I’m currently working on “In the Heights” and since the film and musical is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s love letter to his neighborhood Washington Heights, a lot of exterior shots are filming on location in the actual neighborhood this summer.
We are doing many street scenes, which then means we are doing lots of exterior street sets, so I have spent a lot of time studying and noticing details of the streets of Washington Heights.
Doing things like taking photos of street vendors to capture little details that make them unique to their neighborhood (yesterday I was in Jackson Heights in Queens and marveling at how the street vendors had similar set-ups as the vendors in Washington Heights but totally different merchandise), studying photos of what kind of trash cans and fire hydrants are on each corner and etc.
Here’s what I can tell you I have learned about each:
Trash Cans: NYC has at least 5 different types of official trash cans in circulation and the green mesh wire one that is the most common has been in circulation since at least 1930. Some blocks literally have different types of trash cans on each corner.
Fire Hydrants: They are REALLY expensive (new ones are $1,800 +) and REALLY heavy (over 300 lbs). The city only buys the new style now but you will notice the old style one all over the city still.
Street Vendors: in 2019, vendors seem to universally embrace the folding table with grid wire rack attached on top as the way to display items. There’s a lot of variation beyond this, but I will say that’s pretty consistent all around the city.
Subway Globe Lights: I know there’s a whole thing about different colors mean different things that are mostly lost on us regular subway riders. But I really thought the half-white/half-green globes were pervasive, but once I started noticing I see the all-green globes everywhere now too! And all red ones sometimes.
Fire Call Boxes: Wow there really a lot still on the streets even though people don’t use them. The heavily ornamented red ones in NYC are very unique and cannot be bought from other places.
One thing I really enjoy about this job is how it makes you notice and observe things in a more acute way. In the past few weeks living life around NYC I can honestly say I have truly noticed each trash can, fire hydrant, what color the subway light globes were, what kind of fire call box was there and what state of disrepair it was in, and each remaining phone booth.
There’s something really cool about all of a sudden noticing details and being aware of there existence all around you all the time that otherwise just disappear into the blur of daily life. If musicals are heightened reality, re-creating reality gives you a heightened awareness.