By Dan Bianchi
When I had first moved into the downtown theatre environment as a working artist, 45 years ago, New York City was quite a different place. Not only was it the murder capital of the world with its sirens howling non-stop every night, it was also the bleakest of major cities without a tree in sight in most neighborhoods. With little or no light on side streets, travel by foot was treacherous, especially after dark in the Village. Let’s face it, Gotham, for most of us, was an unattractive, very dangerous place.
Yet, it was THE place to be if you had to become an actor, director, artist, writer, singer, dancer and anything else that demands devotion to creativity. This was the place to find fellow souls like ourselves. And, if that wasn’t enough, rents were still affordable even if we had to share with five other hopefuls. Part-time jobs were a godsend.
Despite all that, the Villages, both East and West, were thriving with eager souls making something out of nothing. Dozens of acting companies filled just as many theaters. Galleries were everywhere. Folk singers were still drawing nightly crowds to actual coffee houses, while long lines of buyers for $3 cheap seats at the Public queued up daily at 4pm waiting for 8pm so they could pour into its four theaters presenting all kinds of plays with actors soon to become household names for years to come. Music blared from every street corner and from down in the subways below. Each Summer, the sidewalks were jammed with Art lovers and tourists to the, then, world famous Washington Square Art Show. And, used book sellers lined up their tables not just to sell but to carry on discussions about literature with passersby.
All the while, in the West Village, legendary theater houses were pumping out legendary writers and plays and no one thought that there might come a day when these places would become extinct. Why, there was so much theater going on, we had magazines and newspapers dedicated to just our downtown alternative productions complete with plenty of learned critics to follow our progress, too.
Best of all, when the work was done for the day, the participants gathered in all sorts of meeting places and cheap restaurants and talked and argued about the arts around them. Often, we’d unite to make our singular efforts succeed with help from fellow artists. We were the remnants of the Sixties generation where financial profits were not the key goal. Many of my own award-winning, gigantic productions were made possible by help from skilled carpenters, electricians, painters and the like.
As an active senior here in the West Village. I think I can say that all of the above has pretty much disappeared from NYC. Few of my ilk left have lasted this long into a new era. Yes, it was really tough to live back then in NYC and still produce the kind of exciting Art that hasn’t been seen since then. Now, it’s even harder because of the skyrocketing economy, real estate and advertising. Not to mention, the pandemic. Part time jobs for actors won’t pay the bills anymore. Full time jobs prevent many from pursuing their life’s dreams. Many have realized that balancing both seems impossible, so why live in NYC at all?
Still, I am constantly reminded of that famous quotation in The Third Man…
“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love and 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Luckily, I’ve found a great home to keep producing my Art with my performance group, Radiotheatre, in 200 years old St.John’s Sanctuary at 81 Christopher Street in the heart of historic Greenwich Village. Now, in its 19th Season, Radiotheatre is once again presenting its critically acclaimed, LIVE version of King Kong complete with great cast, original orchestral score, fabulous projections and award-winning sound design. Just bring your imaginations! www.radiotheatrenyc.com.
As a West Village resident for 45 yrs, Dan Bianchi is a multi-award-winning theater producer/writer/director/publisher, as well as, a Fine Artist in galleries and museums around the world. He continues to create Art every day.