PLAYWRIGHTS AND THE STATE OF PERPETUAL HOPE

May 30th, 2016 donnahoke

 

If you clicked on this title, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the thing that makes us obsessively check our email because, at any moment, an acceptance could arrive—and what if we don’t see it immediately? The thing that makes us cough up fees—maybe even against our better judgment—because that opportunity could lead to a connection that makes a difference. The thing that makes us keep writing, and submitting and submitting and submitting even after we read that that same playwright just won another enormous cash prize. The thing that makes us believe “This play. This is going to be the one.”

 

 

It’s such a double-edge sword, that hope. One on hand, if we didn’t have it, we might not bother. Yes, there is joy in the writing, but, as playwrights, we also crave the joy that comes from sharing, collaborating. Desire for that imbues every word we write.

 

On the other, it can sometimes be difficult to sustain month after month, year after year. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that playwrights who’ve had productions—even lots of them—don’t feel the same way you do; it’s all relative. When I began working in magazines, I was thrilled to write product descriptions, and even more at my first byline. But then I wanted a story, an interview, a cover line, a cover story, and so on. Just as I sought greater challenges in journalism, playwrights also always have future goals—even as they realize how lucky they are to attain whatever it is they’ve attained so far. (I will concede that there is probably a tiny subset of playwrights [can Lin Manuel be a subset all by himself?] who may have reached every goal they ever had—but they’re still writing.)

 

That was a not completely irrelevant tangent intended to illustrate that there is no distance that separates playwrights: we’re all the same, all part of the same tribe, all understanding the same frustrations. You may look at the playwright next to you and think they have more, but you know what? They still feel the same. We all get each other, no matter the level any of us are at. It’s so important to understand that, more important to believe it. Because then you’re able to look at that playwright next to you and, instead of saying “It isn’t fair,” ask “What can I learn?”

 

 

This year, from plays and playwrights, I learned—among other things—how to think more like a producer, insert more action in every scene, be a better networker, let go the connections that don’t feel connective, handle adaptation rights, not be so attached to realism, and to remember that it’s always, always, always about the work. On Jerry Seinfeld’s web show, COMEDIANS IN CARS GETTING COFFEE, guest President Obama asked Jerry how, even with all his money and fame, he manages to stay grounded. Seinfeld answered: “I fell in love with the work.”

 

I fell in love with that answer (and maybe a little with Jerry).

 

Because what is the work if not the constant learning, growing, and practicing? I’ve interviewed a lot of playwrights, including some fairly big names—Stephen Adly Guirgis, David Henry Hwang, Pete Gurney, Suzan-Lori Parks—and the commonality with all of them is that they always want to talk about the work. No matter how much money and fame they have, they’re still most interested in the ways they’ve grown, the new challenges they’ve faced, what they’ve learned along the way, and the newest thing they’re creating. This isn’t a job you do if you don’t love it. And loving it doesn’t just mean doing it, it means wanting to get better at it, because you love it so much that you want to get better at it.

 

So what does all this have to do with hope? This: I realized—after finishing my tenth #PLONY (Playwrights Living Outside New York) interview, and hearing yet another playwright say that, even in times when not much was happening, s/he always just sat down and wrote the next play—that when I’m feeling discouraged, it’s usually when life is keeping me from writing. And that writing the next play does help. And it helps because I’m taking everything I learned from the playwrights I surround myself with and putting it into that play, which means I’m communing with the playwright universe as I type. Bliss.

 

And then I realized something else. If we love this—and like I said, we can’t do it if we don’t—hope isn’t something we actively try to sustain. If we’re doing the work, it’s a byproduct. It’s a passenger along for the ride for as long as you continue to drive. Sure, it nods off from time to time, but as long as you’re still writing, still learning, still making it about the work, there’s good news: it wakes up.

 

 

Please follow me on Twitter @donnahoke or like me on Facebook at Donna Hoke, Playwright.

Playwrights, remember to explore the Real Inspiration For Playwrights Project, a 52-post series of wonderful advice from Literary Managers and Artistic Directors on getting your plays produced. Click RIPP at the upper right.

To read #PLONY interviews, click here or #PLONY in the category listing at upper right.

To read the #365gratefulplaywright series, click here or the category listing at upper right.

Written by donnahoke

donnahoke

Dramatists Guild Council member and ensemble playwright-in-residence at Road Less Traveled Productions, Kilroys List and award-winning playwright Donna Hoke’s work has been seen in 40 states, and on five continents. Her full-length plays include ELEVATOR GIRL (2017 O’Neill finalist), THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR (Princess Grace semi-finalist, currently in its fourth year in rep in Romania), SEEDS (Artie award winner for Outstanding New Play), SAFE (winner of the Todd McNerney, Naatak, and Great Gay Play and Musical Contests), and BRILLIANT WORKS OF ART (2016 Kilroys List, Winner HRC Showcase, Firehouse Festival of New American Plays); she’s also authored more than two dozen short plays that have had hundreds of productions. Donna is also a New York Times-published crossword puzzle constructor; author of Neko and the Twiggets, a children’s book; and founder/co-curator of BUA Takes 10: GLBT Short Stories. For three consecutive years, she was named Buffalo’s Best Writer by Artvoice, the only woman to ever receive the designation.

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7 Comments on “PLAYWRIGHTS AND THE STATE OF PERPETUAL HOPE”

  1. 1 Sandra de Helen said at 1:19 pm on May 31st, 2016:

    Donna, You are a great resource for playwrights, while also being a terrific playwright yourself. I long ago bookmarked your site and often refer back to RIPP. Your insights on hope are spot on. We all must learn to share in each other’s joy, learn from every experience, and keep growing to keep going. Thank you.

  2. 2 donnahoke said at 3:16 pm on May 31st, 2016:

    Thank you, Sandra! I’m especially pleased that you still use RIPP. Once it was gone from promotional view, I was afraid nobody would ever see it. I do try to remind people once in a while that it does exist. Thanks!

    Donna

  3. 3 Jane Denitz Smith said at 7:37 am on June 1st, 2016:

    Donna, Talk about stars aligned!
    A playwright friend sent me your post within minutes of my receiving two (count ’em two) rejections in my in-box. But today’s a new day.
    There’s work to be done. And with that, hope. Thanks for these words.

  4. 4 donnahoke said at 2:54 pm on June 9th, 2016:

    You are so welcome, and thank you to your friend for sending you my way!

  5. 5 Adam Harrell said at 2:24 pm on June 9th, 2016:

    Hi Donna, I struggle with feelings of despair, envy and jealousy constantly, and I never seem to be able to gauge how “good” my work is compared to what’s out there. It can certainly feel daunting and almost cosmically cruel.

    However, most every time I am about to lose my faith you always know how to crystallize my fears as a playwright, making them easier to compartmentalize and examine. Thanks so much for being you and doing this blog. It is always renewing to read your words.

  6. 6 donnahoke said at 2:55 pm on June 9th, 2016:

    Thank you, Adam! I think we all need reminding of this from time to time, and writing it help me also to crystallize and renew my personal goals. This is one of the reasons I rally against posting every acceptance and production on the Official Playwrights of Facebook, because in addition to the clutter, it invites too much comparison, instead of focusing on the ways we are the same.

  7. 7 Adam Harrell said at 6:48 pm on June 9th, 2016:

    I couldn’t agree more. The postings just in my personal network have the same effect. It can distort your perspective.


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