Leaving New York: Post #4
This is the entry that I’ve been putting off writing, because writing it means that I actually have to say goodbye to New York.
I am sitting in the lobby of my beautiful theatre, on a gorgeous autumnal day in Ithaca, and I couldn’t be happier to be here. A few weeks ago, Rafa and I (with the help of two strapping young men) packed up a U-Haul, drove to Ithaca, and unpacked in the beautiful house that I will move into shortly, once the renovations are complete. Nota bene: We kept the NYC place because:
1) Rafa will still be living there (and I plan on being back there plenty)
2) Nobody ever said, “I gave up my rent-stabilized 2BR in NYC and golly gee that was a great idea!”
We’re able to do this, if you’re curious, by converting my office into a bedroom and taking in a roommate. Did I mention how grateful I am to my spouse, who at this point in his life has accepted that he’ll be living with a roommate because his husband has dreams to run a theatre somewhere?
What I’m saying is: I still have my home in NYC. I have moved to one of the most beautiful places in the country and the world. And yet still, the decision to leave New York was the hardest thing about taking this job. After weeks of deliberation (and many therapy sessions), I think I know why. I’ll tell you a little story about language and Mexico to make my point.
If you grow up in Mexico City, you refer to yourself as chilango, which literally means “belonging to Mexico City.” But for our purposes, we can think of the term as the kind of pride New Yorkers take in calling themselves New Yorkers. If you’re a chilango, however, there’s a word you use for everyone who wasn’t born in Mexico City. That word is provinciano. I believe that those Mexicans not from Mexico City feel some resentment about the phrase, and really, who can blame them? It would be like if New Yorkers called everyone else in the USA provincial. I said called, not thought of.
But this little story illustrates my greatest fear in leaving New York. For all the horror of living in New York: the ridiculous rent, overpriced restaurants, sweltering heat, numbing winters, the bombardment of cruelty you can experience in the ten-minute walk from your apartment to the subway, the feeling like you have to be making a seven-figure salary to not feel worthless, the horrible traffic that makes leaving almost as difficult as getting back in, the cacophony of light and sound that is its own perpetual bombardment; the Faustian bargain you make is that you get to have access to the best of everything.
Now, I know all you non-New Yorkers may balk at this summation. “Chicago’s improv scene is as good if not better,” I hear you saying. “What about the restaurants of Los Angeles?” “The museums of D.C.?” “The seafood of Boston?”
And of course you’re right – all of those cities excel in those areas. But New York excels in all of them. Every single one. There’s no other city in this country (or the world?) where you can go to a world-class seafood restaurant, museum and play every night of the year without having to repeat. Or do anything else for that matter.
Not only that, but I am living proof that you can live in New York on an artist’s income (read: hovering around the poverty line) and still experience all of those things. And not just in the theatre world. I have enjoyed the Metropolitan Opera from twentieth row center seats. A few times. I have watched a Mets Opener from the owner’s box and watched Jeter’s last game (which I swear was rigged) from a private box, with catering. I got into the Freedom Tower before it was open to the public. When I was in New York last weekend I went to see two plays. Mayor de Blasio was at one. Lena Dunham was at the other. My tuxedo, which I bought when I was 15 to attend some high school proms and still fits, got used regularly during my 19 years in New York. It brushed elbows with, well, I hate to name drop, but let’s start with Meryl Streep and Jude Law. I have attended countless Broadway openings and restaurant openings and gallery openings. All for free.
But where this matters most to me is art, specifically theatre. I’m not saying the theatre in New York is better than anywhere else. I’m saying it’s better than everywhere else. Just because there’s so much more of it. And I can hear my friend John Iacovelli insisting that LA produces more plays than New York does. But even if that’s true, who ever heard of flying to LA for the weekend to catch a few plays?
|I heart NY.|
In my 19 years in New York I saw thousands of plays. So even if they’re as good as theatre other places, seeing so many more of them means I have spent more hours of my life watching inspirational theatre than a non-New Yorker has. And so much of what I make, I realize, is inspired by that work. Seeing the best theatre in the world, all the time, inspired me. It showed me the work that I wanted to be making, both in terms of quality and aesthetic. I suppose if I were a different artist I wouldn’t need that to make the best work I can. But I’m not. I’m the kind of artist who thrives through exposure. And so, my fear in leaving New York, is that I will become provincial.
Truth be told, I’m not sure if I would’ve been able to do it even five years ago. But most of my friends have had kids now, or moved to New Jersey, or had kids and moved to New Jersey, and with the exception of my buddies on the soccer team and the wonderful Upstart Creatures (which will solider on with Suzanne Agins assuming Co-Artistic Directorship with me) I don’t really have a community to hang out with.
And honestly, New York isn’t the city it was when I moved there almost exactly 19 years ago. It’s hard to be objective about how it’s changed, because of course, I’ve changed too, and when both the object and the viewer are in states of transition, you never really know what is an empirical change and what is perspective. At the least, I know that every time one of my favorite places closes and is replaced by a bank, pharmacy or waxing salon, a part of my heart dies. At the most, I know that going up 9th Avenue and seeing all the stores that are no longer there, like photographs that have been over-developed, is its own kind of trauma.
I’m planning on coming back to New York a lot. For Upstart events. For plays. For weddings. But writing this as the sun sets over Cayuga Lake, I’m also looking forward to my years in Ithaca. Especially because the more my artistic vision for the theatre takes shape, the more excited I am about it…
 No one in Mexico actually calls Mexico City “Mexico City.” They all call it “DF,” for Distrito Federal. This was the case until January 2016, when its denizens voted for the city to become its own state (but because it’s also the capital of the country, it can’t be an entire state, so now it’s something in between and Rafael isn’t happy about it).