Susan Binet, Theatre/Dance

Resident at Westbeth since 1970

Moving to New York City was huge. My husband arrived without me and secured a furnished sublet through a note on the Actors’ Equity bulletin board. The address was 349 West 45th Street, in the heart of the theatre district. I arrived from Ohio to rejoin my husband, with our baby girl and our belongings, and to settle into our new apartment.

We had been there two months when my husband was out of town on an acting job, and there was knock on the door. “Who is it?” I asked as I looked through the peephole. I could see a short gray-haired, well-dressed elderly lady, so I opened the door. Immediately she was on the attack, saying, “I own this building. You are an illegal sublet, and you must move out.” I got tearful and sputtered, “I have a child, and my husband is away.” “I don’t care. I want you out,” she said. I was terribly frightened as I shared the story with my husband on his return. But days later, the owner was back with an offer. She asked if we’d be interested in taking the superintendent job. It would mean taking the rent-free apartment across the hall, earning a small monthly stipend to cover utilities, doing minor repairs, cleaning the hallways, and putting the building trash out on collection days. What a godsend! We accepted the offer, and within the week we moved across the hall.

My husband was now involved with Ellen Stewart’s La MaMa theatre. Connections at La MaMa led to my husband’s being cast in a movie called The Traveling Executioner, which was shot on location in the South. It was up to me to stay in New York and keep the superintendent job. I was pregnant with our second child. With my husband away, it was my father who was congratulated at the hospital on the birth of a baby boy, and Dad didn’t deny it.

Months passed, when Ellen Stewart, as a member of Westbeth’s selection committee, presented a great option. She could get us an apartment in Westbeth. We were ecstatic. Our move downtown was delayed due to a fire in composer Stefan Wolpe’s apartment. He would have to stay in our apartment until his was renovated. That delay allowed us to contact our friend from Ohio who was now designing sets for Broadway shows. He would design our new two-bedroom space with a loft arrangement for a child’s playroom and an accent on one wall covered with Peter Max fabric.

It was spring 1970 when we moved in with our son, now six months, and daughter, two years old. The neighboring apartments were homes to a concert pianist, a choreographer, a writer, a printmaker, a visual artist, and a musician. We were so fortunate as the rent was $120 a month and included heat and electric. What luck!

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