minneapolis and Chicago, but I'd always headed back to Ann Arbor when they were finished. There I was, having just wrapped up MTC... and still in New York. A definite "Welcome to adulthood" moment, made even more real by the fact that I was without a job. I tried not to focus on that though. I still had enough money left from my Dr. Phil gig to survive for a month, maybe two, so I got right to work hunting through job postings for the right fit. I soon got an assistant-director position at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, working alongside Burke Walker (founder of the The Empty Space Theatre in Seattle) on a production of the 1937 play "Time and the Conways". It was only temporary though, and it certainly wasn't enough to pay the bills, so I kept looking for some supplemental work.

And so a routine was born: Wake up, travel to the lower east side, rehearse, come home, apply for jobs. Sleep. Repeat.

After a few weeks of this, my optimism began to wear thin. As did my savings.

It was the first time since arriving in New York that I really questioned myself. Was working in the arts worth all the pressure and stress of struggling to survive? Now, let me be clear on one point: Never during this admittedly low period was I in danger of living on the street, or not eating, or burning my manuscripts for heat a la RENT style. Thanks to incredibly supportive parents, I knew there was a safety net there should I fall. But that didn't make me any more okay with falling. Fortunately, along with the promise of financial support, my family was always there to give me emotional support. At times, that meant listening to my fears. At others, it meant telling me to stop whining and remember that many more experienced people had been out of work for six months. Or a year. And that this is what I wanted to do.

I could not - could NOT - have survived without them. And I can't begin to thank them enough.

Of course, this odd period of semi-employment did lend itself to some unique sort of adventures and mini-jobs. I hawked comedy show flyers for a day, dreamed up a dog-walking business, and trained to be an SAT tutor, among other things. I also went back to MTC for a day and helped them with their Winter Benefit at the Plaza (my duty was to escort SNL alum Ana Gasteyer). But when February rolled around, things took a whole new turn...