Tag Archives: Tourism

If You Can Make It There


Dozens of wonderful movies have been made about making it in New York City. Heroes and heroines flock to the big city seeking understanding and/or excitement. Often they hail from small towns with nothing more than a suitcase and a dream. They emerge from buses and trains into a bustling mysterious brightly lit metropolis. They pound the pavement for a room and a job, knocking on countless slamming doors (a la Gene Kelly; Gotta Dance! Gotta Dance!) They find a room, perhaps even an efficiency or worldly roommate. They get a job and make it all work. They won’t quit ’til they’re a star!

Movies about the big adventure that is NYC aren’t really made anymore. NYC appears quite frequently in film but less as a place to conquer, and more as a posh playground. They still come from small towns and less glittery cities. But the heroes and heroines of today are more likely to find shelter in a 2,000 square foot loft than a room in a boarding house. Young women don’t share an “interview dress” but news of sample sales. And it’s been a few decades since a call girl found it entertaining to window shop at Tiffany. The scrappiness is gone. The roughing it and hard knock pursuit of a brand new start of it is a thing of the past; and for good reason.

You’d be hard pressed to find a legitimate boarding house in NYC. There are efficiency apartments still holding on, but they’re most decidedly not for out-of-towners. If there are buildings which house nothing but theatrical agents, even Gene Kelly wouldn’t be allowed past security. It’s a different city than it was 80, 70, or even 20 years ago. It is a town less about cab drivers answering back in language far from pure, than it is about gentility. Searching for grittiness can become a scavenger hunt. There is a gloss to the city that doesn’t sleep. Our heroines of yesteryear would not know what to make of bicycle paths, pedestrian malls, man-made beaches and midtown pop-up swimming pools (that are nothing more than oversized dumpsters). For the out-of-towner arriving to make their fame and fortune, these sights might be comforting and not the least surprising. Their perceptions of NYC, gleaned from television & film will be confirmed; it is a luxury cruise ship! The food is copious, the entertainment splashy and every need is easily fulfilled.

Of course there is still a grittiness to be found in the city, and there are still wonderfully diverse foods and entertainment. But it gets harder and harder to live an urban life beyond the homogenization. With each passing year the city becomes more a place for tourists and less for residents. People come from all over the world to see the prescribed sights. The intensity of the city and its lights might be exotic but the ads, retail and amenities are very familiar. A person could come to NYC; complete their tourist attraction checklist while eating, drinking and sleeping in very familiar places. But what of that young man or woman arriving with three bucks, two bags, one me? How do they find their way in a town priced at tourist levels, no longer as welcoming to the young yearning to be free? What does it mean to a city, and a world capital to no longer be the incubator of extraordinary young talent? The world will always welcome bankers and engineers, but what of artists?

NYC will never (willingly) go back to its hardscrabble ways. The tourism dollars are simply too good to turn down. But it is possible to recapture the opportunities and promise of the big city. Dotted throughout the island are examples of how. There is (at least) one subsidized residence for actors. There are small-business incubators supported by the city. There is even health insurance for freelancers. Gathering these meager resources and augmenting them to support artists and innovators would be a great legacy for a mayor. City sponsored art projects, theatres, and music would open the door for those Ruby Keelers and Gene Kellys and who knows whom else. The only way to ensure true diversity is to actively support success. It’s really up to you New York, New York.

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Posted by on August 4, 2013 in Cultural Critique


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There Are Two Broadways

I don’t mean this in a Rand McNally sense, in fact, infrastructurally speaking there are at least three Broadways that I know of in NYC (Broadway, West Broadway and East Broadway.)  I am instead referring somewhat metaphorically to the NYC world of theatre.
I have predicted, and now can see it coming true with this morning’s Brantley review of A Steady Rain, that a duality was afoot in the commercial theatre world.  I had predicted that we will soon see a time in which there are two commercial theatre tracks; the Disney track, and everything else.
In this case I use “Disney” euphemistically to include; gimmick casting, film to stage productions and jukebox productions, and of course anything in which a mermaid appears or in which a particular number can be mistaken for an amusement park ride.
Then there is the other track; that which we think of as more traditional.  By traditional, I do not mean dated, I mean of a traditional quality and intent.  These are new and old works, that are cast, perhaps with a slight nod to profit, but more with an interest in quality.  These productions are much more recognizable as live theatre works (versus: High School Musical THE MUSICAL) and can often take more creative risks.
None of this is bad news for the theatre community.  Tickets will be purchased, for Track 1, by tourists and non-theatre afficianados.  Track 2 will be supported by theatre devotees.  To see the negative in this arrangement, one must look beyond the box office into the history books of the American theatre.
There was a time when Broadway theatre options were in glorious excess.  Forty, fifty productions a season were not unusual.  And the prices!  The price of a theatre ticket was very similar to a movie ticket.  Imagine that.  The entire cast of a popular play (yes, including the stars) would pack up after a run and tour the country.  Actually tour the fly-over states.  These low prices, bounty of choices, and localizing theatre, created a glorious audience.  Theatre was so much more democratic and accessible than it is now.
Middle America experienced theatre, real theatre; not clips of a show that Oprah or some other mass culture pundit was promoting.  By eliminating touring, and increasing prices to where they are, and entire audience was lost.  What we have left is people who save for their big trip to NYC and don’t want to take any chances with their $100 ticket.  They purchase whatever they are told to (by Oprah or by advertisements) and that they recognize.  If the star is on their favorite WB show, all the better.  If the play resembles a film they recently saw; fabulous.  $100 is a lot of money for 2 hours of anything.  Is it any wonder that the audience leaps to its feet at curtain call.  At $50 an hour, wouldn’t you want to convince yourself that it was money well spent?
This bifurcation will exist and possibly thrive.  We live in a world in which elementary schools strap head mikes to tykes and have them dance in suggestive ways, and call it theatre.  Am I sad that we have lost a theatre literacy amongst the masses?  Absolutely.  But for the theatre’s sake, I am reluctantly grateful to the Track 1 Disney phenomenon.  In some dark and heartbreaking way, it is keeping theatre alive.

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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Uncategorized


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