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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Is That what God Does? Author Day on Beat Street

96 Perry Street, 2013.

I first saw Perry Street when my sister moved in and we started to get to know the neighborhood. I guess you could say she was my introduction to Greenwich Village, which is why I’m starting here. 

Years before, when I was only a little older than Ruby Tabeata is in The Beat on Ruby’s Street, my sister brought me to a play in the Village. I had no idea about its history and had never heard of Jack Kerouac or any of the Beat Generation poets. The play was a sort of alternate musical with a piano and five or six characters. It became a sort of turning point in who I wanted to be.

But it wasn’t just the play that was turning me around. The streets, dense with people and crumbling brownstones, tough Village trees that had adapted to city life, cars lined up bumper-to-bumper and stores wherever you looked selling things I would never see in suburban New Jersey—turned my head a thousand times and more. All of it made the world more alive.

If you told me then about all the people who had lived on those streets, I’d have said, History, shmistry. What I wanted that day was to move to the Village and make my own history, but it was years before I would or could. What’s amazing to me is that I even tried—and somehow got where I wanted to go. More precisely, to Circle Repertory Company in Sheridan Square.

I had been knocking around as an actor, working at the Dramatists Guild in midtown and auditioning for whatever I could find. When I auditioned for a play at Circle Rep I was immediately struck by the quality of the actors working with me. We were reading for something about a Yugoslavian √©migr√©, and I could feel them trying to find the moments in our dialogue even though they’d been doing the same scene all day.

By the time I left the audition, I knew I wasn’t going to get the part and had a long way to go in my acting skills. But I was still inspired by the way people treated art at Circle Rep—as a profession, not a pastime. And then, (dear reader), something happened that only happens in stories.

But I swear on a million lifetimes it really did happen to me.

I left the theater and turned around to take one last look. And you know how you sometimes make a pact with yourself, and then go back to your life and think nothing of it? That’s what I did, thinking, “I’m coming back here one day to see something, and it's going to be mine.”

I don’t know why I said it—I was an actor, not a playwright, and didn’t have the first idea of what it took to write a play. But after a while I got to where I was tired of playing roles written by others and wanted to write my own.

Eventually, I moved to Chicago and joined Chicago Dramatists; and then went to Minneapolis and became part of the Playwrights’ Center. Then I wrote A Body of Water, which came to the attention of the director and dramaturge Lynn Thomson (now founder of America-in-Play) who worked at Circle Rep. About a year later, I got a call from the theater’s artistic director Tanya Berezin, who said she wanted to produce the play.

Fast forward a few months later to opening night; it was pouring in Minneapolis and New York and my flight was very, very late. By the time I got to the theater, the performance had started. I had to sneak in through the basement and crept up into the back of the house while one of the characters said a line I'll always remember.

“Is that what God does?”

Well. Yeah. Maybe. I don’t know.

But I don’t care who you are. The Village has always had that kind of magic for artists. That’s why I put Ruby thereto find what she’s looking for. 

  Learn more about Ruby Tabeata...