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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Is It Enough?

I've been somewhat lax about posting this week, a trend that might continue for a while as I struggle to get my two feet back on the ground. I'm discovering the downside of temping - that is, when your assignment ends, then you don't have a job. Today marks day three of sitting on the sofa in my jammies, wondering if I'll have the opportunity to make money again before the rent is due. You'd think that this would be optimal time for blog-writing, but alas, process of switching between applying for jobs and worrying about applying for jobs has occupied nearly all of my time.

It's the kind of gray day with no rain, just that ubiquitous chilly mist, that, on days when I do have responsibilities like work and shows that drag me out into the elements makes me curse the heavens and wish for nothing more than to be curled up on my couch with a blanket, a mug of hot tea, and maybe the 6-hour BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice. What am I saying here? "Appreciate the opportunity you've been given"? or "Be careful what you wish for"? I don't know.

Anyway, on to something a bit more topical. I've been following the response to this post in the HowlRound blog, wherein Mat Smart posits that playwrights who fail do so simply because they're lazy and/or untalented.

All right, I'm not a playwright, but I think I can extrapolate to the theater sector at large here. This ruffles my dander a bit, partly because it is somewhat inappropriate to declare the system to be fair when there are clearly issues of race, gender at class that stack the deck. I mean, come on, Mr. Smart - just take a look 50/50 in 2020 for a quick sec and then come back and talk to me when more than 25% of professional opportunities are going to women. Of course gender inequality is only the tip of the iceberg - it's just the advocacy group that I happen to be involved with. But I'm not going to dwell on that, because Isaac Butler and Joshua Conkel have done a more than adequate job responding to that particular grievance.

I also want consider the fact that this post rankles because, well, I pretty much have a running inner dialogue telling me exactly what Mat Smart is telling me here. I'm too lazy, I'm not talented enough.

Isaac Butler quotes the following passage from the original post,

You have to love the actual working on the thing—the actual writing—so much that there is an inevitability about it all. Every day you spend six hours writing, eight hours temping, three hours sending business emails and you know it’s not enough. You’ve had a ton of workshops at fancy places where you’ve stayed up all night writing for weeks on end. You’ve finally integrated that big note. It is not enough. Writing a play, revising it, really working on it, staying open to the good and bad criticism, really reworking it, getting it out there, seeing it through to production, dealing with poor casting, weathering pans or rave reviews, reworking it, getting it done again, reworking it, repeat for the next script, repeat— all this is an act of love. It has to be. In the end, our approach to our own work is the only thing we can control—and I believe that you have to love the doing. You also have to love the chase, love the absence of any resemblance of fairness, justice, or due course. And as long as it doesn’t make you too desperate or crazy—there is a nobility in this endurance, in this brand of foolishness. There must be a sense that “I am going down with the ship.” And frankly, it is a commitment that I don’t see many emerging playwrights make.

And then says,

I actually agree with Smart about much of the above, but to me this is simply a list of symptoms that the system is broken. Any system that requires you to work seventeen hours a day all year long on the basis of "love" is a system that doesn't work.

I have to admit, reading that first paragraph by Smart sort of terrified and saddened me. I have made, and continue to make, a lot of sacrifices to theater. I have dedicated a lot of my time to the pursuit of both the art and the profession in my life. But Smart's essay makes me ask: do I do all that? He says, "Every day you spend six hours writing, eight hours temping, three hours sending business emails and you know it’s not enough." Well, I know Smart is probably hyperbolizing for effect, I know he probably doesn't spend every day working seventeen hours (he is hyperbolizing, right??) And there have certainly been days like that in my life, but they haven't been every day. The more common days have been the days that I've come home from waiting tables or temping, rehearsing or seeing shows or reading plays, knowing I could do more, that there is more to do, but watching TV instead because I am just tired. But the question nags at me: have the former type of days been numerous enough? Do I need to work harder? Am I just too lazy?

The commitment that Smart speaks of, the "I am going down with this ship" mentality," that he doesn't see in enough playwrights is a commitment that I don't know if I can make anymore. I know there was a time in my life when I could, and did, but now? I simply don't know.

Am I a traitor to my art? Am I the kind of fair-weather amateur that is the reason that someone saw fit to write such an article in the first place?

That doesn't seem fair. I love theater. I've loved it longer and more constantly than anything else in the world and I would be a lost soul without it. Butler doesn't think it's fair. He says, "Any system that requires you to work seventeen hours a day all year long on a basis of 'love' is a system that doesn't work."

But at the same time, the system doesn't work. So... where does that leave me?

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Leigh. I agree with so much of the above. Between my 45 hour a week day job, my marriage, social life, being on the board of a theater company, and writing - where's the time for life?

    I don't believe for two seconds that Mat Smart works 17 hours a day every day, and even if he did, that's not a sacrifice I or most people are willing to make for "love". It doesn't leave room for any other forms of love.