Category: NYC

At first glance, In Transit seems a tad odd: an a cappella Broadway production with no orchestra  based inside a gritty New York City subway station. As the first a cappella show on Broadway, it’s hard  to know what to expect even with a book, music, and lyrics created by Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen), Sara Wordsworth, James-Allen Ford, and Russ Kaplan. Yet as the lights dim and the titular “turn off your cell phone” a cappella jingle from the show’s creators begins, it becomes abundantly clear that the audience is in for a treat.

There’s something  simple yet beautiful about In Transit. Just under two hours, the show focuses on eleven individuals trying to live their lives in New York. Through a talented street artist, Boxman, the audience watches how these people’s lives intertwine and the struggles of balancing their hopes and dreams with the crushing sense of reality. Through his witty beats and charming personality, Boxman unfurls the lives and current struggles of the show’s characters frantically rushing to get on their train (or in some cases, begging for help to pass through the fickle Metrocard turnstiles).

The show features standout performers including Moya Angela (The Lion King, Dreamgirls National Tour, 30 Rock). Throughout the show, Angela effortlessly switches between three characters: a religious mother, a subway booth attendant, and a routine office manager. And in one part of the show, she saunters out in a dress completely comprised of New York City Transit Metrocards!

Another standout performance came from Chesney Snow as Boxman who could produce almost any sound with his mouth — including the sound of the Metrocard Machine again failing to accept the cash he inserted into it. Throughout the performance, it was clear he was energized for the role, as his vocals to immersed the audience in the eclectic cacophony of music and voices in the city.  

In Transit is a thrilling show that is relevant to almost everyone as it questions what it means to follow your dreams and how we deal with rejection and hardship. From start to finish, the show captures your attention and thrusts you right up to the bare, raw emotions of these eleven residents struggling to be themselves and overcome their inner demons. This show will resonate with almost every New Yorker who encounters the trials and tribulations of trying to achieve your dreams in the city that never sleeps. Oh, and the struggles of riding the subway…

Photo courtesy of Russ Kaplan

Photo courtesy of Russ Kaplan

To learn more about the show, we talked with Russ Kaplan, one of the show’s writers. Kaplan, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, majored in directing with a minor in jazz piano. During the interview he noted how he originallygot bit by the directing bug in high school. But it didn’t occur to me to start writing music for theatre until I was a grownup and started writing In Transit (at my co-authors’ encouragement).”

But how did the idea for making all a cappella musical come to be? According to Kaplan, “Well, we (the writers) were an a cappella group, so it just seemed sort of obvious at the time. It’s what we were already doing!”

What was the process like of making an a cappella musical? What challenges did you face?

The writing process is actually similar to “normal” musicals…you’re still following the same fundamental rules of dramatic storytelling and trying to write emotional and memorable melodies. The challenges emerge later with logistics and performance, and that list is so long it’ll make your head spin, but I’d say the main one is that all eleven cast members have to sing for a hundred minutes straight…so even a staged reading of In Transit requires exponentially more rehearsal than other shows.

What was the inspiration behind the story of In Transit?

Ourselves and the people we know!

What was the songwriting process like? How did you decide what each song would be about? Were any ideas or sources you drew inspiration from?

First, we’d decide as a group what new songs would be about and what the general sound should be like; then one lyricist and one composer would pair up to do a first draft; then that draft would come back to the group and we’d all tinker together until we had a final draft we were all happy with.  We tried to tap into as many musical genres as possible, especially those that you hear blasting on the subway regularly (which is to say all of them).

As a musician, what do you think music has the power to do for audiences?

Music pretty much gives my life meaning. It’s the thing that provides me with hope and gives the world its beauty.  It was like that for me well before I knew anything about music, and I suspect it’s true for most people, whether the music is “about” something or not. It’s pretty cheesy but I really do think it’s one of the few things that can truly bring people together.

But the biggest piece of advice Russ had for Columbia students? “Sing a cappella. It’s good for you.”

Tickets to In Transit can be purchased through the show’s website here. The show also offers a daily lottery for $39 tickets daily through the TodayTix app.

Photo by Em Watson, American Theater

The Lion met with Rachel Chavkin, a Columbia School of the Arts graduate, to discuss her direction of a new musical on Broadway: Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. The show is based on a 70-page snipped of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and includes both period and modern stylistic setting.

The show itself is completely immersive as the cast performs all around you, or even right next to you! And in parts of the show, members of the audience are asked to help with everything from passing letters to providing background sounds for the musical numbers. In addition, the seating is unlike anything else on Broadway with the Imperial theater redesigned to feel like a Russian club. Several seats have been removed to make way for tables and lamps to create this atmosphere. Seats range from being in the standard orchestra and rear mezzanine sections of the theater to sitting right on the stage.

The show has an open run and is performed 8 times per week at the Imperial Theatre. The show offers both a mobile lottery and rush tickets for only $39, a great deal for people interested in seeing the show for less. This is one of the most immersive shows I have ever seen and it’s definitely something to check out! When we sat down with Rachel, we talked about her experience in theater and her journey in helping to develop productions such as The Great Comet.Continue Reading..

Welcome, welcome to theater! After going over our last guide to discounted Broadway tickets, we realized that there are even more resources out there for students to utilize to get cheaper tickets to both Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.
Run by Columbia, the Arts Initiative provides students with discounted tickets, most of which can then be picked up at the TIC in Lerner. This is a great way to get tickets, but you have to be fast because they do sell out quite quickly.
If you’ve got luck and persistence, Broadway Direct has online lotteries for most performances of some of the biggest productions around, including The Lion King and Cats. Depending on the show, winners pay anywhere from $10-$55 for their seats, which is more than half off regular pricing.
Being a theater-goer and being a student at the same time isn’t always easy on the wallet, and the Roundabout Theatre Company understands that. So, if you’re between the ages of 18-35, you can be part of their low-price ticket program, HipTix, for free. By becoming a HipTix member, you can buy up to two $25 tickets to each Roundabout Theatre production. While these tickets may not be orchestra seats (unless you upgrade your membership to Gold or Platinum), you can’t beat the price.
General Broadway Lotteries:
Some productions choose to host lotteries for tickets on their own personally-tailored sites instead of using Broadway Direct or TodayTix. It can be hard to find these lotteries sometimes, or just plain annoying to google them everyday. So, here are all the ones with individual sites for your convenience:

 

Updated April 9, 2017

Photo courtesy of Joshua Burton, CC ’18

RESTAURANT INFORMATION:

Restaurant: The Handpulled Noodle

Location: Harlem/Hamilton Heights

Cuisine: Northwest Chinese Soul Food

Rating: 4.75/5Continue Reading..

Today, Provost John H. Coatsworth sent out the following email to Columbia in regards to “Responding to Post-Election Issues and Concerns”. In particular, he reaffirmed the University’s plans to protect students and guaranteed increased financial aid for undocumented students who may lose work permits due to policies proposed by President-elect Donald Trump during his presidential campaign. The full email can be read below:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

The presidential election has prompted intense concern for the values we hold dear and for members of our community who are apprehensive about what the future holds. Some of this concern is focused on possible changes to immigration laws and to the federal enforcement of those laws. Some is due to possible changes elsewhere in federal law and policy. Reports of bias crimes and harassment occurring since the election are also deeply disturbing, particularly so when those who feel threatened are part of a community like ours, committed to tolerance and reason.

President Bollinger has asked me to work with the University administration and our community to develop a response to these concerns. I am writing to share information about relevant policies and our plans for ensuring that every person at Columbia feels safe, is able to proceed unimpeded with their studies and their work, and understands beyond question that Columbia’s dedication to inclusion and diversity is and will remain unwavering.

First, the University will neither allow immigration officials on our campuses without a warrant, nor share information on the immigration status of undocumented students with those officials unless required by subpoena or court order, or authorized by a student. Moreover, New York City continues to be a sanctuary city, with special protections for undocumented immigrants, and Mayor de Blasio recently affirmed that local law enforcement officials will continue to operate consistent with that commitment.

If the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) policy is terminated or substantially curtailed and students with DACA status lose the right to work, the University pledges to expand the financial aid and other support we make available to undocumented students, regardless of their immigration status. It is of the utmost importance that federal policies and laws do not derail the education of students whose enrollment at Columbia and other colleges or universities is made possible by DACA. We subscribe to the view of the Association of American Universities that “DACA should be upheld, continued and expanded,” and we will continue to express that commitment in the future.

To provide additional support, the Office of University Life is hosting a series of small-group, private information sessions specifically for undocumented students in our community, including DACA recipients, to offer support and guidance regarding possible changes in the law. Affected students can contact the Office directly for more information. Separately, our International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) is scheduling information sessions and is prepared to provide assistance via its telephone helplines to any of our international students with questions or concerns. For more information about resources, support, and reporting options regarding discrimination and harassment, please visit the Office of University Life website.

The commitments outlined above emerge from values that define what we stand for and who we are as a University community. Indeed, Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science have amplified their commitment to undocumented undergraduate students pursuing their first degrees by continuing to meet their full financial aid needs as has long been our policy and also by treating applications of undocumented students no differently than those of students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The experience of undocumented students at the College and Columbia Engineering, from the time they first seek admission through their graduation, will not be burdened in any way by their undocumented status.

This is a moment for us to bear in mind how important it is to protect all who study and teach in our community and to defend the institution and the values it embodies.

Sincerely,

John H. Coatsworth