Page One

NY festival events sell out in 15 minutes

By Jocelyn Noveck
Friday October 04, 2002

NEW YORK — As a ferry filled with brunchers and skyline-gazers cruised along the East River on a crystal-clear September Sunday, architecture critic Paul Goldberger drew his audience’s attention to a fire boat, spouting graceful arcs of spray. 

“Now, that’s architecture!” he mused into his microphone. 

Meanwhile, back on land, author Calvin Trillin was treating a lucky group to his favorite downtown culinary delights, with mozzarella in Little Italy and dim sum in Chinatown. Legal writer Jeffrey Toobin was showing his guests the inside of a criminal forensics lab, and art expert Simon Schama was guiding a tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

The “About Town” tours, all led by writers at The New Yorker, were new features this year of the annual New Yorker Festival, which ended Sunday. In its third year, the weekend festival seems to be gaining in popularity all the time. Some of the top events sold out within 15 minutes of online sales, frustrating those who didn’t log on fast enough. 

But fans of The New Yorker, who often speak of devouring the magazine cover to cover, had a wide array of events to devour in the same manner. 

For fiction-lovers, there were paired readings with the likes of Stephen King and Amy Tan, Ian Frazier and Steve Martin, E.L. Doctorow and Edna O’Brien, and Annie Proulx and George Saunders. 

For film-lovers, there was a sneak preview of the upcoming epic “Gangs of New York” by director Martin Scorsese, which he then described in a conversation with critic David Denby. 

There was also a riotous session with the British critic Anthony Lane, who in a lecture pondered the themes of sex and violence — “The Odd Couple.” Then, in a hilarious question-and-answer period, he covered everything from Noel Coward to Antonio Banderas to the wave of karate stars in movies to the unfortunate Midwestern mallworker who’d heard Lane’s impeccable British and somehow theorized he was from Brazil. 

Then there were this year’s late-night events, also a new feature, highlighted by a visit to the “Saturday Night Live” studios for a conversation between David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, and SNL creator Lorne Michaels, along with cast members Darrell Hammond, Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph. 

Michaels told the crowd about one of the first-ever skits on “SNL,” involving John Belushi in a bee suit at a bee hospital. A note soon came from the network: the bees didn’t work. (They did indeed make a comeback.) 

As Michaels described the sketch on Friday night, the crowd laughed, and Remnick commented: “It’s working now.” Michaels countered: “It was ahead of its time.” 

Sitting in the audience was a couple from the small town of Bakersville, N.C., who’d flown up to New York for the festival. Glenn Harling and Vicky Steele were also planning to attend a talk by historian Bernard Lewis, a specialist on Islam, and a conversation with the neurologist Oliver Sacks. 

“We were online at 9:02 a.m. the day tickets went on sale,” Steele said. “There’s only us and another couple in town that reads The New Yorker. We go through it cover to cover.” 

A spokesperson for the magazine, Jodi Bart, said 31 percent of this year’s 14,000 ticket buyers were from outside New York and its suburbs. They included festivalgoers from 28 states and several foreign countries. 

Most events were fairly intimate, but there were 1,100 people at one event, a tribute to the late poet Elizabeth Bishop, Bart said. 

The New Yorker festival was launched three years ago to mark the magazine’s 75th anniversary. It quickly became an annual event. 

For Ramona Rukavina, a consultant from Providence, Utah, this year’s festival was reason enough to fly across the country. Her main goal was to see an event with the actor and comedian Eddie Izzard, but she also needed a trip to ground zero and an infusion of New York-style culture. 

“I just can’t get enough of this place,” she said. 


On the Net: