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Flatiron Faces: Ted Altschuler, Baruch Performing Arts Center

Meet Ted Altschuler, Director of the Baruch Performing Arts Center (BPAC), which showcases various award-winning artists and productions at its One Bernard Baruch Way location on 25th Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues. “My role is the visionary and administrative oversight of the Center’s activities,” says Altschuler, whose arts career expands more than three decades. “Telling the stories and creating the experiences of our time is what excites me.”

1. The Baruch Performing Arts Center (BPAC) is a cultural gem here in the Flatiron District. Can you please give a bit more background on BPAC and your role as Director?

In two gorgeous and intimately-scaled venues 39 feet beneath 25th Street, between Third Avenue and Lexington Avenue, BPAC presents a season of world-class cultural events by New York and international [artists in] theatre, dance, classical music, jazz, and opera, as well as film screenings and talks. At the center of that season is new work made in-residence and culturally diverse programming created by critically acclaimed artists. Best of all, our central Flatiron location and our affordable prices! Some of October’s events include: 

Oct. 17 at 7:30 pm: Dada at the Movies: Part film screening, part concert, the amazing pianist Guy Livingston recreates an evening held by the famed Dada artists in 1923. It ended with the police showing up, but we plan to avoid that.

Oct. 26 – Nov. 4 (various times): Words on the Street: The world premiere of a multi-media, dystopian, music-theater mystery! This is an incredibly creative hybrid evening, but there are only eight performances.

Oct. 31 at 6:30 pm: Tessa Lark (violin) and Andrew Armstrong (piano): Avery Fisher Career Grant winner Tessa Lark is critically acclaimed for her elegance and is as talented playing classical as she is bluegrass on her Strad. We are offering tickets free of charge, but you must make a reservation at baruch.cuny.edu/bpac.

2. You’ve had a distinguished three-decade career working in the arts including directing plays and operas, as well as teaching at The Juilliard School. What attracted you to the arts, and what remains so appealing about it?

I have always lived by observing and collecting sounds, pictures, stories, and behavior and then either making things from them, or building places and processes where others do that. Arts are the way that our culture celebrates, processes, remembers, and opposes the narrative threads of our time. Money and fame confer influence temporarily, but they only survive because of the architecture, objects, pictures, stories, and songs that are left behind. Live performance, because it is fleeting perhaps, gets closest to capturing the essence of the moment.

3. Do you have any career advice for those interested in pursuing the arts?

Marry a chocolate heir/heiress.

4. Which of this season’s BPAC productions are you most looking forward to?

You know I’m not supposed to have favorites, but here are three pretty special events:

Jan. 5-12, 2019: 4:48 Psychosis: The Prototype new music-theatre festival is bringing the U.S. premiere of Philip Venables’  bombshell opera based on the final play of Sarah Kane to BPAC. Hot off a sold-out Royal Opera House production in London, the piece explores the search for love and identity amid the turmoil and confusion of mental illness.

March 13, 2019: Brian Mulligan (baritone) and Timothy Long (piano): Walden: A recital by two consummate musicians featuring the New York premiere of a new song cycle by Gregory Spears (Fellow Travelers) based on texts by Henry David Thoreau.

April 26-May 12, 2019: Refuge by Blessed Unrest and Teatri ODA: Two theater companies, one from New York, and the other from Kosovo, create a bilingual, physical theater work about the harboring of Jewish refugees by Albanians during World War II.

5. In addition to your arts background, you hold a CUNY doctorate in cognitive neuroscience and have been engaged in expanding the public’s understanding of science. Tell us more.

I got interested in cognitive neuroscience via my work with actors. Cog neuro looks at the physiological sources of our emotions and behaviors, how we pay attention, remember, problem solve, and use our senses. Those were the same processes that I thought about when I worked with actors. So, I became curious about what those scientists knew that I didn’t. A lot, as it turns out. For five years, I took classes, interacted with patients, and conducted experiments in a lab. My studies looked at visual processing, specifically what the brain contributes to the information that our eyes collect from our environment to produce the experience of seeing, which is, one could say, a creative act! 

Science either observes the world, or it tests hypotheses about how it works through measurement and manipulation. I love making process by which we better understand the role the brain takes in behavior—that’s the creative part of science. But data is not of value to society, it’s not even of value to other scientists, without a narrative. That story attaches it to what is known so far, explicates your methods so that others can reproduce them, and frames your results, to say why they are significant.

While earning my Ph.D., I started telling stories to the public to assist in how they understood science outcomes, since telling stories has always been my thing. People use data to make important decisions about health care, what car to buy, etc., so it’s important that we are informed data consumers. I made a TED-Ed video, created programs for Brain Awareness Week. In fact, I still program an annual Brain Awareness Week program at BPAC every March! We have done neuroscience and law, a program on artists who are neuroscientists, and on March 12th, we’re doing one on neuroscience and sports called “This is Your Brain on Baseball".

6. Bookeywookey is your blog. How would you characterize it? And, we have to know, what’s the backstory to the name?

I would characterize it as seriously hybrid, like me. I started it as a way to practice writing and to engage more with what I read (I read books continuously). The name? That’s from the musical form boogie woogie, which is characterized by an energetic percussive bass (left hand—I’m a lefty) with improvisatory riffs in the right hand—my process as a director involves a lot of improvisation.  Obviously, the name is a play on my obsession with all things bookish (or bookey). Bookeywookey has had more that a 250,000 visits! My favorite type of post would combine the range of my interests, like one I did using Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a way of explaining research on the hormone oxytocin.

7. When it’s time to grab a bite to eat, where do you like to go in Flatiron and what’s your go-to dish?

I’m a big fan of Almayass on 21st Street and their small plates. Their Moutabbal is super creamy and fresh with a great charred flavor. Their tea made with fresh mint leaves is a wonderful way to cap a meal.

8. What do you consider a “must-see” or “must-do” here in the neighborhood?

The Center for Book Arts on 27th Street is such a singular exhibition space and, fitting to my obsession with all things bookey, it celebrates the book as an art object (the major reason that I prefer analogue books to digital readers is their distinctiveness as objects).

9. What’s your favorite building or architectural element in the area?

I have three: The historic Spanish/Portuguese Jewish cemetery on 21st Street near Sixth Avenue surprises me every time I walk by it! The East 24th street sky bridge between the two Credit Suisse buildings is one of just a few of these structures left in NYC. Doesn’t it kind of evoke Venice? I love all the original art on the walls at the Freehand Hotel’s bar —and it’s a great place to go for a drink before or after a BPAC show!

10. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District. 

Abundant. Classy. Old-World-New-York.

Photo Credit: Mathieu Asselin

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Executive Chef Craig Koketsu of @quality_eatsshares his Scalloped Sunchokes recipe 🙌 LINK IN BIO for the side dish ⬆️
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