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SHEBANG: When Your Art Does What You Wanted It To Do, & It Kinda Hurts

Like, hurts.

For the past eight weeks of my life, I have been blessed to direct SHEBANG: an all-female sketch comedy show written and created by us– a handful of 21 year old female college seniors.

The piece itself is incredible. We set out a lot of goals at the top of our process, and happened to hit every single one of them. Here’s a visual of what our goals looked like:

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We wanted to create a comedic piece that would push boundaries, incite change, and empower our audience to enter difficult dialogues about our present moment.

and seriously, objectively, it’s doing all of that. We are sticking to our goals and taking risks.

I know, because my feelings were hurt last night.

Last night, my high school theatre teacher saw the piece. This man has been my mentor and a father figure since I joined his summer camp at eight years old. One of my dreams has always been the day he would come see the culmination of my academic career, my senior thesis, and be so proud and elated of & for me.

Seating him, I was a little nervous. He has seen three Acting theses of his previous students at this school before and LOVED them–I’m the first Theatre Arts major thesis he’s seen, SHEBANG is totally it’s own thing, and I was already worried about the diversion/comparison that could be present. Then I was nervous, (as I have been with all family seeing the show) because there is some mature content and language used throughout, but I figured he could handle it well.

The lights went down, the show started, and my stomach dropped as I realized three fundamental truths at the exact same time:
Number 1: holy sh*t, he is here
Number 2: holy sh*t, he is our target audience
Number 3: holy sh*t, he is not going to handle it well

This man grew up in a military family, teaches in the town where he grew up, has lived in the same home for almost his entire life, and you can find him in the front row of church every Sunday. His heart is gold and he is the truest mentor I have ever had, still, his identity cannot be denied.

Our piece does not attack this identity. However, our piece presents an challenging viewpoint to probably most of his identity’s beliefs.
SHEBANG is a millennial skewering of every facet of our lives in the contemporary moment, where nothing and no one is spared. We satirize everything from ignorance to over-wokeness, sexuality and gender identity, age, race, politicians, civilians, all of it. The piece has a clear point of view, through our undeniably liberal 21 year old female lens, but we have been careful to never prioritize preachy over comedy.

After the show I stepped out to the world’s most supportive lobby– my friends and family hugged me and wept and surrounded me with so much love.

I approached my high school theatre teacher, who was surrounded by a group of current seniors from my high school (more on them later). He was talking to them with his arms crossed, and I walked up and hugged him and jokingly said “Don’t repeat any of the words you heard in there!”

My mentor, father figure, theatre teacher hugged me and said, “Straight white men are not the problem with America”. I said, with some sass, “Ahhh thank you, that was the artistic culmination of my last four years” He handed me flowers, side-hugged me again, and left.

And that was it.

No “Congratulations”, no “I love you” or “I’m proud of you”. Just the world’s most horrifying sentence to hear in response to my thesis (and in general), a hug, and gone.

I waited for the text that I’ve received after so many theatrical performances he’s witnessed. Something like “Great work tonight. Very proud.”

… and got none.

I think he hated my thesis. Seriously, genuinely, did not like it. I think if he listened to it, he may have derived some meaning and felt less attacked, but I think he stopped listening and made up his mind.

My dad and my stepdad are both straight white blue collar “townie” men, know NOTHING about theatre, and loved SHEBANG. They each had tears in their eyes congratulating me, recognizing my hard work and the art they had witnessed.

So why is it that this man, who taught me my foundation of theatrical knowledge, could not say a word about the merits of the piece? Like, besides the content, what about stage composition? I directed 27 different worlds. 27 transitions that are clear moments of storytelling and humor. Nothing. It all seemed to be lost in a wave of defensive frustration towards the content of the piece.

I am incredibly hurt and disappointed in this reaction.

Still, it’s better than neutrality.
This piece made someone upset. It stirred something in someone who disagreed. He literally could not put aside his frustration with the piece to verbally champion my hard work. That can only mean that our POV is strong and we are pretty much doing what we set out to do.

There’s a good part though. This is also the result of a strong POV:

Those aforementioned high school seniors?

It’s a group of young women I have watched grow up since they were about eight years old. I have watched them grow from feisty young girls to articulate and compassionate women.  They came to surprise me at my senior thesis, and. they. loved it. When I ran out into their arms and they looked at me with loving eyes and gushed their loving gushes and snapchatted me their loving snapchats, I knew I also fulfilled my other goal.

My entire hope with this entire thesis and in my entire life is to empower and inspire young women to wield their own power. The positive response I have received as I look into teary and excited eyes of young women and my female peers is everything I could hope for and more. I’m watching young women feel heard, and appreciated, and “I want to do that for my thesis” and the gratitude expressed for just putting five brilliant female storytellers onstage is overwhelming.

So, yeah. I guess my art is doing exactly what I wanted it to do. It feels really easy and really tough all at the very same time. And I think thats the whole point, right?

I will make a life around this.

#shebang

 

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Fear of Regression

I’ve always grown angry when tell me how much they rewrote the other night, or how many characters they cut out of their script after their last reading. I would always think, “Just because something is drastically different, doesn’t make it better.”

And I still think that statement holds true. However, I’m realizing how I’ve let that statement hold me back from taking a plunge into a down and dirty rewriting session. I’m so afraid that I’ll rewrite 80-pages of my play in a weekend, and then hear it aloud only to realize the play got worse, not better. I’m so afraid of failing bigger that I’m not really letting myself gain anything, either. I’m a top-notch coaster.

And I think that’s pretty common with early-career playwrights. I haven’t really figured out my voice or my audience yet, and I’m afraid that bad rewrites of an otherwise decent script will be the death to a career barely begun.

I’ve been thinking about what to do about this. I this newly discovered fear is indicative that I would greatly benefit from more experience workshopping my work as the playwright, rather than the dramaturg. It’s a level of vulnerability I’m not particularly seasoned in, as of yet.

I’ll keep sending my work out to any and every reading opportunity I find posted on the Playwrights’ Realm, but I think what this also indicates is that I need to host intimate reading series of my own. I think brunch readings in my future apartment once a month, with invited loved ones and prosecco will facilitate an environment where I can make big, scary choices and know I am surrounded by loved ones who are two glasses of prosecco in, allowing them to be equal parts honest and loving. I think if I can experience that feeling from the comfort of my living room first, in true postgrad style, then I can begin to edge myself towards that trust and comfort in professional reading situations.

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Fulfilling Day Jobs For Playwrights?

It’s no secret that playwriting in the American theatre doesn’t pay the bills. I’ve made peace with that fact, and in fact find that a really compelling challenge in not taking advantage of my creative free time.

Here’s a question though, you great, wide, interwebbed world: what’s a decent first-job for a playwright?

I’ve heard of some playwrights working as receptions. Some pick up temp jobs. Annie Baker was a fact-checker on  Who Wants to be a Millionaire?  That would explain why her plays are so meticulously detailed.

I don’t know if there is an ideal day-job, there are certain some less than productive. However, beyond writing for television, what are some potential jobs that a playwright/dramaturg would excel in beyond our field? What sort of day job opportunities would give us the biggest bang for our BFA bucks?

 

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Redefining, or Reclaiming, Family Lives in Theatre

I’m 21 years-old, an only child, and a single woman. I am the first woman in my family not to become a schoolteacher, not that I think there is anything wrong with teaching K-12, I just know I would be doing myself and my would-be students a disservice by teaching. I am the first member of my family to not be in a significant relationship by my age that eventually leads to marriage. I am the only, only-child in my family. I’m the outlier in my family, in every sense of the word. And I’ve never felt anything but gratitude for the support given in an otherwise unknown lifestyle.

As we edge closer and closer to graduation, I start to fantasize about where my life might be in one year, five years, ten years…

And something that never seems clear, or at times even possible, is the possibility of having a family. Which is not an element of my outlier-dom that my family is anticipating.

I’ve been acting professionally since I was thirteen, and I would often see my castmates more than I would see my own family. Throughout college we’re told that the only thing you cannot reverse in life is children. We’re also told that, especially as writers, our “salaries” for lack of a better term are going to yo-yo from year to year.

I have absolutely no idea if I would ever want a family in my life, that being some combination of a long-term partner and/or children, At this moment in my life I have no emotional holds dictating my personal decisions in life. My parents are thankfully in good health, I am not committed romantically, and I have don’t have any sentimental feelings towards any one place or position. I can literally pack my bags and take off at a moment’s notice with little else to worry about. But sometimes I wonder that if all I’m living for is my work five, ten years down the road, then am I really living a nourishing lifestyle?

I’m 21 years-old. I enjoy my life decisions to the fullest at the moment, and believe I am exactly where I want to be. But I think if theatre artists are going to tell the next generation of young adults that children are irreversible, I think we need to have some honest conversations, then, about what it really means to raise a family while balancing a theatre artist’s lifestyle.

What does a day in the life look like as a parent and theatre maker? How does this differ from your life before children? What were your expectations/concerns when planning to have children? Were these confirmed/denied once you had them? What advice do you wish you knew before making this decision?

Ultimately, my decision to ever have a family is mine and mine alone. If I’ve made it this far being an outlier in my family, I can comfortably continue to do so. But I think we are doing us all a disservice if we aren’t completely transparent about what it means to plan for a family when working in the arts.

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magic

 

i am sitting on a stack of platforms in room 109 watching my peers play an ever-growing game with an inflatable beach ball. they are trying to keep it in the air as long as possible. they have all turned into kids again, eyes going wide as the ball descends over their heads, their hands go up, tips of their fingers filling with energy as they hit it toward someone else. more people wanter into the circle, joining the game and picking up on the rules: don’t touch it twice in a row, don’t hit downward, wait for the ball to come to you. it’s so wonderful to witness. i’m sitting here, minding my own business, but suddenly i’m watching these people come alive and be here and in it and forgive me if this feels like a stretch but i’m watching something like theatre. isn’t it strange that we work so hard to capture what comes so naturally? i blink and there’s a simple, magic moment happening. and maybe i’m being preemptively nostalgic about all of this ending soon, and maybe it’s silly to think about it this way but it’s reminding me of how much i love this group of people. i think i’m collecting memories at this point, but i also think we’re all about to go out into the world and make some incredible art. and that magic i saw just now, i can’t wait to see it again and again and again and again and again.

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The Freedom of Instability

I have been thinking a lot about the instability of a “typical” actor’s career. The “typical” actor in a major market may or may not have representation; they freelance from project to project. An actor that craves stability may be a part of a company or troupe or perhaps they create their own content. I see myself being the former mentioned actor. I want to move from project to project creating an expansive network of connections and while also giving myself the ability to reassess my goals and progress between each bout of work.

As collaborative theatre artists, we gather our individual set of skills and talents around a single project. From the first draft of a project, it takes on a collaborative life that requires the time and effort of artists day after day. We have the privilege of diving deep into a story and in doing so we build and strengthen connections that inevitably seep from our professional endeavors into our personal lives. Then after then immense time and effort we spend with these people, we “close” or “wrap” and say goodbye. Simple as that. The project is over and our reason for consistently being in contact with one another is gone. However, we also have to opportunity to keep those connections alive. We can nourish the friendships we have made and in the strengthening of them we find opportunities to start new projects and let our collaborative art take shape again.

We also have the luxury of what I call the “artist vacation.” I think of this as the time in between projects in which an actor can reevaluate their goals and process. We have to opportunity to sit and reflect ever few months about what kind of art we want to make. We can be analytical and reflective about our career and then make conscious decisions about what to take on next. I do not know of many of professions with that freedom of trajectory. I find the instability of an actor’s career, absolutely freeing.

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Ambition vs. Skill

This weekend, I was lucky enough to be able to attend Jiehae Park’s master class with Company One at the Boston Public Library. The class was an hour and fifteen minutes of unending wisdom, but one piece of advice in particular stood out to me.

Park, whose play Peerless is currently running with Company One, spoke about a time in her life when she tabled a play because her skill did not match the ambition of the play.

This really struck me. As a playwright, I have a bad habit of abandoning my plays midway. I never mean to stop writing, I just put it aside indefinitely. While I think most of the time it’s because I need to get past a wall of some sort, but I think a few times it’s also been this matter of ambition.

I just wrote a play for my thesis. It was lovely, and the development of that story was immensely helpful for it’s future drafts. However, I think I’m going to table it for a while. This was not something I was happy to think about. But I feel like I need to work on my craft before I tackle this very ambitious play again. I think what I want it to be is going to be very hard for me to write at this skill level. And instead of writing kind of what I want this play to be, why don’t I get better at writing plays, and then write the play as it needs to be.

It was not a thought I had put words to before, and for that alone Jiehae’s master class was invaluable to me.

So, instead of diving into draft two, I’m off to start my next project. Happily so, because I have a lot of ideas, and soon I’ll have buckets of time to write them.