Sep 10, 2016
Off the Grind...
I have retreated a bit from the grind. The grind is what I call the ever-present need to keep getting work in front of people, to keep my name out there, to try to move the ball that is my career further down the field ( a very crowded, continually difficult, and perpetually younger field).
I am now nearly a year into my 40s and my wife and I are expecting our first kiddo this coming winter. I feel a change in my perspective, a shifting in my outlook and ambitions. I look back on the last 25 years of making theatre and realize I have accomplished some of the things that I really wanted, some things I thought I really wanted and a lot of just wheel-spinning achievements that ultimately didn't really move me very far in the direction I wanted to go.
And part of that dilemma is that I never really settled on what direction I actually wanted to go.
Starting out I just wanted to do. I wanted to make stuff, particularly theatre, of any kind, as most young artists do. Then, after some time, I wanted to see what I could pull off. I pushed hard against the limits of myself. The trick wasn't to do something of super high quality or of super high originality, but just to do it. To actually pull it off.
As I began to develop an original voice and explore different directions my artistic bent would take me, I leaned towards things I began to wear as badges of identity... solo performance, weird plays with kitsch factors, long-form improv.
Since the new year, I have produced two projects. I co-wrote (with my friend Jeff), designed, directed and produced a full-length play called NIGHT OF THE TARANTUBEARS. It ran for two weekends, had a great cast of actors that I genuinely enjoyed working with, was reviewed by one media source (positively) and was seen by very few people. It will probably not go anywhere. The other project this past June was the 3rd Annual Dallas Solo Fest. I brought in eight solo performers from around the country showcasing a variety of different kinds of one-person shows. It was marginally successful. Some shows kicked ass, some not so much. It had a solid opening weekend and then a pretty over-looked second weekend. It lost money. I will do it again next year... mostly out of spite. I refuse to end the DSF on a note of semi-failure.
As far as the amount of activity I have turned out, on average, year after year for the last two decades, this past year has been paltry. Paultry in the extreme.
I have one 90% finished play I wrote last year that was commissioned by a local theatre. I pulled it after the first few production meetings. It was too big for the organization, which was partly my fault for not keeping the scope of the organization in mind and partly their fault for not having their shit together. I don't know quite what to do with the play (except, you know, fine tune it and do some readings somewhere). I think about producing it myself for my small company Audacity, but I fear another world-premiere being overlooked again (i.e. in playwriting circles this means "wasted").
This summer I completed two other plays. I attended a writing retreat and worked up a full-length reboot of the first play I ever wrote, a one-act from 1996 called ARSENIC & ROSES (this new version doesn't have a name yet). It, too, is about 90% complete. Again, I'm not sure what to do with it. The other play is a ten-minute piece for a collection of holiday shows a tiny theatre group does every year. I've had a piece presented in it for the last three years. It is a fun, easy, low-stakes thing. There's a chance it won't be selected this year, but I hope it is.
I have two ideas that I will develop into works for the stage percolating in my brain. One a solo piece and the other a contemporary full-length tragedy. The tragedy has the potential to be part of the New Play Circuit, since it will tackle race, class, and other social-economic things that theatres seem to salivate over nowadays. It might be great or it might be crap. If it is great, it may put me on the map, or it might just be another in a long line of things I create that make absolutely no impact on the larger cultural landscape.
This raises the question: do I want to be part of the larger cultural landscape? I have been playing the "maverick theatre artist" so long, I can't even see the cultural mainstream any longer. I can't see why it is valuable, why I should go after it.
The thing is, I can't see any growth on the indie level any longer. I have practically self-exiled myself away from the bigger game. I have the chops now and the knowledge of my craft, but I'm tired of making things that make no ripples. But without getting in the game at all, I'm just that guy who "used to do stuff."
I'll just be on the sidelines, with all my chops and knowledge, not even using it.
I wish I knew what other theatres artists did, particularly playwrights. How and why they decided to enter the arena of American Theatre. Was that the goal, or was it a stepping stone to ultimately being a show runner for television? How'd they get an agent? How'd they get into residencies? Did they all go to Yale or Brown or Columbia? Did they all do the route of South Coast Rep, Playwrights Horizons, New Dramtists and so on? If so, how'd they get on that route?
Most of all, I'd wanna ask them, was it fulfilling? Did adding plays to the world, even if they are done Off-Broadway, Regionally or even on Broadway itself (they still do that, right?), did it give them the feeling that they were actually making a difference?
I can't tell anymore.
So, I'm taking this time to reflect, to settle under myself, to reformulate what I want to do in the theatre. What direction do I want to go?
I can't stay where I am.
I'm sure I'll get restless again. I'll get that itch to create, to get out there. I'll jump back into the grind. Until then, Imma just gonna try to figure some stuff out...