A few days ago, my friend Melissa asked me when I’m going to blog again. I told her that I’m jaded and can’t think of anything to write about, which really means, “I’m jaded and can’t think of anything to write about because I’m disenchanted with the scene, discouraged by our superficial, stacked-deck hierarchy and am not sure I want to be part of a theater community, on or offline, that is unabashedly competitive and whiny and that sometimes appears to actually hate theater, if that’s possible, which I guess it is.” But I didn’t say all that.
Melissa responded by asking three questions, all of which began with “What to do…” I’m very glad she worded her thoughts this way because sometimes it seems that things are just sucky, and it’s so nice to be reminded that there’s always a what to do. DOING keeps the world spinning.
Her first question: What to do when we we feel jaded?
I’m still figuring this out. I suppose the answer is: stop feeling jaded and start feeling excited. If you’re like me, though, and you deal with things in your own slowpoke way, just proclaiming something to be true won’t work.
And so. When I’m jaded, I mostly focus on working harder than I was before. Work, work, work, even when it’s not fun. Since I’m an inward kind of person, I think a lot. I stare at the wall and try to figure out where the bad feelings are coming from. I curl up on friends’ couches and talk over wine or tea, I take long hikes, I journal and journal and make lists and journal. I remind myself of the genuine, flesh-and-blood friendships I have in the theater world, and I visit with them. I remind myself of all the places I’ve been. Every backstage, every shop, every dressing room and every rehearsal room. I try to collect these memories like snapshots: a big empty room full of strangers; tables full of coffee cups, water bottles and paper under florescent lights. Rehearsal props and different colored rolls of tape, late-night beers, arguments, note-taking and those many moments of joy when everything just works. Opening night parties. Twelve-hour days. Paint fumes. Stage fright. Saying a line and feeling the audience stop breathing. I remember all those times I realized, as I watched the lights go up, that I helped make that. Something that did not exist at all a month prior is now a whole world, and people I don’t know are watching it. This is very special. This is rare.
I make myself remember how it was at the beginning, when theater was the most exciting thing in the world. I cried every time I stepped into an empty house because this was a room that was alive! Those years lasted longer than these more recent years of cynicism and doubt, and deep down, I know the awe is still there. I still say prayers of thanks before every single show. I’m still here despite all the bullshit and dysfunction I’ve seen and felt in the professional world. I think maybe we all have—and you’re still here.
Why do you write plays, Self? Because it’s the most exciting thing there is when you love theater and you love to write and you love what can happen in rehearsal and on a stage. I’ve done almost everything a body can do in theater, I’ve been learning for a long time, and this is where I am, today, right now. If there’s anything they teach you in theater, it’s to always be present. I’m not there yet, but I’m trying.
So dear Melissa, why do you make theater? What made you love it in the first place? What did your rehearsal space in Spain look like, and if you looked out the window, what would you see? What did it feel like when you got your first playwriting award? What was it like, on a rainy day at SITI, to be at the front of the room and see something amazing happen? What’s written down in all those Moleskines of yours? To whom do you compare yourself? To whom might they compare themselves? Who are your true friends? They love you.
More to come…