Go Down, Young Man // By Michael Starobin
Orchestrator Michael Starobin dreams about the limitless possibilities of Off-Broadway.
Go down, young man, go way down. Go OFF.
Go downtown and far away from the Square ruled by the Times. Go down where you can roll pianos in a gym, sing from a stage where your grandmother watched Hamlet in Yiddish (“Sometimes it’s good to be a prince …”) or sing the blues in a theater where the movies were once very blue. Step off the train heading south to be transported DOWN.
Go down young woman, (and just a bit west) to where the performers once stripped but now the horizons are filled with playwrights, actors, and musicians. Go OFF!
The OFF is where some careers are launched, but many die. The OFF takes the stage where people sleep and eat, and not in a theme park with dancing M&M’s. The OFF takes a chance on you — the OFF is as desperate as you — but out of desperation fires get lit with barely a flint, and then light the downtown sky ablaze.
The OFF is where the contract stipulates you can’t pay your bills, but still, you manage to defy the mathematics.
And even after you’ve grown UP, traveled UP and worked ON — you still need to come back, go down and return to OFF. It’s more than recharging the lithium (or taking the lithium) — it’s singing down — OFF where your voice is unfiltered and is tremulous with nervy invention. It’s an old library of new dreams. It’s a gym of absent dogs, piled mattresses, and the circle (again) of sexual hanky-panky.
It’s remembering that the black box is IN your head — you can carry the black box everywhere, even UP, even OUT-OF. Commerce will squeeze that box, trying to crack it open and find the secret inside. But Commerce will only find the fetid, sweaty air of a tech rehearsal and not discover anything to sell or tweet about.
People will ask.
There is no beautiful, terrible ‘why’;
no answer at all.
No answer to give.
Except to live.
-Michael John LaChiusa, Queen of the Mist
We fall down the map, landing somewhere below the 40s, awash in college students, bus terminals, haunts of the unusual, challengers of the norm … a world of those who have no answer to give for their different choices — except to live as they fell.
Falling from UP, we fell upon the stage and were surprised to find ourselves in a spotlight. In darkness we could hear the audience’s expectations. We had no answer to give — the moment stretched — and we began to sing. We were DOWN, we were home — the audience all joined in the song. We were transported.
And when lights begin to show
Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
And then start DOWN!
-Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Afternoon on a Hill”
About the author:
Michael Starobin likes to work downtown. He orchestrates musicals for a living. He’s worked on three shows for Transport Group and had a great time on all of them. He’s not supposed to mention Jack Cummings, so he won’t. Oops.
[Michael is a two-time Tony Award winner for Next to Normal and Assassins. TG credits include Queen of the Mist, Renascence, and Broadbend, Arkansas.]