So let's talk theater.
Must we? I think I've sunk that boat already.
I'm just curious. Has your perspective of it changed now that you're not a part of that world anymore?
I don't know if I want to answer that question. I've thought a lot about theater, and I've thought nothing of theater. It astonishes me how easy it is to leave it behind. Theater and everything about it is in the past tense for me now. I don't think about it in the current sense. So in that way, I don't think about theater.
But I have thought about it as you might see a sign while riding in a car. You noticed it for a moment, only for the length of time it took for you to pass it. Then, it's gone.
I think of theater in that way. I remember the sign. I didn't have time to read it, so I wonder what it said. But since it doesn't apply to my life now, I don't think of it with any sense of urgency.
But I know you. You wonder what stuff means all the time. Surely you must've considered the how and why of it all.
Sure. I can tell you that theater looks a whole lot different when you're not involved in it. And I have thought about why things went as they did, if I had any regrets, if I would've done anything differently. There are times I consider that perhaps I connected with theater dysfunctionally due to my own issues... But I don't think so.
How does it look to you now?
Very different because there's nothing at stake for me now. I can finally see the painting in its entirety. With three or four steps back, the emotions drained finally. I feel a certain amount of resolution. It helps to have something to replace theater. I don't think I could've left without having another direction.
Is there anything you regret?
Besides not leaving sooner? I'm serious about that. I had a chance to leave it behind back in 2004, but I had nothing to replace it. In hindsight, I think I had to go through the last three years, just to confirm what I had long suspected. Which I'm not sure I'd want to say.
After the anger and hurt and sadness subsided, and after I realized how dishonest I had been in not saying what I actually thought... Well, that's being too hard on myself. I think most people working in theater aren't entirely honest out of necessity. If I'm honest, is it going to hurt my career? If I tell you what I'm actually seeing or thinking, is it going to make an important person angry?
So what are you worried about now?
Good point. I no longer work in theater and have no outstanding submissions. I have no desire to be a part of theater.
So what's stopping you?
Okay, here's a thought. The system that mainstream theater uses to pick plays is immoral and corrupt.
Ouch. Defend that statement.
Corrupt - Not producing plays based on their artistic value. Instead, plays are chosen many times because of who the writer is. We knew that back then, but no one wanted to talk about it. I worked in lit offices in NYC, and I've seen the memos. I think that's the reason why you get only a handful of "important" writers, when there are far more playwrights out there who are doing tremendous work. It's why you have the same writers featured season after season after season in the regionals and mainstream. Those writers are saying the same things, so there's no diversity. That's why it always used to crack me up when writers believed their own press. There are many, many reasons why plays get produced. Quality isn't high on that list.
Corrupt - A true story. I responded to a call for submissions from a certain theater company. My play got rejected. Being open-minded, I went to an event held by that theater company to learn more about what they liked and didn't like. One thing led to another, and I discovered one of their chosen plays was one that hadn't been written yet. That means that my play (and yours too - if you submitted) was rejected for one that didn't exist.
What's the name of the company?
I'm not going to tell you the name of the company because I suspect its far more pervasive than anyone cares to admit. With the advent of submission fees, the whole process becomes even more corrupt. Imagine how it would feel to know that you paid $10 or more submitting your script, only to discover that the whole thing was unfairly rigged.
As far as "figuring out" which "one" it is, all you really have to do is look at who wins. If the same people get it year after year or if those people have ties to the company, then you know. Playwrights aren't taught to look at that stuff. Instead, they're so busy trying to please people.
I always swore I'd do an expose on it, but I didn't because no one wants to hear that the system is that corrupt. There's genuine hostility towards that idea.
The immorality is in the idea that writers aren't unionized. They have no negotiating power, with all that implies.
But that last part is only a footnote, since the financial issues around theater are less about money and more about respect. But everyone knows that already. That's not news.
Everyone figures that I left theater because I was too mad or too whatever. Really, it had more to do with the corrupt and immoral part. I'm not going to support a system like that by participating in it. I stayed in it to see if I could change it, but I wasn't in a good position to do that. There are writers who could change the system, but they benefit from it. And we all know that people who benefit from a system aren't going to work to change it.
I wondered that myself, but no. It's an easy charge to make. Sour grapes. But that only prevents people from looking at what's really happening. Besides, I'm happy in my current incarnation. Since leaving theater, I've been published in Washington, Michigan, and of course, Alabama. I feel good about my career.
I do feel sad when I think of the people who used to email me back in the day, when I ranted about theater. Those people were afraid to go public with what they were thinking and feeling. They were afraid that the wrong person would read it, or that it would come back to hurt them somehow. I think of how much I blamed myself for a perceived failure. It was the system that doomed some to fail, and chose some to succeed. And it had more to do with the luck of the draw than anything else. That's a failure that I didn't need to take on.
Again, I needed those last few years to figure it out.