As we are approaching our 20th anniversary, it’s easy to start reflecting on all the ways we’ve grown, changed over the years, to wax nostalgic for the good old days (not sure why waxing has to be involved but I don’t make the rules).
From our humble roots as a small theatre company looking to fund our first NYC production of Romeo and Juliet…(wait I’m not sure humble works here. We had a ton of egos. Filled with them. Bravado, ego, high artistic ideals). But we were small….So our small roots as a small theatre company… (that’s not very eloquent). Modest roots? (nope)
Ok scratch that last paragraph altogether. We were a theatre company. The New Ensemble (TNE). One of thousands of small Off Off Broadway companies in NYC. (Off Off Broadway got it’s start in Greenwich Village, BTW). The first production of Romeo and Juliet applied some simple, creative and theatrical elements to make it a very accessible and compelling production. The vestiges of that show can still be seen in some of the future creative endeavors of that production team.
As the members of TNE moved on to different cities, careers, started families.. the tour joined up with Bakerloo Theatre Project, and their summer residency in upstate NY. Bakerloo had been around for a few years, and once again the tour funded some fantastic and creative storytelling for several years.
Both The New Ensemble and Bakerloo Theatre Project shared a similar theme: a passion for the text, the written word. For the poetry of Shakespeare, for promoting new playwrights, for small readings of great works of literature. The acting, the directing, the story telling were all top notch, but the focus on the text was primary.
As Bakerloo relocated to Pittsburgh, and many of it’s members moved on to new cities, careers and started families (a theme!) the Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl remained. And grew. There are still guides who were members of both The New Ensemble and Bakerloo Theatre Project.
And our passion for the text, the writers and those inspirations remain. Our guides stay involved because we love to recite the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Hart Crane, Dylan Thomas…we love turning people on to writers like Djuna Barnes and Dawn Powell. Hearing the rhythms of Kerouac’s prose in pubs he frequented helps bring his work to life- whether you love him or hate him the work resounds.
This passion is what has kept us in business. We’re not just another tour. This is not a job for people who are tired of waiting tables. Our guides have careers, they perform, they teach- they have their lives the lead, but they keep involved with us for the passion and the material.
It shows. It’s why we’re hear 20 years in, it’s why we are one of the most inspiring tours in the city. You’ll hear it in our performances, in our readings, as we bring this great literature alive in one of the greatest cities in the world.
And we’ll have a drink with you while we do it.
Hope to see you soon. Thanks for your support. See you on the tour! #getlitwithus
by Miranda Knutson
Recently on a Brooklyn Heights tour our group exclaimed excitedly when they saw a memorial plaque for the Walt Whitman Park down by Cadman Plaza. We explained the irony of how by clearing this area’s housing for the park, the city destroyed the building that housed the Rome brothers printing press where Walt Whitman first published his seminal work, “Leaves of Grass”.
Whitman was known for his bohemian lifestyle and his love of Brooklyn, so imagine my surprise when I pulled into a rest stop off the New Jersey Turnpike to go to the Walt Whitman Service Station. As you walk in, smelling the mix of fried chicken from Roy Rogers and pure liquid sugar from Cinnabon, you find on your left a faded picture of Walt Whitman. He is smiling sardonically and looking hip while across from him is a bright new photo of Chis Christie looking unsure and awkward.
Whitman’s photo is surrounded by a biography and two examples of his poetry. From this plaque, I learned why a small stop in New Jersey would be named after a person I inherently thought of as a Brooklynite. Whitman moved to New Jersey after the Civil War, first living with his brother, then purchasing a place in Camden. This is where he lived out the last years of his life, editing and re-publishing Leaves of Grass.
What would Whitman think of being memorialized in a large neon sign? Grandiose and colorful – well maybe he would love it. Fried food for the masses – not sure. This plaque (and we learn as tour guides to be wary of plaques) mentions how he called “Leaves of Grass” – “democratic literature commensurate with people,... simple and unconquerable.” I could see how Nathan’s Hot Dog stand could follow in the footsteps of that description.
“O you bedraggled neon signs,
O you golden arches,
With insidious oily saltiness, seeping into our pores.”
What do you think? What is the strangest, most commercial place you have seen memorializing a writer/artist?
Had a wonderful week with students from the Australian Catholic University this past January. We put together 6 tours through Greenwich Village, East Village, Times Square, Brooklyn, Central Park and Harlem to help bring their curriculum to life! To say the least they were wonderful guests and enthusiastic about the material.
I had the privilege of sitting in on several of their morning classes where they discussed the previous days adventures, discussing the literature they had read, the tours they'd taken, and the theater they had visited. Lively, thoughtful dialogues, these were very well read and intelligent students. Made me envious to not be a part of the university setting. The Australia Catholic University clearly has a great program going.
We've always prided ourselves in our ongoing research, and loved the challenging of building tours specifically for their classwork, as well as exposing them to some of the great American writers they were unfamiliar with, and for most getting their feet on the ground in this great city!
Can't wait to see them next year!