NYC Theatre: The Guilt of Not Caring

Having recently moved from New York where I spent the majority of  my life, I am used to the questions about it from elatives, or family friends based in other areas, who are interested in what they percieve to be the whirlwind of cultural activities that a young professional woman must engage in on a regular basis.  The assumption I believe, is that I regularly find fulfilment attending poetry eadings, plays,  conceptual art performances, eating at exotic restaurants and sipping chamapgne cocktails at record release parties while wearing achingly fashionable clothes and Manolo Blahniks, the ubiquitousness of which, a certain cable TV series may have slightly exaggerated.

I am loathe to tell them the truth–that my after work hours are often spent at a 7:15 “Chisel!” class at my gym, getting stoned on my friends roof, wandering around Brooklyn with my boyfriend or cooking dinner.

Yes, there was a year or two after I graduated from college where the novelty of open bars, magazine or product launch parties, and other seemingly glamorous events were still very fresh and, well, glamorous.  However, there are only so many free Skyy Vodka cocktails one can imbibe before you realize that most of the people beyond the velvet ropes of the cheesy venues these events are held at, are equally bored, and equally seeking the promised glamour of this “Exclusive” event.  So a combination of getting tired of that scene, a serious relationship and a diminishing tolerance for alcohol have contributed to the increased lame-ening of the list of activities I participate in.  WIth the exception of gallery openings which I always find at least somewhat worthwhile, and music shows at smaller venues I tend to avoid all of that stuff.

When I explain this to people they sometimes seem slightly disappointed, as though I should be a more active cultural animal but they seem to understand in most cases when I describe the crowod of hangers on, the cheap, poorly mixed drink and the absurd “party photographers”.  However the one thing that no one can understand,  and about which I am constantly encouraged to feel shame is the fact that I never go to any theater performances of any kind, at all, ever.

”You mean never?” they gasp incredulously. “But, you live in New York!”

Yes, I know.  Truly New York is a city known for its theater.  The cultural importance of something being on “Broadway” cannot be overstated, as people from outside New York imagine Broadway to be the height of metropolitan glamour and artistic sophistication.  These people probably have not been subjected to bus ads screaming “CLAY AIKEN IN SPAMALOT!!”  or “Elephant Man: The Musical!!!” (I swear to God this was real),  but even so, theater is terribly important to New Yorkers and probably moreso to people from outside the city.  Even those who never, ever  go to the theater will cite it as one of the main cultural reasons to live in this city.

To me, theater, especially musical theater is just embarrassing.  All these grown men and women standing on a raised platform and pretending stuff, often without a set, without props or without costumes.  The goal being, to make us feel like we are actually watching a drama unfold.  I have seen some plays I liked, but only because the actor or actress was able to overcome the fact that they were standing on a wooden box pretending it was a boat/moor in Scotland/Danish castle/Italian balcony, and convince me that they understood what they were doing.  It didn’t last long though, and within moments I felt the familiar empathic embarrassment I feel when I see that lady painted green and dressed like the Statue Of Liberty in the Union Square subway station. Maybe my mind has been diluted so much by film and TV that I need actual context, editing and locations to truly bring me into the experience. Perhaps being part of the “MTV generation” has sapped my powers of imagination so acutely that I can only be moved by fat girls in bee costumes or Alicia Silverstone bungee jumping while impishly flipping me off.

I saw a Tony Kushner play at BAM a couple years back because my boyfriend bought me tickets for our first Valentine’s Day together. He knew that I had loved Angels in America and figured this would be a good present.  Needless to say we hadn’t been together long.  We had dinner together before the show where he revealed to me his skepticism.

“Yeah I mean, I don’t really like theater but I figure since you’re into it…” he shrugged.

“Oh well, yeah. I mean, I’m excited. I mean, I’m not really big into theater either but…this will be fun.”

“You’re…you’re not?”

“No”.

“Oh, Thank God. I can’t deal with theater people”

There are some “theater people” who are perfectly lovely.  Then there are the others, loud, per formative, clove cigarette-smoking dramatists who sign off their emails with a quote from Samuel Beckett and are about two socially-awkward steps away from Milton on Office Space.  They stress me out and I’m not sure why.   Perhaps it was 4 years at the theater-person heavy Sarah Lawrence. Or maybe its just don’t respond well to grown ups pretending something is happening that isn’t, and asking me to pay to indulge them.

We did have a good time and I must say enjoyed the play but more for Mr. Kushner’s wonderful writing skills than for the “performance” happening on stage.  I think my disdain is tied somewhat to the “stage voices”  the actors use.  All of these people yelling but behaving as though they are speaking in their normal voice? Comeaanan!   Everything is so exaggerated from volume to gesture to each and every personal quality the actors are so desperate to express.

I know how unpopular my opinion is, and I know too how uncultured I sound but I cannot help it.  A friend of mine is into theater and often does plays in an around New York City which I have attended because I do beleive in supporting her, but I just dont know how I’m supposed to react or what to say. Especially experimental theater.  I just don’t understand what Im supposed to be understanding.

I love the visual arts, I love writing and poetry and music. I just cant really get down with the performing arts as such, unless its like a concert or something like that which happens to have a lot of theatrics to it.

I would welcome the advice of any readers who can help me to understand and embrace theater instead of rolling my eyes at it, in all its forms.

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About the author

Ashley Friedman - Cornerstore Correspondent

Like most kids, Ashley grew up in New Jersey. Unlike most kids the Friedman's televison set acted as a third parent, imbuing young Ashley with the stern moral values of Claire Huxtable, the dramatic tendencies of Brenda Walsh and the earnest hopefulness of the blond kid on Silver Spoons. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence Ashley made her way to the Park Slope area of Brooklyn where she can currently be found reading foreign fashion magazines, scouring ebay for vintage heels, eating out in restaurants and otherwise stretching her meager income as far as it will go in NYC.

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