It’s been a while 🙂
So anyway, here are two mini-blogs in one to make up for lost time. The first one was going to be called You and I Both Loved which is all about editing my plays from like 2015 and what a mind fuck that is. The second one was going to be called Looking at your phone, thinking you should call me… which was going to be a lot more salty than it is. Feel free to skip and skim as you see fit.
You and I Both Loved
Recently, I’ve been asked to edit both Breathe Me In and Good Bad People. I wrote Breathe Me In in summer 2015 and I wrote Good Bad People in summer 2017.
In 2015, I had just recently graduated from my MFA program where I felt like an absolute failure. It felt like everyone was off to do all of these amazing, exciting things and I was stuck in Arkansas or at least that’s how I felt. That I had all of this potential but it didn’t matter. It didn’t help that I had just applied to go to the Kennedy Center Playwrights’ Workshop and didn’t get in. I was asked to come and stage manage though which I happily said yes to.
And I was surrounded by these great artists and hearing these amazing shows and all I could think about is how I would never have that. That I might’ve been good but I wasn’t great. That good was never going to be good enough. (I was also still just coming to terms with what it really means to be Black and kind of biracial and kind of not in the US so there’s a lot of that too.)
So I left DC and immediately came home and wrote Breathe Me In.
In 2017, I was on my way to a show when I heard the news of yet another Black man killed by the police. And it all just kind of fell on me. I was headed to see a show run by an all-white staff to see a play, a comedy, with an all-white cast in a city where I was mostly surrounded by white middle-class people. I knew I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go. I was dealing with so much rage that no one seemed to care, no one seemed to notice (remember this is pre-2020).
So I stayed home and wrote Good Bad People in six hours which at the time was record time for me.
And then years passed. There was little interest in either play, especially after I wrote Well-Intentioned White People so I just accepted that neither of these plays would really see the light of day.
Then, miraculously, a theatre company reached out to me to ask if they could produce Good Bad People in 2020. And there’s a whole story there that if this wasn’t a mini-blog that I’d go into but in the effort of keeping things short(er), I said yes, 2020 happened, and the play was rescheduled for February 2023.
Editing Good Bad People after the summer of 2020 was one of the hardest things I had to do. Because I was writing from a place where no one seemed to be listening but after 2020, it seemed everyone was (performatively) listening. The conversations had changed drastically. But this play was before that so should I change it to post-2020? Was that fair to the me who wrote it in 2017, to the rage I was feeling at the time?
Also, my writing style has drastically changed. In 2017, I still had the sticky residue of grad school and I was still thinking about how a play “should” be written. I don’t write that way anymore. How I protect the voice of the play from my voice? What happens when your voices changes? There’s so much emphasis in grad school about “finding your voice” and it seems like the belief is that it happens once. I’ve found my voice many times and I hope to keep finding more. But just because I have a new voice now that doesn’t mean I don’t respect the voice I had then. How do I reconcile those two things?
I don’t know that I did it perfectly but I did my best. I hope past me is proud of what current me did and the changes I made. And I hope to all the gods in the universe if there’s something I changed that past me would push up against, that I can find what that it is. Just because I’m a different me, that doesn’t mean I don’t hold a sacred space for all the past me’s before now.
During an interview, someone asked me if I remember the name of the Black person who was killed that originally inspired me to write the play. I lied and said no. I deeply regret that I let a dramaturg talk me out of naming their names because that used to be how the play started. The thought was that we didn’t want to tie the play too closely to real life but fuck that. If y’all can’t tell when something is inspired by something rather than a direct adaptation, that’s not on me.
The play’s changed a lot and it doesn’t make sense to use the device I was originally planning on using but of course, I remember the names. I will always remember the names and there are so, so many more.
Again, in the spirit of brevity, I won’t go too far into Breathe Me In but it was a lot of the same things popping up for me. There are things in that play that I don’t believe in anymore, there are things about myself and my career that I find kind of laughable now. In 2015, I thought my career was over, that I was a failure, and that I had to just resign myself to studying the greats. In 2015, I was also only 26. And I was dramatic. My life radically changed in 2017, and then again in 2018, and then again in 2021, and then again in 2022. It keeps changing.
And as for feeling like I’m behind everyone I went to school with, I still feel like that sometimes but I also feel like I’m rising quickly. I thought if I couldn’t have “success” by 28, it meant it wasn’t going to happen and that’s just nonsense. I cannot wait to see what my life looks like at 40.
But…again, those fears I had were real, there were in my bones. And I shook them out of me to write Breathe Me In, which was supposed to be my goodbye letter to playwriting. How do I continue to protect the very real (albeit absurd) intentions I once had that I no longer even really recognize?
I continue to wonder what do we owe our past selves especially when it comes to our art?
Looking at your phone, thinking you should call me
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be chosen in theatre…
For a long time, I thought success in theatre meant you work really hard, you get your name out there, and you get so good they can’t ignore you. Artistic Directors would be like “Oh man, I really gotta do X’s work. They’re phenomenal.” And maybe, maybe, that’s how it works for some people.
But lately, I think it works more like this. Someone goes “Who’s up and coming but not too famous that I can say I ‘discovered’ so when they make it big we can say ‘Well they started here.'” It’s all about knowing some secret before everyone else finds out. Discovering the next best talent instead of supporting talent. Outside looking in (and I say “outside” very loosely because I’ve worked in arts admin), it seems like the gatekeepers are much more interested in being on the ground floor. And don’t give a flying fuck about helping artists who have already broke ground, who don’t need mentors but rather financial support and productions.
And real quick: I would love a mentor. I would love to be paired with someone who was genuinely interested in helping me take the next step forward. But the last mentor I had that was assigned to me for a playwriting workshop, met with me once and told me she didn’t really know how to help me because we had similar credits…The only difference between us was she was based in NYC and I was based in Madison.
And I know someone somewhere is going to say I’m just bitter that I haven’t been chosen but lol check the credits. Yes, I have. I am saying this from the perspective of someone who has absolutely benefited from being chosen. A friend joked Yale works with me so much they should give me an office.
I am so incredibly grateful to have been chosen. To have the connections I’ve built, to have the productions I do, to have been staffed twice, to getting to write a feature all because I had a really good general…It’s an amazing feeling.
But it’s paired with a really shitty feeling of knowing my friends who are just as good as me, who are more talented than me have not been chosen. Because no one is checking for them because they didn’t know they had to come in at the ground floor. They didn’t know there was a pathway they were supposed to take. We all just jumped in and learned how to swim on our own. We didn’t know there were fucking swimming lessons being taught next door.
I think the worst thing I’ve heard lately when it comes to not being chosen is when ADs and EDs say they don’t pick plays, they pick people. That’s not the gift you think it is. Because what I hear is there’s something about me personally that you do not like and it’s got nothing to do with my work. That tells me that I can apply for a decade (and I have) and still not get in because the problem isn’t my work. It’s me.
Recently, a workshop told me if I had applied 3 years ago, I probably would’ve gotten in but that I was too far along now. When I told them I did apply, they were like “Oh.” And that was that. It’s impossible to get in when you’re getting started and then, if you have the audacity to make it on your own, you’re told you’re too big, too far along….
This obsession with “discovering” is white supremacist bullshit and needs to stop. There are at least 4 people I know who claim to have discovered me. You didn’t. I was banging on the door, begging to be let in, and then, when you were taking out the trash one day, I snuck in.
Or at least that’s what it felt like. I wasn’t invited; I broke in.
I wish we spent more time cultivating artists who need more than “experience” and “exposure.” I wish there were more resources for artists who want to get weird, who aren’t sure if their idea will work, who might fail…support them anyway.
Or just be honest about it. You want to say “I was there back when…” and the rest of us have to make our own way. It’s okay. We already are.