I was walking up Eighth Avenue last weekend, and found myself at a street fair. Nothing fancy or elaborate – it was one of those fairs that’s entered the last hour of their permit, and half the booths have already shuttered, leaving only a few overpriced food stands among the urban detritus. And I happily, giddily, shelled out ten bucks for a perfectly disgusting, greasy chicken-kabob. I’m sure it was terrible for me, but it was the first chance I’d had in a year and half to do something like that.
Of course, it was the first chance I’d had in a year and a half to do what had brought me to Eighth Avenue in the first place. Be a hustling, bona fide, produced playwright.
My short one-act For the Benefit of Jimmy Mangiaroli received a one-night-only production last Sunday, September 19, as part of a new monthly salon series offered by Vampingo Productions. The salon is a result of the grants offered by New York Foundation for the Arts’ City Artist Corps, intended to help us New York theater artists through the pandemic, and so all of the pieces were New York themed in some way. And indeed, there’s few more New York experiences then an evening of shorts, monologues, and new musical theater songs performed in a large Midtown studio space for thirty theatrical insiders. (That may not sound like a large turnout, but admit it – if you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve played for smaller audiences numerous times.)
So yes, that’s my first personal experience of being able to say that Live Theater is Back, and my first chance to declare how much I’ve missed it. But the thing of it is, it’s not the obvious things that I’ve missed. Having my work produced? I’ve managed to have that done remotely. The applause of the crowd? Doesn’t really sound the same over zoom, but it’s still there. I’ve been working steadily at various ways to keep theater going during our remote exile, so since it hasn’t truly gone away I haven’t missed it.
I’ve missed the feel of cheap paper towels on my hands in a Midtown bathroom, and their particular smell.
I’ve missed the tactile sensation of uncorking wine bottles, to put out a nice after-show spread.
I’ve missed the Tetr0s-like puzzle solving of arranging folding chairs.
I’ve missed running into other theater folks in adjoining studios.
Hell, I’ve even missed lousy street-fair food.
I don’t think things are ever going back “exactly the way they were before.” Our audience was all masked, and I expect audiences throughout the country to stay masked for the foreseeable future. And my play is all about a young man running a fool’s errand during the Covid pandemic – and worrying his mother in the process – and it would have made no sense whatsoever before last March. So there’s a lot of stuff that’s probably here to stay, whether we want to admit it or not. But if we can get back one-night showcases in Midtown studios, I think I might be able to breathe easier. Even through the mask.