On Saturday I made yet another trip to New York City as part of my extensive exploration of the New York City theater community. However, the play I selected to see was partly based on the ticket price, a bargain at $25.00. Nevertheless it was a new play by a playwright who is on my radar.
I had a long list of relatively obscure establishments to locate. All I did was take a photo of the exteriors but just finding these places was an useful exercise. More preciously doing the research was useful and taking these photos only put me on the scene and reinforced their reality.
The first place I located was the Professional Performing Arts School, a high school for the performing arts much like the school featured in the film Fame. While researching this school I came across the New York City Department of Education Comprehensive Theater Examination and it was interesting to read their criteria for evaluating students.
Next I found The Actors’ Temple, a synagogue where actors worshiped which still retains a connection with the theater community. Sometimes this synagogue serves as a performance space so I might need to know where to find it some day. My research has gone beyond the obvious to delve into the really hidden places which most tourists would not be interested in.
My next goal was the Actors’ Equity Building on West 46th Street. I must have passed this building many times while crisscrossing Times Square but I never realized the actor’s union had an office in this building. There was a Sysco truck parked right in front of the entrance so I had to come back to this building later.
Another tiny theater I sought out was the Davenport Theatre on West 45th Street. This theater is operated by a producer, Ken Davenport, whose web site looks suspiciously like a multi-level marketing scam. However, he seems to be a legitimate Off Broadway producer and I’m sort of familiar with his work from the Your Broadway Genius newsletter I receive. So my research on this theater sort of connects the dots.
There was one major Broadway theater I’d never photographed because it is hidden away on West 41st Street, the Nederlander Theatre. After taking a photo of that theater I ventured into the Garment District where there are a few acting schools. I located the William Esper Studio and The Barrow Group. I don’t have much interest in acting but it would be useful to ponder how actors go about building a character. I also located 520 8th Avenue which happens to be where the Theatre Communications Group has its offices. There are also many performance spaces in that building.
After running all around Midtown taking photos I was very thirsty and began to think about finding a place to eat. I was planning on going to Obao on 9th Avenue again but as I walked along Shubert Alley it occurred to me to give Junior’s Restaurant a try. Junior’s Restaurant is right on Shubert Alley across from the theater posters. It occupies a prime Broadway location. The place was really packed but I only had to wait ten minutes for a table with a fine view of Shubert Alley. I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon and a coffee shake. This meal was nothing special but it was pretty good and only cost me $25.00. The portions where huge so I did not finish my sandwich or eat all my fries.
After lunch I went to the Drama Book Shop for my obligatory shopping spree. I checked out the Russian plays book shelf for a copy of Leonid Andreyev’s play He Who Gets Slapped. There is a great silent film of He Who Gets Slapped starring Lon Chaney. I found the entire film on YouTube and copied it to my smartphone to view on the long bus ride to New York City. This silent film really got to me and it inspired a great idea for yet another play. What I found moving about the story was the humiliation of the intellectual. The intellectual protagonist is humiliated and betrayed and winds up a melancholy clown in a circus where he suffers the slings and arrows of an outrageous fortune in the form of repeated slaps to the face. It is a brilliant metaphor for the degradation of the noble mind and soul. My idea was to update the story to make the intellectual a recent college graduate forced to work at a McDonald’s in a Ronald McDonald clown costume. This is very humiliating and it is precisely what is being done to the finest minds of the current generation. I think this play idea has a lot of potential and I spent most of my day in New York City in a state of excitement over the prospect of writing it. Unfortunately the Drama Book Shop had nothing by Leonid Andreyev so I bought three other books; Still by Jen Silverman, Funny, Strange, Provocative: Seven Plays from Clubbed Thumb, New Downtown Now (Young Jean Lee).
Now I had to carry a bag of books around with me for the rest of the day. I wandered up and down West 42nd Street because I’ve been reading a book Ghosts of 42nd Street by Anthony Bianco which describes in great detail the history of 42nd Street and how it was rehabilitated and redeveloped into what we find there today. I noticed that the American Airlines Theatre was still playing Long Day’s Journey Into Night which I saw on my previous trip. Eventually 2:00 p.m. rolled around and it was time to see a matinee at the Signature Theatre. The play I selected was Daphne’s Dive by the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes. Quiara Alegría Hudes was born and raised in Philadelphia and the play was set in Philadelphia so that provided an excellent reason to see this play. I visit Philadelphia almost as often as New York City and Quiara Alegría Hudes is one of the Philly associated playwrights whose work I follow.
For the first time, I had a seat which placed me below the level of the stage so I was looking up at the actors. I’ve never been seated below the stage before. Daphne’s Dive proved to be a serious and moving play set in a dive bar. Philadelphia has many dive bars. There were many references to Philadelphia in the play and I got a kick out of that. Fortunately nobody yelled out “Yo Philly!” in hometown pride. The stage set was very realistic. It really did look like a dive bar. The cast was very multiracial but predominantly Hispanic. I was very tired and I’m afraid my mind wandered as I occasionally spaced out, but most of the time the play held my attention and I focused on the drama. There was some lesbian hot and heavy action in the play which was slightly shocking and an improbable off stage self-immolation which seemed a little excessive.
After the show I passed the Playwrights Horizons theater which I took great interest in. I’ve recently submitted my new full length play to Playwrights Horizons after realizing they accept submissions. This is probably a very competitive market but my play is really audacious and makes extraordinary claims. I must confess that I’m a bit hesitant to even put it out there. It would be huge if Playwrights Horizons did choose to do my play and I’m sure it would cause a lot of controversy. My mind is ablaze with an unfathomable glory and if even a hint of that made it to the page and then the stage then I would be undone. To me this seems like a very real possibility and yet it would require an impossible level of technical achievement. It is all a question of communicating the ineffable.
The next goal of my trip was to visit the Paley Center for Media, one of the minor museums I never got around to. Some travel guides describe the Paley Center for Media as a museum with exhibits but I didn’t see anything like that. Instead I was only directed to the media library which had computers with widescreen monitors. You could call up any old television show episode you liked from the media library and it would play at your work station. Being a snob, I selected a television version of Hamlet starring Christopher Plummer as Hamlet and Robert Shaw as Claudius. This was the 1964 Hamlet at Elsinore. I didn’t care much for Christopher Plummer’s Hamlet but Robert Shaw was mesmerizing as Claudius. I was only able to watch an hour of this movie before closing time. Ordinarily I would not waste time watching a movie in New York City. Actually being in the city is better than just watching a movie set in the city. Travel is your chance to experience exotic locations instead of just fantasizing about them.
I still had two hours in the city so I wandered around the Theater District and Times Square taking photos with my new camera since it takes much better photos than my old digital camera. On the bus ride home the bus broke down after leaving the Lycoming Mall. Fortunately we were almost home so they just sent another bus to pick us up and it did not take very long to drive the remaining distance to the bus depot.
My mind was in an over-excited state all during this trip to New York City. My interest in the theater is approaching the level of mania. I’m wary of becoming too obsessed with theater because it is extremely difficult to get anywhere in that business. Putting too much energy into playwriting can only lead to disappointment and bitterness. But on the other hand I possess something tangible. My imagination is so very, very powerful. It defines my world and determines everything I do. I do not think it is like anyone else’s imagination. I suppose that seems vain but I’ve never found much evidence of overwhelming inspiration in other artists. I feel like I live in another world, an enchanted world which only shares a surface resemblance to the common world. Even the world of fantasy the entertainment industry derives all its power from is nothing compared to the enchantment I’ve known. Most significantly, nothing ever created is as profound as one’s own dreams. This should be a simple truth but I’ve never heard it said.
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