Monday, October 06, 2008

What is your definition of success?

This sounds like a question Isaac would ask, and maybe has. If so I apologize. But I'm interested in your answer. Playwrights, what makes you a success? A play on Broadway? A play of yours made into a film starring Robert Downey Jr? Writing a new play every year? A production a year? Critical success? Working with people you love? For me, right now, I want my work to be done all over the country by lots of small theaters. I want them in colleges. I'm excited about the idea of actors being introduced to theater through my work. Do I want large productions of my plays? Absolutely. But partially this is because only the plays with big productions get done all over the country. Do I want to reach a larger audience? Yes. Do I want to work in TV and Film. Yes. But I'm sort of blurry on what that entails. An off broadway show is success for sure. A staff job on a good show is success of course. Then what comes next? It all depends where you're standing what is ahead and what is behind and what is irrelevant. but please, tell me. What is success for you. Actors, Directors, Artists of all types, feel free to chime in.

22 comments:

Malachy Walsh said...

I think even if I had "success" I'd feel like an abject failure. It's just my nature.

That said, when I think back on the times I felt good about what I was doing, well they were times when I wasn't thinking about success at all, but rather really interested and engaged in learning how to do something.

That goes for my advertising career as well.

And my "failed" attempts to get into places I wanted to get into.

I don't know if that makes any sense, but it's true.

Seth said...

If you feel like you're a success, then you are one.

Or maybe when someone calls a suburban Barnes and Noble looking for one of your plays. that happened on Sunday. The caller was extremely surprised that he didn't need to spell "Szymkowicz" for me.

Adam said...

I miss you, Malachy. I hope I get to see you here in the cold city in the not too far future.

Wow, Seth. Is that true? Are you in the Chicago area?

Adam said...

oh, wait, or are you IITC? If so, you've been seeing a lot of musicals!

Michele said...

You'll know you're a success when you have been quoted on a refrigerator magnet.

Anonymous said...

I'm a playwright in NYC who graduated from an MFA program in '04. Being able to quit my day job would constitute success for me, that is being able to make a living from a combination of playwriting, screenwriting, TV writing, teaching... I'd be pretty satisfied with that.

Catherine said...

You've brought me out of the woodwork on this one.

The truth for me is that there's a gap between what I "feel" success to be and what I "believe" success to be. It's a very heady rush to garner good reviews, to get those phone calls from the agent saying so and so wants to produce your play, so and so wants to commission you. In fact, I find "good news" becomes a bit addictive and the more you get of it, the more you want and expect. Getting paid follows the same trajectory. Once you get a commission or a royalty advance of a certain amount, you really don’t want to go backwards.

I believe, however, that no good lies down this path. No artistic career follows a path of pure progression through the years. One is bound to have times of feast and famine. To remain sane and also because I just believe it’s better for both the soul and the work, I think I’m better served to recalibrate the measuring stick of success to things within my control: is the writing getting better? Are my work habits steady and deep? Am I sharing my work with others? Is my writing contributing to something outside of my own personal success?

Is it important to earn a living? Absolutely. How else can you pay for shelter and child care and all those things you need in order to have space and time to write. But that’s not success; that’s sheer necessity. And as a playwright you’re going to have to most likely find ancillary income either through teaching or other media. (That doesn’t surprise anyone, right? They do tell you that in all those MFA programs, right?)

In short, I guess I’d feel incredibly successful if I won the Pulitzer, but I think I would actually be successful if I continued to write and grow as an artist for the next fifty years, never won the Pulitzer, and didn’t really care.

Seth said...

Adam--yes, I'm the Seth of Inscribed in the Cheese. (End shameless plug.) I have indeed been seeing a lot of musicals, but NYMF'll do that to me. (And Saturday I'm seeing Toxic Avenger, which I sincerely hope does not suck.)

A young man (at least he sounded young) called the B&N I work at in White Plains on Sunday asking for a copy of Nerve.

Adam said...

Sweet, Seth. That's 75 cents in my pocket. Of course it's much cooler than that. I don't suppose you had it in stock though. That would be cool.

Adam said...

Thanks, Michele and Anon and Catherine. I would love to make a living writing, but like Catherine implies, it's not easy.

I like what you say Catherine about success being tied to what we ourselves can do. Otherwise, it's just looking for outside affirmation. i can work on my writing, but I have no control over how people respond to it and wanting things that i have no say in can be maddening.

Kristyn has something to say here too about taking perception of success one step at a time:
http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=29711691449

Seth said...

I'm afraid that we didn't have it in stock. I offered to special order it, but he would have had to pay in advance and declined (on account of DPS's scripts are sent to us on a nonreturnable basis).

But it did remind me that at some point I have to get around to ordering and reading them, so that'll be $2.25, I guess.

Adam said...

yes, 2.25. Thanks! I can get half a sandwich.

RLewis said...

Good question, Adam, and really good comments so far, too. Imagine that-lol. For me, I feel as if success comes in stages. Running my own company for over a decade (debt-free) has been a big success, and winning an obie award for it's humble work was pleasant confirmation. But making all of my living making theater would be the next big success (part-time is really just 2 full-time jobs); and I feel like that would make more successes more possible than anything else right now. I have much more to accomplish, and dammit, if I could just get to that stage, I could really set a path for the next decade of successes, tba.

Patrick Gabridge said...

Obviously, as others have pointed out, this is a complicated question.

I set goals for myself every year, both in terms of what I want to create, and what I want to achieve, in terms of production and publication.

I'm most interested in seeing what I can create that is interesting to me and to an audience. The longer I continue to write plays, the more I see that though I can certainly send out a lot of scripts and build relationships with theatres, a lot of the success I may want, in terms of public exposure, is beyond my control (subject to my willingness and availability to act as producer, I suppose). Though I certainly get down on myself for not getting more, larger productions of my work, it's certainly healthier for my own sanity if I worry the most about success in the realm over which I have direct control--what I write (how much and how good it is). Defining my success based on outside factors seems destined to lead to misery (not that I don't have my moments where I'm itching for a big LORT production that would certainly make me feel more complete, right?).

Lawrence said...

As someone still struggling to make a name for himself as a playwright, I've had to redefine success for myself.

I consider success writing well on any given day. I write every day without fail and just doing so, I think, constitutes success. And if I do it really well, well, that's just icing on the cake.

The writing has to be a reward in and of itself or else I would go out of my mind.

I suppose this is defining success down, but I am in this for the long haul. If I am still writing every day at 65, that's enough success for me.

Adam said...

Thanks, R, Patrick and Lawrence. Great to hear!! I wish I could write every day. If I could, I would have finished that novel by now. But I'm with you on the writing being it's own joy. I don't know about all of you, but it's what keeps me sane. Perhaps it makes me insane too but I'm looking at that.

Patrick Gabridge said...

I'm with you, Adam. It's definitely what keeps me sane. And it's what gets me up in the morning. I've been writing at 5am since the summer, and once my body got in the habit, I realized that it's something that I look forward to every day. Everyone has their thing. For writers, it's writing, whether we attain "success" as the outside world defines it or not.

Michele said...

Success Barometer #2

When Joe Six-Pack knows who you are, you are famous. When Joe can rattle off the titles of your work, you are a success. When Joe can correctly spell your name, you are a legend.

Adam said...

OK. So do you have Joe's email. I'll get right on that.

Michele said...

I'm not sure what Joe Six-Pack's email is, but in the UK he goes by the name "Joe Bloggs" - did you know that?

Jason Grote said...

For me, success would be a play of mine being adapted into a movie starring Morton Downey, Jr.

Skye Leith said...

There is only ever one measure of success, and that is the amount of joy I feel right now.