I’m well aware that young children should not play in drainpipes. And yet, even as a small child, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the siren song of a storm drain. It’s not really my fault; all childhood pointed to rich imaginings lurking just beneath the surface. While I never actually crawled into one, the thought had crossed my mind.
I’d always pictured the fantastic: from a hidden door to the underworld via ancient Sumerian a la The Real Ghostbusters to the lairs of the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles. Later as I grew up that same fantastic still existed under the streets in a more sinister sense: in the town of Derry where Stephen King’s It prowls the sewer system and Lewis Teague’s 1980 cryptozoology film Alligator lay in wait to devour people foolish enough to venture beneath the city streets. But the idea that another world lay parallel to us so closely was irresistible to my imagination. To that credit, when I reached adulthood I was inordinately pleased to find out that there was a fantastic underground world that was alongside our surface, mainstream lives, and in two senses.
The first being in the literal sense. The first I’d heard of this was the Seattle Underground, which is now a tourist exhibit. But years ago, when a fire raged through the city of Seattle June of 1886 and demolished much of the old wooden-based structures of the old city. Given this was the norm (the great Chicago fire, New York, San Francisco, Vancouver, etc) for the era, what was out of the ordinary was when the city decided to build over the remains of the old city. I suppose in a sense it’s much like shipping figures: you draw a line above the Titanic and go from there. Because of the regrade, it created a city under Seattle’s streets, forgotten until in 1965 Bill Speidel decided to operate a tour for other folks who were curious what lies beneath the surface. It even got a mention in Scooby Doo where the Gang encountered the Steam Demon. Total classic.
While the Seattle Underground was definitely more bare bones, with my heightened aesthetic sense, I wound up hearing about the original terminus station of the Manhattan Main Line. This beautiful art deco station was boarded up in 1945 but is still (thankfully) accessible by taking the 6 Train will take passengers through it. You aren’t able to get off at the station, but you can still see it. It’s a true homage to the idea that things can be both decorative and functional, which seems to be a lost concept. To further make this part of New York’s under city awesome, it’s also home to the Underbelly Gallery, a home to rogue street artists who have put in various art installations there.
The underground art scene is where I’ve spent the majority of my time as a performer. I once tried to swim in the mainstream and wound up almost drowning. Down in the underground, we put down the roots of our passions through independent means and dreams and fostered our visions and communities there. We’ve only now just latterly begun to push up, out to meet the sun as actors, dancers, performers and visual artists. The hope being that by the time we and our work is considered mainstream, that we’ve inspired the next generation of artists, dropped our seeds back into the earth (or storm drains) and the cycle will refresh and continue.
But I’ll always look down storm grates to see if a ninja turtle or an evil clown is looking back up at me in the hopes we can share a smile and a wink.
Little Miss Risk