Wednesday, October 24, 2007

reprinted with permission

FROM THE DESK OF GARY GARRISON US & THEM Billy Crawford was twice my height and twice my weight; he was, in short, a wall of a human being. He seemed to be the only thing that ever stood in my way of being on the first string of our junior varsity basketball team. If I wasn't called off the bench to play in a game, it was Crawford's fault because there was so much of him physically, the Big Coach naturally overlooked me. If I tripped and fell during the warm-up, splaying out like a starfish on the unforgiving hardwood floor of the gymnasium, it was Crawford's fault for distracting me with my evil thoughts of how to make him suffer a slow, agonizing death. If the basketball slipped from my hands during a pass, it was because Crawford sweated it up before he passed it to me. He was my sworn enemy and thank God he was there. What else could I possibly blame for my lack of success? Certainly not my own inability. Cut to thirty-five years later, and I'm sitting in the Ahmanson Auditorium in Los Angeles with two hundred of our Southern California members. In front of us are literary managers, artistic directors and producers from the area's most accomplished theatres - everyone from Pier Carlo Talenti (Center Theatre Group), to Megan Monaghan (South Coast Rep) to Matthew Shakman (Black Dahlia Theatre Company). The memory of Billy Crawford comes flooding back, and it occurs to me how easy it is to make the obvious people the object of our anger and frustration. How many artistic directors, literary managers or theatre directors have I blamed for my not having the career I know I should rightfully have? Too many; I've blamed them more times than I've blamed myself, and that math just doesn't add up. And then, as if the panelists were reading my mind, they one by one begin articulating their love of new plays, playwrights, musicals, composers - all things new and interesting. I hear Talenti say, "Every time I open a large, brown envelope, I'm excited. There's potentially a new discovery to be made. I may learn something new. I may fall in love." Monaghan echoes the sentiment: "I want to like your work. I'm pulling for you from page one." Raul Clayton Staggs from the Playwrights' Arena says what everyone wants to hear: "I want to do your work -- the people in this room, because nobody knows the issues of my community like you." I feel the warmth and generosity of spirit spilling across the stage to a room full of writers, and I wonder, how did we get to this painful divide of what we often perceive as Neglected Us (the writers) and Neglectful Them (the industry)? Is it old history? Is it even true? Or is it just easier (and less painful) to think that way? Is it too hard to accept that they're actually on our side? Gary ggarrison at dramatistsguild dot com

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