by Desireé York
Until I’m actually sitting in the audience and watching it with my own eyes, I don’t think I will truly believe that my play, THE PUPPETEER, is receiving a professional production this January! I can remember when it took its first steps as a short play in college six years ago. Since then it’s been expanded, transformed, torn apart, pasted back together and now, it’s finally all grown up, standing on its own and ready to begin a new journey.
Though many of us encounter the same road blocks, unexpected bends and dead ends, the path to production is unique to every playwright. For me, it’s the people I’ve met along the way who offered directions not only to navigate the obstacles, but find shortcuts, enjoy the detours and explore new destinations who made all the difference. They celebrated each step of the process with me, however small.
One of my first steps came with two college professors who recognized my passion for storytelling and nurtured it by creating a safe environment to take bold risks and fail – and boy did I fail! Thankfully, around the same time, I discovered the following quote by Ira Glass:
“All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you… It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.” (Click here for expanded quote.)
With that knowledge and the continued support of teachers, collaborators, friends and family, I persevered. But when I discovered that the heart of my work was grounded in social justice, I waivered again. I longed to advocate for women and minorities, but was afraid of misrepresentation. However, through one of the opportunities provided by my college to meet industry professionals, a serendipitous meeting occurred with a much admired African-American playwright whose work shared the same objective. When I told him my apprehension, he said, “You have to write what’s on your heart.” He challenged and inspired me to be true to my voice and fearless in my storytelling.
The next step was even more daunting: learning to self-advocate. Originally from a religiously conservative, small farm town in Pennsylvania, the idea of talking about myself was intimidating enough, let alone approaching complete strangers as an unknown writer. I knew the key was to find my tribe; a message readily preached at my university. Many of my classmates formed their own, but I remained an outsider.The most non-traditional of non-traditional students, I was over a decade older than the average freshman, recently moved to California with my husband who I had just put through college back home, and now it was my turn, after a fourteen year hiatus, to obtain not an advanced degree, but my bachelor’s… in theatre no less! Needless to say, I became the responsible older sister to everyone, but not one of the gang.
The first time I identified my tribe was when I attended an LAFPI meeting at the Samuel French Bookstore the year after my graduation. Suddenly I found myself surrounded by women of all ages who celebrated every voice and invited me to share my stories. This community of talented artists connected, advocated and emboldened me to jump headfirst into the crowd. I still get knots in my stomach at times, but take confidence in those who have blazed the trail before me.
Their steps have brought me here, so I celebrate this journey with each person who has and continues to walk it with me. I guess that’s why this next step, though a big one, feels like the start of a new adventure instead of an ending. Because I still have many more to take before filling that “gap,” but I can’t wait to travel the distance with each person I meet along the way.
Desireé York’s play, THE PUPPETEER, will receive its world premiere at the Detroit Repertory Theatre, running for ten weeks from January 9-March 15, 2020. For more information, visit: http://www.detroitreptheatre.com/thepuppeteer or www.desireeyork.com