An Entrepreneurial Idea

The arts, I have long believed, are all interconnected, and, in turn, the great web of interdisciplinary arts is inextricably entangled with history, religion, technology, and science.

Another way to put that is to say: Everything relates to everything else.

Another way for me to put it is to tell you a story; and perhaps to inspire you to take an entrepreneurial leap into a previously unexplored business proposition that unites the beauty industry to art, music, coffee, and culture.

Back in February, I was getting a manicure at the local cosmetology academy. I like to keep conversation going with the stylist, and usually start by asking her or (less frequently) him about post-graduation plans. As they all do, this young lady dreams of opening up her own salon.

Now, this particular student manicurist has a bit of a difference in her dream, which is what got my own ever-busy idea-machine cranking. She sports a few tasteful tattoos, a couple more than your grandmother’s piercings. Nothing ostentatious; and that’s kind of her edge: she wants to open a salon that caters to the bodily ornamented as well as the upwardly-mobile corporate femmes anonymized by the requisite platinum blonde hairdo and frenchified fingernails. She doesn’t want to alienate the lady CEOs; just to invite in the artsy, black-laced, torn jeans, purple-headed crowd as well. She has a personal mission to ease acceptance of visible tattoos into the mainstream workplace. And if her own professional-plus-a-touch-of-henna look is any indication, I think she could succeed.

And then I had an Archimedean moment. As happens about, oh, every couple of days, I got a compelling vision of a completed project, standing complex and vibrant in its future existence.

I saw her salon. And it was stylish, let me tell you.

This new salon has two rooms: the kind of long, narrow rooms that occur behind the storefronts of every shop in Manhattan, where we crowd ’em in along the street, then reach way back into the unnamed alleys behind. The two rooms open into one another, sharing the generous sunlight of their double window-fronts. One is the typical hair-cuttery setup: mirrors, chairs, sinks, etc. But the décor side is unique. The mirrors have heavy gold scroll-work for frames. The chairs are fancy faux-Georgian. The walls are dark maroon, with gilt crown molding. The ceiling boasts intricate plaster scroll-work and an impressive Victorian central medallion.

The other room is where this all gets wild. It’s a combination of waiting room, café, art gallery, and music venue. There’s a tiny raised area at the back, set in triangulation to the room, with all the amps and cords and pedals and jacks and sound board just waiting for a band to appear and plug in. And the walls are heavy with art.

Every month, this salon-gallery-hall hosts a “First Friday.” The staff has gathered over the previous few weeks to choose from among the many local artists and musicians who have submitted their work for consideration. The hair stylists and manicurists and the one tattoo artist have joined with the owner and the full-time cultural consultant on staff to discuss, debate over, and vote for their favorite painter or photographer, the best musical acts. Then they brought in the part-timers who help take down last month’s show and hang the new one. The curator of the local art museum volunteers a couple of hours to give her professional opinion. The top band is called. And then the place opens in full swing!

For three or four hours on a Friday evening, then, the cultural elites join the beatniks and punks at what has become the most unlikely hot spot in town: the barbershop. The band plays. It’s a different style of music every First Friday, carefully chosen to complement the visual aesthetic of the new-hung walls. Grungier rock for some black-and-white war photographs. Classical guitar with portraits of deceased politicians. A string quartet with abstract renderings of dancers in flight. An a capella Gospel choir with metal-and-glasswork installations. A dark flock of moaning youth on exotic instruments with haunting close-ups of drug-ravaged celebrities. Travel photography, still lifes, action shots, 2-D sculpture, piano recitals, operatic solos, Broadway renditions, barbershop quartets. Each is tinged with the darker colors of its genre, easing towards the melancholy, the macabre.

The music goes on during the week, too, of course. That’s the whole idea: you look at the art while you wait for your haircut, listen to the music between clacks of the shears, stay and have tea for another song or two, and maybe bring home an original oil painting along with a new look.

And there’s one aesthetic that binds it all together. When I call it “emo” or “goth,” don’t get scared away. Don’t think drugs, knives, and suicide: think Gothic architecture. Think Gothic literature—well, maybe not, since there are plenty of drugs, knives, and suicide there! Stick with the Gothic arches, columns, stained glass, and flying buttresses. To make more sense out of this, come on down another tangent with me.

My local art museum in Allentown, Pennsylvania has a fascinating exhibit at the moment. It’s tiny: just one room. It’s called Gothic to Goth: Embracing the Dark Side. The largest items in the room are Victorian mourning gowns: black, lacy, elaborate dresses worn by young widows. There are paintings, fans, jewelry, gloves. Some are from the middle of the 19th century. Some are brand-new. And I defy you to tell the difference!

It was a pair of gloves that struck me. There, in a glass case, was a pair of gloves I would have sworn were bought last week at Claire’s or Hot Topic. But, nope, there on the tag: they were tatted in the 1840s. As the exhibit’s website explains, in the 1780s, “As literature with macabre gothic overtones gained popularity, emotional expressions of sentimentality, melancholy, and even horror and terror became commonplace” and then “the late nineteenth century became widely known for its prominence of elaborate and ostentatious mourning fashion. Almost a hundred years later, the silhouettes and styles of Victorian mourning wear made a vigorous reappearance with the emergence of the Goth subculture in the late 1970s.” This subculture, it goes on to explain, has now become mainstream—has become, I would argue, beautified again. Beautiful again. Beauty again.

And that’s what binds together the music, art, and fashion in my imaginary salon: the Victorian Gothic. Whether you are a hard-working corporate woman who wears Victoria’s Secret under your business suit, or a tattooed guitar player masquerading as a barista, the Gothic has a kind of beauty to enrich your own. One of the designers from whom the museum borrowed items advertises “Darkly Elegant Designs for Femme Fatales and Decadent Gentlemen.” Another announces “Fine Jewelry Finally Has A Dark Side.” Lace and laces; eyes with long lashes; gloves or garters; button-down blouses; blue notes and sad songs; gilted and guilty; chokers and chocolate; beads and body art; coffee and tea. Come and visit.

Now, let me close off by saying that it turns out I did not invent this idea. Like Chesterton, who independently imagined an entire system of doctrine, then discovered that the Catholic Church had been teaching it for centuries—OK, so not exactly like Chesterton at all, really—I googled “hair salon and art gallery” and found out there are plenty of them. There’s EDO Salon in San Francisco, which “merges fashion, design and art. One part boutique hair salon, one part speakeasy gallery.” There’s Mogi’z in Nashua, New Hampshire, where “hair meets art,” where “hair styling and art found a home together.” There’s EXO Salon in Allen Park, Michigan that “features art work from various local artists as well as pieces of some of the most prominent figures within the art community.” There’s Right Angle in Oakland, California, where “the salon walls become a fabulous stage for displaying the art works of local artists seeking space to show their work.” And

San Francisco's EDO Salon

there’s Zion Hair Salon & Art Gallery in Madison, New Jersey, “combining a hair salon and art gallery.” This one even has a “first Saturday” opening night, “where collectors, friends and family …can come and enjoy an evening out and meet the artist.”

So it’s a new idea, an old idea, a fresh and hot idea. Wouldn’t you love to tie together yet another set of arts—hair, art, music, and coffee? Wouldn’t you love to get a haircut while you’re sitting at a concert? Wouldn’t you like to drink tea and look at paintings while you wait for your wife to get her hair done? Or wouldn’t you like to take this entrepreneurial idea and run with it in your hometown? I hope my young manicurist does it here soon. And I hope you try it out in yours, too. Let me know if you do!


Green Ogres and Other
Unfortunate Trends on Broadway

New York City. The culture capital of the world. If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. New York City is where it’s at, because when New York sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold.

Yet, as I walk from the subway to my office a few blocks from Times Square, I see billboards that make me shake my head in utter dejection for the “culture” we are putting out. Am I referring to the lingerie models twelve stories high? No. How about the nauseating ad campaign for last season’s Gossip Girl, depicting teenagers in the throes of hot, mind-blowing sex (complete with the tag lines “OMFG” and “Every Parent’s Nightmare”)? Ironically, this is not what has my knickers in a knot today.

As sorry as I am to see such a lack of creativity in Hollywood that producers are resorting to really awful television revivals (like the embarrassing latest incarnation of Beverly Hills 90120), I’m lamenting a different unfortunate trend as I read the NY Times and wander past the billboards in Times Square.

I’m actually talking about Broadway.

My first love. The Great White Way. The place where the rubber hits the road for actors. Broadway was once the pasture where the sheep of the stage were distinguished from the goats, the field where the wheat was separated from the chaff. People relied on Meisner or Stanislavski or even Hagen for technique and inspiration, taking lines that were actually conceived and written for stage and acting them out.

Sadly, a leisurely stroll through Times Square shows that the boards are being increasingly clogged up by hit films, cartoons and revivals being adapted for (or remounted on) the stage. When they did it with Beauty and the Beast, it was cute. “Oh look, that’s fun. They’ve adapted a cartoon for Broadway,” I thought to myself. But now we’ve got The Little Mermaid and Shrek (I don’t count The Lion King, because it was such a creative departure from the film). Not to mention stage productions of films like Billy Elliot, Mary Poppins, Young Frankenstein and -in case you missed the memo – 9 to 5.

I’m not even kidding.

That’s right. Workin’ 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin’, there’s no getting by, it’s all takin’ and no givin’ . . .

Besides these adaptations, we have revivals out the wazoo. A Man For All Seasons, All My Sons, Equus (a sure hit, what with Harry Potter doing his own revival of The Full Monty), Grease, Guys and Dolls, Gypsy, Hair, South Pacific, The Seagull, West Side Story and White Christmas.

Are you telling me, Mr. Broadway Producer, that there were so few new shows worth mounting this year that you had to sink to so many revivals of tried and true hits?

Don’t get me wrong – I am all for reviving great plays. I love some of these shows, and have performed in several of them myself (from the list above, I’ve done A Man For All Seasons, Gypsy and West Side Story). But as I look over the list of what’s playing now, and I see mostly film adaptations and revivals, I get a bit bent out of shape. Broadway should be bringing the world new work, showcasing the incredible talent out there.

Now, before I get carried away, there have been some excellent new shows produced in recent seasons. In the Heights and August: Osage County were blips on Broadway’s heart monitor, giving hope that all innovative creativity has not been lost, and that new shows are still being produced. But with more people than ever earning MFA’s in playwriting, is it too much to ask to see some new blood next to the “written by” credit in Playbill? Where are the Anton Chekhovs and Arthur Millers of the twenty-first century?

Well, since you asked, I have a few suggestions. If you’re thinking of investing in a Broadway show, I happen to know that Stephen Schwartz is looking for funding to finally mount his musical Children of Eden, which, despite a successful regional theater run, has yet to appear on, or near, 42nd Street. This show has been in development for over twenty years (ironically, I was offered a role in the North American premiere production of this show, but had to turn it down). I also know a few excellent composers and librettists who have developed new works for stage, including David Kirshenbaum (whose Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus would make a welcome addition to the Christmas show buffet table, where traditional titles are growing a bit stale) and Gary Pozner (with whom I collaborated on Nautilus, a family-friendly musical produced by Walden Media that premiered in Denver a few years ago).

Am I suggesting these works would be the next Les Miserables or Phantom of the Opera? Not at all. But then again, neither is Shrek, The Little Mermaid or 9 to 5. Yet there they are, defining a new age of Broadway, when a show’s pre-fab marketing plan makes it more viable than its creative ingenuity, book & lyrics or, heaven forbid, incredible acting. (I salute the cast of August: Osage County, who acted their butts off and deserve to be on Broadway. Johanna Day and Estelle Parsons, namaste).

In our effort to contribute to the creation of new culture, International Arts Movement has decided to create a space to showcase emerging playwrights, directors and actors. In April 2009, IAM is producing a weekend of one-acts, featuring three directors and three one-act plays. Melody Erfani, Luann Jennings, and Brie Walker will be the directors, and we are accepting script submissions through the end of January. If you or someone you know is interested, please contact me for more details – my email is christy(at)InternationalArtsMovement(dot)org.

We need new theatre. We need new live stage works. And, call me a big, fat, green ogre, but we need to drastically reduce the campy stage productions of cheesy musicals that belong on DVD, not the boards of Broadway.