Friday, March 30, 2007

From the Dramatists Guild newsletter

I'm very impressed with what is going on over at the
Guild right now. Now might be a good time to join if
any of you playwrights don't belong. Wise words from
Mr. Garrison in the recent Guild newsletter:

From the Desk of Gary Garrison

"I had THAT moment the other day. You know the one I'm
talking about: you're at a dinner party, all the
guests are seated at the table and you're desperately
trying to stay focused and engaged in the conversation
even though (1) you can't remember the person's name
to the left of you, (2) you can't remember the
person's name to the right of you, (3) you've dropped
the metal napkin ring in the middle of the plate,
making a noise that sounds symphonic and (4) you've
left your glasses at the office so you don't know if
you're eating the salad with the big fork or small
fork and does-it-really-matter-even
though-your-mother-said-it-did? In your chaotic haze
of self-consciousness you think you hear your name and
then the following: "Oh, he's a writer, aren't you
Gary?" Instantly, you feel every pair of eyes on you.
Instead of something that should resemble a
straight-forward, "Yes, I am," you manage to gurgle
something that vaguely sounds positive but is actually
a thin apology for not being famous.

Why do I do that? Simple: I know the question that's
just waiting to fall out of someone's mouth is, "What
have you written?" or worse, "Have you written
anything I know?" And let's be honest, unless you're a
writer that's had a healthy, visible career, chances
are they haven't heard of you or your work and the
whole moment is awkward. From that tiny little
question, all my insecurities can rise up and choke
the sense right out of my language. I stumble, bumble
and fall (and don't want to get up), and I end up
talking and talking and talking and sounding like
something I never want to be: a critic of my own
career. But quietly, here's what I know the real issue
is: I'm caught off guard to account for my success (or
sadly, what I perceive as the lack thereof). And
that's where it all goes wrong.

What is success? Is having one production in six
months or three productions in two years a success? Is
a reading, a workshop or a showcase of my work a
success or is it something to easily discount because
it's not a production – in a theatre – with over
ninety-nine seats – and a water fountain -- with real
ushers – and a real curtain – and actors performing
who are paid a living wage – and myself getting a
royalty – and a good review. No! Five good reviews!
No! TEN! Okay, five good reviews and my father's
approval! When is it ever enough? Honestly, how much
success does it take to stop jones-ing for it? Or do
you ever stop that almost-narcotic need?

I don't know what the answer is, but I do know that a
number of us have an over-inflated definition of
success for ourselves. And if we don't seriously
reexamine that from time to time, and yes, recalibrate
it, we'll stop writing and we'll blame it on the
specifics of "I could never get an agent. I could
never get published. I could never get a regional
theatre to produce my play. I could never get a grant.
I could never get a Guggenheim. I could . . ." That
list goes on and on.

Sitting down to write this column today was a success.
Finally making a scene work that I've rewritten
countless times is a success. Having a reading of my
play where the story is clear and engaging is a HUGE
success. Having a director ask me to read more of my
work is a glorious success. I know, I know. It's
simple-minded. But I've thought all the other kind
thinking, and simple is beginning to look better and

ggarrison at dramatistsguild dot com

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