I recently returned from a short business trip to New York. This was my first time to actually experience the city. Previous trips were spent hanging out at JFK waiting for a connecting flight to Europe. I posted this note on Facebook today, but as I touch on some theatrical matters, I figured I'd cross post it here. I will inevitably come back to some of the topics I address.
48 hours is simply not enough time to sample a major metropolitan city. I know that my experience is lacking. I'm not, however, going to let that stop me from giving my opinion on the Big Apple. Pardon my ignorance, New Yorkers. The following are a few observations, first impressions and a couple of theories I developed while staying in your town.
- New York -- what little I saw of it -- was EVERYTHING I expected and more. My "idea" of New York was shaped by many disparate sources: Sesame Street, Serpico, Sex and the City, The Muppets Take Manhattan, etc., etc. It is all of that; a wonderful hodge-podge of inconsistencies. I suppose any big town is damned to be so gloriously varied and self-contradicting. Los Angeles is very much so, as the wife and I mused shortly before I left for the East. Maybe this is just the human condition writ large?
- New York has head room, Los Angeles has leg room. Talking to the receptionist at the office where we had the big business meeting, she runs into people she knows all the time. I've gone weeks without seeing friends. New York is tightly packed, like a European city (reminded me of Paris.) Los Angeles is a sprawling megalopolis, "72 suburbs in search of a city," as they say.
- Which leads me to a theory: Why is it New York is THE theatre town, and Los Angeles feels like a theatrical wasteland at times? In LA it can take you an hour to an hour and a half to get somewhere, depending on traffic and how easily you find a parking spot. You New Yorkers have an incredible subway system, an easy to grasp grid system (Avenues vs. Streets, in Manhattan anyway) and walk everywhere! In short, it's much easier for a group of actors to get together on the fly and rehearse stuff. It's easier to have a tight-knit community. Our "Theatre District" exists in a bunch of places.
It also helps that Broadway is theatrical tourism. Don't know why that didn't occur to me before. I've known people who go to New York on vacation to take in shows, just like people go to Disneyland for a few days or go on a cruise. Maybe it took standing in Times Square to fully grasp just how massive the industry is. Waking past Off-Broadway houses on my way to Broadway brought home a finer point: There is a pattern of advancement in New York that simply does not exist in Los Angeles. If I want Tracing Sonny or Pin-Up Girls to take that "next step" as dramatic works, it's not going to happen here. What TU does--what all the Under-99s do--is Off-Off-Broadway in a town without an effective Off-Broadway or Broadway.
I gave Steven Leigh Morris grief for missing the point in his article about "how to fix LA theatre." I'm afraid I missed this finer point myself: Yes, it is about the audience, but without some sort of meritocracy in place, where good shows can be promoted to bigger houses, we're pretty much pissing in the wind. So two things: TU needs to establish some East Coast ties, and we need to push the bigger dogs in the local scene to pay attention to what we're doing.
- New Yorkers love their bagels and pizza, yet in spite of all the carbs, there is remarkably little obesity. How so? You folks walk. And walk. And walk. I walk more than your average Angeleno, and I walked more over 48 hours in New York than I do in a typical week in LA.
There's much more to say, but I want to keep this brief. I hope to get back to NY with some frequency (This playwright's eyes are open, brother. There's gold in them thar concrete hills.) But LA is home. Looking out across the Mos Eisley-esque lights of the City of Angels from the window of an Airbus A320, I admit I got a bit ... sentimental. I was also operating on like, three hours of sleep, so if I got a bit misty, chalk it up to fatigue. Nevertheless, it's a great big world full of endless possibilities and limitless vistas. Every now and then it's good to get off your porch and go exploring.