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Don’t Give Up the Ship

For the past few months, I’ve been intensely afraid. I think you know why. Especially over the past two and a half weeks, I think we all–and by we I mean all people with hearts in this country–have been feeling anxiety creep over our skin. The bad things have always been here, but now they are writing executive orders a whole lot faster.

In the face of this, I have to keep reminding myself that courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the presence of fear matched with the willingness to overcome it.

I titled my new play Don’t Give Up the Ship before the mess that was the election had begun. And Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry proclaimed those words into the waves of Lake Erie more than two centuries ago. But somehow the phrase–and the play–seem more crucial to me now, like these terrible times are the prism that crystallizes the light. And as I’ve been in rehearsal these past few months, I keep reminding myself to follow my characters’ examples. To not give up the ship.

DGUTS follows a middle-aged mother named Diana as she takes on the identity of Commodore Perry–an 1812 war hero–and navigates 2017 through her command of this lens, claiming more power over her own world than she ever had as “herself.” Over the course of the play, she uses her fierce storytelling powers as Perry to create a naval battle in her bedroom, fight pirates with a Swiffer, and charm her nurse Lizzie into a sweeping romance a la time-bending lesbian Pride and Prejudice. By crafting a new identity for herself, she finds the courage to come out to her adult daughters and reveal the ability to overcome that has been inside her all along.

I always learn from my characters, both during and after the writing process–after all, there’s just a little of myself, of every human, in each of them. From Diana, I’ve had a much-needed reminder of a few key truths:

  1. I have power over who I want to be. Will I transform into an 1812 war hero? Probably not. But just as Diana wakes up one day and showcases her confidence and fearlessness, so can I. We each have the power to shape–and to reveal–our selves, our best selves, at any time.
  2. Storytellers have great power in times of adversity. One of the most fun parts of DGUTS is watching Diana decide what the narrative is, stick to it, and invite others to follow her command. Sure, the bad guys can do that. But so can we. We, the artists, need to hold (and revel in!) our power.
  3. It is possible to thrive through conflict. I watch Diana (played by the inimitable Alex Alexander) navigate rough seas in her personal life and in deadly battles that determine the fate of our country. She’s scared. And she’s uncertain. But she also recognizes the power that she has to fight back, to craft her own world. She has courage, and courage in the face of adversity is one of the most beautiful things on this planet.

DGUTS opens this weekend with Fresh Ink Theatre, directed by Joshua Glenn-Kayden. I’m headed into a new stage of my career with my first professional premiere. But most importantly, I’m headed into a new stage of my life where I take fear on and don’t look away, where I recognize that my role as a storyteller and a human is more crucial now than it ever has been.

I invite you, fellow storyteller, to join me. Forgive yourself for your weaknesses. Decide to reveal or create your strengths. Embrace the courage, the joy, that lives under your skin next to the fear. And as Diana yells into the wind: Don’t give up the ship!

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