Frankie95 Lost Prequel: Into the Maelstrom

I’m going to be re-posting my lengthy re-cap of Frankie95 over the next few weeks. I originally posted it on Facebook as a series of Notes, so there’s a chance you’ve already read it. If not, or if you just want to relive the pain and glory, you’ll get your chance soon.

I going to start off with a Note that I never got around to posting. Some of it will seem familiar since I appropriated parts for one of my notes I did post. Originally written about a crazy day I had on April 20, 2009. At the time it was pretty exciting, but Frankie’s passing right before I posted it put things into perspective. Nonetheless, here it is a year later.

I came home at about 1:00 am on Monday morning from another musically brilliant DCLX weekend. Somewhere along the way I decided that it would be pointless to go to sleep since I had to be at the train station by 5:00 am to catch a ride up to New York City. Luckily(?) I was able to get about two and a half hours of sleep on the train before I got into the city a little before 9:00 am.

It took me a little while to get my bearings and head over to the direction of the Manhattan Center where most of Frankie’s 95th birthday celebration will be held. That only took me about 4 minutes after leaving Penn Station, it’s that convenient. The MC people wouldn’t let me wander around on my own, but fortunately the planning committee was already gathering at the diner next door.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was about to begin a nine hour marathon meeting that eventually included 17 people in 8 locations straight through 4 cab rides. All this during a miserable stormy Monday that made New York City feel more like Chicago.

I’m not exaggerating about the continuous nature of this meeting. We were talking details in the cab, waiting for elevators, and as we walked from place to place in the rain and wind. It was nonstop information download. I think the only time I was alone during that stretch was when I was in the bathroom, and even then I was busy mentally reviewing information and figuring out the next question to ask.

While we were meeting in the Manhattan Center, another event was being set up that included a full stage show. One of the numbers they were rehearsing was the theme from Fame. It got stuck in my head and was part of my internal soundtrack for the rest of the day.

It turned out to be very appropriate because one of the sites we visited was the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and The Performing Arts, on which the original film was based, and where we are having some of our workshops. We didn’t see many students at LaGuardia because we came after school let out, but we hit the Alvin Ailey School, another workshop location, earlier in the day. The energy pulsating through that place was amazing, so it kinda did feel a bit like being in the middle of a tv show that would break out into song and dance at any moment. It was also fun to experience how a place like that functioned with all the dancers around, giving us a little preview of what it would be like for our event in May.

I will say that it’s a little crazy to think that they maintain that kind of energy throughout the whole year. The highlight of that stop was seeing Judith Jamison teach class. She’s the legendary dancer and choreographer who became artistic director of the Alvin Ailey company after its founder passed away. There are as many pictures and portraits of her in the building as there are of Ailey himself.

Our tour guide of the Ailey School shooed away the students who were crowding the doorway hopping to get a peak of Jamison and maybe a drop of wisdom. Tena and I were able to look into the room ever so briefly. In that brief time, Jamison’s gaze turned to our direction, and I realized at that moment that she knew more about dance than I will ever hope to learn.

As daunting as everything is, I found it amusing that the main organizers kept checking in with me all day to see if I was freaking out yet. I pointed out to them that I didn’t have a reason to freak out. It’s not my money or reputation on the line for this thing. I get to do the fun part (for me at least) of putting together this logistical and operational puzzle. It does seem that part of my non-existent job description is to stay calm while everyone else looks for the lifeboats that aren’t there.

I did have a bit of a “whoa” moment standing atop the balcony of the Grand Ballroom in the Manhattan Center. Even with most of the lights down, I could feel the immensity of the room trying to swallow us whole. I remember saying “We’re really going to do this” more as a statement than question although it was meant to be the latter. Tena Morales just stood next to me and quietly replied “yeah.”

The ironic part is that the Grand Ballroom isn’t even the biggest space in the Manhattan Center. Something that I was reminded of when we entered the Hammerstein Ballroom from the fifth floor. Just peeking through the door, the only thing you could feel was down as you looked through the huge abyss of that space all the way to the stage on the first floor several hundred feet away.

Tena has the same aversion to heights as I do, but I had to go down to the railing to take the whole place in. I looked over to Buddy standing next to me and all he had was this mischievous grin on his face as he took pictures. The kind of grin that agrees that we’re completely in over our heads, so we might as well have fun with it.

By the way, what’s up with New York City and everyone nickel and diming you? You know you’re in New York when even the priest tries to jack you. The Manhattan Center is charging us for every sneeze and twitch me we’re planning on making for the whole weekend, but that didn’t top our run in with the parish priest at the church where we will be holding some of the dance workshops.

The church was our last stop of the day. The rain and wind didn’t let up on us as we walked over the two blocks from the Manhattan Center. We were greeted by a very gruff and somewhat put off priest. He left us to our own devices as we scoped out the church rectory’s auditorium, and told us to come up when we were ready to discuss details.

His office was dark except for a couple of lamps, one on his desk and another strategically placed beneath a statue of an angel spearing a demon, maybe even satan himself. The positioning of the lamp on the statue cast a shadow that dominated the corner of the room behind me. I thought to myself that this is the definition of Home Field Advantage.

I think the priest knew that as well when he decided to charge us twice the amount of money we discussed previously. I’m glad I wasn’t doing the negotiating because the first thing that came to my mind was probably something you shouldn’t say to a priest even if he is holding you up. The main Frankie95 representatives, David and Elliot were flabbergasted, and asked the obvious question: Why? The priest matter of factly and unapologetically responded “You guys look like you can afford it.”

I suppose that was a back handed compliment. With that, David and Elliot turned to the only negotiating tactic we had left after running around a storm swept city for an entire day: Grovel like a bunch of groveling grovelers that grovel for a living. Apparently pathetic begging still carried weight with the old man, and he returned back to his original rental price for the space.

At the end of the day, I sat with Elliot Donnelly at a café for about an hour and a half reviewing the million and one things on our to-do lists. We came to the very simple but obvious conclusion that this will have to get done. We don’t have a choice in that respect. The sheer momentum of 1600+ people coming to this event in about four weeks will guarantee something will happen. It may not what we’re envisioning right now, but it will happen.

1 Comment

  1. Kevin said,

    April 20, 2010 at 2:14 am


    I’m eager to read all of this. Keep ’em comin.

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