A lot of playwriting opportunities are asking for applicants with extraordinary promise, exceptional creative promise, extraordinary potential.
Am I extraordinary? Well.
I spent the entire time I was driving into Kansas City thinking about this. I think I’m pretty extraordinary. I grew up in a not great part of LA (half the time) and didn’t really have a theatre program in high school. I didn’t even get into theatre until I was about 20 and didn’t write my first play until I was 22. In eight years, I’ve written 30 plays.
Hell, by the time this year is over, I will have written 10. In one year.
I live in Arkansas and trust me that’s not doing me any favors. And I don’t have a secret trust fund* or parents who are bankrolling me. So I’m flying and driving and making it to all these places around the country on my own. I work full-time also in theatre as an arts admin and, again, still found time to write all of these plays.
At this point in my career, as I’m submitting, literary managers are saying they’ve heard of me. Actors are telling me about plays of mine they’ve read. And I think I have a decent (tiny but decent) amount of name recognition. Outside of my own work, I’ve also produced other playwrights. I produced for 30 different plays by twenty playwrights.** I started as a stage manager and have staged managed shows in over forty cities, I’ve designed (primarily lighting design) for three plays, I’ve directed five plays…
So I can write a play in 8 hours. I can produce both my work and playwrights around the nation. I can design and manage. I’m even working on a one-person show right now that I plan on performing soon because I miss acting.
You know the spiel. I’ve talked about it before. BUT does that make me extraordinary? Do I have extraordinary promise or did I just do what I had to do? What counts as extraordinary?
I am literally, right now, writing this blog post in a hotel in Kansas City after being invited to Mid-America Arts Alliance/Artist Inc’s Peer Palooza or, to clarify, essentially a regional artists’ conference. Or the beginning of one.
There are so many incredible artists here who live in this region. Who are making amazing work. Who make me feel like saying “Okay cool. I tried the playwright thing. It didn’t work out. But I’m a badass arts administrator so let me put all of my energy into getting these artists produced and presented instead.”
To me, they’re all extraordinary.
But then I think about conversations I’ve had at the places I’ve worked so far about how “hard” it is to find regional artists who are “good enough.” And I hear these artists expressing the same discontent that making art in this region sometimes feels like it doesn’t actually matter how extraordinary they are because of where they are. Which, makes me want to set something on fire.
Where is this rubric? For every theatre company out there asking for extraordinary promise, can you give me a checklist? Does that mean “went to an Ivy”? Does that mean “has already won X amount of awards” even though many awards are biased based on location?
I’ve tried emailing to ask “what exactly is extraordinary promise?” And the answers have been frustrating. It’s ranged from “published” which when it comes to theatre, does that mean produced? To “someone who is making ‘their mark’ in the field.”
What the fuck does that mean?
Then, there’s the other side of it. Maybe, just maybe, I’m not extraordinary.
We can’t all be extraordinary. Isn’t that the point? I have never gotten into any of the conferences. I’m not getting the big grants***. Even within my own region, I’m not the “hot” artist and I’ve never been on one of those “artists to watch” lists. When I applied to a major fellowship, I was told I didn’t get in because of (1) typos and (2) they didn’t get the play. They didn’t get why I was writing. (What?!)
So, that’s it then. I’m not extraordinary.
It feels like saying that comes with a lot of other assumptions. As if I’m depressed about it or giving up. But, again, we can’t all be extraordinary. Someone has to be ordinary for someone else to be extraordinary.
Does it mean I’m quitting playwriting because I’m not extraordinary? No, of course not. Does it mean I value myself less? Nope.
I used to say there’s something kind of freeing about not being super pretty. I’m average looking at best. I’m a solid six on a one to ten scale. And that’s okay! Am I insecure? No, I’m arrogant as f*ck. It just means I get to navigate through the world in a different space. There’s a power in that invisibility. There’s something really interesting about being average. It gives you room to surprise people.
That’s kind of how I’m starting to feel about playwriting. It’s time to start surprising people and disrupting the system. It’s time to get weird with it because no one’s really paying attention. If I’m going to be ordinary, then I’m going to light it up. I’m going to break every single rule I can while I can.
And for the record: I feel extraordinary. I feel superhuman. I’m beginning to feel completely and thoroughly in power of my life. I’m seeing the path that I need to take to shake up the systems in place and I think I’m finally brave enough to do it.
Also also. Every artist that I know personally is extraordinary.
I am friends right now with at least 3 different people who the world has identified as “extraordinary.” And I’m so f*cking proud to know them and be friends with them. They truly are gonna change the world and I CANNOT WAIT. But there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that. There’s a lot of coloring within the lines and performative gratitude assigned to that.
So, maybe, I’m glad that’s not me. Because my superpower is subtle. It’s quieter. It was never meant to be an explosion.
And I can still light up the sky even if no one’s watching. (You can too.)
*I’m not here to hate on your trust fund. If you’re getting support and that’s how you’re making it work, good for you.
**I did this through the Arkansas Theatre Collective.
***I do get grants. When I say big grants, I mean the 20k+ ones.