The first time someone told me they felt “called” to playwriting, the Catholic snob in me quietly snickered. To me, you could only be called to an act of service and at the time I thought writing couldn’t possibly be an act of service because it was so narcissistic. Writing was about self-gratification and controlling a narrative. It wasn’t about helping people; it was about yelling your opinion at the top of your lungs without anyone getting the chance to respond.
Fast forward to sitting in another bar with my other best friend (Jasmine) in a city that neither of us called home. And whenever we get together, we reflect on the choices we made and why.
Jasmine and I both applied to Teach for America senior year. Like most kids of Notre Dame, we had a strong calling to service and wanted to help students in underprivileged areas. We both made it all the way to the final round where we had to do a teaching lesson and then a one-on-one interview. We were even in the same room. We got our decision letters on the same day.
And we were both too afraid to tell the other one we didn’t get in just in case the other one did. When we found out we both didn’t get it, we got our other roommate at the time to take us to get wine and cheap beer. And we kind of reveled in our misery for a bit.
The next day, Jasmine decided she was taking the LSAT and asked me to take it with her. I went back and forth for a while without ever saying yes. Finally, she kind of figured out I wasn’t going to take it and it was one of the first times in our friendship we realized life would inevitably pull us into incredibly opposite directions.
After graduation, Jasmine went to U of I, Urbana and I moved to Arkansas to stage manage a touring children’s show. We stayed in touch as life continued to take us on different paths.
Jasmine is now an incredibly accomplished attorney, working at one of the top firms in the country. I’m now the operations manager at a theatre company focused on social justice while also working as a playwright.
Had you asked either of us if this is what we thought life would look like at nineteen, we’d both say “nah bro.”
So back to our reflection–Often times, Jasmine asks me why I stay in Arkansas and why not move to Chicago or New York to be more successful? I could network more and probably could get produced a lot more. I usually argue that I don’t think that’s true and to be honest I’m getting into the same things as those playwrights so I’m not sure geography matters as much as it used to (Thanks NPX).
And once we’ve had enough drinks, Jasmine asks her next big question: When am I going to law school?
Anyone who knows me knows I frequently think about either going to law school or becoming a paralegal. I love paperwork, love arguing, and I love research. I’m the sort of person law school exists for. And I’m all about standing up the little guy. It’s never just been about the money although let’s be real. The money is definitely a selling point. The starting salary for a paralegal (for which I would only need 2 semesters of school to get my certificate–> I checked) is $40-$60k, especially with my academic background. Which is more than I’m making now.
(Including money from playwriting adventures, I’m making about $38,000/year and really that’s a good year. I’m pretty honest and upfront about money and I think we all should be. You can’t ask for your worth if you don’t even know what your co-workers are being paid.)
Anyway, so I could make more money and possibly have more time to travel for playwriting (a lot of paralegal work can be done on the road). So why not do that?
Back to that calling thing. Where I am right now in life is I feel strongly that I am called to write plays about the world as I see it and hope that the audiences coming to see my plays are willing and able to have an open discussion about social justice. And how we can all be better.
But I also feel strongly called to serve in a way that involves supporting something made by or from someone else. It’s important to me to also to uplift people through the arts and to give the communities around me the exposure I didn’t get. The job I have right now uses theatre to better the city around us. It’s not narcissism (well all acts of service are a little narcissistic but it’s the least narcissistic of my jobs so far); it’s a change of perspective. It’s humbling to sit and listen to a woman who was homeless tell her story and then be given the privilege to stage the story while talking to city developers about housing insecurity. There’s something incredibly rewarding about getting your hands dirty, getting exposed to the realities of your city, and doing what you can to help.
And that’s incredible.
Eventually, my two callings will conflict (they’re already starting to). Eventually, I will have to choose between production and playwriting. And I know that day is coming for me.
But until then I’ll drink my red wine and Jasmine will drink her white and we’ll meet in cities across the country as we talk about how our careers have shaped us (and hurt us), the choices we’ve made (and didn’t), and of course how ballin that new Drake single is.
PRO TIP: Both of these pictures are from the BEST bar in Orlando: The Thirsty Topher. It has all the best things you need a bar to have. Cheap beers on tap, all kinds of wine, a patio to smoke out back, and awesome bartenders. It’s hands down my favorite place and I strongly, strongly recommend it.