When I was in grad school, I interviewed a bunch of classmates, professors, and friends on what they thought it meant to be happy. It turned into this kind of gorgeous dance piece/monologue piece that isn’t like anything I’ve ever written. I’m not saying it’s well written but I love it anyway. Because we all have this different definition of happiness but act like that word only has one meaning.
It’s wild. When you ask someone if they’re happy, do you mean their definition or yours? And do they know?
In college, I switched to theatre because it made me happy. It excited me. Junior year, I had just read Cloud Nine by Caryl Churchill and my whole world, my whole idea of who I was changed.
I changed my major and got as involved as I could that late in the game. I ASM-ed As You Like It and did extensive research on Latin American theatre. I wanted to be absorbed by plays. My library went from being 100% fantasy to 90% plays and 10% fantasy.
Did I still love Harry Potter? Yes, of course. But now I also loved Suzan Lori Parks, Jose Rivera, Churchill, Treadwell, and Brecht. All I wanted to talk about was art as protest.
Which I’m pretty sure got annoying for my friends.
You know the deal after that. I could’ve gone to law school (a couple of times) and I didn’t. I kept choosing theatre. Against all odds, I had decided this was the thing I wanted to do forever because it made me happy.
And happiness is a big, big deal for me. In high school, I struggled with depression and I hadn’t been properly diagnosed yet. By the time I was twenty, I had been institutionalized twice because of suicide attempts and two of my closest friends had died by suicide. All before I could drink.
When my friend Bea died, I said “that’s it.” I will be motivated by happiness. I will only do jobs that make me happy. Even if I’m poor. Even it means I’m struggling because happiness, for me, needs to be the most important thing.
I keep looking back at these last eight years, since I moved to Arkansas. I keep wondering: Am I still happy? Does theatre make me happy?
What a loaded question.
Theatre frustrates me. It challenges me. It makes me want to yell so loudly until my voice is completely gone and then I’d keep trying because that’s how pissed I am. It makes me want to question human nature. It makes me question the capacity of kindness.
But does it make me happy?
How do I even answer that? Does playwriting make me happy? Kind of. Most days. The act of writing a play makes me happy but it also frustrates me. It also wakes me up at 3 am with an impossible problem and then I figure out how to solve it but am too tired to focus. When I finish a play, it’s like…well I know exactly what it’s like but I’m not willing to publicly admit what drugs I’ve tried but it feels like that. But when I have to edit a play, I feel like cutting pieces away of my skin. I hate it.
And I’m not just a playwright. I also work in theatre full time. I live and breathe it. I’ve worked as a stage manager, director, actor, lighting designer, set designer (that one I shouldn’t have done), and production manager. I’ve completely immersed myself into this.
Because…it supposedly makes me happy.
There’s a part of me, a small part, that wishes I had a “day job” that had nothing to do with theatre. Like maybe work in a bookstore and use another passion of mine for a little bit. Maybe work at a club or a bar. I worked at bars before and really liked it. But I was also 21 and ran on three hours of sleep.
So who knows? Would it be better if I limited my exposure to theatre? Should I take a step back and stop trying to create spaces for other playwrights, for other artists?
I don’t want to do that…I think.
Plus, I *tried* that. Kind of. I worked as an adjunct and worked as a day care worker for small children. But even then, I snuck theatre into it. I used theatre games with the kiddos. I was literally a theatre adjunct and when I was teaching Comp I and II, I used theatre techniques in my lesson plans.
So even if I had the chance to walk away would I?
Someone told me today I was destined to be a “theatre girl,” that it’s just who I am.
Then why does it make me feel icky? Why am I constantly exhausted from yelling at gatekeepers who refuse to listen to me about what theatre could be? Why am I still on the ground floor when the people stomping on me are the same people asking me for my “advice”? Like if I’m meant to be an arts leader, then why is it that the same people calling me that* are the ones holding me back?
In all honesty, the answer to the question is yes, theatre does still make me happy. Despite all of that.
But I wanted to take a moment to check in. To really ask myself: Does all of this really still make me happy? Because if it makes me happy, then it’s worth fighting for. It’s worth yelling at the top my lungs for.
And to me, when I think of how I define happiness, my definition is tied into it “well is it worth it?” So “does dancing make me happy” is really me asking myself “is dancing in the bedroom by myself worth the aches I’ll have the next day?” And yea. Totally. So when I say “does theatre make me happy” what I’m really asking is “can theatre be worth all my stress in frustration if I can use my position to lift others up.” Yes. Totally. Always.
So am I happy? Yes. Because I believe, ultimately, it’s worth it. It will be worth it.
But that’s not to say we’re not exhausted. That’s not to say that we’re not constantly “climbing uphill.” That’s not to say some days we just really want to walk away. (And sometimes we have to walk away and that’s okay too.)
I had a really bad weekend. I was planning on walking away. From all of it. Someone who runs a local arts center told me on Friday there was no value in only producing and showcasing local artists because the locals aren’t “good enough” and that killed me. And I was so tempted to say “F*ck it. I’m done.”
But then I had to remind myself. In the end, I still believe it’ll be worth it. Even if, like Daenerys Stormborn, I gotta take it with fire and blood***.
Because it’s worth it.
** Not everyone who calls me an arts leader is standing in the way of making that happen. There are a specific few.
***Not literally. I’m not gonna burn cities down. I also am not saying I want to turn into the “Mad Queen.” It’s just a fun thing to say that matches my personality. I repeat. I am not burning cities down and going after innocent people.