Before I get into it, I want to say how surreal it is to even be in this situation. But since two playwrights recently accused me of “humble bragging” I want to say I’m honestly just trying to process where I’m at in my career and to do that, I have to talk about my career. Because I think where people think I am and where I think I am are two very different places.
That said, I’m not a humble person. I don’t like to talk about myself only because I actually really love talking about myself and if I get started, I will not stop. And I have to try really, really hard to not be a total narcissist and make room for other people. None of my heroes were humble and I ain’t either. When I have something to brag about, you will know it. I will not stop talking about it.
Once upon a time, I wrote a blog post about imposter syndrome. At the time, it felt like whenever I got a workshop or was an invited playwright to speak, the other playwrights all went to Yale, Northwestern, NYU, Brown, or UCSD. It got to the point where some people would go “you went to Yale right?”
No, I didn’t.
At the time, I was still trying to figure out how to hold my own when I wasn’t sure I really deserved to be in the same space. Lately, those feelings are resurfacing in ways I was not expecting.
I was recently asked to read some of my work at a donor event for a theatre company. And while this week was packed, I really wanted to do it because I really liked working with that theatre and wanted another chance to, even if it was just for a night. And then I saw the names of the other playwrights they invited. These were playwrights I’ve been BIG fans of for a while. So then I panicked.
Wait. Why am I being included in this group? Did someone drop out? Could they not find someone else? How am I going to be able to hold my own?
I told myself it’d be fine because I could just read my monologue, probably near the beginning, and then people will just kind of forget about it. Which, okay. Totally doable.
But then I saw my monologue was last. Which meant two these amazing, award-winning, Kennedy Center honored playwrights would both go before me…
I joked with a friend that I would’ve had a panic attack about it but I literally didn’t have the time.
It all went fine, I think. I cut my monologue so it would be shorter and maybe shouldn’t have done that but either way, I survived.
What I’m trying to come terms with is…did I make it? Like, when I used to talk to other people about my career, I used to say I feel like whatever happens before emerging. Like still underground, waiting for someone to call my name so I could pop my head out for a bit.
But then a friend told me she doesn’t think I’m “emerging” anymore. Well, I’m not established yet right? Right?!
Also, how are we defining all this? I remember at some point thinking that you were still emerging if you didn’t have more than two different plays fully produced. I used to think established meant you had at least three different plays, fully produced. But that definition feels really messy now. By that definition, I am an established playwright. Well-Intentioned White People and Abortion Road Trip have both been fully produced. And if it wasn’t for 2020, HE DID IT and Last Night would’ve been produced too.
So that’s four plays.
Do I count the canceled pandemic productions? Do I not? What even counts as fully produced? Does it need to be fully produced by a “theatre institution”? Do college productions not count?
And then here’s the big question: why doesn’t it feel like it?
Again, I’m not arguing that I’m “established.” I’m not. I have a tiny amount of name recognition but I still like one of those playwrights only super avid readers of new plays know. But…it does feel a tiny bit silly to say I’m still whatever comes before emerging. I’ve emerged but I’m also not established.
I’m somewhere in the middle.
And that’s great. I feel really lucky/proud to tell my students that I graduated with a degree in theatre in 2011 and since then I’ve worked consistently in the field so don’t let anyone tell you not to major in theatre because of “there are no jobs.” And it’s true. Ups and downs aside, for almost ten years now, I’ve exclusively worked in the arts.
Which, I know isn’t everyone’s story. And it doesn’t invalidate your work in the arts if you also had to take other jobs (I tell my students this as well.)
All that said, I wonder if part of my imposter syndrome isn’t based in insecurity (I’m arrogant af) but rather my financial insecurity. Doesn’t “making it” include not being worried about how I’m going to make rent? Or at least, shouldn’t it?
My gross income last year, despite being furloughed, was $58,000. The most I’ve made so far. Which when I saw that number I thought HOW? HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?
It definitely didn’t feel like it. I had to work my ass off to still live paycheck to paycheck. I worked so hard in October that I got super sick. And anytime I think about everything I have to do in February, I have a panic attack.
This may work for other people but it’s killing me.
For me, one of the biggest reason I can’t fully accept that I’m a ~playwright~ yet is because I don’t feel any sort of security and I hate that that part of the conversations around imposter syndrome is often left out.
How are you supposed to feel confident in your career if your income from your career can’t make rent?
I am so f*cking thankful to be working, as often as I am, especially in a pandemic. I am so f*cking thankful to be seen as a “rising” playwright and that more and more people are discovering my work. And I am so f*cking thankful that I’ve been able to find a way to make an “impossible” career work.
But I hope that as we talk about diversity, we don’t forget equity. That we push to ask why are some ADs making six figures while some of their staff have to live with multiple roommates. And how can we create an industry that values all of the people who make the show happen instead of just the “front-facing” folk.
Maybe if I could comfortably take months off to focus on writing and only accept playwriting jobs, I’d have a lot less imposter syndrome.
I guess since this is my Valentine’s Day post I’d post some pics of the love of my life 🙂 Also, a picture of this super grocery store.
Happy Valentine’s Day y’all!!!