What a mind f*ck of a time. Between our absolutely horrifically incapable and unqualified president, the ongoing pandemic with no end in sight, and the constant, daily trauma of being a Black person in the US in 2020…like can we skip to 2021?
But, and this feels really weird to say but personally, despite being so, so lonely and feeling isolated, professionally speaking 2020 has been a constant surprise for me. And like a good one. I got managers this month who are sending my writing out so that I can join a writer’s room. It feels like there’s a reading of my play (that I didn’t produce) every week AND I started a theatre company. And every second it feels like I’m doing the impossible.
I’m actually doing alright. And many of the artists I know are too. I was talking to a friend of mine who’s a visual artist and she was saying she’s made the most money from her art career in this moment where the arts are “dark” than she ever has before.
And, same. My day job, my safety net, cut my (already very low) pay in half. And I wasn’t able to get on unemployment so I freaked out. How was I going to survive? The only reason I have a day job is because it was “safe.” I had multiple breakdowns about this. Do I move back to Arkansas? Do I move back to LA? Do I just accept that I made a bold choice and I failed?
Then, something sort of amazing happened. My playwriting career (and income) kicked into high gear. I am 100% living on my arts career right now. My day job has turned into my “back up” money for when playwriting money runs out.
For if playwriting money runs out.
Truly, I feel like I’m living in a daydream. The last time I started a theatre company I struggled to raise $300. RLTC has existed for 3 weeks and we’ve already raised $1500. For now, I’m able to employ artists who I love, I’m able to workshop brand new plays, and, most importantly, I’m able to envision a life where this is just my normal.
Someone asked me recently what my ideal life looks like. My answer was “an independent one.” I’m tired of working for white people. I’m tired of having no power in the workplace. I’m tired of climbing a ladder that wasn’t built for me. Last year, right as I was deciding whether or not to leave Arkansas, I saw a FB post that said they were tired of trying to force themselves into rooms they weren’t invited to.
And y’all that resonates so strongly with me. Let’s make our own tables, our own rooms. I don’t want to be in the room where it happens anymore because the “it” happening in those rooms isn’t something I want to be part of. It wasn’t made for me. I want to build new room, an inclusive one that understands nothing can happen for us, without us.
I keep seeing and reading these diversity statements. I keep wondering when we’ll head back to normal. When all of this potential will be forgotten. When all these same theatre companies releasing diversity statements will go back to having just one show in their 8-show season written and directed by a person of color.
Frankly, I don’t want to go back. Ever. Yes, there’s a pandemic. Yes, shit’s bad. But this is the most independent I have ever felt.
I have finally decided to stop waiting, to do the thing I’m most afraid of. And to be honest, I’ve never felt more in control of my own life. I feel like I’m not trapped anymore. I feel…kind of like magic. And I know that’s a cliche. I know that’s not an interesting thing to say. But I feel like I’m radiating, like all the years I stood in the background, standing behind people much less interesting and much less innovative than me, is burned out of me.
And I don’t mean to sound arrogant about this. I know that at any moment all of this could fall apart. I know at any moment things could return to normal and I’m back to working for people who don’t really listen to and value my opinion. I’m back grinding, trying to climb up a ladder that wasn’t built for people like me.
Until then, it kind of feels like 2020 is the year of the artist. And let me clear: If you aren’t willing to fight the oppressor, you aren’t a great artist and I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about the artists on the literal and metaphorical front lines saying “Enough!” We took the power back y’all. And I really, really hope we can keep it. I really hope American Theatre learns from this moment. And hears us. But the absolutely gorgeous part is I’ve realized that we don’t need them.
For the first time, in a really long time, I feel electric. Like I can change the conversation. Like I’m in control of my work in ways I have never been before. Like I finally, finally figured out how to control and use the power I’ve been repressing for too f*cking long.
And I realize this might blow up in my face. I realize it may be an illusion but isn’t it worth it to try to find out? Friends, it’s time to step into your power. And if it ends in a disaster, “I had the time of my life / Fighting dragons with you.” *
*Long Live by Taylor Swift