Ed Murray started performing when he was just five years old. So great was his love for entertaining crowds through music, dance, and drama, that he eventually obtained a college degree in theater. His dream was to graduate, then “make it” in The Biz.
But, as fate would have it, life never seemed to open up the right doors for him. So, he became a teacher and, for 31 years, used his talents to help his students develop their own gifts in the performing arts.
Then, earlier this year, a now-retired Murray moved to Roosevelt Island, where he heard opportunity knocking.
Shortly after arriving on the Island, Murray found the website for the Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance (MST&DA), dropped them an email, and within a couple of days, had a reply from Executive Director Kristi Towey.
Murray asked Towey whether the theater ever allowed people to mount their own shows, or to work their own projects in the space. He says he was shocked to hear her answer, “Oh, absolutely. We’re very amenable to that!”
Which is how it came to be that, within months of making the Island his home, Murray was mounting a full show, The Standards Sing: Steve and Eydie, at a nice black-box theater in New York.
A Place For Artists
Murray joins a sizable and varied list of artists and groups that have made an appearance on the MST&DA stage. In just the past year, in fact, the theater has hosted standup comedy, international dance performances, staged readings, musical theater productions, student recitals, and more.
“The mission of MST&DA has always been to not only give people an opportunity to receive an education in the performing arts, but to also have performance opportunities,” says Towey. “Whether that’s a student or teacher or community member, I think it’s our duty to open our doors to people who want to explore creatively in the theater. And I think it only benefits the community even more.”
But while their mission isn’t new, Towey says her organization has seen a recent increase in the number of groups reaching out to them. “I think Roosevelt Island is growing, so there’s a lot more opportunity here for someone to explore their own creativity in theater or to expose the community to a new organization that does something else.”
As an example, she points to the recent performance by Lotus Music and Dance, a group that celebrates traditional dances from indigenous cultures. “MST&DA doesn’t offer classical Indian Dance. We don’t offer Tahitian and Hula,” she says. “What I found really great about having them in the space was bringing in something new to the Roosevelt Island community. And then, also, Lotus Music and Dance is another non-profit and they have lost their space, so they float and do shows in different places. So giving them a space where they can showcase their talent and what they do, in my opinion, is what every arts organization should do: support each other and give each other the opportunity to be seen.”
Dancers with Lotus Music, hosted by MST&DA, performed traditional dances from around the world. Photos by Irina Island Images.
The collaborations are also bringing new audiences to the Island. According to Towey, much of the crowd at the performances by off-Island groups come from other parts of the city.
“Most of them have never been here and their initial response is, ‘This island is so beautiful and peaceful and quiet.’ And then they get to the theater and they are blown away by the space,” she says. She points out it’s rare to find a small performance space with two dressing rooms, nice restrooms, and an open design. “It’s a black box theater, but we can seat 100 people in there. It’s very intimate. It makes the shows much more personal. They feel really close to their audience. So the response has all been really great.”
Towey also sees a benefit to her own organization in the connections they make to other groups and artists in the city. “There are so many people that have helped us through the years - tech people, musicians, singers - who have come to us by doing this. It’s a benefit to us and a benefit to the community as a whole,” she says. “We really should be a place that is creating, and is giving people an opportunity to create.”
Bringing a Show to Life
Murray’s opportunity came in the form of a three-night engagement at MST&DA’s Howe Theatre in September.
I was lucky enough to catch the September 16 performance of The Standards Sing: Steve and Eydie, Murray’s two-person tribute show honoring the famous singing duo Steve and Eydie Gorme. It was a delightful cabaret-style program filled to the brim with beloved standards from an era missed by many.
It’s not easy to pull off a two-person show, but Murray and his singing partner, Lisa Egidi-Martinez (who played the role of sassy Eydie Gorme), performed admirably. They sang out their tunes with energy, had fun spouting corny, vaudevillian jokes, and offered the audience of mostly seniors a nice selection of golden oldies.
The show featured some of my favorite tunes from yesteryear: “Be A Clown” (Singin’ in the Rain), “More Than You’ll Ever Know” (Theme from Mondo Cane), “Together Wherever We Go” (Gypsy), and the “One Note Samba” (one of Eydie Gorme’s signature songs). Watching Murray and Egidi-Martinez, I was instantly struck by their obvious love for music and performing, which came across without effort, even when confronted by technical glitches. Both performers handled the set-backs with calm, at one point casually calling out to the sound man who was running the music tracks, “Hey, can we just start that one again? I missed one of my lines.” The audience chuckled good-naturedly.
“We want a lot of variety in the theater for everyone here on Roosevelt Island,” says Towey of her organization’s outreach effort. “If it’s all the same thing, it’s not really us doing our job.”
Murray’s story proves that dreams do come true, especially when you’re living somewhere like Roosevelt Island. Hopefully, there are more actors, dancers, singers, and performers of all kinds out there who will mount a variety of shows in our little theater on Main Street. In fact, now that I think of it, I have a play that I just finished writing . . . .
See you all at the theater!