Faces of AWNY: Alexandra Collier

I moved to NYC from Melbourne in 2006 (so going on almost nine years – eek!). I am a playwright and I turned up in New York like so many of us do with burning ambition, excitement and youthful naiveté and optimism about how easy it was going to be to crack this city. I also work as a copywriter at Showtime in print advertising.

Where do you live? Why did you choose that area?

I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn – it makes me feel at home because it’s quiet, leafy and more laid back than the madness of Manhattan.

What do you like/dislike about living in NY?

I think it’s a constant wrestle because I have so much here: a career, endless culture at my fingertips, friends and more opportunities in theatre than I would have in Melbourne but the grind is intense and you have to find a way to protect your sanity from it. See this Onion article for more explanation (brilliantly titled “8.4 Million New Yorkers Suddenly Realize New York City A Horrible Place To Live”).

As a writer, too, I am always observing and reminiscing – there’s a kind of built in nostalgia to constantly observing the past, so I miss Australia because it’s my job to look back.

What’s your ‘only in New York’ moment/s?

I think it’s always about the animals for me: a man wearing a tarantula in a transparent box around his neck on Park Ave, another sporting a boa constrictor on 5th Ave, the endless rats who rule the city. Couple that with the nights where you go to a fancy event (for free via some friend of a friend luck) and you meet people you thought only existed on a big screen and there you have New York moments in a nutshell.

Any advice for people moving to NY?

It’s good to come here with a purpose because you can just become flotsam on the swirling tide of New York. That said, don’t give yourself a hard time: it takes years to feel like you belong here. The main thing is to cultivate relationships (easier said than done, I know) – friendships and collaborations are what matter in life and will have a way of helping you find what you want.

Tell us about working in theatre in the US vs Aust?

New York is a city of “yes”. People are full of enthusiasm and can do-ness. I love that. I miss Australia’s gritty theatrical sensibility and self-skewering wit but I don’t miss the “you’re dreaming” expression that people often give you in Aus when you tell them you’re an artist. That said, Australians are deeply loyal and they’ve always supported what I do here. I am eternally grateful for that.

What’s it like as an Australian working in theatre in the US? Have you been accepted or are there some barriers that you have faced?

I have been welcomed heartily – I don’t think people always get my humor or the dark and sometimes unhappy ending side of my work, it’s just not in their optimistic American bones.

Tell us about developing the play Underland?

Underland was developed at Sydney Theatre Company a couple of years ago. It got sent there via a New York connection (it had a reading and development at Dixon Place downtown, which was seen by the literary manager from Soho Rep). So in a strange roundabout way it ended up back in Australia. We spent a week on it in a room overlooking the harbor, which was breathtaking and fun, and then had an incredible public reading. And now it’s finally getting an Off-Broadway production in New York in April 2015 at 59E59.

What other projects have you been working on?

In 2014, my show Take Me Home, a mobile theatre piece in a New York city taxi happened on the streets of New York in the Other Forces Festival. We keep talking about resurrecting it because there are still so many people who want to see it (we could only have three audience members in the backseat for each show). I wrote a play last year called The Crying Lettuce, which I developed with terraNOVA Collective. I spend less time writing these days than I do producing and fundraising for my play Underland.

Any advice for other people working in the arts about making it in NYC?

I think finding the right collaborators is key. And go out and see as much as you can – every type of art form, not just your own. Also, apply for every opportunity you can, even ones you think you’re not qualified for (read the guidelines and follow them to the letter too). When you apply for things, there are boards of people seeing your work over and over again, so even when you don’t get the grant/fellowship/residency, there are people seeing that you exist and looking at your work and that will help you down the line. Don’t get disheartened if you don’t get what you want first go round. Just keep applying. A one in 50 success rate is good going in New York. And if you need application advice for things, I am always happy to give it because I spend my life writing applications and honing that skill.

What’s your favourite New York spot?

I still love walking through the East Village on 2nd Ave, especially early in the morning when it’s just cabs and the city is waking up. For me that stretch epitomizes New York.

Anything you miss about Australia?

Crushed eucalyptus, the beautiful sweeping beaches, my friends and family (of course) and the ambling let’s-not-kill-ourselves-working-and-why-not-take another-day-off-while-we’re-at-it pace.

What are your top 3 tips for friends visiting NYC?

Only three? I always say get yourself a Time Out Magazine and see what’s on. And then take to the city and walk. Just walk New York. It’s the only way to absorb the energy and the diversity from one part of town to the next. And I always take people to Momofuku on 2nd Ave (pork buns a must).

Is there anything else you would like to include here?

I love meeting Aussies in New York and I hope you can all make our fundraiser on Tuesday January 20th at the Garth Greenan Gallery for Underland, co-hosted by AWNY! Each ticket enters you in a raffle (just $20 to get in and you’re eligible to win a round-trip flight to Australia from the US) plus free food and alcohol and some fun art to boot.

www.alexandracollier.com