why do we make theater?
ugh, who's we? dumb question.
why do I make theater? is, i guess, the question i really have any authority to answer. but just as it amazes me to see all of my peers/friends/collaborators fearlessly giving of themselves with the art (theater) they create on a daily basis, so am I, frankly, a bit baffled that it's something I have such a thirst to do.
at my worst moments, I worry that I do it for the praise. but that can't be true, because frankly, for every piece of praise, there's two to three pieces of criticism to follow. the ratio is not 1:1. For every person who is ready to make themselves vulnerable and share something precious with an audience of strangers or semi-strangers, there are four who are ready to jump in at the last second and tell them what they did wrong, or what wasn't as "interesting" or "accessible" or "fun".
If i'm doing this for the praise, frankly, if any of us are doing this for the praise, we were woefully misinformed on how much praise to expect. yes, when praise comes, when genuine praise comes, its amazing. but more likely, it's going to hurt like hell. More likely than praise is a "fearless" (and fuck you, that is not fearlessness) reviewer is going to "tell it like it is" (and really, that's not fearlessness) by offering a dismissive "eh" from the sidelines, all respect for us and how much of ourselves we put into this aside. If I wanted praise, I chose the wrong career. I should have been a... hmmm...not sure, actually. I was always pretty good at math in high school. maybe i could have been a mathlete for praise.
but I don't really do it "for me", either. if i wanted to do things "for me" I would write super bad, self-indulgent poetry in a notebook and never show it to anyone. I would try and draw. it would be bad, but i would keep it to myself and secretly call myself a genius. And there would be no one to contradict that so... art for me.
But i don't do that kind of art. I chose a kind of art that in its very definition involves exchange. sharing. giving. there is no theater without an audience and so, there is no theater without you. the person i made this (play/scene/musical/one act/10 minute) for. you're why i do it. not me. i want to give something to you; in fact, i get high off of giving something to you. off of handing you a strange, hopefully beautiful maybe upsetting, hopefully interesting and provocative and fun and entertaining and maybe painful but hopefully a good or important kind of painful THING.
here again, is a baffling revelation. i do theater in order to give something desperately precious to someone i maybe don't know. with absolutely no idea about what they'll think. on the one hand: WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH ME. WHY WOULD I/WE CHOOSE TO DO THAT. that is SUREFIRE grounds to have these things i made destroyed, criticized, rejected.
but on the other hand... when the risk pays off? it is magic. it is, as i mentioned, a high like i have never before chased. when i give it and you GET it, or are intrigued, thoughtful, curious, interested... when it delights you, or scares you in all the right ways, or makes you think or feel or focus: that is beautiful. that is art. that is the absolute best about what it means to be a human condensed into one perfect moment: connection. that is a second that validates a lifetime of work. that is rightness.
and so, we do it. we share it. we put thousands of hours into projects and then, trembling, hand them out to you, hoping beyond all measure that you take them from us. and knowing, full while, that there will be some who don't. who ignore, reject, dismiss, cooly decide "i didn't like it" without considering what it was about it that you didn't like, and what that means. because we know, if even one of you gets it, feels it, or bothers to think about and explore what confused or upset you, what delighted or intrigued you, well...then. that's good. and right. and art. and fuck, it's worth it.
Today was a blast. A total blast. In a rare blast-from-the-past type moment, I got to spend the day ACTING, something I haven't done in kind of a while. Every time I act, I sort of figure it's the last time I'll ever act, and then life proves me wrong. Life is kind of marvelous that way.
I used to want to be an actor. I did it in college, but I went to an insane, liberal, quaker, crazy college that did all sorts of strange, interesting, fabulous shows that made it very easy and fun to be an actor. (Stuff like this, and this and this). When I got out of school, two things happened.
First, in the interest of earning money and like, having an apartment and junk, I stopped doing theater. For a bit. No acting, no playwriting. I found that while I really missed acting, I couldn't live without playwrighting. UGH, it's puke-a-licious to type something as earnest as that, but it was the plain truth.
Second, I realized how hard actors have it.
You actors have it really, really, really hard! You work hard as hell, you spend 99% of your time auditioning, usually in direct competition with 50 other people who are just as great and just as anxious to work, and then, when you do land roles, you're charged with executing a play or a show that, you know, you didn't come up with! A vision that's not your own. You have lines to memorize and blocking and all that crap. And at the end of a day a director can look at all your hard work and pronounce it "not good enough" or "not there yet" or "not the right direction."
And so you do it again. And you work even harder. And you make very little money and you often have very little stability. It's a hard fucking life. So I just want to take this moment, on behalf of all the writers out there, to thank you actors for everything you do. I have been so fucking blown away by New York City actors. You're all so damn talented and nice and beautiful to look at. It's inspiring to work with you, to write for you and to watch you bring my crap to life. I once had a teacher who said you should always write plays FOR specific actors. Ideally ones you have crushes on. That's not hard. I am in love with all of you - with your talent and your energy and your enthusiasm.
To get to work among you, as an actor today, was totally delightful. It felt so cool to be "in the trenches" with "real" actors. It was like being a kid who gets to stay up real late because mom and dad aren't home. So thank you, and thank you to Jacqui Friedman, the incredible playwright (with a much more professional website than mine!) who wrote the truly badass play Cosmo Girls that I got to read in today. Jacqui developed the play in a class I shared with her at Tisch, so I sort of snuck in at the beginning reading the role I read today in class workshops. I think I read it so loudly and claimed it so instantly that I sort of left her no choice but to cast me today. Lucky me. What fun I had. It is amazing to be a part of a community so alive as the New York Theater scene.