My classmates are blooming. Fitting for an unseasonably warm winter.
One is racking up frequent flyer miles on regional theatre gigs, another is all over my television trying to sell me prescription drugs, the third is swinging in an Off-Broadway production that was was written by a the fourth (who is also starring in it); their production received rave reviews from Ben Brantley over the weekend. Our singer just took off to tour for her new album, and the final two just polished off a few scenes from “Gruesome Playground Injuries” that I would have paid good money to watch a full mounting of. In other news, I scored tickets to “Hamilton” at my work over the weekend. For the record, it’s exactly as good as they say it is. So maybe bar tending isn’t so bad after all.
I remember a director of mine saying that this career gets really fun once you start seeing your friends names in the New York Times. My first taste this wasn’t the Times, it was the New Yorker, and it was a blurb less than a paragraph long that lauded praise on a friend in a small production. I carried the copy around with me for a week.
Now I see the names of friends in print almost weekly. The LA Times, the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Village Voice, Playbill and Backstage…familiar monikers displayed in size 12, Broadstreet font.
A few weeks back I went to the “Greater New York” exhibition at Moma PS1. They are displaying a piece by the artist Glenn Ligon entitled “Housing in New York: A brief history 1960-2007”. The piece is made up of a series of essays about the various apartments the artist has occupied, beginning with his birth in 1960. I am pulled now to the final two lines of the last essay, which read:
I was born here in New York, and like many other New Yorkers I lack imagination: the idea of living somewhere else has never occurred to me. Indeed, to live in New York is to have lived everywhere.
I think the same thing could be said about being an actor on the New York stage. Hellenistic Greece had its day, Elizabethan England saw the birth of the Globe, and for better or for worse, this is the anointed city of modern theatre. One could easily make the leap and replace the words “live” and “lived” in Mr. Ligon’s essay with the words “create” and “created”. To take the stage in a play in this city is to invite the eyes of the world upon yourself and your work; to take the stage in this city is to invite the eyes of history upon yourself and your work.
“Waiting for Guffman” portrayed a group of attention craving, small town community theatre performers hoping that their production will be picked up and carried to Broadway by a big name producer. While Christopher Guest’s mocumentary can easily be dismissed as a satire of the actor ego, I believe there is a larger message to be gleaned; art made for the sake of recognition will leave its creator disappointed every time. Truly great art comes from a pure place, a place that does not require laurels and acclaim.
I have a friend who drags a piano from another friend’s SoHo loft down to the West 4th street station to busk for money. Should you find yourself at said loft around 6pm most nights of the week you will hear him say “time to go to work” before loading several hundred pounds worth of wood and keys onto a trolly and pushing it down the cobblestone street to the nearest elevator entrance. His music is transcendent, his salary dependent on the fickle moods of passing commuters. Fortunately for his wallet, it is difficult to stay ambivalent once one has heard the melodies his skilled fingers coax out of a beat up Wurlitzer spinet.
My friends are out there making art. Some are being recognized for it, some are not, but either way it is an honor to say that I know people who are creating great work.