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The Multi-National Horizon Fan Club Meeting: January 2014 New York City

Report on the Multi-National Horizon Fan Club Meeting: January 2014 New York City
by Paula Black

We had never even considered visiting New York. Brad had been there years ago and wasn’t impressed. It was only when fellow Forum member Lurena notified us that she was to appear there sometime soon, that we gave the idea of visiting New York some thought.

Lurena is an e-mail friend of ours, as many are on the Forum, and we were thrilled for her when we found out she would be part of a large chorus being brought together to celebrate the 70th birthday of Sir Karl Jenkins, the talented Welsh composer. I thought nothing more of the idea of visiting New York until I told Brad about Lurena’s news. He immediately said we should go and see her concert. I was nonplussed. New York? Well, it was only 700 miles away - and we would be able to meet another Forum member - yes, why not?

As we waited for Lurena’s tour manager to announce dates, hotel and flight numbers, we occupied ourselves doing other things, like visiting the United Kingdom for the third time and attending two Doctor Who conventions. Finally, the concert date was announced and we started planning our trip. Now only weeks after we found out the date of the Karl Jenkins concert, we read about Steven Pacey’s casting as Kent in King Lear. Of course we were pleased about it, but we never in our wildest dreams expected to have the production transferred to New York, and in the time frame we would be there. Upon hearing of this, we waited impatiently for the dates to be posted for Lear in hopes of seeing both Lurena and Steven in one weekend. And as luck would have it, we were very lucky indeed, as we’d be able to see both concert and play in our small window of being in New York.

This news prompted us to advertise it on the Forum, which prompted fellow member Thetis, who runs the Steven Pacey fan site, to contact us and ask if we’d like to meet up with her to see Steven in Lear. “Of course,” we chorused. So in a few short weeks, we had agreed to meet Lurena and Thetis in New York. A multi-national Horizon fan club meeting, as Thetis lives in Australia, Brad and I in the USA, and Lurena in the Netherlands.

A multitude of e-mails ensued and we got our plans together for the big day. We were to meet on January 17th, just after Lurena’s rehearsal that night. We had flown into New York’s La Guardia airport earlier in the day and had occupied ourselves getting our bearings in mid-town Manhattan. Our first foray out was to Times Square, only eight blocks away from our hotel. What a sight that was - canyons of neon and big screen jumbo-trons pouring daylight on the street 24/7. It was almost too much for a small-town gal like me to imagine. We were just glad we had two weeks to go until the Super Bowl was held in East Rutherford, New Jersey. You’d think with all the hype over the Super Bowl we saw, they’d be playing it in New York! After finding a little café/bakery called Fluffy’s, so iconic in New York City, we sat down for a quick meal and then back to the hotel lobby to prepare to meet Lurena.

Well, it was one of those fannish things. The shriek of surprise and the group hug. Lurena saw us and ran over and we all hugged each other numerous times talking a mile a minute. We finally exited to our room and had a few hours conversation about anything and everything, and a bit about some obscure little space opera which used to be on in the 70's. Finally tiring out, we called it a night and prepared to sleep, thinking of our little excursion into Brooklyn the next day to see King Lear.

We met Thetis bright and early the next day (Saturday) for breakfast. Yes, the same fannish bear hugs and shrieks of joy with her. At least with Thetis, we had met her before while in the UK, and seeing Steven again, in Charley’s Aunt. We had breakfast and at one point Thetis beamed with joy - I was thinking she had spotted one of New York’s actors on the street, but no - it had started snowing and she had never seen the phenomenon. Well, coming from the snowy Midwest, we were not impressed. But I imagine it had to be a shock never having seen snow before. (The day we left, New York saw a foot of snow. I hope that was enough to satisfy Thetis for life.)

We met Lurena after her rehearsal and we braved the New York subway and, thanks to Brad and his map reading skills, finally found our way on a train en route to Brooklyn and the BAM, or Brooklyn Academy of Music. The venue was an old theatre, obviously in need of a good restoration, but in some ways it lent itself to the play because of its state of decay. We had purchased tickets in a block so we could sit together and we had the second row centre in the balcony. Seventy or so steps up and we were there, with an excellent view of the stage. I give full kudos to the stage designer and lighting man, as although stark, it meshed with the play brilliantly. The huge square pilings of wood stuck around the stage like dead trees gave the place quite an eerie cast. The pilings could mimic a castle wall or an ancient forest. The stage itself consisted of brick and slate flooring with a wooden middle section which could be removed when needed (as in the storm scene where they had it rain on stage).

The lights went down and the play began. I won’t give you a review of Lear, except to say that Frank Langella gave the performance of a lifetime. No one said a word in the audience throughout the play; they seemed so engrossed with the thing. Steven Pacey played the noble Kent, a role seemingly created for him. In some ways you could see hints of Tarrant, a more mature Tarrant, but Tarrant all the same. When Kent is put in shackles, we did whisper as to what Tarrant had done this time - but that was the only real joke we shared, as the play was so compelling and powerfully acted.

One ghastly moment is when poor Gloucester has his eyes gouged out. The actor doing the deed had his back to the audience but that only made the act seem even worse. He plucked each eye out and then threw them at the back of the set, each landing with a large thud. It was horrific and at the same time mesmerizing. The rain scene was very well done and then we understood why they had used a patch-work of materials for the stage. The boards were taken up and a hollow appeared for the rain to drain into. Steven told us later that the rain was thankfully warm water, but that upon exiting the scene and waiting back stage for his next cue, he almost froze to death. Poor man.

At last the play ended to a thunderous standing ovation. The look of joy and relief on Frank Langella’s face said it all - he gave it everything he possibly had and they loved him for it. We were all wiping away tears, as the production was so powerful, and nearly everyone in the audience was doing the same thing. It was truly one excellent production of Lear, and one I’ll never forget.

Thetis, being in charge of the Steven Pacey fan site, arranged for us to meet Steven after the play. I spotted him first looking for us in the lobby and approached in my shy American way by waving frantically and screaming his name across the room. I went to shake hands with him and introduce myself and Steven mentioned he remembered us from when we came to see him in Chicago, during his run as Captain Hook in Peter Pan. I was stunned and pleased all at once. Soon the others arrived, and instead of the usual talk, photos and autographs, Steven proposed we walk to the nearest coffee shop and get a mug and talk. How could we refuse? I made it my purpose in life to keep up with long-striding Steven so I could throw questions at him while we walked. We discussed our similar reaction to Times Square and other things until we found the neighborhood Starbucks and went in. I must admit I could get used to an attractive and talented actor waiting on me. Steven got our orders and retrieved the coffees himself. We found a table and we had a very relaxed and fun half hour of conversation. I was especially pleased when Lurena and Steven had the chance to ‘talk shop’, as it seemed they both were familiar with a Dutch recording studio in Amsterdam where they had worked. We asked Steven about the play and about his upcoming roles, and I’ll admit we had a great time beaming at the member of the cast of Blake’s 7 with the teeth and curls. He still has it, ladies, no doubt!

Soon it was time to leave, as Steven had another show in the evening and wanted to get a bit of dinner before that. We thanked him for his time and generosity and begged him for a photo and a few autographs, which he graciously posed for and signed. Then he was gone, but his memory and the memories of the play remained and we walked on air all the way back to Manhattan.

The next day (Sunday) saw Lurena with long rehearsals, so Thetis, Brad and I decided to hop the subway and wend our way to Battery Park and board a ferry to see Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty. It was a cold and windy day, but the site was amazing and an inspiration to any American. We also visited Ellis Island, the site of the Immigration boom of the late 1880s. The next day (Monday) Lurena had her dress rehearsals, so Thetis, Brad and I went out sightseeing again. This time, we decided to visit Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and we had the time of our lives posing with all the famous and infamous statues of the stars and politicians. We then decided to take an open air tour bus and see the sights of New York’s mid-town. This was a two and a half hour ride and we defied the weather and stayed at the top open-aired end of the bus the entire time. It was a cold but exhilarating trip and we loved every moment of it and the commentary by the tour guide who happened to be from the Ivory Coast. But then, that’s New York.

We got back to the hotel in time to clean up and then arrived at the appointed hour to Carnegie Hall for Lurena’s concert, The Music of Karl Jenkins. What can I say about Carnegie Hall, but that it’s an iconic site in New York and a very prestigious one at that. Unfortunately, there was scaffolding up all around the building, so it was impossible to see the architecture of it all, but the interior more than made up for that slight. The Hall is all cream and gold. There are boxes on each side and a few balconies thrown in for good measure. I’m happy to say there was nearly a full house for the concert. It took many minutes for all the assembled choristers to find their places on the stage, along with the orchestra and principal singers. The first work was called The Bards of Wales, its United States premiere. After a few minutes of listening to Sir Karl Jenkins’ music we were blown away. What a unique and powerful composer he is. I’m no expert in neo-classical music, but I liked what I heard.

The next piece was Benedictus from The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, and Sir Karl conducted this himself. Again, another moving composition. He was then presented with a birthday card signed by all the singers and musicians and we all sang Happy Birthday to him - so we can now brag that we sang at Carnegie Hall… A short intermission followed.

The second half of the concert consisted of Jenkins’ Stabat Mater. Even more choristers appeared on stage, this time Lurena with them. She was only twenty feet away from our seats and we could make eye contact with her for the rest of the concert. Lurena looked striking in her Oleg Cassini black beaded gown, and she showed all of her professionalism in grace and bearing as she stood statuesquely on stage. We waved excitedly so she could see us. She smiled serenely back.

Again, Sir Karl’s music was sublime and very emotional. The piece wound down by getting louder and louder and crescendoed into heaven. I could not help but think - such a great hall for such great music. The concert was suddenly over and the participants got a well deserved standing ovation. We rushed to the stage to congratulate Lurena and she was beaming with joy at seeing how much we had loved the concert. So with a plane to catch early in the morning, and Lurena off to a much-deserved after show party, we departed back to the hotel.

A knock came at our door at 1.00am that night, and it was Lurena. She wanted to discuss the concert and the weekend’s events before we left. It’s always nice to meet new friends, but all the better to make life-long friends as we did that weekend. In the morning, we all met for breakfast and Thetis and Lurena saw us off to the airport. It was snowing again by then and little did we know that we’d be bumped off our scheduled flight and have an excursion to Newark, New Jersey and another night's stay there - but we left knowing we’d made solid friendships of our weekend friends and vowed if ever there was the chance to do it all again, we’d jump at the chance. So - that was our weekend with Forum members in New York. If any of you ever get the chance to do what we did, I heartily suggest you do so, as it was one of our most memorable weekends in recent history and we had the time of our lives with our Blake’s 7 friends. A big thank you to Thetis and Lurena for making our stay so memorable and fun. And of course, the same to Mr. Steven Pacey. And New York, you stunned us your welcoming attitude. We may just have to visit again…..

You can read Brad's review of King Lear here: Lear in NY Review

Photos courtesy of Brad & Paula Black


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