Let me fill you in on a little secret: I haven’t been writing lately.
I’m just not into it.
I could blame the new baby (who is a precious bundle of awesomeness) because, come on, he takes up a LOT of time and he wakes up at least once a night to demand I feed him with my body (being a human is weird). But blaming him would be kind of disingenuous because I have found plenty of time to create a number of dumb and ugly doodles that I share on Instagram, so obviously that’s time I could have been putting into my craft…
I could blame my teaching load, but that wouldn’t be fair either because—although time-consuming—being a college professor gives me way more time to be creative than my old freelancing and adjuncting life did, and I managed to get a LOT of writing done then.
I could blame the world…
Actually, that’s it.
Because, well, the world is kind of a hot flaming mess right now, isn’t it? And, well, if I’m honest, I’m just not sure words are capable of putting the fire out.
I love writing plays. I love telling stories. And I think I do it pretty well (let’s not talk about how much I suck at the whole “Getting my work in front of people” part though). Almost all of my works center on messy humans dealing with the complexities of being alive today, but—even if they were getting produced on stages around the world (Dear Universe, I wouldn’t mind it!)— would they DO anything to help the world?
I don’t know.
Maybe I’m having a bit of a mid-life crises about the purpose of theatre, and about the value of toiling away at scripts intended to land a production so that I can talk to people through characters and metaphor about things I think are important.
What would happen if I just talked to people instead?
A few weeks ago I did just that.
I went to a local library board meeting at the behest of a FB post notifying us that a republican group was planning on storming the meeting to demand the library stop hosting an All Ages Drag Show. I got so fired up about it that I wrote, essentially, a spoken word piece that I then read when my name was called to speak. The issue wasn’t even up for a vote that night – it’s a popular event that already happens! – but there were a number of us there that night whose aim was to prevent the speakers of intolerance from winning the mic.
It felt great.
Not only was I able to take speaking time away from indignant and ill-informed haters that night, but I felt a sense of community amongst the rest of the drag show supporters that was incredibly uplifting.
(I should clarify here, I have been to the All Ages Drag Show and found it to be very fun, but I am not a part of that community—just a fan. The community I felt in the board room was of the kind created by a group of people standing together against intolerance.)
And this feeling of community got me thinking: Does theatre create community? I mean, outside its walls… We say it does. Hell, there are theatres all over the country who call themselves community theatres. And I believe fervently that the theatrical community to be found within those walls is a wondrous, loving, crazy, and invaluable sort—but it’s a rare thing to see a theatre create community beyond the theatremakers/volunteers who make the “product” that those theatres “sell”.
Rather, it seems like most theatres have a primarily transactional relationship with their communities: More of a “We think you’ll like this show, so please buy a ticket! And while you’re here, maybe you want to buy a season pass/some theatre merch/a season program as well?” type of relationship. Theatres offer talk-backs and talk-forwards, and try to select seasons of work that will get more people to buy more tickets… but what are they doing to build community beyond the theatremaker kind?
And aren’t most audience members tjust here to see the show, have a glass of wine, and leave anyway? Maybe they’ll talk about the show with their friends, recommend it to their co-workers, but they sure do like to bristle at the neighbor who unwraps a cough-drop mid-show. They growl at the young couple who dares to bring their children along. They glare at the student who arrives late. They chastise the women who laugh too loud…
That’s not community.
And I really think, now more than ever, that we need to cultivate a greater sense of connection and community within AND without our theatrical structures.
But that’s a hard thing to do when you’re just a playwright.
Fortunately, I’m not “Just” a playwright…
I’ve been really fortunate to get hired at Iowa State University where we have dedicated our 2019-2020 season to work by female playwrights. Not only that, but we’ve hired female guest designers and directors, and we’ve created an entire symposium to look at/discuss gender equity. We’re also dedicated to gender parity in our season selection moving forward, and are participating in Jubilee next year. We’re doing the work, and we’re asking some big questions about theatre and citizen artistry along the way. I’ll talk about more about our work in my next post. But it’s an exciting place to be teaching, working, and building community.
I’ve also organized a series of initiatives through Protest Plays Project and Little Black Dress INK (I’m the crazy person behind both orgs) that address social issues. I’ll talk more about our latest project later this week. But both of these parts of my life allow me to do more than just scribble words… they help me connect and build community with other playwrights and theatremakers, and the kinds of work we are doing invites audiences to take action with us. It’s exciting.
There are more ways I’m working on taking action as an artist and a human, but I honestly don’t have enough time to write about all of it—what with the new baby and all 😉
But I encourage you to hang in there with me this week and to think about how you can do more with your words, your voice, and your actions, dear playwrights. I promise I’ll ask some good questions for you to ponder.
And if you’re wondering, here’s the statement I wrote in support of the All Ages Drag Show at our very awesome library:
Fear is a powerful, and primitive, human emotion.
So is love.
Fear alerts us to the presence of danger.
A safety mechanism, designed to keep us safe from peril.
Fear helps us survive…
Love, a safety mechanism in itself,
Gives us reasons to survive.
And unlike fear,
Love… Well, Love helps us to thrive.
Biochemical or Emotional, both fear and love ride our senses hard, confusing and elating us.
Biochemical responses are universal.
We all know the feeling of a heart pounding, of sweat dripping, of stomachs dropping…
Is it fear?
Is it love…
How can the two look, feel, taste, so similar?
Emotional responses are individual.
So what you,
and I fear,
What you, and you, and you, and I love…
The pieces of this world that create our biochemical and emotional responses –
Are rarely exactly the same.
It is a universal truth that we are none of us guaranteed to agree.
But we have built a society which allows for this difference,
A democracy built on the notion that there is no ONE right way to BE.
Because it is vital if any of us wishes to thrive,
That we continue to allow individuals to be
A community that celebrates the individual is a community centered on love.
A community that celebrates only one type of individual? The “Right” kind of individual?
Well that’s not love.
That’s not community.
That is fear in action.
That is fear in control.
That is a community in crisis.
We are all of us here tonight sharing biochemical reactions, though the reasons are different.
My heart pounds because I do not want to be party to a community where you are not free to be you, and I am not free to be I.
Where the deciders of WHO can BE, use religion or politics to outline what is “CORRECT”
My adrenaline surges because to hear how ferociously some are willing to condemn others creates in me a palpable fear…
A fight or flight kind of fear…
That those who want to condemn are unwilling to open their hearts to the love in this room
In this community
In the hearts and souls of those who have been finding and building community through an
All ages drag show.
I will not fly from this issue.
We will not fly from the community that has been built here.
Those of you who are in the room tonight
An all ages drag show:
Have you become fear junkies?
By a party that uses fear to separate and alienate and attain power through division-
Do you really think that diversity in your community means you can’t continue to be you?
That by allowing others to celebrate their individuality
You are somehow losing out?
Let me share with you a secret…
You are not losing anything.
But by trying to take this away?
An event born of incredible love and joyfulness and inclusivity?
You are the takers.
Aiming to create absence in the hearts and lives of others.
I’ll share another secret with you:
The adrenaline you feel in pursuit of punitive action-
The adrenaline you feel while attacking that which is different from yourself
Is NOTHING like the adrenaline of love.
The adrenaline of putting aside warring labels,
—Democrat vs. Republican, this kind of Christian vs. that kind of whatever—
In order to reclaim the I, the ME, and the US in this room?
The adrenaline of deciding to be a community of love
And to let go of fear…
Of the hate that fear sows
Of the intolerance that fear grows-
That is the biochemical
Of a healthy
And that is what we should all be working towards