This past weekend I was invited and brought to Atlanta by the Alliance Theatre as a “welcome home” celebration for the tenth anniversary of the Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition. I was a finalist in 2007. It was a bit of a whirlwind that it’s taken me a bit to process it. I wanted to write a blog post each night to document my thoughts, but just couldn’t condense everything I had experienced. I still haven’t completely digested. It didn’t help that Saturday night I got sick because my body hates me. That’s the only logical explanation. Now I want to write a play about someone who’s at war with their body. But that’s not this post.
There were over 20 past finalists and winners who were able to attend. We got to see Madhuri Shekar’s play In Love and Warcraft, which stayed so wonderfully in the light when it could have easily gone dark. Not every play has to jackhammer to the depths of human existence. That’s not to say the play wasn’t deep. I mean on a tonal, subject matter level.
Several of the other attendees have posted their thoughts about the weekend on their respective blogs. Some that I found were from the delightful Megan Gogerty and Martín Zimmerman. (Martín’s very prolific on his blog. You should check out his new post about writing blindfolded. I want to try it, but I am scared of my typing abilities.)
We had mini-conferences about our artistic processes, working in academia, working in TV (Kenneth Lin is a writer on "House of Cards" currently… Wait… Season two starts in TWO DAYS! There goes the weekend.), how institutions can help new plays be developed, writing plays for Theatre for the Very Young (when they say “very young,” they mean it. My 17-month old would be eligible to participate next month!), and that’s not going into all the side conversations that took place.
I came away with a lot of questions for myself, mostly from side conversations with Megan. I’m going to write a list. I have no answers right now. If you have answers, please give them. Please.
What does it mean to be a playwright in the midwest? (Kansas, Iowa, Ohio)
Can you have a playwriting career if you’re a playwright in the midwest? You know, one where the majority of your income comes from playwriting? And by majority, I mean at least 50.000001%.
What does it mean to be a playwright with a family? If you have a family, that means that certain residencies are right out (PoNY Fellowship, the Jerome at The Playwrights’ Center). I can’t be away from my family for a year. My wife can’t pack up for a year. My wife will have her PhD very soon and a job very soon and I will gladly, happily, proudly, ecstatically follow her to wherever that job is. So, if those residencies are out, what are the alternatives? What are other ways to get going, get noticed?
What is the difference between the fear that motivates and the fear that paralyzes?
What if your work simply isn’t “good enough?” Could you tell? Would someone tell you directly? Or are you being told passive-aggressively through rejection letters? Or are the very sweet and complimentary rejection letters (there are some I’ve received that I would love to use as quotes on my website!) actually validation? Can a bad playwright know they are a bad playwright? Or, is it like the Sixth Sense (SPOILERS) where Bruce Willis doesn't realize he’s dead? I can rephrase Haley Joel Osment’s lines as “I see [bad playwrights]. Walking around like regular people. They don't see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're [bad].” I don’t want to be Bruce Willis. For many reasons.
How do we get better? How do we become better writers? How can we do it without large institutions providing all the money, readings, workshops, and productions? How can we do it without each playwright running out and starting his or her own theatre company to produce their personal work? How can we do it as colleagues? As friends? As supporters? As dramaturgs? As literary managers? As artistic directors? As family?
Those are the questions that have been running around rapid-fire through my brain since this weekend.
And now, as I rush off to get ready for my day job, I wish you all well.
May we all be better writers today than we were yesterday.