If you’re looking for something resembling your usual Thursday night gallery hop in these unusual times, sit back with your own box wine tonight as The Zero Experiment launches its new virtual gallery series. Tonight’s “opening” features the work of mixed media artist Pierre Fraiture, whose performance group Arts Elektra recently rocked Art Basel Miami with the help of his brother, Strokes bassist Nikolai Fraiture.
“Pierre is influenced by philosophy and will often find parts of poems, or worldly texts embedded in his work,” says Marina Dojchinov, founder of The Zero Experiment. His works in acrylic, oil, marker, pen, and fabric.
Fraiture will host tonight’s opening in his studio, from 6:30-8pm, giving housebound visitors a tour of his work. “In a traditional gallery opening, often the artist is inundated with people and the audience never gets the chance to ask questions,” says Dojchinov. “This fully interactive setting allows for an intimate conversation that they can really understand.”
The Zero Experiment was created by Dojchinov to support the arts community during the recent pandemic while helping local businesses stay afloat. “Each week we showcase a different artist, and a different charity to raise money for those affected by Covid-19. Through sales of art, we want to give back to those going through a hard time and create a global community.” This week will highlight the needs of Broadway Bound Kids, an organization that has made it its mission to “inspire and empower kids through the performing arts” but has struggled to keep operating in the shadow of the virus.
The thing typically said about live theater is that it’s ephemeral. It happens for a certain amount of time, and then it’s gone. But in the wake of the pandemic, that’s starting to somewhat change. Many venues are combing through their archives, offering viewers the chance to stream filmed versions of shows that have since closed. The Brick in Williamsburg is the latest to do so, starting Thursday with their experimental, acclaimed, Western-ish play Sleeping Car Porters. Sure, it won’t be quite the same as being in the room with a group of performers, but we have to take what we can get, and the chance to see theater after it happened IRL shouldn’t be underestimated.
[Update: Shortly after the publication of this article, YogaWorks announced to its teachers the permanent closure of all NY studios beginning April 19. In an email, CEO Brian Cooper cited the loss of a studio lease and the competitiveness of the New York yoga market as reasons for the abrupt closure. “The economic realities are clear that there is no path forward to reduce our losses and get the New York region to break-even,” Cooper wrote.]
On Wednesday, March 11, a group of yoga teachers, lawyers, and representatives from the national yoga studio chain YogaWorks met in midtown Manhattan to negotiate the terms of a proposed union contract. Relatively speaking, negotiations had just begun — this was only the second meeting since the New York City YogaWorks teachers had successfully joined the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) in November 2019, becoming the first fitness industry union to date. The group left relatively pleased with the state and spirit of the negotiations, and planned to reconvene the following day.
Within 24 hours, however, negotiating plans had been completely forestalled: as the panic over coronavirus settled over New York City, mandates of social distancing, followed by the closure of public schools and all non-essential business, led the union organizers to call off the meetings. The yoga instructors knew that their primary job — teaching in-person classes to physical bodies — would be halted immediately. But, they quickly saw that they had a duty to press on with their organizing efforts in order to mitigate the unprecedented economic stress that would follow.
“We had to immediately switch gears,” said Kristen Rae Stevens, a member of the union bargaining committee who has been employed by YogaWorks for over 15 years. “Of course, we were thinking about the health and safety of people. But I think that we almost immediately knew the economics that were going to come.”
Whatever loftier goals the group was working toward had to wait. Teachers needed fast-acting support, now more than ever.
With over 60 locations nationwide, YogaWorks — which is owned by the private equity firm Great Hill Partners — is one of the largest yoga studio chains in the country. While the coronavirus crisis presented new, specific areas of financial concern for teachers — and required different and immediate action from the newly-formed union — many of the issues surfaced by COVID-19 stemmed from the same structural problems that led the teachers to begin organizing in the first place, well over a year ago.
Tamar Samir, who has worked at YogaWorks for over 10 years, got a wakeup call in November 2018, when YogaWorks management abruptly closed their Upper West Side studio, giving teachers and students a mere 24-hour notice.
“It was traumatizing for those teachers and students,” said Samir. “There were people who completely lost their jobs. There were people who lost a large chunk of their classes like I did; there was a woman who lost her health insurance.”
The company did little to re-compensate their teachers. “That was when I first kind of started thinking, ‘What value do they actually place on teachers and students and community?’” Samir recalled. “And I started talking to other teachers who also were very shaken up by this closure.”
Having these tough conversations was a hurdle in and of itself: Several women explained that the siloed nature of the work largely isolated the teachers from one another, and many felt that the business model encouraged competition among teachers, since they are paid according to how many people take their individual class.
“The challenge was, ‘How do we actually get to know all these people [the other teachers] and make friends and dissipate that vibe of competition or distrust that this industry has created for many years?’ said Samir. “Not just YogaWorks, but the yoga industry in general.”
Over time, the conversations gained traction: teachers shared grievances around inconsistencies in pay rates and promotions, as well as a lack of transparency in communication. They observed tangible, day-to-day business problems, too: everything from poor facility maintenance to teachers who were slated as substitutes for years, with no explanation or clear path forward. (One teacher, Martha Evenson, reported subbing at YogaWorks for six years with no route to advancement; another, Patty Schneider, has been subbing for 10.) At the time of this writing, YogaWorks management had not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Additionally, several teachers observed that the expensive teacher training programs often left newly-minted teachers without reliable hiring prospects; conversely, new teachers with lower rates were sometimes given classes over tenured teachers who, given their experience, rightfully charged more.
“It takes years to become a good teacher,” said Markella Los, who has taught yoga full time for the past five years. “It feels like we’re devaluing the profession by churning out teachers at this rate. And also as a result, that sort of devalues the yoga practice — it gets watered down because older or more senior teachers with experience can’t really afford to stay in the field.”
Underlying all of these on-the-ground grievances was a much larger, much less tangible issue: the cheapening of yoga as a spiritual practice under the current business model. Despite, in Stevens’ words, “teachers [being] the heartbeat of the work,” the lack of real support — both financial and interpersonal — ultimately limited the teachers’ ability to offer a connected physical-spiritual practice.
“When you are hustling that much, the intent and the purity around the work that you’re putting out, it just changes the energy,” said Kristen Rae Stevens.
Furthermore, many believed that the lack of financial security afforded by the profession ultimately perpetuated another oft-leveled criticism: that yoga is predominantly made available to white, wealthy, able-bodied students and teachers.
“Who gets to be a yoga teacher? The industry is still largely very white, it’s still promoted as a luxury side gig for people who don’t need to work,” explained Markella Los. “And then that changes who’s transmitting the information, the teaching is filtered through their bias and worldview, and it changes who then comes to the practice, because people want to see themselves represented.”
Deidra Demens, a teacher with over 10 years of experience and one of few women of color on the YogaWorks staff, echoed this view. “For a lot of my life, I’ve felt like I’m the only black person in the room,” she said. Part of the importance of increasing racial, economic, age, and body-type diversity in the teaching community, she explained, is that it opens the door for “more people that actually need yoga, that will benefit from it, and not feel like they’re being singled out or being judged.”
As the organizing base grew, the teachers set their sites on unionizing — the security afforded by a union job, they felt, might not only combat the lack of transparency in their current system, but also open up the profession to people who previously didn’t have the means to pursue it.
As David DiMaria, an organizer with the Machinists, explained, “There’s a barrier to entry for being a yoga teacher. And the way a lot of people get past that barrier is to have some kind of privilege, like a partner who has a job with health insurance. So, their [the teachers’] hope is that by changing the standards of the job, it opens it up to other people and other voices.”
In September 2019, the group went public with their intent to unionize. Just two months later, despite company pushback over voter eligibility, the teachers won their NLRB vote, 58-21.
“I think for a lot of people, it [winning the election] is a big relief, and it’s kind of like a release of a lot of tension,” said Samir. “One of the things David said to us that he had never said before, he said, ‘Now you’re protected, now you’re really protected.’
The protection afforded by the newly formed union was real, of course, but the escalating new context of coronavirus put enormous new pressure on the teachers — particularly the bargaining committee, a group of 11 teachers who had stepped up to negotiate with the company and their outside counsel directly on pay scale and promotion transparency, diversity in hiring, and improved communication, among other things (since the union contract has yet to be finalized, specifics of the negotiations cannot be disclosed).
Luckily, as Stevens explained, the teachers were already in “action mode,” which enabled them to address the rising panic head-on. With the studios in New York City all closing — immediately and indefinitely — the first item of business was getting teachers access to their sick pay. By March 14, the teachers had worked with the company to set up a Sick Pay Bank, where teachers with more financial security could donate hours to a collective “pot,” from which other teachers facing particular financial hardship could request hours. Additionally, the company agreed to pay teachers 50 percent of their base rate for classes scheduled through March 31, but only once they had exhausted their sick pay hours. As of this writing, none of this applies to substitute teachers, although the committee has put together a petition to grant them access to accrued sick pay.
Next, the committee had to address the mass shift to online teaching, whether offered live on Zoom or Instagram Live, or pre-recorded and uploaded to YouTube and Facebook, etc. Initially, YogaWorks did not offer live-streaming from their New York studios — despite streaming from other regional locations — because they claimed the studios lacked the necessary WiFi capabilities. After pushback from the union bargaining committee, however, the company began offering NYC-based livestreams.
In the intervening time, however, without standardization or company oversight, teachers across the nation began competing to offer online content, and deciding case-by-case whether to offer free, donation-based, or set price classes.
“Everyone’s scrambling to livestream their classes,” said Los. “The large volume of things going out for free right now feels like it has the potential to continue to devalue a teacher’s role in an industry where it’s already devalued.”
But Los explained that this new technological issue merely spotlights existing inequities that the team was trying to address.
“People who have other income or another job… can afford to give their classes away for free, and might be doing so really out of the goodness of their heart,” she said. “And then other people [for whom] this is their only source of income are struggling right now because they can’t afford to do that [give away classes for free online].”
In the absence of any sort of industry or company standardization, Demens started working with her existing students to schedule regular Zoom classes, which she offered at a sliding scale in hopes of reaching people who might not be able to afford to continue a pricey yoga practice during this time. She is particularly cognizant of the additional weight felt by people of color and those with increased financial instability, and felt it was important to continue her work — as both a teacher and, in her words, “healer” — to people outside of the prevailing, narrow yoga world demographic.
“With the stress that I’ve been feeling as a person of color, I know that some type of meditation or mindful movement practice [has] helped me deal with the stress that I feel, not just from the virus but from how this is affecting me and my community,” she said. “I’m sure other people of color feel the same.”
There are other, more pernicious — but equally prohibitive — factors at play, too: for example, the Instagrammability of one’s apartment, access to professional camera equipment, or having children at home who now require homeschooling.
“All of us would love to have a private studio in our homes or have a nice camera set up and record things, but you know, we don’t have that,” said Patty Schneider.
For these reasons, Los explained, “Who survives this crisis is not purely based on merit. There are other factors that we have to consider, that are systemic and have nothing to do with an individual and how hard they’re trying.”
As it stands, teachers are working with YogaWorks to establish a fair system for recording and sharing online classes, so that some teachers are still able to teach under a standardized, transparent company system. Until then, the teachers are leveraging the power they do have on the most pressing issues.
“The most devastating thing about the timing of this public and economic fallout is that all of those things [that the union has been fighting for] take time,” said Kristen Rae Stevens. “It takes time to build bonds and build trust. It takes time to really make something strong and indomitable. And so, some of that work is really fragile right now.”
Despite the uncertainty of the time, the teachers are adamant that they will remain at the helm of their organizing ship.
“The most important point now is that we haven’t stopped organizing,” said Patty Schneider. “We’re just focusing that organizing on different issues that are most salient right now.”
Markella Los, who has stepped away from the specific YogaWorks effort to focus on activating the yoga community on a larger scale, sees the current context as a potentially industry-defining moment.
“If we don’t help shape the industry in a more equitable way,” she said, “what does it mean that only certain types of companies will be able to survive? What does it mean for racial diversity, what does it mean for economic diversity? Do we really want to let the powers that be continue to control the field and the narrative, and what yoga looks like?”
Although the coronavirus has temporarily rerouted the teachers’ efforts away from the union contract, the teachers agree that unionizing was never the final goal in the first place — it was merely a means to the end of giving teachers a voice, and to hopefully create a more equitable, sustainable profession.
“There’s been a lot of teachers that are supporting each other,” said Demens. “And that feels great. One of the things that I felt kind of early on when I started teaching yoga is, you feel like you have to compete with the other teachers. But none of that’s true. We can support each other, and it’s not taking anything away from ‘me’ to do that.”
Contract negotiations aside, the teachers will continue to seek out ways to support each other through these extraordinarily unstable conditions, using their yogic philosophy as a guiding light.
“Actively practicing ‘non harming’ means practicing justice, taking care of other people, realizing our interconnectedness,” said Markella Los. “Social justice is just an expression of living your yoga practice.”
With the COVID-19 lockdown, New York’s once thriving dance scene has ground to a halt. Broadway is shuttered, the Metropolitan Opera is closed, and the hundreds of community performance spaces throughout the city have indefinitely postponed their events. Many of the dancers and performers who live off of income from these events are now without jobs, funding, and, importantly, spaces in which to rehearse. Now, unions, institutions, and artists themselves are trying to figure out not just how to cope, but how to change the industry to ward off such devastation in the future. More →
A little over two months ago, Bedford + Bowery’s Zijia Song decided to wear a face mask in public, but grew too self-conscious to keep it up. “People saw my face mask not as a sign of precaution and regard for hygiene, but a sign of ‘Yellow Peril,’” she wrote. Needless to say, times have changed. On April 2, Mayor Bill de Blasio told all New Yorkers to cover their faces in public, acting on a study cited by the World Health Organization that found that asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carriers were transmitting the new coronavirus. New York hasn’t gone as far as Los Angeles, where it’s now a misdemeanor to visit essential businesses such as supermarkets without wearing a face covering, but the thinking about masks has clearly changed. More →
Tea Antimony’s regulars are her “bread and butter.” She likes establishing a rapport and mutual trust with her clients. As most of her sex work has come to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic, she finds herself relying even more on these regulars for large deposits for future dates. However, in the sex work industry, asking for advance payment is unusual, said Antimony. More →
The title of Jesse Malin’s first album, The Fine Art of Self Destruction, might have been a reference to the rock-n-roll lifestyle he leads as a musician and a partner in popular East Village bar/venues Niagara, Bowery Electric, Berlin, and Dream Baby. But with those bars “completely dead” thanks to the coronavirus shutdown, he’s self-isolating in his apartment on Avenue A, drinking herbal teas, doing “Taxi Driver-style” pushups for exercise, and hosting a new live YouTube show that goes by a slightly different name: “The Fine Art of Self Distancing.”
The show, which next airs on Saturday, April 11th at 4pm, virtually invites people into Malin’s own living room, where he entertains them with songs, stories and anecdotes from his life and career. “I thought we’d all be scheming for how we could play Madison Square Garden, not my living room,” he says, referring to his bandmates. “But I got over the awkwardness of it and I liked the idea that I could give money [via donations] to my band and crew.”
I spoke with Malin — who comes out with a new song produced by Lucinda Williams and Tom Overby, “Backstabber,” at the end of the month — about what it’s like being an artist quarantining in New York City right now, how the music scene will react to the pandemic, and how he manages to stay sane during this time.
In your latest livestream you described New York City as “abysmal” but you also talked about rebirth, because you’re really positive about the city getting back up on its own feet. As both a New Yorker and as a musician, how do you manage to stay positive?
Well, staying in touch with people is really important. And getting in touch — calling, texting, zooming, facetiming to let people know, maybe people you haven’t talked to in a long time, that you love them, that you’re thinking of them, that you’re there. It makes a big difference to reconnecting and staying connected, because it can get very lonely, and scary, and play on anxiety.
You seem to care a lot about your people and your community. In your live streams you do a lot of shoutouts through personal stories, and tragedies. Your quarantine show isn’t just mere entertainment. What’s its real purpose to you?
Well, it is to entertain, definitely. I want people to forget about their problems as much as possible. Here’s some songs and here’s some stories, and if I can do that, then I’m doing my job. And it’s a free service; we take donations to go to the band and the crew, but anybody could tune in.
Working from home is very different now, especially for someone like you, who’s a musician.
Yeah. We’re not playing for an audience. It’s weird not being with my band and being rehearsing or playing live and being around people. And I love my private time, I love my space. But so much about music and hard rock and roll is about unity, and nightlife, and connecting.
Your livestreams are very personal, and to draw a connection to your music, in Sunset Kids you got extremely more personal as well, abandoning the “mosh-pit culture” — you talk about loss, and you’re extremely aware of what’s happening around you. In light of this coronavirus situation, do you think you could’ve done these live streams also during your punk rock phase?
No. It’s weird but for me the hardcore scene was about getting together with people and seeing people, getting away from your neighborhood, your parents, your school, finding a way to express yourself and being alive out there in the world. This is a new experience to figure it out, but I wouldn’t have wanted to do this.
While talking to Rolling Stone about Sunset Kids you said that you have to find a way to wake up the next morning. I wonder what makes you wake up now, in this time.
Well, only having the hope that this will pass, really just the heartbeat of my body jumping out of bed. I can pull up the shade, see the sun, hear from people I love, make sure they’re still going and know that things are going to be good and crazy again and we’re gonna have fun.
You think about people and their stories a lot. What do you think about the people now?
I’m worried. I want to make sure they’re healthy and happy, and if they’re surviving and really not getting sick.
And yet, times of crisis usually are the most inspiring. Do you feel more inspired to write in a time like this? Or is cabin fever taking over?
When you’re a little stressed and worried sometimes it’s hard to focus. You’re worried about how you’re going to pay your bills or what’s going to happen. It took a little and it’s a little hard to break into that final focus, but when you can get into the zone and forget about what’s going on out there even for a couple hours, it is a reward.
You’re an owner and co-owner of many bars and venues in the East Village. How do you think the music scene will be affected by this situation?
I don’t know what’s gonna happen, I hope it’s gonna be like the Roaring 20s — jailbreak, and everyone wants to get out. I can’t wait to dance on the bars, have some tequilas, hear some music and see people again, and it might take a little bit of time, but I think it’s something that will be there.
How are you so sure?
People need music, people need to dance, people need to connect, and sometimes they need to get fucked up — not too fucked up, and not too often, but everybody needs to get out of their box, you know?
True. And it would benefit local bars and businesses as well. From a business perspective, how has the pandemic affected the East Village bars and venues you own or co-own?
Completely dead. Everybody’s out of work. They can collect unemployment if they can get through the website, which is brutal, jammed up and crashes all the time. But that doesn’t include their tips and what they would normally make, so it’s based off of just the minimum wage, and it’s a tip business.
Are you going to do something to help them out?
I’m going to create a week where we do fundraisers just for the bartenders, DJs, and people in the clubs. We started a GoFundMe for Niagara, Berlin, Dream Baby, Bowery Electric. Each bar did that. Some of my partners donated, other people have donated, patrons have donated, and we’re just going to put a week where we try to give a little more attention just to that.
What about the landlords — are they doing anything for you, like waiving rent or decreasing it?
Some have been cool. But you’re going to owe it anyway, you don’t want to snowball it. My partners have been trying to get loans from the government, and it’s been a very difficult and very slow, tedious process. Everyone’s still really freaked out because the rent will still be there and it’s still high.
Obviously this is a difficult time for everybody, especially for those who are trying to make it right now. Since you’ve been in the business basically all your life, what would your advice to up-and-coming artists be right now?
Use this time to create fun moments to be able to write and even co-write with people. Just wake up in the morning and spill out whatever’s in your head — first thought, best thought. Write a whole bunch of things down everyday and then review it later to see what you have from this time period. From a business perspective, my advice is having stuff built, created and ready, so when we’re ready to go back out and be part of the world, you’ll have stuff to unveil.
While many comedy shows are only appropriate for an audience of adults, there’s plenty of funny fare out there for everyone to enjoy. Plus, it’s a specific type of achievement when someone is able to create something that makes multiple age groups laugh. You can catch something of that sort an impressive three times a week in the form of Mary Houlihan’s Lil’ Morning, found on Instagram Live every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at the early-ish hour of 11 am. It’s technically a show for kids, but Houlihan and her gang of funny, musical friends are more than capable of putting a smile on everyone’s faces. So pause that pandemic-themed movie you turned on and start your day with something a little brighter.
On March 16th, I, Brooklyn-based writer and local bartender Hope Morawa, found myself deemed “non-essential” by Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, and, by my former boss at Catfish Bar & Restaurant, “recently unemployed.”
But I wasn’t alone. All bars throughout New York were now left to make a risky choice: close up shop voluntarily with little to no form of income OR, transition into a safe, legal routine that would fit into our new COVID-19-preventive reality. More →
Mario Golden couldn’t sleep for two nights before he wrote to more than 60 city and state representatives— including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents Golden’s district of Elmhurst— to advocate for a rent freeze in New York. Both Golden and his husband, Andreas Robertz, are freelance artists whose work in theater came to a halt when the coronavirus pandemic hit. “We rely on contracts so this is immediately impacting us,” Golden said, “and we’re surviving on savings.” More →