I recently came across an article by a self-proclaimed Philly playwright, working on the One Minute Play Festival. I was interested, because at one time I, too, was a Philly playwright. I lived in Philly, I wrote in Philly, I produced work and had work produced in Philly, I forged collaborations, all in Philly.
In the article, Jim Christy talks about how for a while he was a New York playwright. He talks about how the only good thing about being a New York playwright is that there’s so much underused, solid, talent, that he could get actors to work for free on his readings. He says what he loves about Philly is the real sense of an artistic community, and that:
An arts community doesn’t exist in New York City.
New York artists, think about that for a second. No artistic community? In New York? In our town? I read the article weeks ago, but I’m still annoyed. How could he not see how big and deep and wide the arts community in this town is?
I moved to New York in 2002 with the idea that I would live here forever. Eleven years later, I look at the sunlight filtering in from the northern exposure of my third home in the City, in my third neighborhood, and the one that is farthest out. Seven years in the Lower East Side put me in Housing Court no less than 6 times, grad school debt, and made me immune to the sight of cockroaches on flatware. Three years in Greenpoint saw my mouse infested, pierogi smelling, water invaded, slanted floor apartment jump $250 in rent with no improvements made, and another visit to housing court, in Brooklyn this time; very different vibe in the Bk courts, fyi. Entering year two of the country living that is Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, a scanty twenty or thirty blocks from where my grandparents were raised, I wonder what keeps me here.
I wanted to live in New York from the time I was six years old. My mom lived here, and I wanted to be with her. By the time I was ten my goal expanded to living in NYC and going to Columbia. By twelve, with a family in free-fall and nowhere but the internal to turn too, I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to struggle in service of art and work. When I finished college, at as-near-as-I-could-get Sarah Lawrence College in 1998, I was rebuffed by rent and moved to Philly, where my mom now lived. I worked. I made art. I tried to embed myself in the theater community. Somehow it was just too bouncy for me, as a culture, so when the rents came down along with the Towers in 2001, I packed my typewriters, cats, and husband into my mom’s minivan and we bolted up 95.
What keeps me here is community. During my time in the LES, and when I made the jump finally to Bk, the things that sustained life were the artists, the work, the collaborations. My plays have been produced all over this City by other artists. Inwood, Midtown, Chelsea, TriBeCa, LES, Williamsburg, Park Slope, Red Hook, the Bowery, East Village, and Greenwich Village, are neighborhoods that have all been host to my words and plays, led there by the artists of NYC. When I’ve had space on my hands I’ve produced their work as well, whether it be theater, dance, performance, music or poetry. I built a whole show around it, called Sticky, which produced over 300 new short plays, worked with over 300 actors, and was in residence at Bowery Poetry Club until the Club shut down in 2012. I spilled many tears and and vodka soda’s over the Club’s demise. It took me a while to know it for sure, but the arts community in this place is stronger than any four walls, even if those walls held my heart and soul real tight.
The theater community is NYC is vast and deep and wide. From the Midwest transplants to the desperate Tristaters, to the original kids and poets hailing from the boroughs, the passion is strong, the work ethic is unfailing, and no one bounces. Instead they leap with both feet, with arms extended, and coast on the currents. Even when a show tanks or a poem bombs, this community stands unflinching. People come and go, flit in and out like little kids in the summer fountains, but the world of art and the people who make it live forever.
We have been in the single watt dressing rooms in the downtown spots, we know the drill. Art needs to be seen by the artists who make it, and the community comes out, the artists who suckle up to the belly of the beast are hungry for more no matter how many Patti Smith’s tell the kids to not come here, to get out and build another city.
Lemme tell you the work is good, lemme tell you it needs time to breath and grow, lemme tell you it’s a thing worth doing. Lemme tell you not to give up, no matter how many successes you’ve had that only feel shallow as the years pass, lemme tell you to pick up the pen, to clack away, to try new forms and to invent newer ones, to not believe your press, to smash your head against that brick wall til it feels feather soft. Lemme come out to your readings, and shows, lemme tell everyone that’s a serious artist, so listen up. Lemme be your courage, lemme tell you not to leave New York. And then you can tell it to me.
By which I mean to say Thank You. Thank you collaborators, thank you artists, thank you for being the blood and guts of this town. I couldn’t make work if you didn’t make it with me, if you didn’t come check it out, and if you didn’t go make work yourselves.
Thanks super especially to everyone who worked on Radio Mara Mara, the artists, the supporters, the audience. I love you.
One more chance to see the show! Friday, August 23 @ 6:15
Radio Mara Mara in the The New York International Fringe Festival
Where: The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street, NYC
And if you can’t make it, buy the soundtrack. It’s pretty amazing. $10