Tag Archives: Work Play and Authenticity

Part 4 (or) In Which we Juggle…

I’ve always been a big advocate of “Competition of Self” – what I mean by this is that as I navigate the playwright’s landscape, I may see many people winning accolades that I myself covet, but I truly believe that the only course of action from such observations is to learn from these talented writers as I myself strive to top my last work with the new.  I may feel a flash of jealousy or of heartache, but I never think to myself “They won!  They beat me!”  Instead, I think to myself “DAMNIT!  (sigh) Alright… well, what can I learn from this writer so that I can do better next time?”

It’s one of the things that keep me sane.

But, in exploring this week’s train of thought, I have to ask myself who my scripts are in competition with…  It’s certainly not the brain-child of Sarah Ruhl or Martin McDonough!  While I like to think I write on par with them (don’t we all) and while I have been influenced by both, no theater in their right mind is currently weighing my playscript and one of, oh, say David Lindsay-Abaire’s, in their hands wondering “Gee, I wonder which we should go with.”   Because I’m simply not a big enough fish yet to be part of that kind of decision.  Instead, my scripts are sitting in piles with other “emerging” playwrights – those that have a few awards under their belts, but no BIG productions… yet.  We are engaged in silent battle for desk space and shelf space… We go head-to-head for literary manager’s time and interest…




We playwrights just aren’t present to witness the literary carnage.

And so, we send out scripts to various competitions, hoping that we’ll win a reading or a ribbon, or, if we’re lucky, some kind of travel or monetary prize… OR, if we’re really lucky, an airline ticket stuffed with cash all wrapped in ribbons and trade magazine announcements exclaiming our brain-child a total GENIUS…

Yeah, that happens.

But the point is, we hope we will win accolades so that we can use the 5-seconds of fame to edge out the other scripts in that “emerging” pile to the left of the Lit Manager’s elbow.  (The pile that sits depressingly close to the lip of the desk and the gaping mouth of the trashcan…)

So what happens when a theatre company run by someone like that first artistic director endeavors to fill slots according to a cross-cultural quota?    Does such thinking narrow the question from “Who’s the best playwright?” to “Who’s the best Latino playwright?  Who’s the best Woman playwright?” or “Who’s the best transgender-African -American-who-walks-with-a-limp playwright?”

And is it helpful?

I don’t know the answer… I wear enough hats to recognize that it’s overly complicated.  There have been times when, in reading a winning script, I’ve scratched my head and thought to myself “Jesus, I wish I had thought of this!”  And there have been times when I’ve looked over lists of contest winners that read like a United Nations meeting, but included plays that I had actually turned away for (what I perceived to be) poor writing.  I’ve been on both sides of the selecting and entering… and I still don’t have an answer.

Because I want to believe that the best man or woman will reach the stage.  I want to believe that if I keep growing as an artist, if I keep writing and dreaming and running this race, that my work will be recognized, produced, and applauded regardless of my gender or (lack of) ethnicity.  I want to believe that I will get there on merit…

But as a woman playwright who is all-to-aware of the numbers before her, I will also take any advantage I can get.

I will enter contests designed to honor female playwrights, and I will challenge any contest or theatre company that seems to eschew balance in (perceived) favor to male playwrights over female.  I will also look at a list like that one from the “UN” and sigh with frustration – What were the parameters of their evaluation if not totally and irritatingly PC?

Because I want it both ways.

And it all speaks to the one achingly human truth – no matter the rules or the designations, we are all of us reaching and scraping for the finish line.  It’s a business, it’s a dream, it’s a damned difficult trail.  We try to find the best shoes to get us there… sometimes they’re ugly, but if they get us there…

Well, more often than not (and no matter their “how”) we will defend those shoe’s merits to the death.

Because that goal, that gold, that rising above the tides to be seen, heard, my GOD, produced?  Doesn’t it seem built on a lot of hard spilt blood and tears all the same?  Isn’t it the mountain we look down on, and not our feet, even as we focus our eyes on the next looming peak?

(Tomorrow: Part 5 (or) Some and Summation )

Part 2… (or)… Rewind!

When I was an undergrad, I worked as a literary intern for a Los Angeles theater company.  The company’s mission was to produce work by Los Angeles writers.  I was put in charge of selecting plays for a fall festival of new work.  “Oh goodie!” I thought, “I can’t wait to meet these writers!”  And I proceeded to select a handful of plays that I thought exhibited the most talent and promise.  They were on varied subjects, three were written by men, two by women, one of the women was Latina, one of the men Japanese; all the rest were white.

When I sent an email to the artistic director with the playwright’s names and play synopsis, I received back an email exclaiming that my selection wasn’t diverse enough – why were there so many white men in the line up? – Along with a list of “diverse” playwrights to contact about putting in the festival; playwrights who I had previously heard of, but none of whom had submitted work to me.

I wrote back questioningly, “It looks like you have a quota in mind – are you asking me to fill these slots according to ethnicity?” Which elicited another bristling response “Los Angeles is a diverse community.  It has always been our intent to reflect that on our stages.  We have only once done an all white-cast play, and one of those characters was handicapped”


Needless to say, only one of the plays I had selected was for an all-white cast.

So I suggested that the artistic director’s intent be reflected in the company’s mission; maybe more diverse people would submit work and we would have a more colorful (and well written) pool of scripts to pull from in the future.

To say that the whole discussion was “awkward” would be an understatement.

Now… several things must be addressed if I am to be as objective as possible :

  • I am white. It is possible that as such, on a subconscious level, my predilection is for scripts by/for/about similarly pale-skinned persons.  I don’t think this is the case, as some of my favorite authors hail from different parts of the rainbow, but, nonetheless, it could very well be a factor for me in determining which plays I find exciting.
  • I am a woman. As such, my tastes may very well be different than a man’s, or, as recent studies have shown, I might be more critical of  women’s work than men’s… I certainly hope this isn’t the case, but it must be mentioned. Especially since, as I acknowledge in the following bullet point…
  • I am a playwright. What does this have to do with anything?  Perhaps nothing… or perhaps as a playwright, I have developed a certain style/taste and hold material to similar standards of my own work… perhaps I like best the work that I would like best to have written…   I couldn’t tell you.  Certainly I revel most in work that I look at with admiration – but is this admiration based on an internal, completely subjective scale?   Am I secretly lusting after white-centric plays because those seem to be what I write?

I bring these things to the forefront of my discussion because I think it is important  (if I am going to ask what I am about to ask) that I acknowledge what may be my own limitations as a script-reader.  It is important to acknowledge that while I am a heterosexual, white, female playwright, the artistic director was a homosexual, *non-white (I don’t want you all guessing who I’m talking about now), male director, who had a completely different perspective than I .

So who was I to argue for these “White man” plays?  Who was I to be reading for this company in the first place if our aesthetic was so off?  And, as a woman, should I have been pushing them on out the door with the same verve as my AD?

But, more importantly; who were wither one of us to host a new play festival of work we had to go out and ask for, when we had a mountain of engaging submissions from Los Angeles writers before us…  just because those submissions were from predominantly white playwrights.  And was I supposed to include (what I considered to be) weaker material, simply because it was written by someone more “representational” of LA?

Was it my job to go out and ask for new material from established writers of color simply to make our festival better reflect (in the artistic director’s eyes) the Los Angeles community?

Right, wrong, or in-between, what wound up happening is what usually happens when an artistic director makes a request – we shuffled and asked, and put together a line-up much more in line with his vision and much further from the material I’d been reading the past 6 months…  Meanwhile, I had to send “TBNT” letters to a handful of very qualified and talented writers, for no other reason than that they were too pale for us to produce.

Isn’t that a strange and odd turn of events?


(Tomorrow:  Part 3, or, The Angry White Woman…)

Eminence Front – The Who

I chose to preview the blog with this song by the Who, because I think Pete Townshend is an artist who’s embraces these … Work – Play – Authenticity

It’s work. We’ve all heard at one point someone refer to work as “another four letter word”.  Good.

Surprise. Work is good. Work is good for the soul. It’s the vehicle of expression of our essence. I think there’s a general negative attitude about the word in itself – “Work”.  I imagine the chain gang in “Cool Hand Luke”.  And do you remember Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in “The Shining”?


The scene:  Wendy discovers what Jack had been toiling over  –  pages and pages inscribed with a single phrase written into paragraphs and dialogue of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” This is the product of 4 to 5 months of work.  He comes upon her discovery, and she is the one freaked for being found out. Brilliant irony. He moves towards her with that Nicholsonesque menace (the eyes, the grin, the rage) and she backs away sobbing and weakly wielding a bat between them.  He tears into her with his guilt, “Have you ever thought about a single solitary moment about my responsibilities to my employers… Does it matter to you at all the owner have placed their complete confidence and trust in me?… do you have slightest idea of what the moral and ethical principle is, do you? Has it ever occurred to you what would happen to my future if I failed to live up to my responsibility?”

Whoa Jack. You’re taking all this too seriously. You’re identifying yourself a little too deeply with the man.

Fast backward to yesterday. Twilight. I am sitting at an outdoor cafe finishing the last few chapters of a book. I am enjoying the weather, the quiet idle of the day and watching people between the lines. A man in a t-shirt emblazoned, “Eat, Sleep, Play”. I didn’t pay much attention to it till this morning after I spoke with a fellow writer. I called to check up on him, because he missed class yesterday which was unusual. I wanted to find out if he was okay. And he wasn’t and I heard why. He was agonizing about not writing for two weeks.  He’s feeling the pressure of not having finished the memoir, and is disappointed that he doesn’t have a product when we are so close to the end of our workshop. I felt his anxiety, but I wasn’t prepared to indulge in a conversation that seemed inane of self-mutiliation. That wasn’t going to help this person get past the self pity and moving on with the work at hand.

I told him it’s okay to hit some bumps, but work through it. Stop beating yourself up over the past. Writing is visceral and cathartic and writers have to be good to themselves and realize when they need to stop channeling for a little while, or at least be aware when they’re not well (spiritually, physically and mentally) for the job at hand.  Do what’s necessary to be well again. Plus everything he’s doing outside of writing will also feed his writing.  Relax.

If we can change our belief that the work is play then maybe there wouldn’t be so much agonizing over the result and looking for a product. Play is not about product. Play is about being in presence of the moment. Is what I’m doing fun, inventive, new, authentic? Play is many things and right now the strongest association I have with play is authenticity. I ask myself for what purpose am I creating this. If it’s anything near close to the truth – the essence of me – it’s fun and it becomes play. But ‘working for man’ is not my essence. I do work for the man 5 days a week, and thank goodness I work at a place where the people are real. They have a passion for what they are doing and it shows in how they work and the byproduct of the process. I dream for the moment to see my play come alive on stage, but overall I am joyful and thankful when I’m writing, because my spirit demands it.

I leave you with thoughtful words from Roy Orbison’s song who’s gotta a plan to stop working for the man.

Hey, now, you better listen to me everyone of you
We got a lotta, lotta, lotta, lotta work to do
Forget about your women and that water can
Today were working for the man

Well, pick up your feet, we’ve got a deadline to meet
I’m gonna see you make it on time
Oh, don’t relax, I want elbows and backs
I wanna see everybody from behind

Cause your working for the man, a’working for the man
You gotta make him a hand when you’re working for the man

Oh, well, I’m picking em up and I’m laying em down
I believe he’s gonna work me into the ground
I pull to the left, I heave to the right
I oughta kill him but it wouldn’t be right

Cause Im working for the man, working for the man
Gotta make him a hand, a’working for the man

Well, the boss man’s daughter sneaks me water
Everytime her daddy’s down the line
She says, meet me tonight, love a’me right
And everything is gonna be fine
So I slave all day without much pay
Cause I’m just abiding my time
Cause the company and the daughter you see
Their both gonna be all mine

Yeah, I’m gonna be the man, I’m gonna be the man
Gotta make him a hand if I’m gonna be the man

Working for the man, a’working for the man
Gotta make him a hand a’working for the man