I am not the biggest fan of musicals. I like about six of them. But the ones I like, I LOVE. And from each of them there’s a song that feels like it was written for me.
Climbing Uphill from The Last Five Years is one of the songs I ugly cry to as I belt in my car. The part killed me, especially when I first heard it, is “I will not be the girl who gets asked how it feels/To be trotting along at the genius’s heels.”
Here’s the thing: My “type” is someone who is brilliant. I’ve always said I want to be with someone thoroughly interesting and I refuse to settle for anything less.
To me, I am married to the most interesting person. Josh has built me two bookshelves, made my engagement ring and the jewelry box I keep it in, and he bakes cakes and cross stitches for his grandmother. He’s also an electrical engineer and an electrician and he cleans and cooks. And he has a new hobby every day. Seriously as I drive home, I think “I wonder what Josh is making/creating today.”
And all that’s great. But for the first four years of our relationship, I was “Josh’s girlfriend.” And it felt like, to everyone around me, I was the uninteresting one. And yes, some of that was casual sexism but a lot of it wasn’t. Outside looking in, I was the girl reading in the corner while Josh invented some new tech thing to fix an unfixable computer or sound board (not a made up thing; he also invents things).
So. For four years, I lived out my worst fear as being just “the girlfriend.” Which like triggered my ambition into super drive.
I’m going into all of this because I have been struggling with intense feelings of jealousy and I’ve been trying to unpack that. I’ve mentioned before that I left Facebook because I was struggling with how well my friends seemed to be doing while I was very much so doing not well.
And as I was re-reading my blog to “edit” it (none of those edits have happened), I realized I’ve briefly talked about jealousy in a lot of blog posts but never took any time to unpack those feelings.
So. Here we go.
I am very, very, very jealous of my playwriting friends. Every time I write congrats on a post or say “congrats” to someone in person or on the phone, there was a solid 5-min preface of me having to work on the pitch of my voice to make sure it sounds genuine.
And–this is important–it’s not that it’s not genuine. It is! In the same way I want an interesting partner, I want interesting friends. I’m so proud of all my friends all the time. Like I feel surrounded by super-people and I LOVE it.
The only reason it doesn’t sound genuine is because mixed in with my true feelings of pride and excitement for my friends are the relentless feelings of anxiety and stress that I’m never going to get something that’s “good enough.”
Which is crazy. But I’m in therapy for a reason.
BUT ALSO, as I’m unpacking all this jealousy, I realized there’s a bigger problem. And that problem needs to be addressed too.
Diversity in theatre.
A friend of mine and I got into the same new play fest and she commented something like “Look. Two Afro-Latinx playwrights in the same festival. It’s possible!” And I did a spit-take because in that sentence she said everything I had been feeling.
There should be more than one.
I shouldn’t panic because another Afro-Latinx, queer playwright is applying to the same thing as me. Or because another female-identifying black playwright who writes about race and sexuality is applying to the same thing.
Because there should be more than one. And the people who fall under these labels shouldn’t feel like we have to compete even harder with each other than we do with anyone else (read: cis/het white playwrights) because there’s only one diversity slot. There’s only one queer spot. There’s only one “political play” slot.
And I know a lot of festivals are working on that. They’ve been called out and are trying to change. Which is great. And I understand change takes time.
But when you’ve been living in the world where there can only be one for so long, it’s hard not to get jealous. And annoyed.
Next thing to unpack: Not only are there not a lot of slots, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to begin with. Theaters don’t want to do new plays because they don’t make any money. I’ve been an invited playwright in a packed audience TWICE now where the artistic director said that “new plays don’t make any money.”
Which I know might be true but maybe don’t say that to a packed house at a new play festival with the playwrights you invited sitting in the audience.
What if we could change the narrative around new plays? I get that Shakespeare sells out (supposedly) but maybe it’s because we’ve been talking about Shakespeare like he was a God amongst men for so long and haven’t talked about how As You Like It could’ve probably used another table read or how Shakespeare didn’t give two sh*ts about tracking time in his plays.
Don’t believe me: Re-read Winter’s Tale and tell me that timeline makes sense.
For some reason, we look at new plays as if there’s something lesser about them. Like they’re something to be fixed instead of celebrated. Like the problems that can’t be solved means the play can’t be valued.
Which then leads to playwrights feeling like they aren’t valued. That their ideas aren’t great or just as revolutionary as the ones before us. That there’s nothing new we could add to the cannon because everything worth saying has already been said.
Honestly, truth is there is no perfect play. Audiences just decided at some point to look at the brilliance instead of the flaws. Why can’t we do that at the start of talking about new plays instead of at the end when the play already has a Pulitzer?
Could you imagine if we were workshopping Angels in America today? What would even be left of the play? The play we consider a masterpiece would get shredded in development opportunities. And there definitely would be no part two.
I’m not saying I am writing the next Angels in America. I’m not. I’m not sitting on that kind of brilliance.
But what if there was another brilliance I am sitting on? What if I just need the room to fail first? And fail horribly to really pull something incredible out.
Too often it feels like new play development is trying to create something perfect to be presented rather than something messy, something you get to be a part of, something that doesn’t make sense yet and may not make sense for a while but when it finally does make sense
Holy sh*t look what we made together.
Think about it like this: what if every theatre company in the US decided to do a fully produced new play in their season, every season? Imagine how much that alone would change the narrative of new plays. And even better what if they weren’t all “world premieres.” What if it was just a regional premiere or a state premiere?
Or even better what if it was who cares how many times this play has been produced but if it was written in the last five years and playwrights still want to develop it, then we’re (theater companies) in.
So do I get jealous because I’m an insane Slytherin who is too ambitious for her own good? Yes. But do I also get jealous because that’s the situation playwrights have been put in and we (theatres + playwrights) could be better? Also yes.
I’m not saying that every new play festival or development opportunity is horrible. They’re amazing. Every single one I’ve been to has made me a stronger playwright. And I am so f*cking thankful to have been in the rooms I’ve been in.
All I’m saying is something my very intense and amazing Afro-Latinx mom says to me all the time:
And just like my mom, it’s not coming from a place of disappointment. It’s coming from a place of incredible faith and hope for what’s next.