Adam Rapp

Playwright, daydreamer

How did you wind up here?
Adam Rapp: I came here after I graduated from college in ’91. My brother [actor Anthony Rapp] had an apartment here in the East Village. I was writing fiction—I thought theater was all Olivers and Evitas.

What changed your mind?
Adam Rapp: I saw Six Degrees of Separation because my brother was in it. It was a watershed experience. It was theatrical and scary, and New York functioned like a character. John Guare became a hero for me. Then my brother and I started a company called Mr. and Mrs. Smith, at Alice’s 4th Floor on 42nd Street. He directed—he really has a talent for it, but now he’s off on the national tour of Rent. I was trying to educate myself by reading any play with a sticker on it—Pulitzer Prize winners, things like that.

Was New York welcoming to you as a playwright?
Adam Rapp: In ’95, I had a play accepted to the O’Neill Center, and that gave me some confidence. I went to Juilliard, where I started writing for the misfits of the conservatory actors. But when Nocturne happened, I had almost given up. I was broke, subletting my apartment because I couldn’t afford it and crashing on my ex-girlfriend’s couch. I was having a hard time, drinking and doing drugs. I was hived out. But then the success at A.R.T. [Rapp’s Nocturne started at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge] made other people think they could take a risk on me.

You like to write about characters trapped in claustrophobic spaces. How does New York inform your work?
Adam Rapp: I’m in my office. I’ve lived in this building for 17 years, on 10th between 1st and A. I lived here with my brother downstairs, and then when we had landlord problems we were squatting for a while. And I’m still here. Everything I’ve ever written, I’ve done from here. Now it’s pretty nice, but I’ve been here with six roommates, crammed in like an artists’ colony, everyone eating everybody’s yogurt. I look out this tiny, barred window, and it reminds me that we’re all in cages, stacked on one another. So I know those kinds of rooms. And my plays always start from the room, one window and a door.

Would you ever move?
Adam Rapp: I actually think about that. If I got money, wouldn’t I still have to work someplace small? It’s ridiculous how we are governed by our real estate, though.

And in New York…
Adam Rapp: Terrible. Rents are making it too hard for artists to sit and daydream.

Is that what you would change about New York?
Adam Rapp: That, and I would change how the arts have become a privileged luxury. I wish younger and poorer people could go [to plays], like they do in London. The biggest audience for Off Broadway is mostly coming in on a train—either Upper East Siders or Metro-North. I go to the theater, and everyone around me is over 50. How interested will they be in my kind of work?

What are your favorite places in New York?
Adam Rapp: I’ve spent more time at Cafe Mogador than in my own apartment, just reading and writing. It’s a sanctuary for me and I think for a lot of people. I’m always seeing artists there. I also play basketball at the 14th Street Y, and I can say with confidence: That place has saved me. There’s a group there, some of whom I’ve been playing with for 15 years, that has no idea about my career. We’re just there to play ball.

Does New York still inspire you?
Adam Rapp: It inspires me just walking around my neighborhood. Walking my dog through Tompkins Square Park, there may no longer be rows of homeless people, but there’s still a sense of vitality and irreverence. The other day, there was a guy there blasting the Pointer Sisters from a boom box, naked except for a tiny pair of shorts. That’s the best part of this city—we’re all misfits from someplace else. It reminded me that this is where I care to do my work.

Next: Nellie McKay >

The New York 40:

Adam Rapp
Amy Sedaris
Anderson Cooper
Basil Twist
Christine Quinn
Christopher Wheeldon
Danny Meyer
David Cross
David Remnick
Derek Jeter
Dick Zigun
Elizabeth LeCompte
Elizabeth Marvel
Eliot Spitzer
Gavin Brown
James Murphy
Joe Torre
John Zorn
Jonathan Lethem
Junot Díaz
Kelly Reichardt
Kiki & Herb
Liev Schreiber
Lisa Phillips
Michael Bloomberg
Nellie McKay
Pat Kiernan
Patti LuPone
Peter Gelb
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Richard Serra
Sarah Michelson
Stephen Colbert
Tim Gunn
Tina Fey
Tony Kushner
Upright Citizens Brigade