A Travellerspoint blog

What I Have Seen

...Not much, apparently. A few knights who say Ni and a couple comedic tenors, and the tenors may not count. I mean a couple tenors must be worth at least £20, no?

sunny 16 °C

I spent the better part of 2006 working in Rutherford, New Jersey, just the other side of Lincoln Tunnel from New York City. Right outside the hotel I was staying at was NJ Transit bus route that, in only 40 minutes, would whisk me to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in central Manhattan. As you might imagine, I spent a few nights and many weekends catching the NJ Transit 192 into Manhattan to see the sights.

At some point during that year, when I was back in Toronto, I was out with my sister. “So, how you are enjoying New York City?” she asked.

“It’s good. Really cool,” I replied. It is a curse of mine that while I can come up with stuff like…

“I hung out in Times Square, wandered around Rockefeller Center, Marvelled at the Chrysler Building, went up the Empire State Building, got choked up at the World Trade Center site, worshipped and prayed to the gods of money at the New York Stock Exchange and wandered across the Brooklyn Bridge in the rain. I ate hot dogs from dirty water and mile high sandwiches at the Carengie Deli. I stared at subway maps, more than a little overwhelmed at the options. I started to talk about places as intersections, not addresses, hoping that the locals didn't catch on I didn't belong.”

…when I write my blog,, but when people ask me in person what I think of a place, I can never think of anything interesting to say. “How was Tanzania?” you might ask me one day, and I would likely reply, “Yeah, neat. Grassy.”

Despite my verbose and encompassing declaration that New York City was “cool,” my sister felt the need to probe to get more information.

“What have you seen?” she asked.

“Ummm. I saw the Empire State Building and Rockerfeller Centre and Ground Zero,” I offered.

My sister frowned. Obviously I was missing the gist of what she was asking. “When someone in the theatre asks you what you have seen, they mean what have you seen at the theatre, Greg,” she offered by way of an explanation. My sister is an actress and singer, and thus was interested in how I was taking advantage at being in New York City, the home of Broadway and theatre that is “usually considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world.” (At least, according to a completely unsourced statement on Wikipedia).

“Oh, right. Well, I stayed at Times Square once, and SAW theatres from the outside,” I offered as an olive branch.

My sister frowned again. Obviously seeing the outside of buildings which probably contain stages is not quite the artistic experience she was hoping I would have had. “Greg, you are in New York City, you have to go and see something,” she pleaded.

And I did… but I am not sure it really counts. I went and saw Spamalot, which I will admit I only really went and saw because I like Monty Python and people said it was funny. I am not sure I can really consider myself much of a serious theatre goer if the play ends with a sing-along of “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life.”

Times Square, Heart of New York City's Broadway Theatre District

Times Square, Heart of New York City's Broadway Theatre District

I am afraid that when it comes to making me a cultured theatre goer, my sister is probably fighting an uphill battle. After all, I am almost into my fourth decade of life and haven’t really taken to the habit yet. I am creeping towards being a gray haired dog, and you know what they say about old dogs. They fart a lot, and you can’t teach them to sit.

I do think though she was hopeful when she heard I was moving to London, which contains the “West End Theatre” district, and is “usually considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English speaking world.” (At least, according to a completely unsourced statement on Wikipedia.).

When I was home recently, my sister and I had a similar repeat of the 2006 conversation. “So, what have you seen,” she asked.

This time, however, I knew what the question meant, so I didn’t answer with what tourist sights I had seen, but rather with a list of all the theatre I had been to. “I’ve seen nothing,” I replied.

Unfortunately, understanding the question and having a satisfying answer are two different things. My sister frowned again. “Greg, you are in the middle of the greatest theatre town in the world!” (Obviously, she hadn’t read the Wikipedia entry on Broadway Theatre, otherwise she would have said “one of the two greatest theatre towns in the world.”) “You have to go and see something,” she pleaded again.

“I once saw a homeless man yelling at pigeons on Shaftesbury Avenue,” I suggested.

“Something inside a theatre, with actors,” she clarified.

“I was thinking of seeing Avenue Q,” I offered up by way of an apology, though again that’s mostly because it has puppets and lots of people have said it was funny. I am not positive that seeing a play whose cast includes Gary “What you Talkin’ About, Willis” Coleman really counts as serious theatre.

Piccadilly Circus, in London's West End Theatre District

Piccadilly Circus, in London's West End Theatre District

I haven’t yet seen Avenue Q, but I did something this last weekend that allows me to at least answer the question “what have you seen?” with a more satisfying answer to the theatre types in the world. I have now seen an opera.

Actually, it is even better than that, I’ve seen two opera. For the price of one! Though, admittedly at one act each, they were pretty short operas.

This past weekend I and some friends went to the Peacock Theatre and saw the British Youth Opera perform Rossini’s Il Signor Bruschino and La Scala di Seta. As you might expect, this wasn’t my choice for activity, but rather a birthday treat for a friend. I simply ponied up fifteen pounds for a ticket and tagged along.

The Peacock Theatre is a thousand seat (less one) theatre near The Strand in London. It is, in actuality, a lecture hall for the London School of Economics (LSE), who lease it out to the Sadler’s Wells Theatre to put on shows.

The LSE teaches economics and politics and is quite influential. It’s most famous attendee is probably Sir Michael Phillip Jagger, better known as Mick, though you probably know him because of his work with The Rolling Stones rather than his work on anti-inflationary policies and their impact international trade relations. Could you imagine though if Mick had stuck with the LSE and become a professor of Economics? That first day in the class room and the prof comes strutting in like a peacock, singing “You can’t always get what you want, but with some quantitative easing, you just might find, conditions are in place for green shoots of recovery!”

I did notice that the seats provided very little leg room. I suppose that if you are attending an economics lecture, you probably wouldn’t notice, as the torture of having to listen to someone drone on in a monotone for an hour about supply and demand curves would cause enough discomfort to overwhelm any feelings of pain in your legs. If you are at the opera for three hours, though, it sure would be nice now and again to shuffle the feet around a bit.

Both operas were in Italian, but they had subtitles on an LED illuminated reader board, so I could follow the gist of what was happening. The two comedies were both one-act farces, pretty close to the typical British sex farce, but with a lot more singing in Italian than your usual Carry On film. The singers were all good (to my untuned ear), and they did a good job of having the right level of camp for the comedic material.

The set design for the second play (La Scala di Seta, which is Italian for the Silken Ladder) was interesting. Instead of furniture on stage, they had people wearing black clothing and white masks to act as closets, coat racks and tables. Whenever anyone hid, they just held up a frame in front of their face, which quickly became the short-hand for hiding during the play. There is a lot of hiding in La Scala di Seta. I’m thinking of carrying around a picture frame to hide at work. “We need a volunteer to organise the birthday lunch for Sandra,” someone might say in a meeting. I’ll just hold up my picture frame, and poof, I’ll have disappeared.

I think for the untrained opera neophyte, one act comedies are probably a good place to start. Not so serious, you get to laugh and they are shorter than something a little more serious like Wagner's Ring Cycle. The Ring Cycle is 18 hours long, and despite not being prime comic fodder, I would probably start laughing anyway, as the music would most likely recall to my mind Elmer Fudd singing “kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit!”

So there you go. I’ve actually seen something now in London. Maybe… I’m not sure that going to the opera counts as seeing something.

See, when I emailed my sister to tell her I was going to the opera, she replied, “does this mean that someday you may actually go to the London THEATRE?” I’m not sure what the difference between opera and theatre is, after all they both take place on a stage, but sounds like I still may not have seen anything in London.

Posted by GregW 07:30 Archived in England Tagged events

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Your sister sounds like my kind of people!

by Bwaybaby10

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