For as long as I have been doing this – ‘this’ being the grind of forcing myself to go to required auditions, regardless of how the slims the odds of being cast might be – there has been one constant. It was true when I lived on Long Island, and I had to take the Long Island Railroad to Penn station; it was true when I lived in the north Bronx, and spent an hour crammed into the 2 train on my way to midtown. In order to go on auditions, I had to make my way through Times Square.
The era of Times Square as the embodiment of grime and sleaze is long gone, although the idea still persists in the popular imagination. That was the Times Square of my childhood. When I began my adult career, trudging to the Equity building in the forlorn hope of being seen as a non-member, I had to navigate the Times Square of the Giuliani era. The era of Disney and TRL (the original one). An era when Times Square was so overwhelmingly wholesome – and its sidewalks still so narrow – that I had to make my way through gigantic throngs of giggling, totally requesting teenagers to travel half a block.
In an attempt to alleviate the pedestrian traffic, mayor Michael Bloomberg spearheaded the redesign of Times Square to the form it bears today. Roads were narrowed and diverted, and large pedestrian plazas created, with the mayor who presided over a new Gilded Age attempting to create something like a cultured, European boulevardier. Of course, these plans didn’t factor in things like basic human nature, our boundless capacity for vulgarity and greed. So instead of a tranquil oasis of green space in midtown Manhattan, we have the horrific funfair of desnudas and fake Elmos we deal with today, aggressively demanding tips from the hapless throngs of tourists who still swarm the supposedly tamed Times Square.
In a sense, the Times Square of today somehow manages to combine the worst of both previous eras of my life, aggressive sleaze fusing with cuddly cartoon characters. If you go early enough – if an audition is likely to be so crowded, and you’ve been unable to secure an advance online slot, and have to make your way to Times Square in the predawn hours – you have a chance of making your way through unmolested. There’s a certain weird calm at that time, when only the maintenance workers are about – though somehow there’s always a group of tourists walking about even then, at five or six in the morning. (I assume they’re making their way to a taping of their favorite morning newsmagazine program.) But you can’t stay in the audition room forever (the monitors get angry), and once you’re finished you once again have to make your way through the furry grifters and their oblivious marks, the congestion and the chaos. It’s something I’d reconciled myself to as the price of pursuing my dreams, an ordeal I’d be subjecting myself to for as long as I could drag myself to the Equity offices.
And then I moved to Brooklyn.
You know the famous chase sequence in The French Connection, where Popeye Doyle races the subway train? I live off that subway line now – the D line. And its closest stop to the midtown audition studios is 42nd street and Bryant Park – which is one block east of Times Square. I can now approach the Equity offices from that direction, and avoid Times Square entirely.
I don’t need to deal with it any more.
So, as I make my way to this morning’s auditions, I’m enjoying as relaxed a ride as the inept MTA makes possible. I emerge from the subway, take a moment to enjoy Bryant Park as the Christmas shops start their daily business in the morning air, and purchase an earl grey with honey to soothe my throat. I stroll north a few blocks, calmly preparing my audition piece as I do, and safely enter the Equity building with nary a trace of fake Muppet fur to be found. It’s a tough business, a cruel world, and a dark time in history – I’ll take my victories where I can find them.