I recently moved to that king of urban islands, Manhattan. And it’s been whilst settling in here that the other shoe has finally dropped and I admit (humour me here) that after all, no man or woman can be an island.
For a lot of my life I took pride in being a lone ranger; ‘never complain, never explain’ was right up there as my MO. That attitude served me well at times (and there’s nothing like driving into the desert alone and feeling like no one can catch you - a story for another time) but trying to do it all alone as an actor won’t get you far.
Let me back up a bit.
I recently packed up my newly-wedded life in London and moved to New York. A risk, yes, - and one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. People will tell you there’s not so much transitional difference between the two cities and in one sense that may be true, but - sirens, subway musicians and laser sharp trends aside - NYC has enabled me to face a whole new world in terms of coming up against my real self, and my habits, in a place where I’m essentially starting from scratch.
New beginnings, reinvention and figuring out how to create and evolve as an actor in a new industry setting? All good stuff. Getting lost in the unknown – that’s also good from time to time. But whither the resulting creative energy? Where can it land and be harnessed?
One of my newest friends and sisters in arms here is a phenomenally gifted painter and portraitist. Hailing from Italy, she’s had a tempestuous relationship with New York for over ten years and is passionately critical about Manhattan’s granite foundations. “This sharp rock deflects every energy created here, it is bounced straight upwards and as an artist you can feel untethered if you don’t ensure that you are consistently grounding yourself.” After five months of getting my bearings here I agree there’s a lot of truth in that and I’m already in the practice of ‘getting off the rock’, when I feel I’m becoming too manic.
So what grounds us here? Well, I accidentally-on-purpose booked a vedic meditation course a few months back, and the practice has been incredibly helpful in creating a mellow flow to the otherwise manic challenges and pressures of day-to-day life. At this point frankly I’d call daily mind expansion obligatory to living in NYC.
But going back to my evolution of the lone ranger, where you can’t get stuck is attempting to progress upwards – vertically - alone. Soaring to the top floor of those skyscrapers or landing on billboards may be the dream, but it can also feel like a super-human task. The act of gazing skywards in small moments as we crisscross the city is inherently intimidating, creating a sense of isolation by separating individuals from one another. So a smarter option presents itself: give that same focus and integrity to what is all around us,horizontally. Folks are living neck and neck here, and without a car culture dividing us as much as it does elsewhere in this country, I recognise how much it serves a New Yorker to remain open, dare I say vulnerable, and rely on the building of relationships and friendships with people all around us.
People are people! One of my favorite things about moving to Manhattan has been getting involved in lengthier conversations with strangers where I least expected to find them. On the front stoop of my building, and selected waiting rooms, sure. But then there’s chats I’ve had with the good folks standing in line at Zabar’s deli, the freewheelin’ Shakespearen troubadours in Central Park, the realtor who is dabbling in stand-up and was handing out flyers to his first gig, and a debonair gent ordering coffee in a military club. These were all human interactions which we ought to be having as a matter of course, but I bring it up because nothing is more gratifying in an intimidating setting, than connecting with folks who are getting through their day’s challenges and wins just like I am. Oh, and one of the aforementioned people happened to be directing a hot new show for Amazon Prime - so it goes!
And so we have those interactions, giving of ourselves and letting the other person know who we are. Even in bite-size nuggets this seems possible as we travel around our little island. We may never meet them again but energy has been harnessed during each of these interactions. Some connections might be built upon; time and again friendships and professional relationships have grown in the most unexpected of places and suddenly – click – the world feels that bit smaller. In fact, it’s often the little meetings and moments I happen to come across as I’m striving for ‘that goal,’ which have ultimately lead me to the achievements and fulfilment I desire. Though the city of New York is set up to encourage an extremely self-sufficient lifestyle, it would be anachronistic to remain steadfastly ‘lone’ here. I’d be bulldozing through this island community and the chance encounters at my peril.
I’ll build on this further at another date; for when it comes to our industry, friendships in unexpected places allow for that most marvellous of realisations – there really are no ‘gatekeepers’ keeping us from soaring high! There are talented people to work with and be challenged by – sharing yourself and deepening all those human connections we make actually brings forth what we yearn for in a more rapid and meaningful way.
For now, suffice to say the city has begun to feel more like a comfortable old leather jacket. I can go out there and rock who I am, and I know I’ll be met halfway. New Yorkers are open. When I got here I exclaimed to the locals how friendly I found everyone - they kindly harrumphed and corrected me, “We’re not so friendly. But we are open.” Indeed. And allowing myself to remain open too has instilled me with the faith that I won’t navigate this whole thing without fellow riders.