My God. This is a rough time of year. Just about every big-time fellowship/ residency/ award/ development program for playwrights has an application deadline from September through November. And if you throw graduate school applications into the mix, the madness continues through early January. So every playwright who is really trying to do this “playwright thing” and be a grown up and take responsibility for this rather irresponsible career choice they’ve made, and all that, is spending a good chunk of their time filling out forms, paying high submission fees, cleaning up the latest draft of their Awesome And Completely Unique Play That’s Totally Worthy of Development At Your Prestigious Program…and, of course, writing their artist statements.
For those programs/theaters/committees who don’t request such things, who are cool with a simple pdf of my script and “thanks so much for the opportunity” email, thank you. Sincerely. You’re the best.
For those who DO want these artist statements, these harbingers of hell – why do you hate me so?
Okay. I’m a little dramatic. I did choose a career in the theater, after all. A career that demands that its people prove again and again with each new gig that they can, indeed, do their job. And not only that – explain why they are doing their job.
These days, we, as playwrights/writers/artists/whatever, are forced to be hyper-aware of the what/how/why of our work, our particular “brand”, though I want to go with Brooke Berman who says it’s the writer’s voice that is important (as something that grows and evolves) rather than the marketable brand of a writer (which is something that is more static and inflexible and predictable).
We have to be able to articulate our particular vision and mission to hordes of committees (what they’re looking for, you’ll never know), while also doing self-promotion and “marketing” to sell books, get people to a theater, get likes on a webisode, crowdsource funds, and on and on.
I’ve written dozens of artistic statements, but never a good one. I’ve yet to find a way to describe my work or vision or perspective or whatever the hell you want to call it in a way that is not boring, generic, creepy or whiny.
But it’s Halloween. This should be a Halloween post, right?
Halloween is my kind of holiday – death and monsters and the macabre. But the day has sneaked up on me this year. I’ve done nothing Halloween related, which is odd for me (unless you count this article I wrote about the horror genre over at Eclectic Voices, which I sort of do) and I have no costume. With readings and weddings and my ten-year high school reunion and work distracting me from any sort of real celebration, I’m going to use the day as an excuse to write my real artistic statement – one that would never get me accepted into any program, win me any money or grant me any sort of award. Because when I see an artist statement listed in the guidelines of an application, there’s really nothing more horrifying to me.
Here it goes.
Please Describe the Form & Content of Your Writing:
Jesus, for reals? I write plays. I write fiction. They get kinda poetic sometimes, which can be really annoying. I use the word “fuck” as much as is appropriate, because I like swearing. Most people don’t think I ever swear, like I’m some goody two-shoes who won’t take the Lord’s name in vain. But I fucking swear all the time and I don’t know why people don’t hear it. I’m not saying I’m David Mamet, I just like a good curse word once in a while. And I like that it makes people uncomfortable sometimes. I like making people uncomfortable. When people are comfortable they’re bored. I can’t tolerate bored audiences.
I write about death all the fucking time. I don’t know why. At least three plays I’ve started in the last year begin with a dead body or a body you think might be dead. And if there’s not a dead body, in my more sentimental moments, there are people grieving about someone who has died. The novel I’m writing deals with a woman who sees visions about how people are going to die. One of my favorite shows is Pushing Daisies. Or Dead Like Me. Really, I don’t think I’ll ever write about another subject. I think death is always and forever present in just about everything I write. I mean one character in a particular play I’m writing dies over and over again throughout the play. I only have about 25 pages written, but she’s already died at least six times. The only Christmas story I’ve ever written involves a mall Santa Claus who rapes and kills a woman and the woman’s ghost coming back to take revenge. What does that say about me? I could only guess.
Please Describe Your Artistic Vision, Mission and Goals:
My goal is to make a living and not hate my life. I want someone else to produce a play of mine (I’ve already done the self-production thing). I want to publish a real book someday. Something tangible. That you can hold in your hand and smell; something I can write obnoxious dedications in and gift to people for years and years until they’re so sick of me they defriend me on Facebook.
My mission, really, is to write female characters. I don’t want to call them fucking “strong” or “badass” or bullshit like that. Just real women. I want to write about women and not have to hide the fact that I am a woman myself. I accept the fact that because I’m female I have to be BETTER and WORK HARDER than my male peers to achieve the same level of success. And you know what, fuck it but it’s reality so I’m dealing with it. But I’m going to write these women characters, I’m going to make them vulnerable or bad-ass or whatever I fucking want to until you, Artistic Director of Regional/Broadway Theater or Program Director of Blah Blah University and Fuck-All Development Center or We’ll-Put-High-Heels-And-Daisies-On-Your-Book-Cover-If-You’re-A-Female-Writer Publishing House, start producing plays by women and starring women or publish books by women and realize that people will STILL buy tickets and books. MEN will still buy tickets and books. It’s not a GENDER thing. It’s a goddamn HUMAN BEING thing. I’m fucking tired of hearing about it.
Why Do You Want To Make A Life In The Theater/Writing:
It’s a mystery to me. I don’t really have a choice because it’s all I think about. I’d be terrible at [insert real career here] because I’d still be thinking about writing all the time. But being a “playwright” or “writer” can be so damn depressing and soul-crushing and heart-breaking that I really don’t know. I mean, let’s be real here, you’re not going to give me this award/production/fellowship/publication, are you? You’ve already chosen someone with a long list of awards to give ANOTHER award to, right? I thought so.
And on top of that constant disappointment, it’s not like I’m saving lives. I mean a doctor can be sad and disappointed because SOMEONE JUST DIED IN HER ARMS. I’m sad because no one laughed at that joke in my play, or I got my third rejection letter from grad school. If I could do something else, I might. But I can’t.
There’s the damn truth. Artist statements are ever evolving, so I’m sure I’ll add to this later.
On Another Note: I’ve decided at the last minute to do National Novel Writing Month again this year, mostly due to the title All the Little Monsters.
My relationship with titles is a complicated one…and you might be seeing a blog post on the Botanicum Seedlings Blog soon about just such a thing. But I want to talk about a specific one right now: All the Little Monsters is a title I’ve been carrying around for a long time. I decided a couple years ago that I wanted to create a short story collection, and that is what I would name it. Of course, most short story collections are named after a story within the collection…but I haven’t specifically written a story with this name. So, I gots to do that, yo.
In the interest of getting that done, as well as another longer story (which I do have a title for) AND creating a pile of short stories I can not only use for the collection but for submissions to publications in general (which is where you have to start as a fiction writer these days, it seems), I’m going to do the NaNoWriMo challenge of writing 50,000 words. The only difference is that I won’t be writing a novel (I forbid myself to try to write another one before getting through at least SOME of the rewrites of my first NaNoWriMo win) – I’ll be writing 50,000 words of short stories. This could end up being anywhere from 3 to 50 stories – who knows what will happen!
Some of the titles might include:
All the Little Monsters
The Wandering Party
The Ultimate Meaning of Cheese Puffs
The Moonlit Muddy Children
Goblins at the Long John Silver
I may or may not use this time to also revise/work on new stuff for my novel (which I “finished” a “draft” of in NaNoWriMo 2011). The point of this, really, is just to get myself to create new stuff, consistently, every day, for a month. Something I should be doing anyway.
So there’s my Halloween post. Really not Halloweeny at all. Just monsters and death – which is just normal fare around here.
PS: I’m having a second reading of my play The Sudden Urge to Jump at the Skylight Theatre on Nov 17 at 12pm (it’s a love story but someone also commits suicide! surprise!)
You should come.