I am 16 years old, standing on West 40th Street in Manhattan, freezing and naive. There’s a Dec. chill in the air, a longing beating in my chest and a day-of Broadway ticket burning a hole through my jacket pocket. My hands reach for the door in front of my wide eyes and pink nose and I exhale. I stare up at the published plays and musicals lining the shelves and wonder what it would take to get my name printed down one of the slim, glossy spines. In that moment, I commit myself to the goal of making it here. This is my first time in New York City’s The Drama Book Shop.
Anyone who knows me knows that my two greatest loves are theatre and books. I cannot choose between the two, because they share my affection both passionately and evenly. If you get me started on either topic, I’m likely to never stop ranting on some romantic diatribe about one or the other or both. The Drama Book Shop marries the comfort and security I feel in a bookstore with the magic and passion the theatre brings me. They have 8,000 original plays in stock — waiting to be read, waiting to be picked up, waiting to live. The shop nurtures and sponsors new and established playwrights alike with a 50-seat theatre in the basement for new performances, workshops and trial runs. It’s a theatre inside a bookstore — one inside of the other, like the Russian doll of my dreams. Walk through the front doors and be in the arms of the playwright — ready to be transported to whatever world you so choose as you scan the shelves. Moments later, descend a flight of stairs and be removed from reality entirely as you’re inspired and pushed as an artist and a human being. New work is enthralling. It is imaginative and energizing. There is no place quite like this one anywhere in the world. When I’m leaving The Drama Book Shop, my backpack weighed down by a few new plays and perhaps another book or two that caught my eye on my way to the checkout, I wish to bottle up the feeling the place gives me. For the fear and the knowledge that there’s no other place like it in the world.
The Drama Book Shop, for me and for so many other creators, is what some call a home away from home. The people who have passed through those doors — artists, visionaries, appreciators, designers and tourists — all share a universal love for theatre. This is not your normal bookstore; it is the safe haven for theatre lovers and readers. It is specifically unique and a wild idiosyncrasy: a bookstore for plays, bulletins with audition listings lining the wooden walls, musical scripts, biographies, guides and history books filling the place like air. This store is a staple in the theatre community. It has thrived in Manhattan for over 100 years. Like oxygen and water, it fulfills a specific need for so many of us. Theatre people need to be brought together with other theatre people because collaboration is where the magic happens. Theatre people understand the rise and fall, the trial and error, the effortless pushing and pushing and pushing to break through into something magnificent.
So it comes as a heartbreak, and somewhat of a personal tragedy for me, to see that The Drama Book Shop has had to announce that it is being forced out of its home (not its first location, but the only location I’ve ever known) due to New York’s classic rising rents. Patrons and theatre-goers and customers of the shop have flooded the store’s moderately-sized interior since, declaring they will spend as much money as they can to attempt to make even the smallest dent in the shop’s rent cost. In addition, Lin Manuel Miranda, who wrote much of “In The Heights” in that very The Drama Book Shop basement, stopped by the store recently to sign copies of everything with his name on it. But even then, with this outpouring of support, the owners are unsure if they’ll be able to stay afloat.
For some people, Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande’s breakup or Kim Kardashian losing a diamond earring in a tropical destination overseas hits hard, but in the past few days, I’ve held back tears more than once thinking of one of my favorite places in the world closing its doors, potentially for good. As a playwright and a theatre creator and an avid reader, I’m constantly terrified nobody will ever read my plays or stories, and that one day soon there will be nowhere to see them on shelves. I wonder where the childhood dream of being published on a shelf at The Drama Book Shop will go long after they’re gone. I wonder what young playwrights are supposed to do in a world that doesn’t seem to be buying enough plays. I wonder how we’re supposed to find communities or little safe havens in cities as large and looming as New York, if our safe spaces are struggling to survive. I wonder what this says about our society — one where it’s becoming increasingly easy to choose online ordering to standing outside on a cold Dec. day and waiting for The Drama Book Shop to open. Everything is an iPhone click away — all of our books and words and human moments. I fear there’s no solution.
I want my children to see The Drama Book Shop and I want them to get the feeling I do when I go there: empowered as an artist, thrilled that places exist to celebrate our artistry and excited that there are communities for burgeoning playwrights. I want so desperately for my children to know book shops — independent book shops — or something, anything other than Amazon Prime. I feel foolish by adding to the problem. How easy it is to send myself books and plays from the comfort of my bed, and I feverishly and angrily decide to stop doing it all together. I need to walk to a bookstore, to open the door and feel at home in its warm glow, a feeling I lose when I order online. I am terrified that we are going to Amazon-Prime away the experience of independent bookstores. I wonder again if there’s a way to bottle up the feeling of The Drama Book Shop so I can hold it near when I’m longing for it halfway across the country, or in a few months, when it says its forced goodbyes.
But more than this, and maybe selfishly so, I’m sad that there’s a very real potential that I’ll never have the chance to see my own plays lining a shelf. That there will never come a day that a young, naive, freezing-cold girl with a day-of Broadway ticket burning a hole in her pocket stares up at my name printed on the sleek, slim spines, wondering if maybe one day, that will be her, too.