Spotlight on the UK: Greater than Britain

Union JackSince the first England Day NYC will be taking place this Saturday, the 23rd, (see separate post) I thought this would be a good time to focus on England and beyond to the UK, especially given our shared history and language (although some might dispute the latter).

First, let’s clear up some terminology, since it can get a bit confusing – the website of the  UK National Archives is helpful in this regard.

 The country is the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” more affectionately known as the UK.

This April is a big month for the UK:  April 21st was the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II;  April 22nd marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

Great Britain is the island that consists of England, Scotland and Wales, each of which have their own devolved administrations with their own Parliaments/Assemblies.   The British Isles include Great Britain, the island of Ireland, and several thousand smaller islands, such as the Isle of Man, the Isle of Wight, The Channel Islands….

The Commonwealth  is a voluntary association of countries that were formerly British colonies.  These countries recognize the UK monarch as their own, but remain politically independent (think Canada).

If you want to keep up with British happenings in New York City, a good place to begin is with the Facebook page of the British Consulate; you’ll find a link where you can sign up for their newsletter (very comprehensive) so you won’t miss anything – or, I should say – so you know what’s going on; since there’s so much, it’s hard to do it all!

The British Council USA  connects British and American arts professionals by offering information, providing resources and promoting opportunities for Americans to experience new British work.  Check out Shakespeare Day Live on their website  to find activities on April 22nd & 23rd, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death.

From May 18th to the 20th, you can see Jess Thom – Combining storytelling, comedy and puppetry, Backstage in Biscuit Land offers an intimate glimpse into Jess Thom’s unique perspective as an artist and woman with Tourette Syndrome. As a result of her tics, Thom says ‘biscuit’ 16,000 times a day.  

The British Council has undertaken what I think is a fabulous initiative, training arts organizations in Relaxed performance (RP) , a specially designated performance intended to attract and accommodate a range of people who might not otherwise be able to comply with traditional theatre etiquette. There is a relaxed attitude to noise, movement, and small changes to the sound levels and some lighting effects in the show.

The Council also has on-line programs to teach English to kids, teens and adults.

The St. George’s Society  is a membership organization that assist disadvantaged people of British and Commonwealth heritage living in the New York area, especially the elderly and disabled, and has a scholarship fund for outstanding students who need help with their college tuition. They also organize a number of fun social events  throughout the year.

In New York, Wales will forever be associated with Dylan Thomas, especially the annual performance of A Child’s Christmas in  Wales.  However, there’s more going on, as you’ll see on the Wales In America Facebook page.

May 3rd-29th – NoFit State Circus from Cardiff    Look out for a 42’-high, 10,000 square-foot spaceship-like big top under the Brooklyn Bridge, across New Dock Street from the new St. Ann’s Warehouse, located 45 Water Street in DUMBO, Brooklyn.  Inside, NoFit State will immerse audiences of all ages in Bianco; as  a live rock band plays and audiences are shepherded promenade-style through the space and awe-inspiring images of prowess and daring.  Running time is two hours, including an intermission. Tickets are $35-40 and can be purchased at St. Ann’s Warehouse .

Through June 4th, you can catch Welsh artist Brendan Stuart Burn’s show at Rosenberg & Co. Gallery.

Through September 4th, Welsh actor John Owen-Jones will be playing the role of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.

You might also want to check out the Facebook page of the St. David’s Society of New York State.

The American Scottish Foundation, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, is a good source of information for things Scottish in New York They’re also the folks responsible for the Tartan Day Parade  in early April, and many of its associated activities. 

The St. Andrew’s Society of the State of New York  celebrates Scottish heritage and tradition, while also offering sponsorship and community to the natives of Scotland and their descendants through fundraising and social events.

Let me also give a shout-out to Glasgow Caledonian University, which established a presence in New York a few years ago, where they offer executive education programs in areas such as the Business of Fashion, Global Leadership, and Supply Chain Management.  They also occasionally host  talks and lectures open to the public.

Check out the Northern Ireland Bureaus Facebook page  to see what’s going on in Northern Ireland and the US.

I’d also like to give a shout out to Origin Theatre Company whose annual 1st Irish festival  includes actors, playwrights and plays from Northern Ireland as well as from the Republic of Ireland.

The British have a significant presence in the Big Apple;  here are some of the more notable happenings for the next few weeks:

April 27thLive from the NY Public Library, the wonderful actress Helen Mirren   reflects on the legacy of Shakespeare in a conversation with Paul Holdengräber  7:00 pm, NYPL on 42nd St & 5th Avenue

April 27th – Celebrate Shakespeare  with New York Classical Theatre at the Brookfield Center in Lower Manhattan

Through May 1st, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) is hosting the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Shakespeare’s Cycle of Great Kings featuring Richard II, Henry IV Parts I & II, and Henry V

Frieze New York, an offshoot of the prestigious Frieze London Art Fair has ensconced itself in the NY art scene.  This year will be it’s fifth iteration on Randall’s Island from May 5th to 8th.  I’ve been twice, and recommend it.  Be sure to leave plenty of time to visit – there are over 200 galleries showing, as well as special projects (check them out), talks, and events. 

Through July 3rd, catch Brits Off Broadway , nine plays never before seen States-side at 59 East 59th Theatre.

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center has a lovely exhibit of playbills, broadsides, photos, original sketches and costumes from productions of Shakespeare’s works as performed in North America from colonial times until the present day.

Design in Action

Model for UK Pavilion at 2010 World Expo, by Heatherwick Studios

Model for UK Pavilion at 2010 World Expo, by Heatherwick Studios

If you want to to see how design and real life intersect, get up to the Cooper-Hewitt to see “Provocations, the Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio”   Through photographs, models, drawings you see how the studio of UK architect Thomas Heatherwick has responded to some real-life challenges, such as designing the UK pavilion for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai – and you’ll also get insight into the thought process, which originates in a “provocation” or question the studio asks itself.  In the case of the UK’s pavilion, the provocation arose over 10 years earlier, when, designing temporary garden structures for the grounds of Belsay Hall, the studio asked itself how could it build a structure out of the architectural equivalent of matches!  You’ll get to see the model for the sitooteries they created out of plywood and steel for Belsay Hall in1999. Then go look at the model for the World Expo Pavilion to see how they expanded that theme.

Model for a Rolling Bridge Over the Thames by Heatherwick Studios

Model for a Rolling Bridge Over the Thames by Heatherwick Studios

I especially enjoyed the model for a Rolling Bridge across the Thames.  Based on an actual bridge near London’s Paddington Station that the studio designed, when high ships pass under it, the bridge opens and folds in on itself like a snail.  I was lucky to be at the exhibit when they used the model to demonstrate how this works – it’s really fun to see.  Check the Cooper-Hewitt website   for demonstration times.  In addition to these larger projects, Heatherwick has also designed stores, news stands, furniture and handbags.  They are currently re-designing London’s double-decker bus (in the exhibit)!   Heatherwick Studio has taken on projects around the globe, including the Learning Hub at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, and Pier 55 on the Hudson River in NYC.

Model Staircase, 18th cent. France

Model Staircase, 18th cent. France

Be sure to stop on the second floor, to look at the 18th and 19th century architectural models, especially the staircases in the style of the French compagnonnage movement, whose grace and precision are testament to the talents of the woodworking masters who made them.

 

 

Adire wrapper, Nigeria

Adire wrapper, Nigeria

On the first floor, great memories of my trips to Mali and Ghana were triggered by the exhibit of African textiles from the museum’s permanent collection, chosen by the architect David Adjaye. It will come as no surprise that many of the textiles he chose have strong geometric elements. In addition to prestige Kente cloth, you’ll also find adire (indigo and white) cloth

from Nigeria and Gambia – each made with a different technique, as well as an adinkra (symbol-language) wrapper from Ghana, hand woven cottons from Nigeria and the Ivory Coast, cut-thread and mud cloths from Nigeria and Mali.  Make sure to take a look at the men’s hats in the room’s niches, which are also part of the exhibit.

On your visit, take advantage of The Pen  – as you go through the galleries, you can touch it to a label about an item, and the information on the item is sent to a unique website, where you can view your “collection” at your leisure;  or you can use the pen’s tip to draw on the interactive tables in the museum.  It’s really, really cool.