Two big things happened last week. I finished a final rewrite of a play and I renewed my Dramatist Guild membership.
This will undoubtedly shock those of you who remember the subtext of my 2005/6 Gasp entries: I quit. I quit theater. I quit playwriting and by the way, fuck off.
So what happened to change my mind?
My intention in writing War is Kind was to heal my relationship with theater. I was in such a bitter, angry, depressed state that I couldn't quit completely - at least not at that point. I wanted to leave it all behind. Indeed, leaving NYC meant leaving theater behind as well. Good riddance.
But the residual emotions tethered me to it. I couldn't leave it on bad terms. I had to go back to theater to see if it was me or thee.
The good news: It wasn't me.
When I finished the play, after a tremendous amount of work, I discovered that I wasn't the problem. What I wrote wasn't the problem. Theater was the problem. The model of theater I chose to pursue was an extraordinarily screwed up version. It guaranteed that I would have to hang out with people I didn't like, work with people I despised. Throughout it all I'd have to remain super-conscious of everyone's status, including my own.I would have to create a "social persona," an image that could be manipulated so people would believe I was more intelligent and important.
This philosophy went against all of my values and everything I believed in as a person. This system does not create good art.
In between that point and the present, I learned to trash the system. It means nothing. Theater is neutral. It has no rules, no "shoulds" other than those imposed upon it.
I also learned that what people define as "good" fits into a certain criteria that changes moment to moment. Many "good" plays today won't stand the test of time. The "sensibilities" that define good are "thought trends." It's easy to write a good play that doesn't fit into the right sensibility. Without that sensibility, certain places won't produce your work.
And here I was, blaming myself all this time. I thought I was a failure because I couldn't relate to that sensibility.
When I inched my way back to playwriting, it was under the agreement that it wasn't the "end all, be all" anymore. I wasn't going to give everything to theater. Truthfully, I didn't have it to give anyway. I was exhausted in 2005. In hindsight, it's surprising I was able to get anything written. The basis of my new relationship with theater went like this: I can't give everything to something that doesn't give in return.
Theater is no longer the bad boyfriend named Bob. In this scenerio, I date a man named Robert and we have fun together. That's it.
I also decided that the playwriting model I was trained in at NYU no longer worked for me. I still haven't replaced it with anything quite yet, but I'm actively looking. This means that I no longer ship my work to literary offices so they can reject it in a year. I no longer grovel, beg or demean myself. I no longer send my work out randomly because the best way to learn is to do, and not to send.
I've learned how to write a kick-ass submission package. Now, I'd like to get on with the business of writing.
A few weeks ago, my intuition directed me to rewrite a very old play. This sucker had a long rewriting history and I could never make it work because I could never get out of my own way. After a merciless editing job, I feel like it's there. It's how I wanted it to be in the very beginning, with a far different sensibility than what I was trying to force upon it.
Last Friday, I renewed my Guild membership. I had to call them to get my member number. As it turns out, I let it expire 11.5 months ago. They allowed me to renew it without any problem. Last time I paid my dues, I moaned about it for days. This time, I felt excited. I'd like to say its because of Gary Garrison. While I do know him, that's not the reason. I'm not sure why I feel good about re-joining. Maybe because I feel connected with a bunch of other playwrights. Maybe its because I no longer feel like theater is poison. Maybe it's because I've stepped aside and allowed others to fit into that weird paradigm.
I don't want to fit into a weird paradigm. I don't want to be a part of the Future of American Theater. The pressure is off. I just want to create my own thing and help a few others along the way.
Life is too short not to have fun.