By Leah S. Abrams
She is anything but dead, this glorious city of ours. If you think life here is all about the hustle-bustle of tourists cluttering up Times Square with their toddlers of all things and selfie-sticks, the all-night bars and clubs, the overpriced Broadway ticket, you’re missing what is at the core of all of that. The energy doesn’t come from that; all that is fueled by the pulse that is the city and its true inhabitants themselves. If your soul belongs here, there are gifts to be found in this time of shutdown.
We are an enclave for musicians who have never stopped giving us live concerts – from rooftops, distanced and masked throughout every park, pumped out of speakers propped in apartment windows, even from their living rooms and broadcast via this crazy technology that lets you view while sunning on your fire escape. The musicians are my essential workers – these artists who, more than any other group of people, drew me to this place my grandmother said her father never could stop feeling was home even long after he’d settled our family in Boston.
Theatres may be on six months closed, but storytelling has exploded on multiple platforms. For folks like me, the recent outpouring of podcasts (which are, let’s face it, just the modernized version of the radio shows my dad grew up on and handed down to me via cassettes released in my youth) is like a little piece of heaven. There are nights when I’ve listened to three or four short plays over dinner.
From my couch, I’ve seen Madhuri Shakar’s “In Love and Warcraft” cleverly adapted for Zoom, a new Deb Margolin piece that played as though we were right there in her living room, and a reading of Amina Henry’s “Burn” that I both could not believe was featuring actors all in their own homes and was one of the most complex and powerful stories I’ve seen this year.
One arts medium is returning indoors as art museums and galleries open to limited, masked crowds, patiently waiting in socially distanced lines for entry and happily succumbing to temperature checks and contract tracing lists upon entry.
A city of artists and service workers does not so easily succumb, no matter how hard and long you beat at her.
My caterer-writer-performer friend who has weathered her business through the 9/11 attacks, the 2008 financial crisis? She’s reinvented again, of course and, throughout these many months when there were no events at all, managed to feed her community of employees and neighbors. My corner caterers, theater people in their previous lives? They shifted gears to partner with a local non-profit to instead make and serve that delicious food for our neighbors in need. We are a plucky, adaptive bunch, we artists.
Most of us New Yorkers are walkers by nature. Exploring more neighborhoods on foot, rather than always swishing by underground en route to some destination or other, is a sensory overload. For those of us who swoon over the architecture of old, every stroll brings a new find. We live in the NYC not of my childhood, but of the era where parks and paths and green space and trees were prioritized; we should be taking this time, more than ever, to revel in that, to every day be actively grateful it exists and determined to preserve and expand it, especially for those communities still lacking vital access to the physical and mental health benefits it bestows.
If you thought NYC was your town and you’ve fled, proclaiming our island now devoid of all the things that made it so special, good riddance to you. For the song-makers, writers, actors, dancers, grocery clerks, pharmacists, laundresses, nurses, and so many more who remain, thank you for ensuring our great story relentlessly persists: you are this city’s life and I feel our heart pounding, our blood thick and flowing like the rivers that frame us.