by Leicester Landon
I moved to NY with two suitcases and $1,000 dollars. It was 2005.
Smart phones weren’t big yet, so we all walked around with a little book of maps called the Not For Tourists guide (NFT). Any new transplant will have it easier than we did. With smart devices you have all the information you need right at your fingertips. However, there is something to be said for what NY has to offer when you aren’t searching for something specific, rather just searching.
I suppose that’s not necessarily to do with this business, but with life in general. Try to get in conversations with people. Be present in the city. Ask for directions rather than getting all the answers from your machine. Chances are you’ll get more than you bargained for.
My first apartment was $300/mo in Bushwick. At the time, no one even knew where Bushwick was. Now, that place would be over a thousand dollars. I moved out after a few months to another unbelievably cheap place just off Central Park on the Harlem side. I moved again and again – at least once a year – unsatisfied with certain places that, in retrospect, would have been ideal homes for the long term. If cutting costs is important to you, find a great deal in an area that seems less-than-desirable. Be patient. The area will change. Eventually you won’t be able to afford it anyway. Things change that fast.
I’m now in the cheapest part of Manhattan that exists: East Harlem. It has some grit that will never be gentrified; many of the city’s housing projects are there. There are luxury condos going up close to the train stations, but there will always be a corner for budget-conscious artists; I maintain hope. When I’m priced out of this apartment, I will move to Brooklyn.
Most alternative-turned-mainstream artists are doing things in Brooklyn now. This means many of the intern and apprenticeship programs crucial for new-comers are housed in offices in Brooklyn, a quick bike ride away from Bushwick or Bed-Stuy, even Lefferts Gardens, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, Greene Point…
We have to be honest with ourselves and admit New York is not the gritty, east village squatter dream we imagined at some younger age. Practical proximity to business opportunities is what keeps me in Manhattan, though it’s quickly becoming less practical as most small and not-for-profit theater companies are setting up shop in Brooklyn.
As I write I’m remembering things I wish people had said to me. I wasn’t good at asking for help. I was determined to figure things out on my own. I wish I’d been more vulnerable and honest about my incapability – about the fact I was new and from a much smaller place.I wanted it to be a seamless transition. What a waste! Let it be a shock. Let it be new. Let it be a surprise!
Back to internship opportunities: Find them! Find companies doing the work important to you. Watch them, pay attention and figure out how/when you can help. Volunteer to help with a fundraising event. Sacrifice for the work that matters to you. It will bring you closer to the artistic community in which you belong. You do not want to waste your time with mass mail-outs hoping just anyone will take a chance with you. No one will take a chance with you. They already know too many people who want and deserve a handout. Be selective. Your art is worth it. I wish someone had told me this. Don’t just give your art to anyone. Put it where it belongs. Every artistic choice you make is building your creative identity. Be proud of who you are becoming and the art you are doing.
I know, “How do I afford to live if I’m giving up all my time to theater companies.”
Believe me, the people for whom you are volunteering your time are more tired than you’ll ever be. They spent years sacrificing and building their own creative communities, struggling for their art. They do not get vacations. They are always working, building, contacting, and creating. Your exhaustion is not special. Get exhausted for what you believe in. That’s what everyone else is doing. And it’s worth it.