The Marble Cemeteries
By John Holdun on June 22nd, 2016
An article about Graveyard Swing
Our last update left me with a lot to think about. Things were feeling cramped but also, somehow, rather bare. I began to consider scenery and backdrops and in researching graveyards, found the New York City Marble Cemetery. This place is just a few minutes’ walk from where I live, but I had forgotten all about it.
A block from the New York City Marble Cemetery is the New York Marble Cemetery. What? The two cemeteries opened a year apart, in 1831 and 1830, respectively; they are the first two non-sectarian burial places in NYC. The newer one, the one I knew about, has a nice iron fence along East 2nd Street, but the older one is secluded, nestled between buildings, walled in on all sides. They’re both exclusively home to underground vaults, as there were health concerns with burying bodies directly in the soil when the two properties were constructed. The newer one features a few markers above ground, but the older one only includes plaques along the walls to indicate vault ownership; its grounds are otherwise indistinguishable from a standard park.
I am so intrigued by a cemetery that is almost a secret; it seems, to me, a distinctly New York occurrence. (The New York Marble Cemetery, being one of the few private green spaces in Manhattan, seems to frequently host weddings, parties, and fashion shows.) I previously imagined our show among tombstones surrounded by a wrought-iron fence, but I’m now delighted at the opportunity to buck a cliché and also pay homage to a real local landmark.
That brings us to the latest version of the mockup (watch on YouTube):
We start by entering a long, red-brick alleyway. At the end, through a gate, is a larger, rectangular space, completely enclosed by walls made of larger, yellow-gray stone and flecked with memorial plaques. There are some skeletons playing here, and some other figures momentarily appear in our periphery…ghosts? Traveling through the little park, we hear music echoing out of a mausoleum. We enter the structure and follow a narrow dirt hall, which leads us underground, where a ghostly jazz quartet is throwing a party in the vaults! Then, before we know it, it’s all over—this party wasn’t meant for us.
I’m pretty happy with this storyline and I think I’m now done with the mockup. You’ll notice in the video that I’ve finished sculpting all the figures, including those scat ghosts. There’s still some scenery missing, and I'd love to add some lights and motion, but the next time I fiddle with this, it will be because I’ve booked a location and am adapting these pieces to our real floor plan. Before then, I hope to start roughing out a soundtrack, which I’ll probably just sync to this video.
I’ve started looking for a venue in earnest: on my shortlist there are a few theaters, a few offices, and a few weirdo spaces. In my research I noticed that a lot of these choices will offer a transitional area, often in a corridor, that can serve as front-of-house, which means I can dedicate a full 1000 square feet to the show itself. (In the model, I’m really only using 800 square feet, leaving 200 as a receiving area.) I’ll start contacting some folks this week.
I’ve been teasing it for a while now, but I think next week you’ll get to start seeing some bigger objects in these updates. Since I’ve paused on updating the model, I have no choice but to focus on the real thing!
Meanwhile, I could use your help: those long hallways in the model are bothering me. They’re necessary to divide up the space; you might notice that there were no such hallways in earlier mockups, but that all the scenes were significantly more shallow. It seems like a good tradeoff, but what can I do to add some interest to those transitional spaces? I don’t think there’s room for figures (they’re each about six feet wide), but maybe I can try something else? Think about it and let me know if anything comes to you. Thanks!