About Me

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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Do You Need Help?

Despite having been more or less body-slammed by this past week, I can't resent New York too much for it.

Actually, if I'm being totally fair, I can't resent New York at all. It's not New York's fault, after all, that I lost a friend, or my job, or even my Metrocard. It's not its fault that my computer crashed or that I sat on my digital camera.

And yet, I do, in some sense, hold it responsible. Things are just more difficult in this city, I've found. Where else to you have to drag your clothes up and down five flights of stairs and around the corner on laundry day? Where else can you pay an arm and a leg to live in an apartment so small that the simple question of what to do with your winter sweaters in June becomes a riddle so complex it requires all the power of your spatial creativity? So, while New York did not cause me to have this week, these little tragedies like losing one's job or one's Metrocard take on Brobdingnagian proportions here.

But I don't resent it. It's the nature of the beast, and I knew that walking into the mouth. In fact, the idea that all things are exponentially more difficult in the city is something that drew me to this place in the first place. I know - what kind of masochism is this? But I like the concept of working for one's survival, of being fully conscious of it: every day is a gift, an accomplishment. And if you really want something (even if that something is sweater-space) you simply cannot just sit back and expect it to come to you. You have to get it. It makes you evaluate your priorities: you learn to understand the value of hard work, and know which goals are worth working toward.

In theory, at least.

Here's a story: yesterday, I met a woman struggling up the steps of a subway exit with a large cart full of groceries. I will admit that I am not the most philanthropic of people. I rarely stop for the homeless, or for enthusiastic clipboard-wielders. But I will stop to help a person up the stairs. As one who has carted everything from a shag rug to a wheelchair across this fair city on the subway, I just can't help it. Anyway, this particular woman was very grateful for my help. It was clear to me, and probably to her, that she would have never made it up the stairs without a helping hand.

This phenomenon fascinates me. In the course of my subway travels I frequently come across people or families with loads - mostly baby carriages and related contraptions, but sometimes grocery carts and suitcases - far larger than they could possibly carry on their own. And I see, also, the kind counterparts who invariably offer a hand.

The helpfulness of these good people is an amazing and beautiful display of humanity in a city that is notoriously cold. But it's not this side of the good Samaritan coin that fascinates me, it's the other: the scores of people who, everyday, make their way to the train with carriages and suitcases and carts and the full knowledge that, without the charity of an as-of-yet-unknown entity, they will be stranded.

Everything is difficult in the city. It would be easy for this to create a ruthlessness in people, an every-man-for-himself-and-take-what-you-can-get mentality. And sometimes, I think, it does. But in spite of it, sometimes it also creates this. All of these people rely entirely upon the kindness of strangers simply to get from point A to point B. We live among people; our lives are inextricably linked. Activities like grocery shopping, or going to the airport, or taking the baby out in the stroller, which might be done privately, must be done socially here. Out of necessity, we respect each other, we care for each other, we must allow ourselves to be cared for as well. Somehow, counter-intuitively, the hardness of this place creates a softness, a necessary vulnerability. I love this.

Oddly, though, I myself have never accepted the proffered hand on the subway. I've struggled with my own share of groceries and suitcases, not to mention the occasional mammoth prop (the wheelchair, for example, which I used to tote from my apartment in Harlem to a bar in the East Village on a regular basis) and every time a stranger has offered me help, I've refused it. I have to learn to carry this myself, I think. If I don't, how will I manage to carry it when there's nobody around to help? I'll get soft, I won't be able to do it.

Now, as I'm suddenly beginning to feel insurmountably weighed down by the burdens of the city, I wonder if this is exactly my problem. Instead of bending in the wind, like the skyscrapers around me, I've been standing impossibly rigid, and my foundations are cracking. All this time I've lived in this place, loved this place because it was making me strong. But what if it turns out that strength is the last thing the city needs from me, or that I need from myself? Softness, perhaps, is not a terrible fate that I must avoid if I want to ensure my own survival; it's what I must yield to if I want to survive at all.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Welcome Back to NYC.

So, it's been a rough week. I spent the first part of September on vacation back home in New Mexico, idyllically alternating in between snacking on junk food and watching junk TV. It was fantastic, and a much-needed respite from my progressively muddled life. I felt like a tangled string on a yo-yo, winding further and further into itself until it is such tensely twisted mess that correctly working the yo-yo is an impossibility until you hang it out and let it slowly unwind itself.

I did a little soul-searching, took a few deep breaths, and returned to New York with new strength, and a renewed resolve to work through the challenges the city put forth. And Lord, did the city take me at my word.

My first evening home, I received an email from my job informing me that I was fired. What happened while I was gone? And what could I have possibly done in absentia in the two weeks in between the last shift I worked, when I still had a job, and now, when I have none? Maybe I will never know. That was day one.

I have been home a little over a week and have thus far lost:

1. My job
2. My computer (crashed)
3. A brand-new unlimited Metrocard
4. A best friend
5. A digital camera (sat on it)
6. My most recent rental from Netflix (That last one is kind of lame. But on top of everything else, by the time I got to this one, all I could think was, seriously? Come on.)


(Okay, the computer is an exaggeration. My computer ACTUALLY crashed right before going out of town. And it is now fixed, as of yesterday (minus all my data). But it was a terrifying challenge trying to find a job over the past week without being able to look at Craigslist or print resumes.)

The worst is definitely number four, but for the sake of brevity, we'll skip that for the time being.

The thing about this week, though: it feels too brutal to even be coincidence. I've felt very at sea about my place in New York City of the past few months, very torn about whether or not I have a place here. I've loved this place with an unrivaled intensity since I was eleven years old, and the first four years of life here were thrillingly sweet. But now, suddenly, I'm questioning my ability to be the person I want to be in this place, to create the life I want to create for myself, and - most importantly, because this is the first and only reason I chose to live in NYC - to make the art I want to make or even grow as an artist here anymore.

And - is it love that's keeping me here anymore, or is it just stubbornness? And, maybe, a crippling fear of failure?

So I worry, and I cry, and I basically withdraw from society for nearly three months, and then I finally get enough distance (literally, physically) from New York to do a little thinking. What I thought about, and what I decided, that's another post too. The point is: I come back to New York and I'm ready. I've realized, come what may, this is where I am right now. I'm going to be present. I'm going to be open and accepting of both the challenges and the gifts it brings forth.

And it gives me... this week. It's as if the city responded by saying, "Okay, Leigh. You want to talk about being strong? You want to say you're open and accepting of this life? Prove it. Be open to THIS."

And I'm trying to be. After months of feeling unable to cope with even the most mundane of life's little bobbles (Seriously. I once turned into a sobbing wreck because my cat pooped outside the litterbox. I SAID it was a bad few months), I've now been dealt an emotionally crushing week and I'm realizing... I'm moving forward. I have to, and I am. Welcome back to NYC.

Friday, September 10, 2010


My best friend from my hometown and I are collaborating on a play.

This was my idea. Johanna, my friend, is a writer - mainly a poet. She is, without exaggeration, the most amazing poet I have ever met in real life. I will concede that she has some competition with some established poets - some of the well-published authors who are generally celebrated within poetry circles as the geniuses of our time. But within the circle of real-live people whom I have actually met? She is beyond compare. And, I should point out, I went to Sarah Lawrence, a school chock-full of talented writers. She truly has a gift.

Johanna has also tried her hand at a little short story and novel writing, although, to my knowledge, she has never quiiiiiite finished a story. (If you read her prose, you'd understand why - dense as hell. All the rhythm and imagery and tightness of a poem, but sustained for, like, 40 pages.) She mentioned to me that she'd like to try her hand at playwriting and I thought, oh my god. I don't want to sound like I'm using my oldest and dearest friend, but if she actually put her massive creative talent towards playwrighting, and followed through? I could have an all-access directorial pass to what might be some of the most amazing new work available in the theater. And as one who has struggled to find new work to be excited about over the past four or so years, this sounded incredibly enticing.

But Johanna, for all her poetic prowess, has very little interest in the theater as an art, and thus very little knowledge of playwriting, dramatic structure, etc. Here's where I come in. I thought - hey, I know how a play should be structured, and I'm a pretty okay writer myself, so what if we collaborate?

We spent a couple months bouncing ideas back and forth and then we stopped. I think, because we both sort of hit a dead end. We could talk endlessly about the characters - their backstories, their motivations, their arc. But when in came to actually, physically writing some dialogue, we hesitated.

I, very laboriously, clunked out a couple scenes between a mother and a son. They - if I do say so myself - failed SPECTACULARLY. I forgot that, of all the genres of writing I have tried my hand at, playwriting (alas) is the one at which I am the least adept.

But now we've gotten back on the horse, we're collaborating again and it looks like we're still just circling. We had what might have been a productive conversation yesterday, or might have been more putting-off on our parts, about wants. What does the son want? What does he get in the end? Ditto for the mother, and the waitress.

I'm sort of... haunted by Edward Albee. The Zoo Story keeps hanging over my head - the quintessential example of what, I think, we're trying for with our play: two people who need something from the other talk their way around each for a while and discover truths about themselves and human nature in general in the process. And then they get, or don't get, what they need.

Except, Zoo Story eloquently expounds on human connection, what it means to be and feel alive, and... well, YOU know. Everybody who's read or seen Zoo Story knows. And our play will just be two people yelling at each other - or resisting yelling at each other, as the case may be.

I know it's a pretty common creative demon to have the better efforts of another hanging over your head like this. I face it all the time as a director (*coughLearDeBessonetcough*). But I think it's got us both - at least me - in a point of complete paralysis, and I'm not sure how to work through it.

Maybe we're just not great collaborators. When I've collaborated with Sarah in the past, we sort of have a rhythm: we discuss, and then she writes. I'll be honest, this rhythm has often frustrated me. Why is she always the one that writes? But I can't seem to get my pen to the page as fast as she does - maybe the reason is because I can't seem to get my pen to the page at all. Maybe Johanna and I both need a Sarah for our collaborative process, and both of us are unsure how to step up to the plate and be the Sarah.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


I'm back, after a long hiatus. This isn't the first time I've dropped of the face of the blogging planet, BUT, in my defense, my last post, on the first of June, was followed by the most emotionally trying three months of my life. I'm... hoping that's all behind me?

I won't elaborate, because the specifics of my unraveling aren't particularly interesting or even unique, and, anyway, this isn't my diary. I only mention it because with it has come a subsequent questioning of my life in the theater - my drive, my passion, my abilities as a director, blah blah blah.

I told you it wasn't interesting or unique.

But, as this is ostensibly my theater blog, the whole crisis of, um, vocation? may come up again so - there it is.

In the meantime, I also wanted to mention that one of the things that I clung to during my time of crisis was, in fact, a line from a play. And a play by a colleague, at that. Andrea Lepcio's Looking for the Pony, a play which I had the pleasure of seeing as a reading and later as a full production, is an amazingly poignant story of two sisters' efforts to accept one's cancer diagnosis. The older sister, practical and steadfast, is always advising the younger, who is more passionate, eager, and headstrong, to "ammend the goal," rather than plow stubbornly forward with a plan that isn't working. This advice is particularly touching at the end when -- spoiler alert -- the older realizes it's time to ammend the goal of surviving her cancer.

Anyway, in the past three months, as I've fallen further and further down the rabbit hole of who am I? where am I going? etc., it's given me stabililty and strength to remember that it is an option to "ammend the goal."

I think I might email Andrea and tell her her words have been a comfort. Because that's what we all wish for, isn't it? That we could share a moment, however small, however fleeting with another person? That something we've created might find its way into another person's life with all the significance and meaning that we felt for it?