I get asked two questions a lot: (1) how’d you end up in Arkansas? and (2) How did you get all the connections you have?
Well, both are relatively easy to answer. I ended in Arkansas because I wanted a job in theatre and this is the only place that had one. And, honestly, I don’t feel that connected.
I feel like a stray cat clawing on the outside of random doors hoping like a spoonful of milk. But I get from the outside looking in, it seems like I’m some kind of plump house cat living the dream and taking naps in the sun. (Is that a weird analogy? Yes, yes it is. Am I a ridiculous cat person who really just wanted to throw that in there? Yeah, duh.)
At the end of the day, what people really wanna know is: What’s my networking like? Whenever anyone asks you “How’d you get….” what they’re really asking is “who are your connections?”
Before I moved to Arkansas, I had a plan. A very, very specific plan. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it but here goes again: I wanted to get a year-long internship to make up for the fact that my GPA wasn’t great so I could get into a MA/MBA program for Arts Admin. Preferably at Juilliard. And I figured the internship would give me life points.
Well, once I got here, I was pretty lonely and bored. I didn’t have a strong friend group (yet) as most adults don’t post-college. The artistic director of the company where I worked suggested I join a writing workshop.
Did I see myself as a writer? Nah. Did I write 24/7? Yes, I did. I saw it as a hobby. As something that I liked to do to de-stress but not as a viable career choice.
I also didn’t think I was that good of a writer. I had taken a playwriting class where one of my professors literally looked at my play, knocked it off the desk, and told me he didn’t know why he didn’t like it, but he didn’t like. I had another professor who called my work derivative and unoriginal, that basically I should stick to script analysis since I was more a copy-cat than an actual writer. And another professor who told me I’d have a thriving career if I had a ghost writer clean up my stories.
(Also shout out to the one and only professor* in undergrad who told me I was incredibly talented and offered to help me apply to grad schools. I wish I was the kind of person who could drown out the multitude of negative voices for the positive one but I’m still working on that.)
But I was bored. So I went to a playwright’s workshop. And kinda loved it. It was exciting and fun to talk about my work with other writers and to be editing it. And it didn’t feel competitive like it sometimes felt in undergrad. It was just a bunch of people, nerding out about plays. It was great.
From that group, I met the then head of playwriting program at U of A and he convinced me to apply for grad school and I did.
But grad school at U of A was different for me. I hear grad school makes a lot of people question what they want and if they really want what they think they want. It’s also supposed to be relatively challenging. But undergrad was challenging. We had about 4-5 hours of homework each night (and that was on a light night) and our tests were just hilariously hard.
(Not kidding. For one of my test in undergrad, we had an entire book of feminist theory by different writers. For the test, my teacher put a single quote from four of the 100 essays in the books. And from the quote, we had to say who it was, what era it was, and also write an essay on that person’s contribution to feminism as a whole. A single quote. Hardest test I’ve ever taken.)
And grad school made me question myself again and I thought “huh, I guess I’m not a decent writer.” So I took a bunch of English classes and came up with a new plan to get my PhD.
And then lots of other information that strays into my hero’s journey and not my networking skills (or lack thereof).
So. Third of grad school, I started TA-ing at the community college about 30 minutes away. There, the head of the theatre department (or co-chair. I dunno. Titles are confusing)…well the theatre department chair/co-chair/head suggested I apply to KCACTF Region VI by sending some plays of mine.
And then I did. And I remember driving back home from Thanksgiving dinner to find out holy sh*t my plays were chosen for a concert reading.
Despite horrible weather, Josh and I drove to San Antonio to hear my plays aloud. One of which I’d never heard aloud before.
Well, after the reading of my full-length play, Give Me Shelter, También, I met my dramaturg and a couple of other people who asked why I hadn’t applied to MFA Playwrights Workshop at the Kennedy Center.
Um. I had. I didn’t get in.
(Side note: This becomes a theme later. I’ve had a couple of playwrights on my journeys ask me why they didn’t “see” me at the MFA workshop. Like I could just roll in and go “whaddup!!! I’m this!!!” No buddies. I was hardcore rejected.)
Then, after some behind the scenes magic, I was asked if I’d be willing to stage manage one of the readings. I said yes and next thing I knew I was at the Kennedy Center, hearing a bunch of amazing plays and living my best life in one of my favorite cities.
Fast forward. After my second time at the Kennedy Center, I heard about the New Play Exchange. I signed up and put my plays on the site.
A year later, a theatre contacted me about wanting to do one of my plays as part of the DC Capital Fringe Festival. After that, a reading in Chicago. After that, a reading in Tampa.
So of course while of this happening, I was still working in theatre in Arkansas. And I assumed that as my writing got more attention, surely companies in Arkansas would be paying attention to me.
Nope. I reached out to every theatre company in Arkansas that said they did new work (about five at the time) and, if I got a response, the answer was a pretty clear “That’s gonna be a no for me.”
Whenever anyone talks about networking, they say start local and then branch out. Well, I tried. It didn’t work. And that was an important lesson for me to learn. Sometimes the rulebook is wrong. According to the rules of the game, you get enough attention locally and then outside cities will come knocking. Once you build up name recognition.
Well, I have yet to be produced by a theater company in Arkansas**. I have however had two fully staged productions out of state and about 20 readings also out of the state.
So if someone genuinely asked me my advice on networking, I’d say this: Just say yes. Say yes to everything you can.
I may have not had a leg up in the race but I said yes to opportunities. If someone offered me something and it was less than ideal but meant I could get my foot in the door, I said yes. And I did the best job I could even if it wasn’t the job I wanted. And saying yes opened a lot of doors for me.
We can’t all be smooth, charming people who know all the right things to say all the time about our work and why we do what we do. But we can say yes. And when you can’t say yes, you can offer an alternative.
And I get that sometimes life gets in the way so you can’t say yes. I’ve had to say no to couple of things because of work. So really it’s when you can, say yes.
And then make the times we can say yes really count.
Honestly, I still feel a lot of my success (which really isn’t much; I’m not like a major playwright. Just like four more people know my name ) happened because of luck. Right place, right time. My moves weren’t really all that calculated. It was a “huh sure I’ll try this” and some of it worked and some of it didn’t. I know a lot of people make calculated moves in this industry but I live in Arkansas. My best bet is to free fall and hope something catches me before I hit the ground.
And maybe I hit the ground. If I do, I’ll cry a little bit (still a water sign). I’ll pout. But then I’ll wash off my bruises, band-aid what I need to, and prepare myself for the next jump.
Or I’ll cuddle with my cat. Whichever really.
Pro-Tip: I didn’t travel this time around so I guess I’ll give a different kind of pro-tip. If you don’t have a website or business cards, GET THEM. It will change your life. You’re welcome.
* I had more than one supportive professor. It was actually my favorite thing about Notre Dame. I got close to a couple of them. I only had one while I was still in undergrad who supported my playwriting career but I had others who supported my career in arts admin. It’s the way things go sometimes. I wasn’t even sure wanted to be a playwright so I can’t fault my professors for thinking I wasn’t serious about it.
** This is not meant to diminish Arkansas. This year, I received the Individual Artist Fellowship Award through the Arkansas Arts Council and different organizations have sought to support to me. I just haven’t had a play produced. So, I feel more supported than I did before but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not theaters who are doing the supporting.