I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of life I want to live and what I think will make me happy. I keep reading about these celebrities (*cough* Ed Sheeran *cough*) who claim to have been homeless for their art but actually grew up rich and choose homelessness to make them “edgy.”
Am I doing the same thing?
I’m technically homeless; I’m in between homes. I don’t have a permanent address right now. I had multiple breakdowns about this in Alfred and led to me leaving the apartment in a complete mess as I fully shut down. I feel like my brain went into crisis mode and all I could focus on was the literal next step. I cried half the drive. What was I walking into??? While I like being a free spirit, I didn’t think I’d like being this free. I don’t have a job and come November I absolutely need one.
But I’m also the happiest I’ve felt in years. I’m surrounded by friends. And I’m not actually homeless. I’m staying in an amazing apartment and my cats are safe. I am working on a show bible for Tejan, pitching my sexy Disney series, hanging out with friends, and am meeting amazing new people (while being safe because COVID is not over, y’all). To be as cliche as possible, my cup is full.
Personally, I’ve always hated the “starving artists” trope. That artists are supposed to suffer to make good art. I can make much better art if I’m not literally accepting any job that comes my way just to survive. I have been incredibly fortunate to be able to say “no” to opportunities that didn’t sit right with me this year. I’ve been able to write plays that are already getting picked up because I gave my chance a second to breathe (after very many breakdowns).
When people ask what theatre could be doing right now, after everything we learned in 2020, the answer should be providing financial and artistic support for playwrights. If our art has suffered, it’s because you’re asking us to churn out multiple drafts of plays and then only to pay us $400. You’re asking us to work for $10/hr to write masterpieces. It’s an unsustainable system.
And frankly, that’s if you pay us. Playwrights are fleeing to TV because at least we can make rent working on a show. We need more playwrights in residence, more longtime commitments to playwrights. We need to get rid of asking playwrights to write a play in a month. Can I do it? Yes. A lot of us can. But imagine how much stronger the draft would be if we had 3 years and weren’t worried about how we were going to keep the lights on.
This time in St. Paul has been a blessing. I’m so glad to have a moment to hit pause and create work I’m really passionate about but it doesn’t escape me that I have been consistently working in theatre for a decade and this is the first time I’ve ever felt anything close to comfortable.
And it’s temporary.
If we want theatre to be everything it could be, we need to take care of the artists who have been creating the “extraordinary live experiences” we’re always bragging about.
I like to believe that I started this blog for emerging playwrights who like me were like “How do I make this crazy* idea into a career?” And lately, I haven’t been great about the advice part. Recently I was asked to write a play for free, give feedback to other playwrights, and then put on the play myself so the theatre company could decide if they want to work with me. I said no, immediately but I know three years ago I would’ve said yes. For the ~exposure.~
Playwrights, especially those who are just getting started: you do not need to be exploited to have a career in this field. Please learn the power of saying no. Know the value of your work and know that you deserve better. If you’re ever not sure about a contract or an agreement, ask people. Ask around. Make sure you’re not being taken advantage of. And if you don’t think you have anyone to ask, ask me and I’ll find someone.
We’re in this together and we all deserve better.
*I’m mentally ill. I can use “crazy” if I want to.