I like to joke and say if you were my friend in 2014 – 2016 and you’re still my friend now, you’re a real one. Those two years were rough for me.
For part of it, I was getting my MFA in playwriting, not sure I actually wanted to be a playwright. I was also trying to get a theatre company off the ground with very, very, very little real support and ZERO financial support. And I was told the only way to be a playwright was to get into things and I wasn’t. In any other field, the assumption is you fail and then you try something else. In theatre, it’s you fail, you keep failing, you fail a lot more, for some reason you still try, you get a win, then failure, failure, failure, win, failure. The perseverance of theatre artists is something I’ve always deeply respected. (WHY DO WE KEEP DOING THIS?)
Looking at this specific status makes me smile, honestly. I decided to stop applying to the Kernodle in 2018 and I haven’t looked back. I got into OST (not OSF as I continued to accidentally write FOR YEARS) in 2017 (Well-Intentioned White People) and 2020 (Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry). As for the O’Neill, I’ve been a semifinalist for the last three years in a row and am currently sitting on some news I can’t share yet. To be honest, I’m sitting on A LOT of major news I can’t share yet.
Which on one hand feels really great but on the other hand is a bit exhausting. I have written so many plays and given so much to theatre that I’m not sure what else I have to give. And these “honors” are already creating a divide between me and the playwrights I’ve called my peers for years. I think we’re on the same level and they’re telling me “No we’re not.” How do I process that?
For the first time, possibly ever, I can’t write. I can’t finish anything. I’m thirty pages into a play and fifty pages into a book and I can’t seem to finish them. It’s not an issue of time anymore. I could’ve finished the play on Sunday and the book I could finish this week.
Right now it’s a question of why. Who is this for? Is it for me? Is it for audiences? Is it for artistic directors? Who am I creating all of this for?
A question that keeps coming up for me is “Do I even want to be a playwright?”
I feel like I stumbled into this. In high school, I wrote books and poems not plays. I knew I wanted to be a writer but a college professor at ND told me my fiction writing was horrible and though I had good ideas, I’d need a ghost writer. And then wrecked me. And that’s why I moved to playwriting. I’ve got a really poetic way of saying how I got to playwriting but ultimately, honestly, I got into playwriting because that fiction professor broke me.
Should I thank him? Playwriting’s worked out. I took a class senior year and then applied to get an MFA literally only because why not? Then I started interning and submitting and I kept saying yes until I looked up one day and suddenly people I’ve never met know who I am.
I’ve been laughing to myself that I don’t think I can say “am I a playwright” anymore. I definitely am. But…do I want to be?
I spent the full moon really manifesting who my ideal partner is and what my ideal career looks like. While I won’t share the ideal partner (because that’s not the place for this but if you wanna know I’m happy to share), I realized the first thing on my ideal career list was
I want to be a playwright with autonomy.
That’s a lot to unpack. I feel like I wrote the list in a daze to be honest and been reviewing it Sunday night and today. As a playwright, what does autonomy mean? What exactly did I mean?
Recently, I led a panel on we’d like to see theatre change and the idea of commissions came up. Most of my produced work is commissions. The part of playwriting that pays the bills are my commissions and I am so thankful for them but did I have any autonomy? They told me I could write what I want but was that really true?
How does a playwright find autonomy? By starting their theatre company? Tried that. And now apparently, because I’ve been directing my work, that means it has less value. Also, theatre companies keep asking me “but what about world premieres? Will your theatre take all of your world premieres?”
Putting aside my disdain about the obsession with world premieres, would that really be the worst thing? Or does it mean that if I do that, then the only person to produce my plays is me? Does that mean my plays lose their value?
I am someone who highly, highly values independence. It was on my ideal partner list and my career list. I need room to move the way I want and to create with immense freedom. I need room to make a mistake, BIG mistakes. I need space. A lot of it. Both romantically and professionally.
Lately, I’ve been wondering if I can’t write because I don’t feel like I’m free anymore. So many of my plays are tied to theatres. I feel like as artists we’re obligated to say “and I’m thankful for that.” We’re so afraid to say how we really feel because it could mean our projects get dropped, it could mean getting labeled “difficult,” it could mean getting excluded from future opportunities.
But can we really be free if we’re silenced? Of course we’re grateful to work but surely we can also ask for better working conditions. Right?
I have talked about leaving theatre A LOT over the last ten years and I never have. I joked with a friend that I blame my undergraduate professors for instilling this love in me but my friend said back “They didn’t instill it. They gave you the tools to discover what’s always been there.” I might not always like it but I adore theatre. It’s my whole life (working on that because I don’t think that’s good either).
But I also need to recognize the ways in which this relationship has been toxic and fight to make it better for the next human behind me who’s late to discover their love of this art form.
As I’m winning all these awards and stacking up these accomplishments, I continually wonder “What will be enough?” The answer can’t be “nothing.” Not anymore.
As I’ve said on this blog before, I wanna get better. But I want theatre to be better too.
My list if you’re curious:
- I want to be a playwright with autonomy.
- I want to teach college courses but as a guest artists with specific agreements about how much I need to engage with the “machine” that is academia.
- I want to create residencies and opportunities for emerging and established writers.
- I want to get back into fiction writing, possibly getting another MFA.
- I want to have time to travel.
- I want to direct at least 4 plays a year: two that are mine and two that aren’t.
- I want to create courses not tied to colleges that are accessible and affordable so people outside of higher ed can participate as well.
- I want to create a network system that uses roster of theatre artists and ADs looking for new artists in order to make the commission/submission process more transparent and more accessible.
- I want to build a community of artists who can lean on each for mentorship and advice.
- I want to continue to create art that challenges me and pushes the capacity of what I think I’m capable of.