Monday, February 28, 2011

A day at NOCCA

The team spent the day at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) running workshops and hosting question and answer sessions about Juilliard. It was an energizing and enjoyable day for all!

The team with Brian Hammel from NOCCA.

Playwright Josh Allen speaking with potential writers.

Cellist Mitch Lyon answering questions about life at Juilliard.

Actor Betty Gabriel playing, "Yes, let's!" with NOCCA drama students.

Juilliard staff member Brandon Lee and jazz pianist Samora Pinderhughes listening to NOCCA jazz students.

Vocalists Catherine Hancock and Tim McDevitt coach a young vocalist.

Dancer Derek Ege demonstrating a combination for young NOCCA dancers.

Second Day: Breakfast, First St. United Methodist, French Quarter, The Oscars and Mediterranean Dinner!

We did not have to leave HONO until 10:45 am, and yet the little house was buzzing at 7:30. Being so unused to having an adequate amount of sleep, it seems us Juilliard students don't know what to do with ourselves once we get it. Coffee is brewed, pancakes are made, clementines are devoured. Breakfast of champions? Ay.

And then it's off to the church we go! Many of us are not Methodist, or even religious, and yet most of us decide to attend for our own reasons. Whether it's the fact that students who will be at the Dryades YMCA later in the week will be there, or because we are intrigued by what the sermon might be that day.

After the service, the congregation was invited into the multi-purpose room adjacent to the nave to watch us perform. About 20 members of the congregation watched as all the divisions were represented in short pieces (many of which were organized the night before). After the first piece, an explosion of sound filled the room. We were all stunned: they really love us! And then most of noticed - if not already - that it was our very own Josh Allen that was making that noise in support of our fellow classmates. Thereafter, the response to each piece went up in volume as more and more people had smiles on their faces and felt comfortable to really give the performers a hand. We finished with the entire NOLA team singing 'Lean on Me,' and were invited to mingle with the audience members and indulge in some food (and some delicious fruit punch).

Feeling energized from the performance, we made our way into the French Quarter for lunch beside the Mississippi River. Although the wind from the river made it challenging to keep our food in containers, it proved to be an scenic lunch spot. When we planned for this trip, most of us didn't realize that we would be in New Orleans in the heat of the Mardi Gras celebration. The French Quarter was filled with excited tourists, pining for beads and "huge ass beers" (direct quotation). As we walked through crowds of people clad in body paint and tutus, we marveled at the work of local artists that filled the streets. Yelling the word "BEADS" usually resulted in someone throwing shiny plastic at us from balconies. Derek even won a dollar...

Slowly but surely, all of us were inundated with insanely dressed dogs. Many of us questioned whether playing dress up with pets was a residency requirement during the fesitivites. We shorlty learened that Barkus - the annual Mardi Gras dog parade - was upon us. From a hot dog (where the dog was wedged between synthetic buns), to a giant Dalmation in a tutu, to a pair of Norfolk Terriers in matching joker outfits.

The actors even had the good fortune of going to Tennessee Williams house. Little did these actors know that this historic landmark was now occupied by actual residents, who did not take the screaming of "Stella!!" too well.

It wouldn't be right to leave the French Quarter without visiting Southern Candymakers. Their sign says it all: "Best Pralines." We left the Mardi Gras celebration with sufficient sugar highs and tired feet.

We came down from this high as we traveled to the Lower 9th Ward, a portion of New Orleans still seeing the effects of Katrina. We drove through at night, and the juxtaposition of the houses which haven't been touched in close to 6 years with the other houses built by the Make it Right Foundation - Brad Pitt's eco-friendly and futuristic venture - was jarring. Remnants of spray painted X's on the walls of damaged houses with water lines are reminders of the fatal nature of Katrina. As we rode in silence, our purpose for coming to Louisiana became a reminder for returners on the trip and an undeniable reality for the new members of the team. The culmination of this experience occurred when we passed by the completed home we help built last year. A woman sat on the front porch reading - most likely vexed by the two large white vans that slowly drove past.

Grateful to experience both the cultural exuberance of Mardi Gras and the stark reality of the Lower 9th Ward, we came back to HONO ready to eat, sleep... and admittedly watch the Oscars.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday in New Orleans

What a lovely day. From homemade pancakes made in the Hands On New Orleans Bunkhouse kitchen to a cool breeze, the morning had the spirit of sharing and excitement. A free performance at the First St. United Methodist Church after church services set the tone for a wonderful week of performances. The strings were on fire, the trumpet and pianos cool, the voices crisp, the dancing soaring and the acting moving. All appreciated by a small but grateful audience.

After a windy lunch by the Mississippi River and some festive sightseeing in the French Quarter, we visited the house the team built in 2010. We were excited the completed house on Painters Street in enrobed in bright purple paint. Although the sun had set and it was dark by the time we got there, it was a lovely sight to see. We also made a evening visit to the Lower 9th Ward to see the progress accomplished by the Make It Right Foundation.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sultry Beginnings

A warm breeze wafts in from the veranda. A playwright bedecked in plastic beads whispers ideas across a long and colorful table. The strains of a cello playing a samba float gently in from the adjoining room. A dancer practices her tap routine on the hardwood kitchen floor, her feet still in socks. The air is heavy with humidity and exhaustion, excitement and creative energy. Students from all three of Juilliard’s divisions are at work simultaneously in a small but congenial home on Bank Street, eagerly preparing for a week of teaching and performing. Art school as it should be.

We have hardly rested in 36 hours. A provisional excursion to Wal-Mart was notable primarily for the surreal array of Pop Tarts swirling about our sleep-deprived heads. Reality was perceived dubiously as we witnessed our first Mardi Gras parade wind down Napoleon Street. Still, we somehow cooked dinner, rehearsed for tomorrow’s performance, and managed to all get in a shower in spite of the one fully-functioning bathroom.

I am looking forward to climbing into a bunk-bed for the first time since freshman year and beginning the adventure.

-Evan Fein

DAY #1: We arrived in New Orleans!

Group Meeting on the HONO Veranda

The Girls Get Settled

The Boys and Betty Waiting for Sabrina

First Day: Plane Ride, Morning Call, HONO, Magazine Street, Communal Cooking, and Rehearsal!

Our day begins at 2:45... am. Whisked to the airport by the almost certain speeding of Super Shuttle, we arrive at JFK with no headaches, but a large desire to sleep. Needless to say, we continue our sleeping on the plane - wide mouthed and leaning on one another. Once we land however, we quickly grab our bags, and head into the blissful warm air with new found energy. Mitch and Patrick begin an impromptu cello performance and various lines of Maya Angelou are spoken between actors while the group waits for the next leg of travel.

Up roll two large vans in which we manage to pack all of our luggage (the efficient use of limited trunk space would make Dads everywhere proud) and ourselves. Immediately after, we race to Morning Call, the local hotspot for beignets and frozen cafe au lait. Sufficiently overloaded with sugar, we head to Hands On New Orleans (HONO), our humble abode for the week.

The house is beautiful. We quickly realize that we have the good fortune of being the only group occupying this house which is four blocks away from the trolley (the easiest way to get to the French Quarter), and a coffee shop - both of which are ideal living circumstances for artists.

After a quick meeting to re-group and plan the rest of the day, we agree on a voyage to Magazine Street. Two hours of walking at a humane pace, not bumping into busy New Yorkers pining for their next fix of caffeine, does wonders.

Out of this serenity comes a run to Walmart and Whole Foods to get our supplies for the next three days of cooking. The culinary maestros of the evening prepared a very satisfying pasta with meat sauce, mixed salad, and a healthy portion of Texas Toast (which Natasha found to be the highlight of the meal). The dessert? A slice of King Cake, a tradition for the locals of New Orleans around carnival time - or Mardi Gras.

Then, off to what we do best: rehearsals. With a performance tomorrow morning, all the divisions split up and then came together one on one to develop a program for the First St. United Methodist Church. With Macy tapping in her socks (so as not to disturb our neighbors below), Samora jamming out on his melodica, Kerry (an actress) learning choreography from Evan (the dancer Evan), it is clear that artistic expression is brewing at HONO.