It feels like there’s so much pressure to create art right now. And to keep doing things. ALL THE TIME. There’s thinkpiece after thinkpiece after thinkpiece* about why we, artists, absolutely MUST create.
On the flip side, there’s thinkpiece after thinkpiece after thinkpiece about how this driving need to create is putting out too much bad art in the world. And how the zoom readings aren’t as good and are ruining the “true” meaning of theatre. How we’ve lost quality for the sake of quantity.
Fuck that, too.
I have struggled to write anything I’m supposed to write. I made my way through three plays to edit and it was grueling. I was completely exhausted after. And I usually always hate editing but this was different. This was me doing something I hate while shouldering a collective trauma while also facing extraordinary loneliness. I still have two more plays to edit and I’m so burned out from all of it.
But, for years, I’ve had this idea for a TV show called High/Functioning that’s very loosely autobiographical about a “high functioning” alcoholic whose life is an absolute mess. I’ve always said “I’m bad at writing TV shows.” But what if…it just takes me longer to make it? I can crank out a full-length play in 24 hours but I’m still in the middle of episode 1 and loving it. For the first time I can think of in forever, I’m thinking my time with something. And I’m not writing it to immediately pass it off to someone so it maybe can get produced or it can maybe get me in a writer’s room or maybe it can start as an introduction….
I’m writing it because I want to. Because it makes me happy. I want to share it with friends and laugh about it. And anything beyond that, I’m not thinking about right now.
What if we took a breath? Took a step back and really appreciated what we’ve done so far? What if we took an extra minute to think “What do I really want to say?” What if we learned how to take our time with ourselves and our work again?
So many of us are used to going a million miles an hour to the point where we’re not even sure we like it anymore. We’re so used to packing our days full of “productive work” that we’ve forgotten that productivity is not a measure of art. Art needs time to breathe (artists too), to form, to re-shape, to experiment.
Looking back at the last year, I was so productive but I only really loved three plays I wrote: You Were Mine, Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry, and Rich B*tch. I fell in love with Last Night but that took me time. And I fell in love with it so much while I was working on it and gave it permission to just be as it is. To be a draft. To be an idea. We’re so eager to make something perfect that we’re not giving ourselves room to be wrong. To make big mistakes.
And in the big mistakes is where we learn the most about ourselves. My play, Here Be Dragons, doesn’t work. But I took a really big risk and am okay with knowing it’s probably never going to get a production. I wrote it because I wanted to push myself creatively.
I’ve heard myself say at least twice this week: “Why am I even working on this? It’s never going to get a production.” And I hate that.
For many of us, yes. The production is where the money is and we need that money. Corporate capitalism has bled into the arts and made us all into machines.
But…I don’t want to be a machine.
I write plays quickly because I’m obsessive and bipolar. I’m usually manic and I can’t think about anything else. But it’s also because there’s a story I’m dying to share with someone. I want to share it so badly with others that I just want to get it out. I don’t sleep. I barely eat because I’m so excited to share it. It’s why I immediately share my first drafts. Not because it’s perfect or because it’s ready but because I write in order to share a piece of myself with others.
And, up until COVID-19, I came to realize that certain pieces of myself had more “value” than others. And that made me feel like shit. That the parts of me I wanted to share the most have little to no value.
I wrote Rich B*tch because I wanted to explore what it meant to be poor while many of my friends were much better off than me, who made more money but I also wanted to explore what it means to be a “mixed” race identity in circles of people of color who aren’t. I was told by an artistic director, “The play isn’t about anything.” The play is about me. Am I nothing then?
My hope for theatre companies after this is that they find a way to re-introduce their audiences to messy art. To art where the “quality” doesn’t have to be perfect. Where it’s okay if the audience doesn’t get it because they came together to witness an experiment and not to see Shakespeare.
My hope for artists is that we use this time to take a breath and figure out how to be okay with that**. What did we rush through because of a tight deadline but could probably use months to reconsider? What’s the thing we always wanted to make but didn’t because we knew it wouldn’t make any money?
If you’re creating a bunch of art right now and you’re happy about it, great! If you’re not creating right now because you feel paralyzed, that’s okay. It’s been a shit show of a time.
Friends, we are not machines. We are miracles; we are the impossible. And miracles take f*cking time. We are creating universes from nothing. Think about the last time someone did major construction in your city. Were they expected to be done within two months????
Every time you create something new, you are not only creating an entirely new world for yourself, you’re also creating a new world for thousands of other people and incepting an idea into someone else’s mind (which is what art is) takes time.
So take it.
*I was going to link the thinkpieces but decided against it because I don’t think it’s helpful.
**I understand some of us have to be productive right now to make ends meet. I acknowledge the privilege I have that I can take a breath and others can’t. To those of you who can’t and who are making massive amounts of art right now to put food on the table, I see you. And I’m sorry we live in a world where some of us can take a breath and some of us absolutely cannot. If there’s something I can do to help you, please let me know.