By Michael D. Minichiello
This month’s West Village Original is playwright and actor David Greenspan, born in Los Angeles in 1956. The author of such plays as: She Stoops to Comedy; Go Back to Where You Are; The Patsy (he also performed in the latter two); and I’m Looking for Helen Twelvetrees; Greenspan is also the recipient of numerous fellowships. He has won five Obie Awards, including one in 2010 for Sustained Achievement. He lives in Westbeth with his long-time partner, painter William Kennon.
When actor and playwright David Greenspan was a boy growing up in Los Angeles, he would tune into a local radio show called Broadway Showtime. “They used to broadcast Broadway musicals, and my father—an aerospace engineer—would record them on his reel-to-reel,” he recalls. “I fell in love with them and began checking out other musicals from the library. That was my initial interest in theater. Then I started acting in plays in high school and that’s when I determined I was going to go away to both study and act in theater.”
“Away” was New York, and—after earning a degree in drama at UC Irvine—Greenspan came here in 1978. “I acted in a few plays Off-Off Broadway in theaters that no longer exist,” he says. “At a certain point, I started making notes in my journal. Those turned into monologues, which I began to perform. This was when I really began to develop as a writer and performer in my own plays. At that time, I was also doing a little directing. I did a play by Kathleen Tolan that Joe Papp subsequently brought to the Public Theater. The result was that he put me in residence as a director there in 1989.”
“ [Joe] was a remarkable guy,” Greenspan continues. “He gave me a big opportunity to work before a larger audience. He was very generous to me and I have such fond memories of him. I didn’t know him nearly as long as many other people but the time I did was memorable.”
Does Greenspan have a preference for either acting or writing? “Not really,” he admits. “Acting and writing are both creative activities. I also like all aspects of the theater: writing plays, performing in my plays, and acting in other people’s plays. I love working with other playwrights. I consider them colleagues and it’s a lot of fun to be a part of their vision.”
Speaking of life as an actor in New York, Greenspan says, “It’s had its ups and downs, both financially and opportunity-wise. I’ve had a good run of it over the last 15 years, though. It’s very rewarding, not only the work but also being part of a larger community. That’s a wonderful thing. I have relationships with many actors and directors whom I consider friends. Admittedly, there were a couple of self-indulgent moments when I thought of giving it up. But that was in the past. And that only makes sense if you really, really feel you want to do something else!”
After living together in Jersey City for 15 years, Greenspan and his partner moved into Westbeth in 1999. “We were on a list for 10 years before we got in,” he says. “We wanted to live in Manhattan and this was the only affordable way to do it. When it finally happened I couldn’t believe we were actually living in the West Village. We love it here! We love the building and the sense of community. We got here just before they started renovating the riverfront, and once that was complete it made it even better. It’s heaven being here.”
So the move to New York was a good one? “Yes, it was,” Greenspan admits. “When I was young, all the TV shows were set in New York and, of course, this was the place for theater. So while there was a point in my life when I had a choice to stay in Los Angeles, it really wasn’t a contest. I had always dreamed of coming here and, fortunately, my career has kept me here. Oddly enough, though, my father has never seen me perform in New York. He’s still alive, though. He’s 99. So maybe he will see me yet!”
Michael D. Minichiello, a long-time resident of the West Village, has been writing the “West Village Originals” column for WestView News since 2008. He enjoys highlighting the West Village residents and business owners who discuss their lives, careers, and the vast changes that have taken place in the neighborhood over the past decade.