In my twenties, I was a bit obsessed with being great. To be fair, I think most “gifted” kids were. Even as I decided to pursue theatre and not law, I knew I wanted to be the best. I told myself by 30-something (I don’t remember the exact year anymore) I’d have a MacArthur, a Pulitzer, and a Nobel. I had big, big dreams.
In my thirties, I just want to be comfortable with a decent amount of personal freedom.
I thought after winning the Yale Prize, my career would skyrocket. That I’d be everywhere. Plays and TV shows, maybe even finally get to work on my book. Working nonstop as a full-time writer. That’s the life I’ve wanted for so long and I thought I’d finally be able to get it. But, frankly, it didn’t. I got agents and managers but I’m also not really getting produced like I’d like to be. Somehow, my career has slowed down since getting the Prize. Last year, it felt like every 2 weeks there was a reading, a workshop, a virtual performance. And now…
I told someone recently that I thought my career was a firecracker but it turns out it’s was just one of those party poppers (not the drugs, y’all). And to be honest I haven’t yet decided if that’s good or bad yet.
Last year, I had run myself into the ground. I was working constantly. I wasn’t sleeping and I didn’t really have a support system. The (horrible) joke I made more than once was that I wanted to die but I didn’t have the time to follow through. I was too busy to die by suicide.
Also, around this time, I usually have like 10 plays written. And I just haven’t been able to get myself to write. Which is strange. So far, this year, I’ve written Baby, Goodbye, Can You Not, and White People by the Lake and that’s it. Just 3 full-length plays, two of which I know American Theatre won’t touch.
Baby, Goodbye is a sweet play that mixes in poetry about a nonbinary person who becomes pregnant and wants an abortion. They’re in a relationship with two other people and one person is okay with the abortion and the other one isn’t. It’s a different way of looking at abortion and is much more gender-inclusive than Abortion Road Trip yet I know theatres won’t do it. Can You Not is a two-hander about suicide ideation that’s actually really funny. Theatres won’t touch that either.
Why? Because neither of them are about race and so far American theatre only lets me speak if I have something to say about being Black and/or Afro-Latine.
As I’ve been thinking about this more, something I realized is that all of my recent plays that have gotten attention have been reactive. I wrote Apologies because I was tired of hearing white people explain the Black experience to me. I wrote Black Mexican because I was tired of white people having access to my culture that I don’t even have. Going even further back, I wrote Well-Intentioned White People because I was upset that a white person told I didn’t know what it was like to be a person of color in the US. I wrote Abortion Road Trip because I was tired of white men making decisions about something they frankly know nothing about. I wrote HE DID IT because a friend was dealing with rampant sexual assault in entertainment….All of my plays have been reactive.
I don’t want to write reactive plays anymore.
When Taylor Swift got in a relationship with [redacted], she said she was worried that she wouldn’t be able to write songs anymore. Now that she was happy, could she still write break-up songs? She gave herself permission to do something incredibly different and that’s how we got folklore and evermore. When Zuko joined Team Avatar, he had to re-learn how to fire bend because he couldn’t use the same source anymore.
Basically, what I’m saying is I think I need some time to re-learn what it means to write plays, to rediscover what it is I want to say about the world and my place in it. I don’t want to be remembered for being reactive. I’ve been told my plays are “ahead of their time” which probably explains the resurgence of WIWP and Abortion Road Trip but I don’t want to be remembered for that either.
I want to be remembered for telling the truth.
With my career slowing down and no TV jobs on the horizon, maybe it’s time to take that break I’ve been talking about. It’s not like theatre is begging me to stay anyway. Maybe it’s time to reassess the kind of writer and theatre artist I want to be.
It’s funny. A friend recently told me she was always a bit jealous of me because I’ve always seemed to know exactly what I wanted and how I was going to get it. I told her that wasn’t true at all. I haven’t always known. Most of the time I’ve jumped in headfirst into things and just hoped it worked out. And sometimes it did and a lot of times it didn’t. I’m not brave; I’m just relentless. Eventually, theatre found me and because I’m incredibly ambitious, I had decided that I was going to be the best. And I would make sure that my only competition would be that b*tch in the mirror. But I’m tired of fighting myself, talking down to myself, hurting myself for something I’m not quite sure I believe in anymore. I need a re-programming.
I don’t really care about being “great” anymore so I need some time to figure out exactly what it is I’m fighting for.