Three months ago, Brooklyn-born Zoe Armiger, a former production manager on NBC’s flagship show “Saturday Night Live,” returned to Ajijic for her second stint of living in Mexico, following an eight-month spell here in 2015.
“If you’re an older, single woman and not part of the upper class, New York City is not the place to be,” she says. “The cost of housing has become impossibly high.”
After 28 years of marriage and living solo in such places as Morocco, Greece and Yugoslavia, Armiger was ready to give Mexico another shot. “I wanted to be part of a smaller community of artists where I could be involved in the arts, develop a support system of friends and not have to think about financial survival.”
Back in her working days, Armiger enjoyed a career that best reflected her outgoing, fast-paced, artistic personality: 15 years as a production manager for NBC TV.
Starting out as an associate producer of NBC News, she was responsible for putting together two-week specials.
“My task was to come up with nightly, five-minute segments for two week stretches,” she says. “I did it all, from researching, interviewing and bringing a reporter on site to writing and editing. I was offered an audition to be on camera but declined, realizing that I preferred being behind the scenes telling everyone what to do.”
The pinnacle of Armiger’s career was in 1976, while on the campaign trail with Jimmy Carter.
“Since NBC covered that whole election year,” she says, “a group of us traveled to the major primaries, following Carter throughout the year. That job, the highlight of my life, ended after election night, when I had been in charge of the polling.”
Jump forward to 1979 when Armiger landed the role of production manager for the “Today Show.” “I had to report to work every day at 5 a.m. Not being a morning person, that schedule killed me. When I finally told my boss that I could no longer deal with those hours, he assigned me to a late-night show.”
That show happened to be “Saturday Night Live.”
Says Armiger, “I came on board as production manager at the start of its second season, just as Chevy Chase was leaving. I got to work with the show’s original, amazing actors: Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd.”
She continues: “I was the one backstage who made everything happen. Every issue that popped up, I was there to solve. On a show like ‘Saturday Night Live,’ something is bound to go wrong every five minutes; from personal issues to problems dealing with unions and crews.”
Arriving on the set at 10 a.m., Armiger worked 17-hour days, which she says is typical for anyone in television. “Despite the difficult work and long hours, I loved my job. I was young, energized, and every day was a real high.”
She’s quick to point out an unexpected perk of working for the popular TV show.
“In July, 1979, my husband and I wanted to get married but, being that I was Jewish and he was Protestant, we couldn’t find anyone to marry us. I was able to coerce the minister of the Unitarian Church of New York to marry us by gifting him two tickets to Saturday Night Live. That’s what sealed the deal. That’s how I pulled it off.”
Receiving her BFA from Syracuse University and MFA From Pratt Institute, Armiger was trained as a visual artist. Yet, during her years in television, she was far too busy to paint; something she returned to 20 years ago. “I became a trompe l’oeil painter – French for ‘trick of the eye.’”
In 2015, Armiger enjoyed her first spell in Mexico, living in both Ajijic and San Miguel de Allende (“too glitzy for my tastes,” she says), before returning to New York for health reasons.
Ajijic was where she resonated most, thanks to its welcoming nature and art communities – an easy place to make friends, she says.
Back for the second time, Armiger keeps herself busy doing art and teaching basic drawing and portraiture. “When I was in Ajijic for those eight months, I taught art classes at the Lake Chapala Society. When I returned I contacted them, saying that I’d like to teach again. They put me on their schedule.”
Instead of collecting objects, as she did during her years as a New Yorker, Armiger prefers collecting interesting people. “I’m always looking for colorful characters to add to my circle of friends and there’s quite an assortment in Ajijic to choose from. Who needs more stuff anyway? At this stage of my life, people are much more interesting!”