ROUNDABOUT BLOG

 

At 10:30am on December 16, 1960, the 1700 students of St. Augustine’s School at the corner of Sterling Place and Sixth Avenue in Park Slope were in class, sheltered from the cold sleet dripping down the windows. Minutes later, they looked out those windows and saw a damaged jet descend down Sterling Place, wings clipping the tops of nearby buildings, before crashing into the intersection at Seventh Avenue.

The “Park Slope plane crash,” as it came to be called, was the deadliest aviation accident in U.S. history at the time. United Airlines flight 826 originated in Chicago and was bound for Idlewild Airport, now known as JFK. Trans World Airlines (TWA) flight 266 was en route from Columbus, Ohio, to LaGuardia Airport. The planes collided in the skies over Miller Field on Staten Island. The TWA plane, an older, propeller-driver Lockheed Super Constellation, broke apart and rained down on Miller Field and the surrounding neighborhoods of New Dorp and Midland Beach. The United plane, a year-old Douglas DC-8 jet, stayed airborne for 11 miles before smashing into the heart of Park Slope.

The crash was caused by a miscalculation by the United pilot. As he approached the New York Harbor, air traffic controllers sent him toward a navigational point near South Amboy, New Jersey, to enter a holding pattern and await clearance to land. Just before the collision, the pilot reported that he was approaching the navigational point--but his jet was already eleven miles past it. One of the jet’s navigational radios was not working, which may have contributed to the miscalculation.

All 44 people on board TWA flight 266 died in the crash, but no one on the ground in Staten Island was injured. Damage to buildings was minimal. Park Slope was not as lucky. Six people on the ground, including two sidewalk Christmas tree salesmen, a 90-year-old church caretaker, and a butcher shop employee were killed. Twelve buildings were damaged or destroyed. Firefighters worked through the day to control blazes.

There was one survivor of the crash: eleven-year-old Stephen Baltz of Wilmette, Illinois. Stephen, whose mother and sister had flown out two days earlier, was on his way to spend Christmas with family in Yonkers. He landed in a snowbank, and a photo of him, face blackened with soot, sheltered by an umbrella and surrounded by concerned residents, was on the front page of afternoon newspapers that day. New Yorkers of all faiths latched onto his survival as a miracle. Stephen Baltz died at Methodist Hospital the following morning. He described the crash before he passed away, saying, “It looked like a picture out of a fairy book. Then all of a sudden there was an explosion. The plane started to fall and people started to scream. I held onto my seat and then the plane crashed.”

Footage from the scene in Park Slope was broadcast on television within hours of the crash, marking a shift in how the nation, accustomed to newspaper and radio coverage, experienced tragic news events.

After the crash, President John F. Kennedy convened a task force on air traffic control, and new regulations were enacted to prevent mid-air collisions. Today, scars of the crash can still be seen in masonry repairs at the intersection of Sterling Place and Seventh Avenue, though there is no memorial in to the crash in Park Slope. In 2010, a memorial was erected in nearby Greenwood Cemetery, on a plot that holds unidentified, fragmentary human remains from the crash. There’s also a memorial plaque inside New York Methodist Hospital, where Stephen Baltz died.


Napoli, Brooklyn is now in performance at the Laura Pels Theatre. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Napoli Brooklyn


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Celebrating 20 Years of Education: Dimitri Normil

Posted on: July 20th, 2017 by Dimitri Normil

 

This year, Education at Roundabout celebrates its 20th Anniversary. Since 1996, Education at Roundabout has served as a national leader in arts education, using theatrical disciplines to create responsive programming that serves students, educators, early career professionals, and audiences. To celebrate this milestone, we asked members of the Education at Roundabout community to reflect on how Roundabout’s programs have impacted their lives.

Below, Dimitri Normil, a member of Roundabout’s after school program, Student Production Workshop (SPW) reflects on his journey into costume design.

Dimitri working on SPW costumes with a Roundabout Teaching Artist.

My name is Dimitri Normil and I’m a member of the Student Production Workshop ensemble. When I first joined SPW, I was extremely nervous because it was my first-time interviewing/auditioning for something. First, I had a great interview for the Tech/Design track with Teaching Artist Theresa. Then I auditioned for the Performance track. I had only learned about SPW the night before, and in my mind, auditioning for something on such short notice seemed scary. But the atmosphere at SPW was so warm and welcoming that I felt like I could do it with no problems. After my interview and audition I was proud of myself, and that feeling grew even more when I was accepted in the Tech/Design track.

The past two years I’ve spent in SPW have been nothing but great. I’ve made some great friends and got the chance to see some amazing shows. So far, my favorites were Love, Love, Love and Therese Raquin. I’ve learned so much about technical design from Theresa and the other Teaching Artists who come in and lead workshops about costumes, set, sound, and lighting design. The Teaching Artists push you to take risks, which isn’t hard in SPW’s comfortable environment.

During my first summer at SPW, I got to be a costume designer for our production of She Was as Beautiful as the Moon. Being a costume designer was a new experience for me, and I was excited to learn more about what goes into designing character’s costumes. It was such an amazing experience. I got to work with a great mentor, and teamed up with amazing people, who are now my friends. This summer, I took on greater responsibility as the Production Manager for our production of Little By Little. SPW has taught me a lot in the past two years. I hope to take the skills I've learned and use them in the future to achieve great things. Because of SPW, I have a wide range of opportunities for my future. I'd recommend this program to anyone who enjoys theater, there's so much to take away from it. It helps you grow more as a person. Being a part SPW has been an adventure, and I can’t wait to see what next year holds.


Related Categories:
Education @ Roundabout, Student Production Workshop


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Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? Why did you want to become a theatre director? Did you have any teachers who had a profound influence on you?

Anne Kauffman: I was born in Phoenix, Arizona. I was one of six children and I often say that my theatrical chops came from trying to get attention from my family. I went to school in California for both undergrad and graduate school; two different universities, but I was an actor in undergrad -- a bad actor as it turned out. I was cast a lot as guys and it became very clear to me that I wasn’t destined for the stage because of my acting talent. I took a class in directing and my teacher, Michael Hackett, said to me, “You’re a director.” I learned quite a bit from Michael and he sat me down one day and said, “What are you going to do now that you know you are a director?” It was really moving that he validated me in that way. Ultimately, I decided to move to New York in the early ‘90s when Marvin’s Room debuted off-Broadway. I did not see it, but I was very aware of it. I like to say that Marvin’s Room and I came to the city at the same time and we are now making our Broadway debut together. I was an intern at Circle Rep before it closed its doors. I interned in their literary office in 1988 and then I worked for David Esbjornson at Classic Stage Company, where I was his resident assistant director.

TS: How did you get involved with The Civilians?

AK: I went to graduate school at UCSD and our mentor there, Les Waters, was part of Joint Stock at the Royal Court in London and in that company were Max Stafford-Clark, Caryl Churchill and Timberlake Wertenbaker, among others. Joint Stock created interview-based work. Les taught a class in it and one of my classmates, Steve Cosson really took to the method as a way of creating work.  We started The Civilians upon coming back to New York in 1999/2000.

TS: Why did you choose to direct Scott McPherson’s play Marvins Room?  What do you think this play is about?

AK: It is interesting that I’m making my Broadway debut with a revival and not a new play.  I’m a new-play director who does weird new plays.  But, David Binder and Sharon Karmazin optioned the play and David brought it to me. And actually, it has the elements that I traffic in as a new-play director; it has the absurdity and the kind of humanity that is in my wheelhouse and it is a stranger play than people give it credit for. I think it’s quite revolutionary in its own way. It’s unfortunate that I never got to meet Scott McPherson, who died not long after the play debuted in New York. Not only do I miss having the playwright in the room, but by all accounts, he was a startling human. I’ve been speaking with Jim Bagley, who is the Literary Executor for the play, and I feel as though I’m beginning to know Scott through him and learning what he cared about and how his sense of humor, which is dark and very confrontational, functions. The play is about facing illness, caregiving, the labyrinthian medical establishment, and what it means to be in a family. What those relationships and responsibilities are. Scott’s not being coy about any of these things, he’s facing them head on and he does it with a great sense of humor. His humor is what complicates the world in a really beautiful way.

TS: Do you see the play as contemporary or a period piece or doesn’t it really matter?

AK: I think that what it’s grappling with is contemporary. It’s some of the details like what’s available medically and…well…smoking indoors (that I refused to part with!) that put the action in a particular decade. But what Scott was talking about will forever be contemporary because we live in a culture that does not value caregiving and does not pay attention to or want to confront illness, aging or death. In this country, those things are very neatly swept under the rug. This play exposes those issues and treats them with respect. The play values and celebrates the act of caregiving and celebrates our responsibility to one another -- rather than trying to shut it away in a dark room.

TS: Will you give us some insight into your process as a director? What kind of research did you have to do?

AK: My way into any play is through the design -- through the set design really – and, so, the set designer is my most important collaborator. I don’t understand the play until I understand what the space is and I don’t mean “is it a kitchen?” I mean, what is the psychic space? What is the metaphor that most accurately expresses or captures the engine of the play? We have to address not only what the play is about, but what the metaphor is that encapsulates it.  We examine who these characters are within the space, what are their comings and goings? I know that sounds pedestrian, but it is actually very illuminating when you’re trying to figure out where someone is physically coming from and where someone is physically going. For instance, in this play, there are a lot of locations. My collaborator on this set is Laura Jellinek and what was important to us was finding the envelope of the play. When the audience walks into the theater, what is the tone? What is the mood? What do we want to communicate? And then within that, if we do the envelope well, the interior machinations of going from space to space and how characters move from one location to another should follow with fluidity and ease. And the mechanism that we use to get from place to place has dramaturgical value. Laura and I approached this play as an absurdist journey through the medical establishment. For Bessie, it’s a journey from caregiving to being taken care of. I think that Scott wrote the very first scene as a vaudeville to illuminate the idea that the byzantine medical establishment is a confusing and ridiculous entity. We start the play as a vaudeville downstage in one and then the curtain lifts and we see Bessie’s home and on stage left there’s a turntable and with each revolve of that turntable, we switch locations. That turntable ends up being a carousel at Disney World. So what you realize is that Bessie’s life, within the span of the play, has been this circular and somewhat disorienting ride-like journey.

Janeane Garofalo and Lili Taylor (Photo by Joan Marcus)

TS: I’m curious how you understand the relationship between Bessie and her sister Lee?

AK: I have very deep relationships with my sisters. It is very difficult for me to understand how sisters could not be close because I’m so dependent on mine. I think that within families, children take on certain responsibilities and they are labeled from a very young age. What kind of person are we in our family’s dynamic? Are we the black sheep? Are we someone who’s a really good student? Someone who’s maternal or someone who is a rebel? I feel like I’m the rebel in my family. Although we aren’t fractious like the two sisters in Marvin’s Room, I understand that family is the most wonderful and the most heinous source of who we are as individuals. It gives us everything. It writes our history into the future. I think the thing that the sisters in Marvin’s Room are striving for is redefinition and a chance to reconfigure their relationship. One of the things that’s important about the play is that the audience not jump to the conclusion that Bessie has sacrificed herself, that she has taken herself out of the world to take care of her father, Marvin, and her aunt Ruth. It would be reductive to decide that Bessie’s reality was Plan Z and not Plan A. I certainly think Lee judges Bessie in that way. And I think Bessie sees Lee as a fuck up and someone who is shirking responsibility -- but Lee has her own family who she’s trying to be responsible for. I’m trying not to view Bessie as someone who is just taking care of her family or Lee as someone who has abandoned her family. I want to relook at their individual actions, not as negative choices, but as things that are fulfilling and right for who these women are.

TS: Let’s talk about casting. What traits did you need in the actors?

AK: I think that this play is trafficking in and articulates the need for generosity and that we all need to model that behavior. So, I was looking for actors who have reputations for being generous. There’s so much to explore in this play. We all need to give this play the kind of exploration it deserves and I often find if I’m getting resistance from an actor, it denies the company from going as deeply as it can.  And this is just too important of a play to settle for a surface reading.  What the play is saying about this culture and what we need from one another requires actors who are giving.

TS: Do you have any advice for young people who say they want to direct and how do you keep yourself inspired as an artist?

AK: I would say you’ve just got to do it. You have to do it whenever you can. Get your friends together and work on your craft. You have to put stuff up wherever and whenever. It can be just two chairs in your living room, but figure it out so that you start to understand what you’re interested in and what your voice is. Then you can worry about your career.

I feel very clear nowadays that when I’m attracted to a play, it’s because  it usually includes real questions I have about my life. What inspires me are the questions I have about how to move forward in this country right now. And I seek out work that is an exploration in answering those questions.


Marvin's Room is now in performance at the American Airlines Theatre. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Marvin's Room, Upstage


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