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  • Writer's pictureRachael Scarr

If You Can Make It Here

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

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New York, New York, it’s a helluva town.

No truer statement ever existed. It’s up, it’s down, it’s high, it’s low, it’s sideways…and it’s all of this at just a moment’s notice. It gets your heart racing and then smacks you in the face. It teases you for ages and then finally gives a breakthrough. It’s draining. It’s frustrating. It’s magic. It’s electric. It’s expensive. It’s the home for hard knocks and will swallow anyone in its path that’s not moving fast enough. It is all cliches wrapped up into one big apple, and it is most certainly one of the most difficult places to live on this planet…but, it’s well worth it. The invigorating, inspiring, enigmatic energy oozing up from the endless amount of pavement is all worth it.

Everyone moves to the city with big dreams. Big sights, big hopes…and usually, big questions. No one ever knows exactly what they’re getting into. Nor should they! That’s part of the mystique of it all. There’s a sort of Russian Roulette feel to moving here. Will it be me? Will I be next? Will I be the one to “make it”? (Whatever that means.) It’s exhilarating, but it’s also terrifying.

I have traveled to many beautiful, cultural cities all over the world, but I have yet to find one with an energy that rivals New York’s. It can’t be beat. It can’t be matched. And it’s why I always refer to NYC as simply “The City”…for it is the city. The one and only.

I moved down to the city from upstate over eleven years ago now in order to go to college at NYU. I wasn’t even 18. I arrived in the cityscape wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to learn. In the four years of undergrad that followed, however, it wasn’t just an intellectual and artistic education that I received, but a cultural and spiritual one as well. The diversity of thoughts, colors, and flavors I was exposed to throughout my university experience baffled and expanded my mind. I had been in and breathed in my own bubble for so long, that the newness and the over-stimulation the city provided was more than necessary. For my psyche, for my humanity, for my developing artist, and for my womanhood.

After college, I’d spend months at a time (and still do when given the chance) popping in and out of the city to go on contract regionally, pursuing my musical theatre dreams and exploring the country. It was nice to get a break from the hubbub of it all, but only temporarily. Nearing the end of any job, no matter how much fun I had had, I would always find myself craving the city’s glow once more. I missed the pace. I missed the community. I missed the seeping smell of opportunity (not necessarily the trash and dog doo doo on the sidewalks, but…I guess that’s a part of New York’s quirky charm). No matter how frustrating this city gets at times, it always harkens me back. The true definition of a love-hate relationship - in all of its complicated glory.

I’ve called many different areas of the city home. In college, I frequented Union Square and the East Village. Upon graduation, I subletted in Astoria for a few weeks, followed by a teeny tiny room in Washington Heights. Then, while on a contract in Florida, I met and decided to move in with a few friends, setting up shop in Inwood - for what ended up being five years. Finally, after a great sit down at the tip of Manhattan, my roommates and I decided to venture a little bit farther down the island and settled in Harlem, where we are today. Near the hustle of 125th, but up and over just a tad to a quiet, park-laden terrace. The best of both worlds.

Each area of NYC has its flair, its distinction. They all teach you something new and force you to grow. And they’re all worth the price of admission - even though it certainly can be steep.

Figuring out how to sustain yourself in this city is a feat. If the food and rent prices don’t bring you down, the taxes, movie tickets, and cost of a cocktail certainly will. Everything in this city is more. More time, more money, more energy, but also, more vibrancy. It takes a while to find your footing. To get yourself on solid ground with a strong team of supporters by your side. It takes work and consistency, but it is achievable. And it’s necessary.

This city demands more of you than just your dreams. It requires hope and optimism, sure (the second you lose that you’re done), but it also requires hard-work, persistence, and determination. It requires ingenuity, resourcefulness, and gumption. It’ll take and take and take, seemingly without any return, but then…it will give. In a moment, your inspiration is reignited. In an instant, it all seems to make sense. You experience a breakthrough, an “ah-ha,” a full-circle. The true magic of this city. One that is always there, but just needs to be called upon, summoned, and waited for. It’s the kind of feeling that can only be experienced first-hand.

For all of the frustration, sadness, and disgust New York sometimes instills, it also produces happiness, joy, and elevation. You must hold onto those bits of magic wherever you can find them. Squeeze the breakthroughs for everything they’re worth. And suck up every last drop this city (or your city) has to offer. That’s my game plan at least - taking full advantage while I can. *wink*

I’m grateful for the person this city has made me. It has demanded I stick up for myself and know my worth. It has demanded perseverance and drive at all costs. It has demanded cultural and artistic exploration, always forcing me to think outside the box, find the best deals, and even ways around the rules. It has demanded self-awareness and introspection. It can feel like the smallest of towns or the most lonely of places, all in a matter of minutes. But the constant push and pull of her magnetism forces you to adapt. To grow and change. To adjust and be malleable.

New York, in all her splendor, has hardened my skin, but softened my heart in the best of ways, and I will forever be grateful to her for that. For forming my young adulthood. For making me into the woman, the artist, the human being that I am. For promoting my dreams, forcing me to face my fears, and constantly keeping me in question. There is an uneasiness to the city - a bright hope always siting just below the surface. I have yet to determine if that is invigorating or debilitating, or both…if that goes away or is destined to be present forevermore. I’m not quite sure.

This city can be a lot sometimes. Especially now. It is difficult to see her suffer, to see her get knocked down…but the good news is, you always know she’s coming back. Because she’s strong. She’s resilient. She’s a fighter. And she’ll make you one too.

No matter how much of a small-town vibe I give off, no matter where I end up down the line, or how prideful I am of my FingerLake village roots…I will always have city-girl in my blood. And I will always wear it proudly. For if you can make it here, you can truly make it anywhere. I’m 1000% sure of that.

I was asked to do a fun photoshoot last November with emotional portrait photographer, Ksenia Starc, as part of her "Offstage" photo series. She's photographing artists of all kinds that have been affected by Covid, hoping to capture their mental and emotional struggle with it all. What it means to be an artist without an audience and, seemingly, without a purpose.

It was my first time in Times Square since the pandemic hit, and it was a very cathartic experience. I felt sadness for sure - it was certainly quite eery seeing posters of Broadway shows long gone - but it was also encouraging, with the bright lights and bustling energy still there. It was a cool experience being a "model" in the heart of my city for a night and I was so blown away by the photos Ksenia shot.

The image above struck me. It reminded me of the wide-eyed, bushy-tailed self that moved to this powerhouse of a city eleven years ago with stars in her eyes and dreams in her heart. Those dreams have been challenged over these last eleven months. They've been tested and tried. I've been forced to be malleable and adapt to my surroundings, like the city constantly demands. And once again, I feel it making me stronger. Through it all, we'll be stronger.

Below are a few more of the photos taken that night. A journey through my recent psychological exploration.

Also, you'll find my written thoughts. A few sentences of a sentiment I put together for the project. Rachael Scarr, off stage. These words led our shoot, and these words will take me home. They'll lead me out of this madness towards the grander finish line. That light at the end.

A world without Broadway is sad.

My world without Broadway is sad.

If we don't have dreams, who are we?

If we don't have hope, what are we?

But we must trust it's there, just under the surface. Sitting dormant.

New York is a phoenix.

Theatre is a phoenix.

I...will be a phoenix.

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1 Comment

Trudy Raveaux Scarr
Feb 05, 2021

I appreciate your honesty about the ups/downs of “the city”. I have always been fascinated by the people who have lived there their entire lives. The elderly pulling their grocery carts behind them as they cross the crazy busy intersections seemingly without even a concern. The infants just beginning their lives pushed in a baby carriage through the crowded streets. Lives very different from where I grew up or chose to live while raising our children. But as I’ve visited and seen my adult children live and learn and grow there..I get it. ”The city” I have grown to love in my own way..I love my “village” life but I will always love NYC because my children do. 💕

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