Before Claire Danes was one of the most celebrated actresses of her generation, she was just another performer looking for a break.
Her first gig came at the age of six when she played a duck on stage for a Performance Space 122 production. A representative of the iconic New York art organization visited Danes’ dance class looking for talent, “and I was pretty hammy, and I got people’s attention,” she told Variety last night. “So that’s how I got it.”
Danes was honored by P.S. 122 during their annual Spring Gala, which also served as a fundraiser. After several years without a fixed location — last night’s New York gala took place at Capitale — P.S. 122 will have a permanent home in the East Village next year, and Danes was happy to help the organization raise the rest of its needed capital.
“I came here in my twenties to do a couple of dance performances. It’s a really vital cultural institution,” she said, “and I’m a downtown kid. It means a lot to me. We were both born in 1979.”
Hosted by actor Alan Cumming, the gala featured spoken word from writer Edgar Oliver and performances from avant-cabaret singer Meow Meow (who brought roses for the audience to throw at her), singer Peaches and Casey Spooner of the band Fischerspooner, who sang the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” while wearing a slinky red dress.
While attendees like Julian Schnabel, Debbie Harry and Parker Posey, wearing a Great Gatsby-style green flapper dress, had dinner, the house band played a version of the Cranberries’ “Dreams,” a sly nod to Danes’ iconic role in the TV show “My So-Called Life.” (The song was featured in a memorable angsty, quintessential mid-’90s scene.) There was also an auction for prize packages that ranged from cocktails with Cummings to VIP tickets for one of Jon Stewart’s final tapings of “The Daily Show.”
New York City Council member and Cultural Affairs Committee Chair Jimmy Van Bramer received the “Shining Star Award” for advocating on behalf of P.S. 122 and experimental New York theater. During his acceptance speech, he called P.S. 122 “a place to be, and a place to breathe.”
In honoring Danes, her “Homeland” co-star Mandy Patinkin called her his “teacher,” and told a story about how, during the filming of a climactic scene in the second season of “Homeland,” a truck (that should have been blocked off) drove by and ruined a take. Then a crew member’s cell phone ruined another take. Patinkin, who noted that he was not blessed with much patience, sounded awestruck as he recalled how Danes, unruffled, simply asked everyone in the crew to please check their phones, as she didn’t see the need to yell at people “who were just doing their best.”
Earlier in the evening, Patinkin, who is on the Board of Directors for P.S. 122-affiliated The TEAM, praised Danes’ ability “to believe, and be absolutely in the moment in any given moment,” and talked with Variety about his first time working with Danes.
“It was glorious from the very first second, I just loved it. There was chemistry immediately,” he said. “She was riveting. All I had to do was just listen to her.”