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In ‘Fear Street,’ a Lesbian Romance Provides Hope for a Genre


They’re also the heroes. In a tender scene in “1994,” when Sam finally stops denying her feelings for Deena moments before the former becomes possessed, Deena makes a crucial vow to Sam. “Tonight, even though we are in hell, I feel like I have another chance with you,” she tells her. “I am not going to lose you again. Because you and me are the way out.”

This simple statement is often heard in horror, but it’s usually uttered by a man to his female love interest. In “Fear Street,” the promise of a future feels more significant: It signals a change that requires Deena to be sent back to 1666. There, as Sarah Fier, the queer woman who was persecuted as a witch and hanged on account of her love for another woman (also played by Welch), she can seek justice against the same kind of hatred and violence that keeps Deena and Sam apart in the present day.

In “1666,” Janiak wanted to highlight the idea that women who were accused of being witches back then were those who merely didn’t fit the standard.

They were labeled witches “because they were other, because they were looking too long at the other girl, or because they didn’t want to get married,” she said. “They weren’t falling in line with whatever societal lines were.”

As it turns out, the animus that humankind displays — as with Solomon (also played by Zukerman), who rallies an entire town to persecute Sarah in “1666” — is just as deadly as a witch’s curse, if not more so. It allowed Janiak to look beyond the supernatural scares to examine the evils of our fellow man. “That, to me, is always the scariest thing,” Janiak said. “I thought this was a cool opportunity that we could visit crazy genre villains, but then ultimately get to that underlying thing of ‘Who’s the real monster here?’”

Ultimately, the “Fear Street” films are aspirational — though there is obviously much carnage along the way. Deena and Sam help to save the town, but more important, they preserve their love for each other. “The trilogy allowed us to give a little bit of hope that I don’t think usually exists in horror movies,” Janiak said, and with a laugh added, “When you only have an hour and a half, you’ve just got to kill everyone. But the experiment of the movies allowed us to push and question and change things a little bit.”

And it was necessary.


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Can I Go to See This Show? Must I Wear a Mask? It Depends.


During its preview performances in June, New York Classical Theater was allowed to put on “King Lear” for only up to 75 audience members outdoors. Those patrons were socially distanced on picnic blankets, wore masks and could not eat or drink during the play.

That same month, Foo Fighters played a full-capacity show inside Madison Square Garden for 15,000 vaccinated fans. Few had face coverings on; none were required to.

As New York and the rest of the country begin the slow journey back toward something resembling prepandemic life, rapidly shifting protocols in the state and across the country have created starkly different environments at theaters, music venues and sports arenas as venue operators seek to balance lingering coronavirus concerns with their business plans and their customers’ desire for normalcy.

The differing approaches at venues perhaps just miles apart has resulted in what some arts officials said has been head spinning confusion and a sense of whiplash.

“There is frustration,” said Stephen Burdman, the artistic director of NY Classical Theater. “Things have not been communicated well.”

In mid-June, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo lifted most of the state’s Covid-19 restrictions after 70 percent of New York adults had gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, essentially clearing the way for most spaces to do as they please — at least as far as the state was concerned. The state does not mandate that a venue check a person’s vaccination status; and in all but the biggest indoor venues, the masking and social distancing policy is now left to the discretion of the people running performances.

Many venues have sought to create an environment with as few reminders of the pandemic as possible. When Bruce Springsteen ushered in the return of Broadway last month, he played for a packed St. James Theater of 1,721 sparsely masked, vaccinated fans. At the al fresco amphitheater on Little Island, more than 600 people have been piled together onto curved wooden benches — few of them wearing masks.

And at Feinstein’s/54 Below, officials pointed out that making vaccinations a requirement for attendance has had an additional benefit: Patrons do not need to wear masks as they enjoy drinks, supper and a show.

“Safety is paramount,” said Richard Frankel, one of the owners of the venue. “After safety, we want people to be comfortable and happy.”

Those wishing to attend the Off Broadway sound experience “Blindness” at the Daryl Roth Theater, for example, are no longer asked to fill out a health questionnaire or have their temperature checked. But the venue continues to require audience members to be socially distanced and wear face coverings while inside the theater.

The Public Theater is among the institutions that have sought to find a middle ground.

Officials announced in early June that they planned to allow only 428 people to attend each performance of its acclaimed Shakespeare in the Park, citing state rules as the reason they had to set such sharp limits on attendance. Then on June 24, the Public said it would significantly increase the capacity of the Delacorte Theater to 1,468 seats for its free performances of “Merry Wives” because the state had lifted its restrictions.

“The governor’s decree to lift restrictions acknowledges a beautiful reality: We are finally starting to recover from Covid-19,” the Public’s artistic director, Oskar Eustis, said in a statement.

Now the Delacorte has both “full capacity” sections for people who show proof of full vaccination and “physically distanced” sections for others. Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a face mask at all times to enter the theater and when moving around. But whether audience members must wear a mask while seated depends on which section they are seated in.

Arts officials also have to contend with city and union rules created to ensure performances are safe. Though New York Classical Theater performs outdoors, it still had to abide by restrictions imposed by its city parks permit and by the actor’s union, which sets out the rules under which its members are allowed to work.

The theater’s city permit for June preview performances set a cap on how large the audience could be, though city officials say that cap was lifted on July 6. The rule the theater followed on audience masking was set by the actors’ union, Actors’ Equity. The union said that rule was in place only until early June, though Burdman said he was not told of any updates to the rules until June 30.

Burdman said he was disinclined to detail his pandemic-related rules for performance during an interview in early July for fear his understanding would be out of date by the time an article appeared.

“Things are changing honestly so rapidly, I don’t want something to go to press and not be in compliance,” he said. “No one is totally clear.”

Asked Friday about the current state of play, Burdman said the rules had finally become clear. Audiences no longer need to socially distance or wear masks, they can once again eat and drink during the performance and capacity limits have been restored to normal levels.

Frankel said the speed of change had also overtaken Feinstein’s efforts to create a nice, highly organized safety manual. His staff began compiling it as early as April 2020, but it had to be updated so many times over the course of a year, that by the time it was printed, it was almost immediately rendered obsolete. “It was such a beautiful document,” he lamented.

Big indoor event venues still must follow somewhat more stringent state guidelines. People who show proof of vaccination no longer need to wear masks or socially distance inside such venues. But unvaccinated people must show proof of a recent negative coronavirus test to be admitted and must wear masks while inside.

“It’s a little bit overwhelming to be back with people again,” said Molly Wissell, 31, of Virginia as she waited to enter the Foo Fighters concert at Madison Square Garden last month. “Standing in line and not having our masks on makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong.”

One concert attendee packed tightly in the stands bragged openly about having gained admittance even though he said he had not been vaccinated.

Roughly an hour earlier, Marianna Terenzio, 30, of Battery Park, said she was glad there were rules in place limiting who could attend the show.

“I like that they are asking people to show vaccination proof,” she said. “I feel safer for sure.”

Michael Paulson, Julia Jacobs and Jon Caramanica contributed reporting.


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What’s on TV This Week: The Olympics and the Jonas Brothers


Between network, cable and streaming, the modern television landscape is a vast one. Here are some of the shows, specials and movies coming to TV this week, July 19-25. Details and times are subject to change.

GAMES OF THE XXI OLYMPIAD (1977) 8 p.m. on TCM. In honor of the beginning of the Tokyo Olympic Games this week, Turner Classic Movies is airing Olympics-related content including “Games of the XXI Olympiad,” a documentary that covers the 1976 Summer Olympics, which were held in Montreal. The city was left in debt after the estimated cost of the Games went from $310 million to $1.03 billion. Notable moments from this Olympics were Caitlyn Jenner’s record-breaking gold medal win in the decathlon, and Nadia Comăneci, just 14 years old at the time, earning the first perfect 10 awarded to a gymnast in the Olympics. Also on Monday, TCM will be airing THE GAMES OF THE V OLYMPIAD STOCKHOLM, 1912 (2016) at 5 a.m., XIVTH OLYMPIAD: THE GLORY OF SPORT (1948) at 10:15 a.m. and TOKYO OLYMPIAD (1965) at 3 p.m.

REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) 8 p.m. on TCM. On Tuesday night, TCM will be airing “Rebel Without a Cause,” directed by Nicholas Ray and starring James Dean and Natalie Wood. As Bosley Crowther described it in his 1955 New York Times review, the film is about “young people neglected by their parents or given no understanding and moral support by fathers and mothers who are themselves unable to achieve balance and security in their homes.”

OLYMPIC DREAMS FEATURING JONAS BROTHERS 8 p.m. on NBC. In keeping with this week’s Olympics-related programming, NBC will be airing a special on Wednesday night featuring the Jonas Brothers. In it, the brothers — Kevin, Joe and Nick — will be put to the test as they get a taste of different Olympic sports, while being trained by Team U.S.A. Olympians. Tune in for Olympic-level athleticism, sibling rivalry, and lots of trips and falls.

GOOD GIRLS 10 p.m. on NBC. This comedy-drama will tie up its four-season run, and its loose ends, in a two-hour series finale. The show follows three mothers, played by Christina Hendricks, Mae Whitman and Retta, who are all working together to make ends meet. The show was expected to be picked up for a shortened, final fifth season, so it was a surprise to many when the show was canceled. There is good news if you are sad to see “Good Girls” go — the creator, Jenna Bans, will be working with NBC on a new thriller-dramedy with strong female leads called “Redrum.”

WOODSTOCK 99: PEACE, LOVE, AND RAGE 9 p.m. on HBO. Though they share the same name, the Woodstock festival that took place in 1969 and the Woodstock festival that took place in 1999 have completely different legacies. The new HBO documentary, directed by Garret Price, takes a deep dive into the chaos and violence that ensued at the 1999 festival after a car was set on fire as the Red Hot Chili Peppers finished their set. The documentary takes viewers through the hours that followed as the situation escalated.

OLYMPICS OPENING CEREMONY 7 a.m. on NBC. Finally, after a long week of Olympics-related programming and after an even longer year of Olympic postponement, the opening ceremony will be broadcast live from Tokyo at 8 p.m. local time, which is 7 a.m. E.S.T. If you don’t feel like getting up that early, it will be rebroadcast Friday night at 7:30 p.m. Though spectators will not be allowed in the stands in compliance with Tokyo’s Covid-19 safety protocols, The Asahi Shimbun reported that there will be members of the International Olympic Committee, diplomats and foreign dignitaries in the stands. Though it is unclear if the traditional parade of nations, which features athletes from each competing nation walking through the opening ceremony, will take place. The torch relay has been underway since March 25 but will be replaced in Tokyo by private ceremonies.

CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (1968) 8 p.m. on TCM. If you are looking to enjoy something fantastical this weekend, consider “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” The film, directed by Ken Hughes and starring Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes, features a flying car, pirates and a town where children are banned. Though the film was marketed as a children’s musical, “the jokes and puns are fairly distributed among age levels,” the Times critic Renata Adler wrote. “There are some subtle, intelligent concessions to a child’s view of the absolute, unappealable arbitrariness of adult power,” she added.

SECRETS OF ROYAL TRAVEL 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). For a healthy dose of escapism, this two-part series from PBS — the first installment debuts on Sunday — explores the trains and planes that belong to the British monarchy. This series offers a rare look into how Queen Elizabeth II and the rest of the British monarchy travel in perhaps the most luxurious ways imaginable.


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Falling Back in Love With Cannes


CANNES, France — “May we now start?”

I suspect the very moment the programming committee of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival heard the first song in Leos Carax’s “Annette” — an infectiously energetic, fourth-wall breaking overture that hits gonzo heights the movie never really reaches again — its destiny as the opening-night film was set. “So may we start?” Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard sing. “May we now start?” the ensemble responds spikily, announcing the intention, rather than seeking the permission, for the film, the festival (which canceled its 2020 edition), and life as Cannes’ regular attendees know it, to begin. Reader, it started.

Written by Carax and the art-pop duo Sparks, “Annette” is an oddity that met a wildly divided reception, but no one was left unmoved by that first number. After the exhausted conclusion of Cannes on Saturday, its excitable beginning feels very long ago, but there could have been no more hopeful, no more unifying moment than that anthem of impatience, played in that context. The only possible dissenters might have been the team presenting Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” which had been widely tipped for the coveted slot but wound up premiering later in the week, to an unusually cool reception (despite the significant joy I took in it). Presumably that will teach Anderson to include a “Let’s get this show on the road!” or a “Here we go, everyone!” song at the beginning of all future films.

“May we now start?” was far from the only earworm to wriggle into the collective attendee subconscious during these past hot, hassled, happy days. Given that all festivals are kaleidoscopes of moods, genres and tempos, Cannes 2021, after so much silence, was at least partly a musical.

I puttered down the Croisette humming Vanessa Paradis’s “Be My Baby” for days after hearing it used, to such jagged, incongruous effect, in Nadav Lapid’s brilliant, excoriating “Ahed’s Knee.” I bopped out of Joanna Hogg’s “The Souvenir Part II” — unequivocally the best film of the festival not actually in the festival, it being part of the separate Directors’ Fortnight — to the strains of Eurythmics’ “There Must Be An Angel,” which is used to such transcendent effect. I irritated my flatmates with shower renditions of Desireless’s ’80s Euro megahit “Voyage Voyage,” after being thoroughly charmed by Juho Kuosmanen’s strangers-on-a-train romance, “Compartment No. 6.” It was only displaced, to my chagrin and doubtless that of those within earshot, by ’N Sync’s heroically vacuous “Bye Bye Bye,” a recurrent theme in Sean Baker’s terrific, deceptively loose-limbed “Red Rocket.”

Not having any love for comic operetta, I spared everyone my version of the Gilbert and Sullivan singalong that occurs in Justin Kurzel’s exceedingly tense and disturbing mass-shooting true story, “Nitram.” Nor did I try to emulate the budding Moroccan rap stars of Nabil Ayouch’s scrappy, not-quite-tight-enough gritty hip-hop musical “Casablanca Beats,” much to the rap genre’s relief.

But Cannes was not all song and dance; it also did a nice line in body horror. And a press corps kept constantly aware of the dictates of biology because of all the drooling into little tubes and all the brain-tickling nasal swabs we endured during our mandatory 48-hourly coronavirus tests, was ideally primed to respond to this earthier, grislier, bawdier element. We most obviously did so with Kirill Serebrennikov’s widely admired, feverishly deranged “Petrov’s Flu” a wildly imaginative head trip that plays like a post-Soviet “Ulysses” rendered in imagery so livid with viral contagion that to watch it is to wish you had several more masks on.

On a less discomfiting, far more salacious note, Paul Verhoeven’s winkingly trashy and lurid nunsploitation drama “Benedetta,” in which Virginie Efira plays the 17th-century Italian nun who was the subject of the Roman Catholic Church’s only trial for lesbianism, duly features some mortifications of the flesh, among significantly more scenes of its gratification.

But apart from the unforgettably lewd use that Benedetta’s lover finds for a small, well, dildo-size statue of the Virgin Mary, the moment from this film that stuck with me most was a relatively demure line. “Your worst enemy is your body,” Benedetta is told when she arrives at the convent as a child and must exchange her fine silks for a scratchy sackcloth shift. “It is best not to feel too at home in it.” That awful admonition reminded me of Tatiana Huezo’s sublime “Prayers for the Stolen,” in which the mothers in a cartel-controlled Mexican village make their adolescent daughters look boyish, through short haircuts and oversize clothing, in an effort to keep them safe from the ever-present specter of kidnapping and rape.

But the nun’s words also spoke to a basic skill that many of us in Cannes were having to suddenly relearn: that of being outside, in a body, in the world among all its perils. I heard of four separate incidents in which bodies, not used to the physical demands of festivalgoing after nearly 18 months of trekking only between sofa and fridge, betrayed their owners. A toe was broken, a kneecap lost its mooring, an arch fell and an ankle was sprained — this last I know about because the ankle was mine. On the day before the festival began, blithely walking with my nose in my phone, not noticing a split in the notoriously uneven Cannes sidewalk, I fell as flat as Sean Penn’s “Flag Day” would a few days later.

So while many of us were struggling with body horrors of our own, “Benedetta” — the type of film in which a random character will pull a heavy breast from her bodice and contemptuously squirt milk into Charlotte Rampling’s eye — also introduced the subgenre of birth horror. The most surprising Cannes exemplar was a documentary: Andrea Arnold’s “Cow,” which with strict formal rigor, focuses on Luma, a handsome Holstein Friesian kept permanently pregnant, and therefore lactating, on a British dairy farm. But as a theme, this vein of horror also looped through Valdimar Johannsson’s classy, witty Icelandic fable “Lamb,” in which a taciturn couple on a remote farm raise the surprisingly cute hybrid offspring of an ewe and a malevolent mythical entity. And the subgenre finally found its apotheosis — although it is motor oil that is expressed by the breast here, not milk — in Julia Ducournau’s astoundingly audacious, hyperstyled “Titane,” which won the Palme d’Or, by far the most impressively daring choice for that top prize in recent memory.

Sometimes Cannes was a fast-moving car out of which we could stick our heads and yell in elation like the irrepressible little boy in “Hit the Road,” the delightful debut that introduces the director Panah Panahi, son of revered Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi. Sometimes it was a road movie of a different order, like Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s exquisitely observed drama of gently momentous connection, “Drive My Car,” a film that takes three hours and not a minute too much, to tease out a relationship built on confidences hesitantly exchanged during a daily commute.

Briefly, around the time of the European Championship final, particularly among English and Italian attendees, Cannes became a sporting documentary.

But mostly, like Joachim Trier’s radiant, beloved “The Worst Person in the World,” Cannes 2021 was, for me, a lovely, imperfect romance. There’s a moment in the film when Julie (deserving Cannes best actress winner Renate Reinsve), having resolved not to cheat on her boyfriend but deeply attracted to a stranger she’s just met at a party, plays a game of “everything but” with him. They tell their deepest secrets. They watch each other pee. And in the garden at dawn they share a cigarette, the one blowing smoke into the other’s mouth in slow motion, giving the festival its sexiest scene as well as a sigh of nostalgia for a time when such an act would not have come tinged with transgression, when neither participant would have been thinking the words “airborne transmission.”

Cannes in the time of corona is also Cannes before corona and Cannes after corona, because it is about cinema, which is still the medium I love for its ability to propel me into recreated pasts and fling me into imagined futures. And sometimes, to wrap me in the exact moment, letting me breathe in an image like smoke and letting me feel it breathing back.

This was, for so long an event that no one even fully dared believe would happen, and now it’s over. For 12 days, we unpaused our lives and found, to our surprise, that despite twisted ankles, in-person conversations that did not feature mute buttons, and a level of moment-to-moment uncertainty that may simply become an continuing feature of life, something of the old rhythm remains, something of the old pleasure is awaiting rediscovery.

May we now start? I think — I hope — we may.


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Mat George, Podcast Host, Killed in Hit-and-Run at 26


Mat George, the 26-year-old co-host of the podcast “She Rates Dogs” known for his humorous takes on dating, pop culture and his identity as a gay man, was struck and killed by a car in Los Angeles on Saturday in what the authorities called a hit-and-run.

The Los Angeles Police Department said in a statement that the hit-and-run occurred in the Beverly Grove neighborhood of Los Angeles around 2:20 a.m.

A pedestrian had been walking in an unmarked crosswalk when a white BMW struck him and drove away. The pedestrian died at the scene, the police said.

The department did not confirm whether the pedestrian was Mr. George, but the statement said the pedestrian was a 26-year-old Arizona resident. Mr. George graduated from Arizona State University in 2017, according to his LinkedIn page.

Michaela Okland, his friend and co-host on the podcast, confirmed his death on Twitter.

On the show, the two co-hosts swapped dating stories and shared their thoughts on mental health, “The Bachelorette” and Britney Spears.

“He loved singing along to songs he didn’t know the words to, pretending to be straight to get on reality dating shows and talking in really bad accents,” Ms. Okland said in a statement.

Ms. Okland said Mr. George wanted to help L.G.B.T.Q. people feel accepted because that’s what he had longed for when he was younger. He hosted a weekly online book club and invited all of his followers to join, Ms. Okland said.

In an interview in December with the website Shoutout Arizona, Mr. George said he had wondered whether he would be able to support himself after moving to Los Angeles last year to pursue a career in entertainment.

“Towards the end of my college days at Arizona State University, I started to share my experiences as a gay man with different people I was close to,” he said. “Their reactions made me realize that a lot of these stories were funny to others, which then gave me more confidence to start sharing them with even more people.”

Abby Govindan, a standup comedian and writer based in New York, said on Twitter on Saturday that Mr. George never took himself too seriously when people mocked him on Twitter.

“Mat got harassed on here by strangers relentlessly but he had an impeccable talent for taking it in stride and turning it into a joke for his followers to laugh at,” Ms. Govindan said.

Mr. George’s humorous takes often drew widespread attention on Twitter. Last week, he shared a photo of his mother and Snoop Dogg.

“I’ve been in LA for a year and haven’t seen a single celebrity,” he wrote. “My mom comes for a weekend and meets Snoop Dogg.”

When other users said the man was probably a doppelgänger of the rapper, Mr. George said: “Can everyone stop saying it’s not Snoop Dogg. My mom’s gonna be heartbroken the next time she logs onto Twitter.”

In 2017, Mr. George drew attention after he devised a creative way to measure a microwave he was selling. When someone on Facebook asked him for measurements, he posted a photo of vodka bottles next to the microwave for comparison.

“I don’t have a tape measurer but it’s about as tall as a 5th of berry new Amsterdam and has a length of a berry and mango 5th of new am,” he wrote.

According to his LinkedIn page, Mr. George worked as a medical scribe in Phoenix, taking medical information from patients, for nearly three years after he graduated from college, where he studied biology.

A friend, Isaac Lee, said he bonded with Mr. George in college because both of them were closeted and in the same fraternity, Sigma Pi. Mr. Lee said Mr. George would have appreciated that his name was trending on Twitter after he died. “He loved being in the spotlight and he liked making people happy,” he said.

Mr. George was originally from Liberty, Mo., according to his Facebook page. He was born on May 14, 1995, Mr. Lee said. Information about survivors was not immediately available.

The Police Department is offering a reward of up to $50,000 for information about the hit-and-run driver.

Ms. Okland said on Twitter that she and Mr. George had recorded one more episode of “She Rates Dogs,” but “it will likely be put on hold.”

“My hope going forward is that people continue to talk about Mat and share his stories,” she said, “because a little bit of the future he wanted can be preserved that way.”


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Paintings, Projections, V.R. Starry Nights: Can We Ever Know van Gogh?


In 2017, I took a trip to Paris, where I greedily took in as much art as I could. In one of the cavernous chambers of the ornate Musée d’Orsay was the van Gogh exhibition, his framed works (“Starry Night Over the Rhône,” “Bedroom in Arles,” “The Church at Auvers,” a number of his self-portraits) set against a brazen sapphire background rather than the usual chaste white museum walls.

I’ve had a poster of “Starry Night,” gifted to me by a college friend, since my undergraduate dorm days. It hangs framed in my bedroom today. At Musée d’Orsay I stared at his restless skies and fields, stood for long stretches in front of his self-portraits, rooted in place by the depth of his gaze. And I cried — suddenly, violently. I rushed out. I had never before had such a fierce reaction to a painting, and I have never again since.

What does it mean to build intimacy with an artist — even one separated by over a century of history? And can an artist’s work be reimagined to give an audience in modern times an even more intimate contemporary relationship with the art?

Immersive art installations — and especially immersive theater — trigger my sense of play and activate both the critic and artist in me. There’s a large difference between art conceived to be immersive, though, and art strong-armed into an immersive medium.

But first there was a beautiful translation of van Gogh: The entry ceiling of Pier 36, an imaginative 3-D recreation of “Starry Night” by the designer David Korins, featuring thousands of painted brushes, felt like a beautiful homage — an artist taking on another artist in a work that invites a new perspective, channeling the original work’s style and motifs without aiming to be an exact reproduction.

And yet that just was an appetizer to the main show, a series of connected rooms where people lie and sit and stand watching a video of van Gogh’s works projected in all corners of the room, and that left me numb. And what got to me wasn’t the young women posing for selfies or the older tourists lounging as if at a beach or the restless children scurrying around and climbing on Korins’s large abstract monuments, their reflective surfaces catching all the sunflowers and stars — I’ve encountered much of the same in traditional museum exhibitions of van Gogh’s work.

It was the brevity of the paintings in the video sequence — how quickly they appeared and disappeared. And it was the animations — his mighty cypresses manifesting like apparitions from the mist so that the magic of the work is rendered literally. There’s no room for subtlety or implication here. The beauty of being swallowed by projections of van Gogh’s multicolored fields was subdued by the sloppiness of the translation. I stood off to one side to examine the projections and lost the resolute brush strokes and tiny gradients of color in the fuzziness of the digitization.

I quickly realized that for a good number of those in the audience, those details didn’t matter. The goal was to use the art as a backdrop for a kind of theatrical experience.

It was precisely this experience that made me uneasy. How do you make theater out of art that is so explicitly contained and individual to van Gogh’s perspective? Despite all the color and character in his work, it would be inaccurate to restyle his paintings as scenery on the quasi-stages that these exhibitions create for audiences to explore not as admirers but active participants.

No matter how many times I toured the chambers, I had the itching sense that it was dishonest to expand a 2 ½ by 3 foot painting to fit the horizons of a 75,000-foot space. The images are expanded and duplicated to create a repetitive panoramic. But there’s a reason for the size of the original work; what the painter wanted to obscure, what parts of the world we’re allowed to see and what we’re left to imagine. A painting hanging on a museum wall is a declarative statement, the artist saying, “Here’s a piece of a world of color, style and form that I’ve given you.”

To try to introduce new depth and interactivity in the artist’s work is to imply that van Gogh’s originals — his brush strokes, his swaying fields and torrents of blues or the bowing heads of his oleanders — didn’t breathe.

The van Gogh show at Vesey similarly used projections along with 3-D deconstructions of his paintings, and I felt more at ease with these impressive life-size recreations of works like “Bedroom in Arles” in an exhibition that styled itself a “virtual museum.” But my eyes glossed over the canvas reproductions of the work, so inferior to the real thing: The colors were dull, the textures nonexistent, and the fibers of the canvas shone artificially in the exhibit light.

Not the van Gogh works I remember but at least here was the art, standing still and on its own, and without interruption. And here was the artist — a timeline of his life, blurbs about his career.

However, I found the final part of the exhibition — a journey via virtual reality headset through some of the landscapes on which his paintings were based — off-putting. In this digital world I floated through van Gogh’s house, then out into the street among people milling around, working and chatting. Every once in a while a frame would appear in front of my field of vision, and the scene would transform, to match its painted counterpart. We’re meant to see the difference between the real world and van Gogh’s world as seen by a mind-reading illustrator. But can any scenic designer really step into the artist’s shoes? Are some chambers in the impenetrable mind of an artist better left untouched?

Of course there’s no way to resurrect the artist, not through the Vesey van Gogh recreation of his world, nor the Pier 36 exhibition (which also offers an A.I. van Gogh who will write you a letter; an algorithm recycles words and phrases from his real-life letters and delivers them in his own handwriting).

In search of the real van Gogh, I made my first post-pandemic museum outing to the Met. I spent several minutes mesmerized by the wild, almost sensual, twists and curls of the dark leaves in “Cypresses,” in contrast to the powdery blues and whimsical pinks pirouetting in the sky. A group of eager art students in cutoff jeans and Doc Martens gushed about what they’d learned from “Wheat Field With Cypresses” while I studied the painting’s sea-green bush leaning to the left as though eavesdropping on a conversation outside of the frame.

As I spent time with “Self-Portrait With a Straw Hat,” I heard someone behind me say, “What a sad little man.” And of course they were right. The painting’s fleshy pinks and reds give it a more bodily emphasis than his signature cool blue observation of the natural world. The same sunny yellows and fern greens that look unassuming in his coat and hat make his face look sickly and jaundiced.

What a sad little man — yes, van Gogh’s personal story is a large part of what we relate to, and especially as we come out of a year and a half of pandemic: his life of hardship, including isolation and depression. And, in his case, there was also poverty and ultimately suicide. The van Gogh I met in Paris made me cry, not only because of the beauty of the work but also because I related to his insecurity and self-doubt, his struggle with mental illness. The myth of the tortured artist is so seductive, I clung to it for dear life.

But what the two van Gogh immersive exhibitions made me realize is how I also made unfounded presumptions of the artist and his work in 2017. I can never pretend to understand the way he thought and saw the world. I only know what I’ve read, and that’s not enough to comprehend the entirety of a life. What I do know is the way his works tap something beautiful and unfathomable in me — the critic, the art-lover, the poet. Because at the end of the day, we can’t pretend to know van Gogh, just like we can’t pretend his work can be projected on walls as though it’s the same experience. All we have are the paintings in the frames, but those nights, those cypresses, those sunflowers — they’re more than enough on their own.


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Broadway Is Back! A Guide to Shows, Tickets and Covid Protocols.


The show you’re seeing may have its own advice about this, depending on any Covid safety measures that take a little extra time. But it is still true that you don’t need to arrive way in advance to join some enormous line snaking down the sidewalk. If you don’t need to pick up your tickets, it’s generally fine to show up maybe 10 minutes before curtain. Get there earlier if you want to stop in the restroom, where the wait, for women, can be long.

Save yourself the headache and reserve a parking spot through one of a number of apps, such as BestParking, ParkWhiz and SpotHero. Lincoln Center also offers its own reserved parking online. Still, allot more driving time than you think you’ll need, especially during the holidays. Not every show admits tardy arrivals. When they do, latecomers risk taking a walk of shame with an usher — and squeezing into their row in the dark.

One upside to passing through Times Square: plenty of outdoor seating. One downside: the jostling yet torpid mass of humanity you will find yourself a part of. If you must walk through it, single file is the way to go. Elsewhere, at the edge of the theater district, foot traffic on the west side of Eighth Avenue moves faster than on the crowd-clogged east side. Likewise, walking north or south on Sixth Avenue, then west to your theater, can be faster.

Bryant Park, one of the loveliest oases in Manhattan, is just one block east of Times Square, on 42nd Street at Sixth Avenue. A picnic-friendly, tree-shaded spot with an expansive lawn and lots of bistro tables around the edges, it’s a relaxing place to catch your breath and, if you want, buy something to eat or drink.

There is no dress code. If you feel like glamming up, great. If your mood calls for jeans, which a lot of New Yorkers wear to shows, you’ll fit right in, too. Just bring something to toss over your shoulders in case the theater gets cold. And if you’re wearing a hat, be kind to the people behind you. Take it off inside.

A laudably comprehensive, easy-to-navigate website, theatreaccess.nyc, can tell you all you need to know — theater by theater, show by show — about wheelchair access (starting at the curb), autism-friendliness and accommodations for people with special visual and auditory needs.


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The New Magazines and Journals Shaping Africa’s Literary Scene


KISUMU, Kenya — While he was finishing his master’s degree in creative writing in England two years ago, Troy Onyango remembers, he lamented with his friends about how few literary outlets were devoted to Black writers, poets and photographers like them.

For Onyango, he said, it was about, “How do we just find a space where we can all congregate?”

That question led to Lolwe, an online literary magazine he launched in 2020 with the aim of publishing Black people in Africa and around the world. Lolwe — which draws its name from the Luo name for Lake Victoria, whose waters hug this city in western Kenya, and means “endless lake or water body” — has published dozens of works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and photography from over 20 countries.

In June, as the magazine prepared to release its third issue, it also bagged a coveted recognition: “The Giver of Nicknames,” a story about students at an elite Namibian private school, made the shortlist for the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing, awarded annually to the best short fiction by an African writer in English.

Onyango, 28, was also shortlisted for his story “This Little Light of Mine,” written from the perspective of a recently disabled man attempting to cure his loneliness with online dating apps. It was published last year in Doek, a literary magazine based in Namibia. Its co-founder: Rémy Ngamije, the author of “The Giver of Nicknames.”

“When I got the news, I felt as if it was a prank,” Onyango said of the cross nominations. When Ngamije heard that both stories and both magazines received nominations, “it gave me a quiet comfort, because it let me know we were doing something right,” he said in a phone interview from Windhoek.

Given how new both publications are, the selections amounted to a “win because it goes to show that African literary publications are doing the work,” Onyango said, adding, “With the right support, more of this collaboration can help grow our literature.”

Across Africa, literary journals managed by young writers and artists are emerging with the aim of publishing both new and established voices, collaborating across geographies and using the internet and social media to reach their audiences. They are building on predecessors such as Transition, which shaped post-independence Africa, as well as Chimurenga, Kwani, Jalada, Brittle Paper and The Johannesburg Review of Books, which introduced powerful African storytellers to the global stage in the past two decades.

The new titles, which in addition to Lolwe and Doek include Isele Magazine, based in the United States, and Imbiza Journal for African Writing, based in South Africa, are often eliciting reactions just by their names.

Down River Road, for example, is a Kenyan journal that started last year and is named after Meja Mwangi’s 1976 novel “Going Down River Road.” Doek means a cloth or a head scarf in Afrikaans, but it is also a play on the name of Namibia’s capital, Windhoek. By linking the journal’s name to something familiar, Ngamije said, he and his co-founder Mutaleni Nadimi wanted to present literature as a “visible and accessible thing” while fostering curiosity with readers beyond Namibia and southern Africa.

“All you heard about Namibia was our sand dunes, our lions and black rhinoceroses,” Ngamije said. But with Doek’s focus on publishing work by Namibians, he added, he hoped to “bring not only Namibian writing to Africa and the world but to also bring a little bit of Africa to us.”

The magazines are also providing platforms for art forms beyond writing, and oftentimes subject matter or perspectives that wouldn’t get as much prominence in Western publications. Down River Road published an audio performance as part of its Ritual issue, featuring poetry by Chebet Fataba Kakulatombo and music and mixing by Petero Kalulé and Yabework Abebe. Doek’s second issue included a photo series on workplace anxiety by the South Africa-based journalist Rofhiwa Maneta, while a photo essay by Laeïla Adjovi in the latest issue of Lolwe focuses on women in Senegal, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso whose husbands have emigrated to Europe.

Nii Ayikwei Parkes, a Ghanaian writer and a trustee of the Caine Prize, said the editors and contributors of the emergent journals are less restrained by the demands of funders or “by the burden — real or imagined — of having to shape a post-independence identity for Africa that was couched in respectability.”

Because of that, he said in an email, they are “able to be more progressive, more radical, more expansive, more subversive.”

The Kenyan writer Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, who won the 2003 Caine Prize for a story in Kwani literary magazine, sees the publications drawing a new, young group of African writers, artists and readers. They “seem to enthuse a global typology-transcending generation, who identify with them, for whom themes, ideas, style and method supersede traditionalized politics and imaginings,” she said.

But even as they strive to give a voice to a new generation, the new journals face some of the same challenges as their forerunners. Key among them is financial constraints, with many of them relying on individual donations or their own money to stay afloat.

To remain sustainable, outlets like Down River Road sell in cities like Nairobi print copies of their publications with exclusive material that isn’t online, said Frankline Sunday, one of Down River Road’s founders. Lolwe has opted to organize writing workshops with African writers, while Doek has partnered with a local bank for support.

Another challenge nascent literary outlets risk is a high staff turnover, with founders at times getting poached by more established outlets or lured by better opportunities.

“They go to a publishing house, they go to a newspaper, they go to a communications department in an organization,” said James Murua, a journalist whose blog extensively documents the African literary scene. “And that’s typically the end of the magazine.”

But no matter the challenges, Murua believes this new generation of literary journals will pave the way for more publications and embolden young Africans to write the next best sellers.

“It’s only good for the future,” he said. “It’s a win-win.”

It’s this long-term vision that keeps founders like Ngamije going as he tries to put Namibia on the African and global cultural map.

“We are taking baby steps in this literary marathon,” he said, “and we always have to fight this feeling that we are late, that we are in the last place.”


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Olivia Rodrigo at the White House: What She Wore and Why


The comparisons began as soon as the click of cameras met the clack of Olivia Rodrigo’s white platform heels outside the White House on Wednesday.

Wearing a 1995 pink Chanel skirt suit on her pro-vaccination mission, was Ms. Rodrigo channeling the law-school Barbie aesthetic of Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde”? Was she referencing the plaid sets of Cher Horowitz in “Clueless”? Was her choice inspired by the famously fashionable first lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis? (A somewhat disturbing proposal, given the occasion most associated with that particular pink Chanel suit.)

“All those references were the back in of our heads,” said Chenelle Delgadillo, who works as Ms. Rodrigo’s stylist along with her sister Chloe. But the stylists were wary of being too obvious with any one reference — and of making a statement that would detract from the White House’s vaccine campaign.

“Politics are always touchy,” Ms. Delgadillo said. “We didn’t want her to be in red or blue. I didn’t want the internet to read into the outfit more than it needed to be, which a lot of times happens.”

For her public appearances, Ms. Rodrigo, the 18-year-old pop star behind the hit single “Drivers License” (and now the No. 1 album in U.S.), almost exclusively wears fashion from or inspired by the 1990s and 2000s. It’s part of what makes her the perfect middle-parted avatar for her generation.

Thrifting has become a defining shopping habit of Generation Z, whose members make up more than 40 percent of the $28 billion global secondhand fashion market, according to an annual report from ThredUp, an online consignment company. On the resale platform Depop, 90 percent of active users are younger than 26. For the environmentally minded Gen Zer, resale has come to represent a sustainable and ethical alternative to fast fashion.

Ms. Rodrigo, who buys and sells her clothes on Depop, “doesn’t care about the brand necessarily,” Ms. Delgadillo said. “She never asks: ‘Who is this?’ She asks: ‘Is this vintage or is this secondhand?’”

Before her visit to the White House, Ms. Rodrigo spent her post-album release appearances wearing ’90s pink leather pants by Versace and printed jeans by Jean Paul Gaultier. Earlier this summer, she paired a Vivienne Westwood plaid miniskirt with another Gen Z staple, the extreme, lingerie-inspired crop top.

Each of those vintage pieces came from the Los Angeles store Aralda Vintage, a favorite resource for celebrity stylists, including Ms. Rodrigo’s stylists. It’s where Ms. Rodrigo found her White House outfit, too — a pink tweed set with plaid stripes (slivers of red, yellow, turquoise and black) which crisscrossed at her waist to create a corset effect.

She also wore white patent platform heels by Giuseppe Zanotti that were nearly six inches tall (previously seen on the likes of Dua Lipa and Ariana Grande); black socks were added to make the outfit look less sexy and more youthful and unexpected. The heels were later swapped for black Chanel loafers inside the White House — a comfort-based decision, her stylists said.

If the logo-engraved buttons and tweed wool of her suit — a bit warm for D.C.’s 90-degree heat — did not make the outfit’s provenance clear enough, Ms. Rodrigo also wore a thin silver belt with dangling charms spelling out Chanel.

When Karl Lagerfeld put the suit in his Spring 1995 runway show, he made a similar version in purple and pale blue. The New York Times, nearly 27 years ago, described the suits in this collection as “seductive,” designed as if to say that “for women, sex is power, and flaunting femininity, not repressing it, is what makes women triumphant over men.”

When Ms. Rodrigo’s stylists reached out to Aralda Vintage in search of Chanel suits specifically, it felt like “kismet,” said Brynn Jones, the store’s owner. She has several in her inventory, but she thought immediately of the pink and purple suits she had acquired from spring 1995.

“I find myself flooded with nostalgia with this specific collection — 1995 was the year that the movie ‘Clueless’ came out, and you can see so much of that era in this collection,” Ms. Jones said. “I was 10 years old when I watched ‘Clueless’ for the first time, and as cheesy as it sounds, that movie was so impressionable. I think I never looked at clothing the same again. Every time I’m able to find a special ’90s Chanel piece, it’s a small victory for both the tween in me and the 35-year-old me.”

Ms. Jones’s inventory skews eclectic and youthful, she said, and she described Ms. Rodrigo as a “dream client” beyond just her personal style — as someone with “awareness about what is going on with the environment and how destructive fast fashion is.”

“Olivia has worked with a few stylists, and across the board, they all say that she only ever wants vintage,” Ms. Jones said. “This newer generation, it’s all they want.”


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As New York Reopens, It Looks for Culture to Lead the Way


Broadway is planning to start performances of at least three dozen shows before the end of the year, but producers do not know if there will be enough tourists — who typically make up two-thirds of the audience — to support all of them.

The Metropolitan Opera is planning a September return, but only if its musicians agree to pay cuts.

And New York’s vaunted nightlife scene — the dance clubs and live venues that give the city its reputation for never sleeping — has been stymied by the slow, glitchy rollout of a federal aid program that mistakenly declared some of the city’s best-known nightclub impresarios to be dead.

The return of arts and entertainment is crucial to New York’s economy, and not just because it is a major industry that employed some 93,500 people before the pandemic and paid them $7.4 billion in wages, according to the state comptroller’s office. Culture is also part of the lifeblood of New York — a magnet for visitors and residents alike that will play a key role if the city is to remain vital in an era when shops are battling e-commerce, the ease of remote work has businesses rethinking the need to stay in central business districts and the exurbs are booming.

“What is a city without social, cultural and creative synergies?” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo asked earlier this year in an address on the importance of the arts to the city’s recovery. “New York City is not New York without Broadway. And with Zoom, many people have learned they can do business from anywhere. Compound this situation with growing crime and homelessness and we have a national urban crisis.”

And Mayor Bill de Blasio — who could seem indifferent to the arts earlier in his tenure — has become a cultural cheerleader in the waning days of his administration, starting a $25 million program to put artists back to work, creating a Broadway vaccination site for theater industry workers and planning a “homecoming concert” in Central Park next month featuring Bruce Springsteen, Jennifer Hudson and Paul Simon to herald the city’s return.

Eli Dvorkin, editorial and policy director at the Center for an Urban Future, said, “The way I look at it, there is not going to be a strong recovery for New York City without the performing arts’ leading the way.” He added, “People gravitate here because of the city’s cultural life.”

There are signs of hope everywhere, as vaccinated New Yorkers re-emerge this summer. Destinations like the Whitney and the Brooklyn Museum are crowded again, although timed reservations are still required. Bruce Springsteen is playing to sold-out crowds on Broadway and Foo Fighters brought rock back to Madison Square Garden.

Shakespeare in the Park and the Classical Theater of Harlem are staging contemporary adaptations of classic plays in city parks, the Park Avenue Armory, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and a number of commercial Off Broadway theaters have been presenting productions indoors, and a new outdoor amphitheater is drawing crowds for shows on Little Island, the new Hudson River venue.

Haley Gibbs, 25, an administrative aide who lives in Brooklyn, said she felt the city’s pulse returning as she waited to attend “Drunk Shakespeare,” an Off Off Broadway fixture that has resumed performances in Midtown.

“I feel like it’s our soul that’s been given back to us, in a way,” Gibbs said, “which is super dramatic, but it is kind of like that.”

But some of the greatest tests for the city’s cultural scene lie ahead.

Hunkering down — cutting staff, slashing programming — turned out to be a brutal but effective survival strategy. Arts workers faced record unemployment, and some have yet to return to work, but many businesses and organizations were able to slash expenses and wait until it was safe to reopen. Now that it’s time to start hiring and spending again, many cultural leaders are worried: Can they thrive with fewer tourists and commuters? How much will safety protocols cost? Will the donors who stepped up during the emergency stick around for a less glamorous period of rebuilding?

“Next year may prove to be our most financially challenging,” said Bernie Telsey, one of the three artistic directors at MCC Theater, an Off Broadway nonprofit. “In many ways, it’s like a start-up now — it’s not just turning the lights on. Everything is a little uncertain. It’s like starting all over again.”

The fall season is shaping up to be the big test. “Springsteen on Broadway” began last month, but the rest of Broadway has yet to resume: The first post-shutdown play, a drama about two existentially trapped Black men called “Pass Over,” is to start performances Aug. 4, while the first musicals are aiming for September, starting with “Hadestown” and “Waitress,” followed by war horses that include “The Lion King,” “Chicago,” “Wicked” and “Hamilton.”

The looming question is whether there will be enough theatergoers to support all those shows. Although there have been signs that some visitors are returning to the city, tourism is not expected to rebound to its prepandemic levels for four years. So some of the returning Broadway shows will initially start with reduced schedules — performing fewer than the customary eight shows a week — as producers gauge ticket demand.

And “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” a big-budget, Tony-winning play that was staged in two parts before the pandemic, will be cut down to a single show when it returns to Broadway on Nov. 12; its producers cited “the commercial challenges faced by the theater and tourism industries emerging from the global shutdowns.”

“What we need to do, which has never been done before, is open all of Broadway over a single season,” said Tali Pelman, the lead producer of “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical.”

Safety protocols have been changing rapidly, as more people get vaccinated, but there is still apprehension about moving too fast. In Australia, reopened shows have periodically been halted by lockdowns, while in England, several shows have been forced to cancel performances to comply with isolation protocols that some view as overly restrictive.

“On a fundamental level, our health is at stake,” said Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of “Hamilton,” which is planning to resume performances on Broadway on Sept. 14. “You get this wrong, and we open too soon, and then we re-spike and we close again — that’s almost unthinkable.”

Some presenters worry that, with fewer tourists, arts organizations will be battling one another to win the attention of New Yorkers and people from the region.

“There’s going to be a lot of competition for a smaller audience at the beginning, and that’s scary,” said Todd Haimes, artistic director of the Roundabout Theater Company, a nonprofit that operates three theaters on Broadway and two Off Broadway.

Another looming challenge: concerns about public safety. Bystanders were struck by stray bullets during shooting incidents in Times Square in May and June, prompting Mayor de Blasio to promise additional officers to protect and reassure the public in that tourist-and-theater-dense neighborhood.

The city’s tourism organization, NYC & Company, has developed a $30 million marketing campaign to draw visitors back to the city. The Broadway League, a trade organization representing producers and theater owners, is planning its own campaign. The Tony Awards are planning a fall special on CBS that will focus on performances in an effort to boost ticket sales. And comeback come-ons are finding their way into advertising: “We’ve been waiting for you,” “Wicked” declares in a direct mail piece.

The economic stakes for the city are high. Broadway shows give work to actors and singers and dancers and ushers, but also, indirectly, to waiters and bartenders and hotel clerks and taxi drivers, who then go on to spend a portion of their paychecks on goods and services. The Broadway League says that during the 2018-2019 season Broadway generated $14.7 billion in economic activity and supported 96,900 jobs, when factoring in the direct and indirect spending of tourists who cited Broadway as a major reason for visiting the city.

“We’ve pushed through a really tough time, and now you have this new variant, which is kind of scary, but I still hope we’re on the right track,” said Shane Hathaway, the co-owner of Hold Fast, a Restaurant Row bar and eatery whose website asks “Do you miss the Performing Arts?? So do we!!” “We’re already seeing a lot more tourists than last year,” Hathaway said, “and my hope is that we continue.”

At the tourist-dependent Met Museum, attendance is back, but not all the way: it’s now open five days a week, and has drawn 10,000 people many days, while before the pandemic it was open seven days a week and averaged 14,000 daily visitors. Plus: more of the visitors now are local, and they don’t have to pay admission; the Met continues to project a $150 million revenue loss due to the pandemic.

If the Met, the largest museum in the country, is struggling, that means smaller arts institutions are hurting even more, particularly those outside Manhattan, which tend to have less foot traffic and fewer big donors. The Brooklyn Academy of Music, for example, is trying to recover from a pandemic period without when it lost millions in revenue, reduced staff and had to raid its endowment to pay the bills.

The city’s music scene has faced its own challenges — from the diviest bars to nightclubs to the plush Metropolitan Opera.

According to a study commissioned by the mayor’s office, some 2,400 concert and entertainment venues in New York City supported nearly 20,000 jobs in 2016. But the sector has had a hard time.

Many are waiting to see if they will get help from a $16 billion federal grant fund intended to preserve music clubs, theaters and other live-event businesses devastated by the pandemic. But the rollout of the program, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant initiative, has been slow and bumpy. Some owners, including Michael Swier, the founder of the Bowery Ballroom and the Mercury Lounge in New York, were initially denied aid because the program mistakenly believed they were dead.

Elsewhere, a music and arts space with a 1,600-person capacity in the heart of hipster Brooklyn, cut its staff from 120 people to 5 when the pandemic arrived. After the state lifted restrictions on smaller venues in June, it reopened and began hiring back some workers, but its owners fear it could take a year or two to return to profitability.

The club got help in the form of a $4.9 million shuttered venue grant from the federal government, which it said would be used to pay its debts — including for rent, utilities, and loans — and to fix up the space and pay staff. “Every dollar will be used just to dig ourselves out from Covid,” said one of the venue’s partners, Dhruv Chopra.

And the Met Opera is still not sure if it can raise its gilded curtain in September, as planned, after the longest shutdown in its history. The company, which lost $150 million in earned revenues during the pandemic, recently struck deals to cut the pay of its choristers, soloists and stagehands. The company is now in tense negotiations with the musicians in its orchestra, who were furloughed without pay for nearly a year. If they fail to reach a deal, the Met, the largest performing arts organization in the nation, risks missing being part of the initial burst of reopening energy.

Some cultural leaders are already looking past the fall, at the challenge of sustaining demand for tickets after the initial enthusiasm of reopening fades.

“We have a lot of work to do to make sure that people know that we’re open,” said Thomas Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Productions, “to make people comfortable coming in, to keep the shows solid, and to get through the holidays and get through the winter.”

Laura Zornosa contributed reporting.


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Biz Markie, Hip-Hop’s ‘Just a Friend’ Clown Prince, Dies at 57


Biz Markie, the innovative yet proudly goofy rapper, D.J. and producer whose self-deprecating lyrics and off-key wail on songs like “Just a Friend” earned him the nickname Clown Prince of Hip-Hop, died on Friday. He was 57.

His death was confirmed by his manager, Jenni Izumi, who didn’t provide a cause.

He had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in his late 40s and said that he lost 140 pounds in the years that followed. “I wanted to live,” he told ABC News in 2014.

A native New Yorker and an early collaborator with hip-hop trailblazers like Marley Marl, Roxanne Shanté and Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie began as a teenage beatboxer and freestyle rapper. He eventually made a name for himself as the resident court jester of the Queensbridge-based collective the Juice Crew and its Cold Chillin’ label, under the tutelage of the influential radio D.J. Mr. Magic.

On “Goin’ Off” (1988), his debut album, Biz Markie introduced himself as a bumbling upstart with a juvenile sense of humor — the opening track, “Pickin’ Boogers,” was about exactly that — but his charm and his skills were undeniable, making him a plausible sell to an increasingly rap-curious crossover audience.

With direct, often mundane lyrics written in part by his childhood friend Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie was a hip-hop Everyman whose chief love was music, a journey he broke down over a James Brown sample on his first hip-hop hit, the biographical “Vapors”; Snoop Doggy Dogg later adapted the song for his own 1997 version.

“When I was a teenager, I wanted to be down/With a lot of MC-D.J.-ing crews in town,” Biz Markie rapped. “So in school on Noble Street, I say, ‘Can I be down, champ’/They said no, and treated me like a wet food stamp.”

But Biz Markie soon outpaced his peers commercially, becoming a pop sensation with the unlikely 1989 smash “Just a Friend,” from “The Biz Never Sleeps,” which was released by Cold Chillin’ and Warner Bros. Over a plunked piano beat, borrowing its melody from the 1968 song “(You) Got What I Need,” recorded by Freddie Scott and written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Biz Markie raps an extended tale about being unlucky in love.

But it was his pained, rough-edged singing on the song’s chorus — along with the “yo’ mama” jokes and the Mozart costume he wore in the music video — that made the song indelible: “Oh, baaaaby, you/You got what I neeeeeed/But you say he’s just a friend/But you say he’s just a friend.”

Writing in The New York Times, the critic Kelefa Sanneh called Biz Markie “the father of modern bad singing” and wrote, “His bellowed plea — wildly out of tune, and totally unforgettable — sounded like something concocted after a day of romantic disappointments and a night of heavy drinking.”

Biz Markie has said he was never supposed to be the vocalist handling those notes. “I asked people to sing the part, and nobody showed up at the studio,” he explained later, “so I did it myself.”

“Just a Friend” would go platinum, reaching No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Singles chart and No. 9 on the all-genre Hot 100. He said he realized how big it had gotten “when Howard Stern and Frankie Crocker and all the white stations around the country started playing it.” And although Biz Markie would never again reach the heights of “Just a Friend” — he failed to land another single on the Hot 100 — he brushed off those who referred to him dismissively as a one-hit wonder.

“I don’t feel bad,” he said. “I know what I did in hip-hop.”

Marcel Theo Hall was born April 8, 1964, in Harlem. He was raised on Long Island, where he was known around the neighborhood as Markie, and he took his original stage name, Bizzy B Markie, from the first hip-hop tape he ever heard in the late 1970s, by the L Brothers, featuring Busy Bee Starski. Always known as a prankster, he was said to have once given his high school vice principal a cake laced with laxatives.

He honed his act as a D.J. and beatboxer at Manhattan nightclubs like the Roxy, although his rhyming remained a source of insecurity. By the mid-1980s, he had fallen in with the Juice Crew, whose members began featuring him on records and eventually working with him on his lyrics and delivery.

“When I felt that I was good enough, I went to Marley Marl’s house and sat on his stoop every day until he noticed me, and that’s how I got my start,” he said.

In 1986, Biz Markie appeared on one of his earliest records, “The Def Fresh Crew” by Roxanne Shanté, providing exaggerated mouth-based percussion. That same year, he released an EP produced by Marley Marl, “Make the Music With Your Mouth, Biz,” calling himself the Inhuman Orchestra.

“When you hear me do it, you will be shocked and amazed,” he rapped on the title track, which would also serve as a single from “Goin’ Off,” his official debut. “It’s the brand-new thing they call the human beatbox craze.”

But after the success of his first two albums, Biz Markie’s third would become a part of hip-hop history for nonmusical reasons, which would nonetheless reverberate through the genre: a copyright lawsuit.

After the release of that album, “I Need a Haircut,” in 1991, Biz Markie and his label were sued by representatives for the Irish singer-songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan, who said eight bars of his 1972 hit “Alone Again (Naturally)” were sampled without permission on Biz Markie’s “Alone Again.” A lawyer for Mr. O’Sullivan called sampling “a euphemism in the music industry for what anyone else would call pickpocketing”; a judge agreed, calling for $250,000 in damages and barring further distribution of the album.

That ruling would help set a precedent in the music industry by requiring that even small chunks of sampled music — a cornerstone of hip-hop aesthetics and studio production — must be approved in advance. A market for sampling clearance took hold, which remains a key part of the economics behind hip-hop.

“Because of the Biz Markie ruling,” one record executive said at the time, “we had to make sure we had written clearance on everything beforehand.”

In 1993, Biz Markie responded with a pointed new album, “All Samples Cleared!” But his popularity had waned, and it would be his last release for a major label. A decade later, he returned with “Weekend Warrior” (2003), his fifth and final album, though he maintained cultural relevance as a big personality with an enduring smash in “Just a Friend.”

Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

Biz Markie made appearances on the big and small screens, usually as a version of himself. He was seen in the movie “Men in Black II,” heard as a voice on “SpongeBob SquarePants,” and appeared on “Black-ish” and as the beatboxing pro behind “Biz’s Beat of the Day” on the children’s show “Yo Gabba Gabba!” He also became a dedicated collector of rare records and toys, including Beanie Babies, Barbies and television action figures.

But even as a novelty throwback presence, he remained jovial, calling himself “one of them unsung heroes” and comparing himself to a McRib sandwich (“when I do pop up they appreciate everything they see”) in a 2019 Washington Post interview.

“I’m going to be Biz Markie until I die,” he said. “Even after I die I’m going to be Biz Markie.”

Michael Levenson contributed reporting.


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