Through the eyes of Charly Clive in New York

A friend of mine once said "people are either radiators or drains - they're either comforting and warm, or they drain the life out of you", and Charly Clive is definitely a radiator. We had arranged to meet in a coffee shop in the Village and it was delightful seeing this seasoned New Yorker grabbing her much-needed sip of tea. Charly's generosity of spirit and her wonderfully open nature swept me up and soon we were chatting like old friends.

The photoshoot was a lot of fun and I'm surprised there aren't more pictures of her laughing away as she is definitely a glass half full kind of girl, who can see the funny side of most things... even a brain tumor.

As a playwright, Charly is excellent at telling a story, and listening to her experiences of New York and her life over the last year was a treat from beginning to end, as is evident in the interview below.

What is it like living and working in New York?

I’ll start by saying that it can be so disappointing and heartbreaking living and working in a city that is considered The Greatest City in the World because the pressure here and the pace here can be overwhelming. But the flip side of that is it can be bloody brilliant in ways you couldn’t have predicted and it’s, you know, the greatest city in the world! I love New York. I’ve lived in Midtown, Chelsea, Bushwick and now I’m in Prospect Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn (definitely the best of the bunch). Each place has been very different and somehow still very New York. I love my neighborhood, I live next to Prospect Park and Brooklyn Botanical Garden and I live behind a pie shop that sells the best apple pie in the world (PELS pie. Google map it – seriously). New York is totally bananas though – talk about highs and lows. I once spent 3 weeks living rent free in the Penthouse apartment of the Carlisle Hotel …and in the same year lived off a three rationed packs of instant noodles and my roommate's veggie burgers for 8 days because I was so broke. This place brings out the best and worst in people and it has its own personality. New York is like that one friend at the party who always says "don’t go yet, things are about to get good!" 

As a playwright, where do you draw your inspiration from?

Honestly, I’m such a thief. I’m constantly writing down things people say that are particularly poignant or hilarious (this election season has been a goldmine). But to answer seriously, I used to always write about things I thought I needed to know more about. I used to research obscure true stories or political issues that I felt I needed to lend my voice to for whatever reason – I used to write a lot about things that made me angry. I still do sometimes but recently I’m much more inclined to write about what makes me laugh – at the beginning of the year I was diagnosed with a pituitary brain tumor. A large one. It pretty much spun any and all plans I had out of whack and I had to stay home, in England and experience everything that comes along with a diagnosis like that – it was incredibly surreal. Still is – even thinking about it now it sort of feels like it happened to someone else because it was such a shock and now it’s (almost) gone. When I got my date for the operation my best friend of nearly 10 years, Ellen moved in with me and we began to write about the experience. We wrote about all the doctors and nurses and my family and friends, we wrote about the things that we did to pass the time and to avoid talking about the elephant in the room (a golf ball sized brain tumor). We wrote the story of Britney (the name of my tumor) in the way that we would want to be told it: through comedy! 

It would be very easy to write something melodramatic and indulgent about it all and how we bravely faced it but we’re English, so we made a few dark jokes about it that were definitely ‘too soon’ and decided the best way forward was laughing so we wrote a show called Britney, a story with a lot of heart…and a brain tumor. We took it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and ended up doing really well out of it. Some glowing reviews and majority sell out for our month long run. We’re very proud. 

Why New York and not London?

I’m half American so I can be in New York with no visa issues. I applied to drama schools out here because I wanted so badly to be in New York – it just seemed like the place where things happen and where life is sort of brilliant and mad. London is, I’m sure, all those things to someone who hasn’t lived 45 minutes away all their life. To me, when making the decision to move, London was way too close to home. I wanted to be far out of my comfort zone. 

New York was always the dream for me since I was about 10. It’s such an aspirational place (the New York State motto is ‘Ever Upward’ ) and even though it can be so lonely and so awful but after nearly 5 years of living here I do genuinely still get a bit giddy seeing the Empire State Building. 

Where is your favorite place in the city?

This is such a hard one. It changes depending on the season, or my mood, or how much money I have!!! I honestly could talk about places I love in New York until the end of time because exploring this city is my favorite thing to do. There’s a fire escape in Midtown I could get romantic about… There is a beautiful café/lunch place in Williamsburg called House of Small Wonder which feels like being in a tree house and the playlist is always great! I happened upon it once when it was pouring rain and I needed shelter and it was the happiest accident. Cornelia Street was my favorite street for a while I think because of the gorgeous name, though… 

Bottomless coffee and a BLT from Ridgeway Diner in Chelsea is pure nostalgia for me and I love it there. Brighton beach after dark in the summer on a life guard tower with a 6 pack of beer! Prospect Park is the most beautiful park in the world, especially now when all the leaves are changing… oh God. This question is unanswerable. Too many favorite places!

Do you think outsiders can ever become true New Yorkers?

New York is made of outsiders! Something I love about New York is that the people here are so fiercely proud of it. They complain about it, sure, but they love it and they’re proud. I’ve always felt that part of the reason I work hard and I stick it out here and I love it here so much is that I’m always slightly trying to deserve being in New York. It’s not a place you can do halfway, not successfully. You have to be with it and proud of it warts and all and if you can do that and feel that in some small way it’s a little bit proud of you sometimes then boom. I think the strive to be a New Yorker is probably what makes you one. I’m not sure anyone ever tells you – I think one day one of the subway rats salutes you or something and then you secretly know.

Britney (FB page)

Britney The Show