by Chelsea Sutton
Graphic novelist and cartoonist Lynda Barry was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Foundation fellowship, commonly known as a “genius” grant. Below is a favorite comic of hers:
Go be a genius, you playwrights, you.
by Chelsea Sutton
Graphic novelist and cartoonist Lynda Barry was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Foundation fellowship, commonly known as a “genius” grant. Below is a favorite comic of hers:
Go be a genius, you playwrights, you.
Dear Job/Writing Opportunity I Really Want,
I was excited to see your posting for a new [insert job vaguely tangental to my dreams here] and I know I could contribute through many avenues in this position. I have over 10 years of experience working in nonprofit performing arts marketing and administration, two years working with grade school and undergraduate writing education, and am a fiction writer, playwright, and screenwriter who just graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside – so I think this background both in administration and creativity could be an asset to your company.
I guess you want me to explain why? Oh lord, I can’t anymore.
Do you know this is the 200th cover letter I’ve written since July? Jobs, fiction submissions, playwriting submissions, more jobs. And more jobs. I just can’t anymore.
Except I have to. Okay. So. Why? Why should you hire me/give me this opportunity? Why why why…well, I’ve taught in an 8th grade classroom! I’ve taught literature to undergrad science students! I’ve directed actors! I’ve directed MALE actors! I once directed a MALE ACTOR who was ALSO a cardiologist….and I’M A WOMAN! So whatever amount of shit and ego you think you’re going to throw at me, I’ve already been through worse.
[Clearing throat] Anyway.
I’ve worked in small theatres and at universities for over 10 years in Los Angeles, creating marketing plans, branding, graphic design, social media strategy, public relations, website design and upkeep, email campaigns, and building audience for the arts. And I’m tired of it. I really am. I shouldn’t tell you that, but I’ve been having this argument for MORE THAN 10 YEARS – the “WHY should I come see this art show when I could just as easily NOT do that” argument. In the end, there’s one thing I’ve learned about marketing: the BEST way to sell a thing is word of mouth. And to get word of mouth, you have to create something that means something and excites people and that sometimes means taking risks. Which I know you don’t want to because you’re a midsized theatre/corporation/dog walking service and you just want to stick with what you know. Which is cool. Cool cool cool cool.
Sorry. Back on track.
I’ve also organized fundraising events, readings, and new play festivals, so administration, organization, and follow-through are second nature to me. Who is the person that does all the work nobody wants to? Probably me. And remember, when I say I was a “Marketing Director” or “Marketing Manager” what that really means is I did EVERYTHING a team of 10+ people normally would. I’ve left jobs that then replaced me with 6 different people just to function somewhat normally for a while before they hire the 4 other people they need. Did I get paid as if I were a multi-headed goddess of efficiency? No. Probably I was paid like I was half a person who only needed half a room in half an apartment and ate half a burrito while I drove my half car to my second or third job.
I’m off track again. See? I am self-aware and am not afraid to correct course. I’m a self-starter!
I’ve been published! In a few journals that slowly start going defunct. But let’s not talk about that. The New Yorker once gave me a rejection letter when it clearly states on their website that they don’t have time to respond to everyone. So that’s something!
I’ve been produced! But at least one of them was self-produced and the others were with the theater company where I’m an ensemble member so I was also doing marketing and box office and merch and whatever and DEFINITELY CRIED from exhaustion at all the opening nights…And I know I shouldn’t tell you about the self-production stuff. I learned that at a writers conference last year. I was talking with some playwrights about those beautiful exchanges you can have with audience members – and I was telling my story, which began with me selling T-shirts in the lobby before the show. And the playwrights were like…”but why were YOU selling T-shirts.” And that’s when it hit me. Somehow being involved in the production as more than a writer was shameful. Self-producing doesn’t count. I guess? If that’s true then I’m really in the shit hole of my own creation.
Add that to my special skills list!
I hope you don’t look at my resume and think that, just because I seem to have a specific journey of a so-called “career,” that it doesn’t mean I can’t sell books, or walk a dog, or learn how to make a great cup of coffee, or manage your podcast content, or whatever and fucking LOVE it while doing it. But it also doesn’t mean this job is going to be my priority. Sorry to burst your bubble. But to quote Amanda Palmer, I’ve already spent too much time doing things I didn’t want to. I take pride in the work I do, which often leads to me putting the job first before the projects or people I’m passionate about. And enough of that. Will I be a good employee and do the work the best I can? You bet. Will I sign over my soul or promise you this is a career change while also continuing to write on the side and hope that this is all temporary before I’m finally free? Nope.
I’m tired of feeling over-qualified and under-qualified at the same time, all the time.
So interview me and string me along for months. Send me a rejection. Ghost me. Whatever. I’ve got other cover letters to write.
I would love the opportunity to talk with you more about this position. In the meantime, I’m going to try to forget that I sent this to you, because the moment I start really wanting something and throw that energy at it, is the moment I don’t get it.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
As a Southern California kid, theme parks have been a part of my identity, for better or worse. Most kids, no matter where you lived, probably got a chance to go to their local carnival, or their local amusement park or one of the thousands of odd ball parks across the U.S., or even made it to Disneyland on a family trip if they were lucky.
So I say theme parks have been part of my identity not as a way to say I’m unique in this, because I’m not. But as a way to think about how someone can absorb not only story but the structure and artifice of story in different ways. There’s a beautiful thing that happens, when you accept the construct of a fake world built on taking your money. And you believe in it anyway. And hard.
You can hear the Disneyland fireworks from my grandmother’s backyard. Back when it was affordable, my mother would take me out of school for mid-week, rainy-day Disneyland trips with our annual passes. My mother was cast as Snow White (though opted to take a job in nursing instead). The place was part of my routine. Being immersed in story was my routine.
Amusement parks are fun and all, but it is theme-parks that have my heart – the ones that tell a story with its immersion, rides, and games, giving the illusion that you are in this world and are part of the story. You are an adventurer, a pirate, a space traveler, a princess. You are part of the story being told. I was never one for thrills for thrill’s sake. I want a thrill because it is part of a story. Don’t just let me drop from a high peak. Tell me why I had to jump and what I have to do to land.
I recently went to Universal Studios Hollywood – which has become a part of my routine as well during this part of my life, as I live about ten minutes away and almost every theatre person I know has worked there, is working there, or is trying to work there. At 33, I’m cynical as hell – I look at the throngs of people with their giant Simpsons donuts and plushies, their Jurassic Park uniforms, their Harry Potter robes and wands and wonder at how silly we all look, dressed up in our respective fantasies. Are we wasting our days? I don’t care how punk rock you are, you are decidedly less badass when you wear your Ravenclaw robes and wait in line for a 2 minute ride on a Hippogriff.
But then I remember – who wants to be a badass anyway, if it means not being able to dream?
I spent considerable time during my day at the park dreaming up what the themed land would look like if I could create the seaside town from one of my plays. In my fiction class last week, I made my students walk around for ten minutes as their characters, experiencing the drab creative writing building through the eyes of someone (or something) else. As writers we spend so much time in our heads, that the physicality of something can sometimes be the key we need to unlock the connection we so desperately want.
Theme parks are crowded, hot, and annoying. They are overpriced, often disappointing, and I know enough from my friends who have worked behind the scenes and from watching endless hours of the Defunctland YouTube channel that the politics and economics behind many of the choices are infuriating, to say the least.
But nothing beats being able to walk through the physical landscape of your chosen fantasy and imagine what your story might be in this place. The best thing I did the last time I visited Hogsmeade in the Harry Potter land of Universal was a fifteen minute conversation with a shop worker at Ollivanders Wand Shop about who I am and what I hope to be in order to fit me with the proper wand. Yes it was $52 and I did not buy it. But I will, dear reader, I will eventually.
Because I’m a sucker.
I watched the new projection/light show in Hogsmeade (twice) – The Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle – and couldn’t help letting my mind wander to the darkness we all fight every day, the real evil stuff we have to combat that is not cloaked in black robes or maniacal laughter. Does a light show fight any of that? Hell no. Does it sorta help me imagine a better, more courageous version of myself that would fight a dark wizard and maybe actual real bad stuff in the world? Yes, a bit. Does it make me wish I was that person and give me something to work for? I think so.
When the shop worker at Ollivanders asked what my favorite subject would have been if I went to Hogwarts, I answered Defense Against the Dark Arts almost immediately. I had never thought about it before that moment, but I knew it instinctively.
And I feel like that is what most of us are doing, in one way or another, as we write. It is a constant training in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Looking for hope wherever we can find it.
Sometimes you spend all weekend writing out a book idea about haunted houses and choose your own adventure books and the meaning of home but then you miss the deadline for the application you were writing it for because you can’t tell the difference between am and pm, apparently.
Sometimes you get big rejections all in a row and your summer is already feeling empty and long and what the hell are you going to do after you graduate from this MFA program anyway?
Sometimes people ask you what are you going to do with your degree? As if the answer isn’t what I always did before, but, like, older.
Sometimes you meet your best friend’s new baby and love her immediately.
Sometimes you finish something. Sometimes you feel as if you’re never going to finish anything. Sometimes you feel as if nobody cares anyway and what are you doing writing about monsters and ghosts and weird shit when there are politics to worry about, real monsters just around the corner.
Sometimes you sit in a room of people you adore talking about creative things and you just want to run out of the room, out to the street, tossing your notebook in the air, the hell with shoes, your bare feet slopping in the puddles along Laurel Canyon Blvd, a street not built for this sort of rain, the endless, all-at-once, confusing Southern California rain that you will miss terribly when it’s gone.
Sometimes you grieve for things years before you have to. Like this moment. And this one.
And this one too.
Sometimes you see the rest of your life spinning out from you, circling back upon itself like a rope tied to an anchor and thrown overboard of a ship, twisting down and around itself on and on, into nothingness and you realize too late that the free end is not tied to anything, and there it goes, your life, twisting down into the water for some dolphins to laugh at.
Sometimes you make scones.
Sometimes you drink too much coffee and don’t sleep enough and your heart feels like it wants to choke you.
Sometimes you write a meandering monologue just to get something out and it suddenly opens up your play, and it doesn’t seem scary anymore. Not anymore.
And then another rejection comes.
Sometimes you buy a typewriter from 1941 off of Craigslist for a project in which you don’t end up using it anyway, but you have always wanted a typewriter so, what the hell. The guy selling it is also a writer – TV, he says – and he’d bought the thing with big plans to write his poetry on it – the romantic poet with his typewriter and coffee and cigarette. But he never used it. And the poetry was never written. And now it’s yours, along with its two unused ribbons. And it scares you, to type on it, because it feels so much more permanent than a computer. If you want a rewrite, you got to type it all, word for word – and it makes you realize that the kind of relationship writers used to have with their words was perhaps different, having to rewrite them over and over. An intimacy we don’t know in the same way these days. The intimacy of old friends. The intimacy of old lovers.
Sometimes you dream of traveling the world with this typewriter, creating a one-woman show with it, building a whole magical event around it that you can take to festivals, perform in grand halls and in elementary school classrooms.
And this, too, has already been grieved for. Remember that time I could dream about traveling the world with this typewriter? Remember when that was a possibility?
Sometimes you think, boy, everyone makes it look so easy.
When I was in France in September for an impromptu trip, I had about two days to spend in Paris. I’d never been there before, I didn’t speak the language, I had a lot of work I knew I’d be flying home to. I was happy and grateful but stressed.
But there was one thing that I felt drawn to, the thing that I couldn’t leave Paris without doing: visiting the grave of Oscar Wilde in Père Lachaise Cemetery.
It felt like a pilgrimage. I’m not a religious person. I probably couldn’t truly articulate what I believe. Energies, maybe. Ghosts. I don’t know. I’m not even a hard-core Oscar Wilde fan. But I needed to go there.
I didn’t bring the right shoes for the amount of walking I’d been doing all week. My feet and legs ached. I got turned around a dozen times just finding the entrance of the cemetery. Once inside, I wandered for a long time, searching for the exact location of the grave. Père Lachaise is well organized but its long winding paths can play tricks on you. I could feel every cobble stone under my shoes. It was cold and I was hungry and I felt like I’d never find him.
Obviously people make this trek all the time. I am not unique. Roses and gifts littered his grave. Lipstick marks covered the protective glass installed around the huge grave stone to combat graffiti from adoring fans. Tourists from England and Sweden and Germany paraded by in the half hour or so I spent there, sitting on the curb across the path from the grave. I felt almost embarrassed that I didn’t have a flower to offer. He probably hated that.
Instead, I sat there and asked him questions.
How did you do it? How did you have the confidence?
I thought about the tragic way his life was cut short. And felt silly for asking him anything, since anything I had experienced is nothing compared to his life. But still, I admitted to him, that while I don’t deserve it, I’d sure like this advice.
Can I do this? This writer thing?
I feel silly saying I did this. But it was a pilgrimage to connect to something deeper, some sort of literary history, to figure out if I’m crazy for doing what I’m doing, for wanting what I think I want.
I think it is important to find stillness and ask these questions. To a god, to a literary giant, to someone you’ve lost, to yourself. You’ll get an answer if you ask the question. It may not come in the form of words and a life plan, but in the form of a warmness, a feeling in the pit of your stomach, a sudden lightness in your breathe, in your step.
I made my way out of the cemetery, but it wasn’t easy. I was pretty convinced the ghosts wanted to try to keep me there, confusing me, sending me down more painful cobblestone paths to drain me. But then I found the opening.
I spent the rest of the night wandering more streets, eating cheese, reading, and drinking hot chocolate. And felt like myself. And at peace with that feeling.
We’re getting close to the new year. I’m watching friends and family achieve things, get married, have babies, buy houses. Lovely choices and happiness in so many forms. Seeing others’ choice can sometimes make you question your own. So make your own pilgrimage. Maybe not to Oscar Wilde’s grave (if you do, bring shoes that can deal with those cobblestones) but to a place with the energy that will help you focus and ask that question that’s burning in your mind.
And then listen for the answer.
This is may be a trick. I’ve been tricking myself all summer long into thinking I had to accomplish a certain amount of writing work in order to call this arbitrary three months a success.
I usually don’t put so much pressure on summer specifically (on myself, yes, all the time) but this is the first summer I’ve had “off” since undergrad. This is the summer between my first and last year of grad school – a summer where my freelance work, my writing life, and my general mental health was all up in the air. So my list of projects to “finish” grew and grew.
What does this have to do with endings?
As I playwright, I feel like I’ve generally got a knack for endings and for striking images at the beginning. It’s, of course, the middle part that gets muddy.
I love writing endings. I usually know exactly where I want things to go, or at least the emotional weight or the image that a play needs to land on. It might end up shifting around, but when I start something, that ending is already a glimmering oracle on the horizon.
So this is why my summer got messed up. I had a beautiful ending planned: finish this play, rewrite that one, write that screenplay, finish that novel, write this short screenplay, finish the short story collection…I have ALL summer, so what’s wrong with that ending?
The problem is really that it is a false ending. That summer and your writing life doesn’t follow a three act structure and sometimes you have to build self-care time into things (which is not interesting to watch) and you have to put in the hard work and the starts and stops and frustrations. You have to really factor in how much TIME all this stuff takes. None of which is fodder for dramatic entertainment. But all of which is life.
My summer started when the production of my play Wood Boy Dog Fish ended on June 24.
Then I slept for a couple weeks. I felt lost. The constant panic in my chest had gone and it had been replaced with dread.
Then I went to the Sewanee Conference in Tennessee for two weeks as a Playwright Fellow. Met some amazing people I hope will continue to be friends throughout our careers. Then I drove around for five days by myself and experienced the weirdness of Tennessee.
Then I got back to LA. Did freelance work. Stressed out. Didn’t write much. Some screenplay stuff. Some rewrites for the new Rogue Artists Ensemble show I’ve been writing with Diana Burbano and Tom Jacobson.
Ate too much cheese.
Cried some more.
Panicked that I hadn’t finished my long list of writing.
And now, as I’m writing this, I am waiting at LAX to fly to France – surprise! Not something I had planned on. A twist ending. A short puppet play of mine is a finalist for the UNIMA call for young writers, and they invited the finalists to come to Charleville-Mézières, France for a paper theatre workshop, a reading, and the award ceremony. So I said…sure. Let’s go.
Because sometimes twists just show themselves and you end up following that path you didn’t see until it was right there.
When I fly back on September 25, my second year of grad school will start two days later and my summer will officially be over. This summer “play” (re:my life) began in bed sleeping off the hangover of the past 9 months, and staring at fire flies in southern humidity. It will end in Paris. It doesn’t actually make any sense. This play would be ripped apart in workshop.
But its a false ending. Because nothing is over. The summer is just three months. And things happen in the time they happen, and when you force a something (a play, a life) to work in a way it is just not capable of working, you’ll get stuck, staring at the page. And crying. And eating too much cheese.
I intend to eat quite a bit of cheese in France.
And as far as endings go, even false ones – that’s not too bad.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
Here’s the thing. We all want our plays to mean something. In political times like these (or, if we’re being real, at just about any political time ever), the writer stands at the precipice of a canyon of noise and anger and disruption. And we think – how can I possibly make a blip in this mess?
As both a marketing person and a playwright, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince people about why a play is “relevant” – and more than that, why theatre is “relevant” – and why they should spend this amount of money and this amount of time buying into a false reality and be moved in some way, to be challenged or questioned.
It is exhausting.
In our struggle to be “relevant” (a word I might actually despise right now) – we playwrights sometimes produce “message” plays – plays that tend to hit on a topical conversation (gay marriage, terrorism, gun control, abortion) but not only hit on it, hit it right on the damn nose. There’s usually a moment when the playwright-thinly-veiled-as-a-character has a speech that describes why their view on the topic is the correct one. We all have one of these plays because the topic is important to us, because we are trying to be heard above the noise, because goddamnit, art can mean something.
The problem with message plays is that they tend to preach to the choir. My opinion is not going to be changed because you deliver a monologue in my direction. Chances are, if I’m in the audience of your message play, I already agree with you. It’s the algorithm. It is everywhere.
But, I will question my point of view if you give me characters I can relate to and love, a situation that is relatable or complicated and tense, and a slice of humanity that perhaps I had never considered before. Show me the grey area I’ve been ignoring. I might not change my opinion, but perhaps now I can see through the clutter and the postulating, all the way to the person on the other side.
Theatre has to work harder, to be more than a Facebook or Twitter argument. Give me a message, but dip it in character and setting and poetry and beauty and darkness and comedy first. Coat it on thick, pull all the threads together, and make me swallow it with a smile on my face or ugly tears in my eyes. And I will digest that message over the next day or week or months or years – I will feel it there, even if the words don’t come right away.
I don’t want a thesis statement. I don’t want to be able to describe in a sentence what your play was about after I’ve walked out. Make me feel it, show me what its about. Audiences are smarter than you think. Make them work. Even when they are being entertained, put them to work. This is not a passive art. It is not a passive life. We cannot be passive.
Here’s the thing. There are plenty of people out there who say that art is irrelevant (and plenty of those people are in power right now), or that they don’t take meaning from art and that art is not there to mean something. But art always means something, even if you don’t realize what it is telling you. We consume stories and art constantly, even if we never step foot in a theatre.
So I suppose all plays are message plays. But it is how we choose to frame it that makes the difference. Take your message and frame it in different ways. See what life it takes on.
We cannot measure our worth as writers based on the number of minds that are changed after two hours of the theatre. Minds are far too stubborn. Instead, we should challenge ourselves to let our hearts explode onto the page and the stage, and hope somehow, somewhere, a shard of the heart lodges into another person, and you are intrinsically linked for the rest of your lives.
The world is changed by marches and strikes and wars and protests and hitting the pavement, but also by one shard of one heart in one stranger.
Here’s the thing. It is exhausting. It is indescribably messy.
And it is always relevant.
I’ve been having a lot of conversations with fellow playwrights and students about the demands put on a new play. There can only be such-and-such amount of characters. There can only be this many locations. There can be only this amount of demanding tech requirements like puppets or sets or costumes or music (see: zero). The play must address this or that “issue” and let’s make sure there’s a long speech explaining exactly what that issue is and how we should feel about it.
Here’s the thing. The plays that get me excited tend to scoff at all these rules. They have just as many characters as they should have. They go to far away locations and very intimate spaces. They have puppets and video and music and sets that break your heart. They are about something, sure, but they don’t cram it down your throat. They have spectacle or sometimes they don’t – whatever they have is in service to the story. If it needs an empty stage or a ten foot puppet – great. Bring it on.
The plays I’m talking about are the “impossible” plays. And so often in MFA programs and the like, we’re told we have to keep our imaginations and character lists in check. Don’t go too crazy, we’re told – you want to get produced, don’t you?
In undergrad, as I was working on my first one act play, I found myself thinking as a director or producer. In my play , there are day-dream sequences – the main character can’t express her emotions clearly to a friend she’s with as they are waiting for a train at Union Station – so she goes into fantasies. And crazy things happen in these fantasies. And I was scared of them.
Mostly I was scared someone would read it and say “there’s no way to do that on stage.” And then the play would never have a chance. I wrote a fantasy scene in which she sings a song and it starts raining and there’s a orchestra comes on stage or something – and I wrote long stage directions explaining to the reader exactly HOW they could do this easily and simply. I wanted to make sure they knew it was possible.
My teacher at the time, Naomi Iizuka, seemed to know exactly what I was doing. She pointed that scene out and told me to relax, to not feel like I have to do the work of the directors and designers. She said to not be afraid to write “the impossible thing” for the stage. If it needs to rain, say it rains. If the whole theatre needs to turns inside out, then write it. There is always a way to do it. If it is important to the story, it will happen.
And that’s when I let go and began to write that way. My first full length play had a sea monkey and a guardian angel, and an invisible friend for characters and the play was called 99 Impossible Things (see what I did there?) The show I’m working on now opening May 12, Wood Boy Dog Fish, has an underwater dance with fish. It has a marionette show. Kids turn into donkeys. A puppet comes to life. Someone dies, someone is burned up, a trip in a carnival ride is the climax. It is completely impossible. And yet. And yet.
And I’m not saying every play needs spectacle and chaos. Some plays need a living room. Some plays needs an empty chair. But some plays need the Abominable Snowman or upside down world or a runaway train. And that’s okay.
Do me a favor. Don’t be afraid to write the impossible play. Because it doesn’t exit.
There’s a system to these things. You sit in a room alone and create something. Let’s call it a “play.” If you’re lucky or have some friends who will hang out with you for some free pie, you get actors to read that “play” either in your living room or in a little black box theatre or a rehearsal room downtown. If you’re super lucky, maybe you get a “workshop” of the “play” where people walk around and maybe hold props or something. And then, if the theatre gods are smiling upon you, you get that premiere.
Most of the time, we’re stuck in a revolving door of readings and rewrites, with no premieres in sight. And if the premiere does happen, it feels as if everything is riding on that one production. One false step, and that’s the end of that.
The point of course is that a second production is often a unicorn. This is why the National New Play Network and Block Party and all that are so sought after. When the unicorn comes around, it is a gift for the art-making.
I’m in the middle of rehearsals for a show I wrote with Rogue Artists Ensemble, Wood Boy Dog Fish – a dark reimagining of the Pinocchio story first produced in 2015. As a playwright, this first production was unique and full of struggles. Though the company had been working on versions of the show for many years, the time from when they brought me on as the playwright and when we started rehearsals was about nine months. It was a very short gestation period in playwright years. The premiere was already looming. The “play” and I were never alone together. We skipped that entire step.
Rehearsals were lots of new pages (so many pages), rewrites in the room, changes to whole plot lines and concepts. I was tweaking up until opening week. And still. While we overcame a lot of obstacles in the way of the show, and created something to be proud of, it always felt like there were things we had to ignore or let go of because there wasn’t time. Because we were CREATING. When you’re giving birth, you’re not worrying about the name of the kid or whether they are going to like Spiderman or My Little Pony. You’re just hoping it enters the world alright and you both survive.
So now it’s round two. Wood Boy is rising from the ashes for a new production at the Garry Marshall Theatre in Burbank. Since 2015, I’ve rewritten almost every page of the script with the exception of maybe one or two pages in Act Two. We cut songs and added new ones (writing songs with composer Adrien Prevost is a joy.) Puppets and masks and costumes and props and sets are being reimagined, upgraded, polished. Dances are being tweaked and perfected and laser-tight on the storytelling. And we’re doing it with less rehearsal time, less prep time, even MORE obstacles, all of it. But there’s no longer a question of WHAT story we’re trying to tell, which is what premieres are so often about. Now we’re focused on HOW we want to tell it, and HOW to improve and deepen our choices from 2015. The choices, I think, are smarter now, more specific, more grounded in the heart of the play.
This path to a second premiere was not a traditional one, nor was the play’s birth, but I am learning how vital it is to the life of any new play. It’s all about the details now. It no longer needs me or any of us to figure out how to breathe. It’s ready to get out there and LIVE. I hope more theatres are willing to take chances on new plays – and if they don’t land right away, I hope they get a second shot. Don’t we all deserve one?
Rogue Artists Ensemble’s Wood Boy Dog Fish is being presented at the Garry Marshall Theatre in Burbank, May 12 – June 24. Info and tickets here!
This fall, I went back to school. After ten years of day jobs, late-night shows in black box theatres, publications of short stories in tiny journals, bad reviews and “oh-look-how-much-she-tried” reviews, and stealing office supplies and copy machine time from said day jobs (sorry, day jobs), I thought an MFA program was a real cracker jack idea. This of course meant I had to evaluate where I really am as a person and an artist – the least of which not being that I had to get the chicken pox vaccine in order to be allowed on campus because I had apparently never had it or at least it wore off at some point and we all know that chicken pox gets worse as you get older so I could have died, y’all. You know there’s got to be chicken pox hanging out with all the other diseases in those tiny light booths in LA black boxes. Died.
I also had to write my artistic statement (again). And I don’t know about you, but artistic statements / statements of interest are the worst part of any application to anything. My version of hell would be an eternity of writing new vision statements, probably while having chicken pox and listening to the sound track of the 1967 movie Guns of the Trees – an artsy, dare-I-say pretentious film I had to watch for a film studies class and which made me viscerally and irrationally angry. Welcome to grad school.
I made some shit up of course (can I say “shit” on the blog? I just did.) I got into school, but I was on the waitlist first so let’s not get too puffed up about it or the quality of my statement. I’m very good at almost-winning things. Lesson: I’m never anyone’s first choice but I’m making a career out of profiting off of other people’s passed up opportunities.
My statement is fine. But in my first quarter I really started to understand the different paths we are all on – and knowing where you are and not caring where someone thinks you should be. That’s the key to a real eduction (inside and outside the classroom) and probably a great vision/artistic/interest statement.
[Full disclosure: I’m actually in the MFA program for fiction. After being waitlisted for playwriting programs twice, I said a big “screw you guys, I’ll figure it out on my own” to the Theatre Gods, and that’s what I did. My fiction needed some love and attention. It always blows my mind how theatre and literature generally know so very little about each other – the communities really should overlap more. But that’s another blog.]
I’m learning to become a new kind of student. It’s grad school. It’s a terminal degree. Grades alone are not going to get me where I want to be. Any other straight-A students out there? This is a big shift in mentality. I am learning how to approach each class now with the mindset of growing as an artist and a person. I’m not here for perfect grades. I’m here to write. I’m tired of trying to figure out what someone else wants me to say – because, news flash, I’ll never get it right. So lets get back to what is true. And I think this mentality can be applied to any opportunity we are applying to that requires us to articulate how and why and who.
On That Note – Optional Themes For Your Next Artistic Statement: