We talk a lot on here about what it means to be a New Yorker, and if that’s something we’ll ever really call ourselves. I’m still not sure I can claim the mantle, but there are definitely things that are no longer as novel to me as they were when I moved here nearly seven years ago. (Side note: Seven years is two years longer than I ever expected to be in this city, but I’m showing no signs of stopping at this point.)
Working at a museum has made me avoid them as a visitor. St. Marks Place, where I spent a lot of my first year here, loses its luster very quickly when you no longer live within walking distance and realize it’s constantly crowded and alarmingly over-priced. Not to say that I don’t enjoy those things on occasion —but it is an occasion, not a regular occurrence. But of all these New York things, my approach has probably changed the most when it comes to going to the theater.
When I first moved here, I was a student — still being supported by my parents, working part-time during weird hours with weekday afternoons at my disposal more often than not. I spent those weekday afternoons indulging in the things that attracted me to New York: good craft beer bars, museums, and the theater. Wednesday matinee student rush tickets are the most affordable way to go to a show on Broadway, and you can usually end up with pretty good seats too.
After stopping by the box office in the morning, I would post up at my favorite Hell’s Kitchen bar or coffee shop, work on my thesis, and then see the matinee. During the year I lived in Manhattan, I saw a lot of theater. Which, for a theater nerd from Kentucky like myself, was an absolute dream come true. I was a girl who hung her cherished playbills on her walls as a teenager and counted the days until I could be in one of those storied houses again. Zelda and I spent hundreds of car rides together in which musical sing-alongs were heavily featured.
I spent that year seeing everything, good and bad. And I loved it. But inevitably, real life, real adulthood, came upon me. I moved to Brooklyn, my schedule slowly became more normal, and suddenly I found myself working a Monday-through-Friday, nine-to-five job in my home borough and dreading ever having to go into Manhattan. I also made friends who enjoyed theater and introduced me to new things. And in this time, I became…more discerning in the shows I chose to see.
I am lucky enough that I usually get to see shows when my mother visits, because she too is a theater fan, but gone are the days when $30 Wednesday matinee tickets were in the cards for me (a. because I am not longer eligible for student rush at age 29 and, b., I am no longer available on Wednesday afternoons). I won’t brave Friday evening in Time Square for just any show.
I realized about a year or so ago that, somewhere along the line, I had become a bit of a theater snob. I would not drag myself to a show (yes, drag, since this had now become a chore) unless I felt sure I would love it. And even with very good shows, I was finding things to critique.
But upon reflection over the past year and the few shows I have seen, I think that’s just part of theater-going becoming part of my life. I still love going to see shows, and I still love seeing a new show, but because I am privileged to have it so readily available to me, I am able to look at each show outside of that experience. I spent that first year here drinking in being able to see everything, to stand outside the stage door and get my playbill signed. Now, seven years later, part of the enjoyment is being able to experience a show, enjoy it, and also look at it as something that will grow and change as live theater often does. I can dislike a choice and still enjoy the work as a whole. I can have deep discussions with my friends about what if they did this, or why this person in that role, and that’s part of the fun.
I think in a lot of ways, we are spoiled by living here in the city, and having the funds and time to see world-class theater and talk about it the way many people talk about television or movies. Yes, the sheen has worn off some of the things that were so bright to my 22-year-old self. But the truth that’s underneath it is so much more interesting.
So maybe I don’t walk down St. Marks Place on the regular, but I have a regular stool at multiple Brooklyn bars. Sure, it’s hard to drag myself to a museum after spending five days a week in one, but I get to see them from the other side, which is kind of amazing. And maybe I don’t make it to the theater every few weeks like I used to, but when I do, the experience is richer, filled with the knowledge of seven years of theater-going, and when I leave I am psyched to talk it out with my friends who have seen the show.
New York isn’t as bright and shiny as it was when I moved here. But seven years and countless experiences later, it’s all the better for it.