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.
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.