The employee key card I used to enter the office of Theatre Communications Groups at 520 8th Avenue is a magical thing. When I was a teen, my gracious parents would drive me from our home in Pennsylvania to New York City every few weeks for auditions at Ripley-Grier Studios on the 16th floor of this midtown Manhattan office building, where we’d have to wait in the long line snaking through the lobby to get through security. When I started working at American Theatre in April of 2015, it took just one swipe of my key card to float ahead of that line and into the elevator well, sans a name-tag sticker.
That Neoclassical building between 36th and 37th Streets holds a lot of memories for me. There was the time a casting director pulled my father from the waiting room into the room to improvise a father-daughter scene with me about sneaking out with a boy past curfew. The drama! There was the time I auditioned for the remake of Fame and accidentally smacked the girl behind me during the dance call when my two left feet betrayed me. (This month’s special issue on casting brought me back to this period of my life.) For years I vied for roles in stage productions and films and TV shows on the 16th floor, to no avail. Little did I know that a dream role—and that long-awaited “yes”—was waiting just eight floors above.
I started as an editorial assistant at American Theatre magazine eight months after graduating from Pace University with a degree in theatre and English. At that time I was juggling shifts as a hostess, retail associate, and babysitter—and spending very little time in audition rooms. With my rare free time, I was writing. Landing the AT job felt like winning a role that a casting director knew you were right for before you did. In many ways, my accidental side step into arts journalism was kismet: Actors and journalists have in common an endless curiosity; both professions require deep listening; and practicing either offers an opportunity to virtually walk in other peoples’ shoes.
Casting directors had told me I was an enigmatic actor, and that I played older—and thus that I might find work later in life. Directors often said I came off as too cerebral. Arts journalism, it turns out, was the right fit for my heart and my brain. While my acting training wasn’t put into practice per se, it surely was put to use. For the last few years, my beat at American Theatre has been focused on training programs and arts education with a column called Live and Learn.
There are many hard-won lessons I learned as I rose the masthead at American Theatre. I learned how to ask questions and how to ease into conversations. I learned all the AP state abbreviations and which theatres across the country spell it -er vs. -re. I learned not to be afraid of all the things I didn’t know. I learned to always keep a cocktail dress at my desk for unexpected post-work events and parties—oh, how I miss those! I learned to pack extra batteries for my recorder. I learned to confirm time zones for phone interviews, and then to confirm again. I learned that the best information often comes at the end of an interview, and just how to get it. I learned how to piece together multi-source articles, and even how to report investigative stories. I learned that I am a writer.
Over the past six years, I have added more memories to my 520 8th Ave. memory bank to replace some of the botched auditions that happened there. Filing my first feature story and seeing it in the pages of the magazine. Proofing and fact-checking and sending issues off to the printer. Ideating and pitching in bi-weekly editorial meetings. Recording podcasts and chasing deadlines. Many of my favorite assignments took me outside of the office, though, and I learned how to report on-the-ground at a week-long trip to Salt Lake Acting Company in Utah covering the world premiere of Climbing With Tigers. I traveled to the Contemporary American Theater Festival in West Virginia three summers in a row, shared my love of theatre with my parents in Reading, Pa., and learned how to put together a narrative podcast series after a trip to Trinity Repertory Company in Rhode Island.
This year has been hard, not least because there have been no live shows to cover or trips to take, and my cubicle at 520 8th Avenue, my little corner of Manhattan, has sat empty. Since March, I have been volleying from my couch to my kitchen table to my home desk as I work (or attempt to work) from home. What tethered me through this topsy-turvy year were the conversations I shared over the phone with theatre leaders and theatremakers across the country. Reporting and listening and writing about how the theatre field has been finding hope lifted me from the doldrums week after week. Like the resilient students and teachers finding innovative ways to transfer classes online and mount musicals on Zoom, design professors pivoting hands-on lessons to online courses, and students sharing the importance of studying August Wilson’s works. Thank you.
And though I was marooned indoors for the past nine months, my own learning has continued. With a calendar clear of curtain times and theatrical events, I learned how to knit socks and finished my first full sweater. I knotted spools of rope into macrame plant hangers and took up weaving. I completed a course on writing childrens’ books and started watercolor painting. I learned how to flip an omelette and even how to kill a live lobster, which I hope never to do again!
I also learned some hard lessons, as this year threw sucker punch after sucker punch: how to let go of plans, how to move through change, how to accept that impermanence is the only permanent. I also learned that humans are the only species who can choose their attitude, a fact that boosted my mood on the dim days. Most of all, I learned that continuous learning and skills-building is integral to well-being and mental health.
Which brings me to my next chapter. Starting in the new year I will be a digital editor at MasterClass, the online streaming platform that is all about learning, offering classes from the best-of-the-best in arts and entertainment, cooking, writing, and more. The opportunity piqued my curiosity, and making this move terrifies me—which is how I know that I’ll have a lot to learn from it. I am eager to continue to support the theatre industry, though, and I can’t wait to see you all at the theatre on the other side of this pandemic.
My final trip to 520 8th Ave. with my magical key card was admittedly lacking in magic. There was no line of hopeful actors in the lobby, just masked security guards and walls of plexiglass. There was no sound of vocal scales in the elevators. The lights were out. I boxed up the hundreds of TCG plays I’d acquired and cleared off my desk. It felt like striking a long-running show and saying goodbye to a character I felt privileged to play. In a full-circle moment, I stopped at the 16th floor on my way down, and dropped off a box of training books in hopes that some fledgling theatremaker might pick one up. Hopefully they’ll learn something new.
Allison Considine (she/her) is the senior editor of American Theatre. @theatric_ally
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