What's so great about New York City? — Jaz Dorsey — AAPEX

Friday, April 13, 2012

What's so great about New York City?

I am thoroughly, absolutely 150% convinced that we can do great theatre anywhere.

That being said, I have to admit that the ten years that I lived in New York were like living in Wonderland - specifically a wonderland of the theatre - and this is why:

At any moment, any where & with anyone in New York you can sit down and have a conversation about the theatre. Riding on the subway you are likely to sit next to someone who is reading a script. That can start a conversation. Hanging around the piano at The Monster you might find yourself harmonizing with someone who's in a Broadway show. Go to a reading or a showcase and you will leave with friends and end up somewhere like The Moonstruck (oops - no longer there) or the WestWay Diner - talking about the theatre. I suspect that the average NYC theatre artist spends at least 25% of his or her life in some damn diner - talking about theatre. $$$$$ for diners are a fundamental part of any NYC theatre artist's operating budget and coffee and Greek salads should be tax deductible.

And you can find yourself talking to anyone, from Harvey Fierstein to Charles Busch to the stage manger from the Broadway production of MARY POPPINS to some composer who's having her opera premiered at BAM or Lincoln Center.I once shared a long, slow ride in the elevator at 250 W. 54th with Celeste Holm - and we had a nice quick chat about the theatre.

Because, while there is definitely a hierarchy in the New York theatre, what you don't find much of - contrary to what you might think - is elitism (not to be confused with snobbery - there's plenty of that, but New Yorkers love to air their opinions in a non-elitist environment.) The one thing you know you never know in New York is who's going to be the next one of your friends, acquaintances or enemies to take off in this business, so it pays to be conversational with everyone.

And when we say "the theatre community" in NYC, understand that this really includes the whole city - because everyone in New York who isn't in the theatre has certainly got friends, neighbors and acquaintances who are - and not just actors, but costumers, composers, pit musicians, box office administrators, professors at NYU and teachers at Stella Adler and techies of all ilks. (Folks, you have absolutely no idea how many jobs the live theatre generates in NYC).

So at some point most New Yorkers are in on the ground floor of a developing project, supporting their theatre friends by going to the readings and the workshops or letting those theatre friends vent about bad rehearsal space, bad scripts or bad directors. All of my NYC friends who are not in the theatre pride themselves fiercely on being able to talk as informed audience members - about the theatre.

I don't know how it is in other cities, but in 13 years in Nashville I can count on one hand the number of down low conversations I have had about the theatre. It's not that there aren't the folks around to have those conversations with - it's just that there is no meeting ground, no place where folks hang out after the show. Also - and I remember this from 10 years in Atlanta as well, benign or otherwise, there seems to be an uncomfortable elitism in the American theatre outside of New York. At some point I decided that this may have it's roots in the prevailing grant driven socio-economic environment of regional theatre, as in people with the big grants, the ones who get to go to New York to do their casting, are just a little bit above the rest of us. And they know more.

New York's convivial, conversational approach to being a part of the theatre economy is the real basis of The Big Apple's theatrical infrastructure and it's that infrastructure that has raised NYC to it's Olympian status in the history of world theatre. It might behoove the rest of us to take a hint from those of whom we are in awe. Find a diner and take a friend out for a cup of coffee and a conversation- about the theatre!

Oh - and

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre.

Jaz Dorsey
AAPEX Dramaturg
The Nashville Dramaturgy Project

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