Friday, April 23, 2010

John Adams and the Curse of Non-Enoughness

Anyone who knows me fairly well will be unsurprised to find out that I have a historical crush on John Adams. It started when I first saw 1776 in middle school, but my general philosophy is "anyone who can keep the love of someone as amazing as Abigail Adams had to be a pretty neat guy."

One of the things that I like about Adams is that he comes across so incredibly human and vulnerable in his journals. When he was in his mid-twenties, he wrote about how inadequate he felt because he hadn't done enough. This is a man who would go on to be a leader in the American Revolution and our second president. At the time, he was an accomplished lawyer. And he felt that he hadn't done enough.

And here I am, over two-hundred years later, at age twenty-seven, feeling that I haven't accomplished enough. I've only written two full length plays. I haven't been professionally produced. I wasn't able to promote positive change at my former congregation. I'm not spiritually mature enough. I've never had a long term relationship. Peers of mine are going off to the Yale School of Drama or to become Unitarian Universalist Ministers or have become ensemble members at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

The negative tape in my head can go on and on and on.

The big question I keep coming back to is "what to do with all this fear?" Because that's what the negative tape really is: fear of not being enough, not accomplishing enough.

I can combat the negative tape with rational thoughts, such as "Self, you've done a lot for a person your age - like run a non-profit" or "What is the measurement of enoughness of spiritual maturity?"

However, that sort of snap-out-of-it thinking doesn't permanently stop the tape. John Adams carried this feeling of not-enoughness his whole entire life -- and I think we can all agree that he accomplished a lot. I have yet to meet a fellow playwright who doesn't have that look of fear in his or her eyes after a reading, the fear that the play will never be good enough.

This fear is the curse of the artistic soul. Our work falls short of the imagination, and likewise, our lives fall short of what we imagine them to be. Because we can imagine a better world, a better life, a better play -- we create. And the dark side of that coin is that we carry that fear.

A wise woman once blogged, "Failing at something is not the same thing at all as being a failure. The only failure in life, as far as I am concerned, is not risking your own life to extend the circle of inclusion, to care more than you imagined possible, to love more deeply than you’re comfortable, to make the world a better and more just place through your particular gifts and talents."

John Adams failed at many things in his long life, but he wasn't a failure. He carried that sense of not accomplishing enough and not being enough. And as I travel along that path, I look for the fellow travelers, the Ben Franklins and Abigail Adamses, to keep me grounded. Oddly enough, the sense of not being enough, not accomplishing enough is a part of being whole.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Floundering for a Sense of Calling

A member of my former congregation announced that she's going off to seminary next year. I'm excited for her. For all sorts of reasons, not the least that she gets to experience Chicago, which I still feel is "my city."

I'm also jealous.

(And not just because I miss Chicago.)

Because I miss that feeling of calling.

For most of my life I had that certainty that I was called to this profession. I started to act when I was in first grade, and I felt that the stage was the place I belonged. I kept that feeling throughout the crazy years of middle school and I tribute the Davis Discovery Center for keeping me relatively sane in high school.

I started writing in the Fort Hayes Black Box Theatre program. And it wasn't a change of calling, but a refining that calling. It was uncovering a deeper part of myself. I was a playwright. That calling took me to NYU and helped me find the Theatre School at DePaul University.

I never felt so purposeful as I have writing In Common Hours. Here I was writing a play that I had been wanting to write for four years or so...and it was realized in production. The whole experience was really rewarding. I was doing what I loved, and told a story from my heart that others connected to. People both laughed and cried at that show. I knew I had found my calling as a storyteller, specifically as a playwright, because I loved that process of storytelling with a bunch of others.

Then I graduated and I've been lost ever since.

I'm still in the profession. I have a job that supports me and my cat. I'm still writing in a professional context, and I'm even a regional representative for the Dramatists Guild.

I've had a few flashes of that sense of calling. The two weeks I spent at the Kennedy Center two years ago. The weekends of the playwright development program. The Naked Stage's Annual 24 Hour Theatre Project.

Most of the time though, I'm floundering, trying to rejoin that sense of purpose.

I've wondered if a calling can stop, and if I should devote my energies elsewhere.

I poured my energies into my job. I've accomplished at lot of good things, and I'm particularly proud about bringing Free Night of Theater to South Florida. But pride in my work did not fulfill me the way writing used to.

Then I threw myself into Unitarian Universalism at my former congregation. I thought if I just worked hard enough and with enough dedication, I could help call people to the higher purpose that I think Unitarian Universalism is here for. That whole experience exploded in my face, which is why my former congregation is my former congregation.

Which leaves me still here, wondering what my higher purpose is. On days when I'm stressed, I joke that I want to run away and work for Sesame Street. Or I remember Avenue Q and think no one really knows what their purpose is, really.

But I miss that certainty.

Maybe I can get it back if I manage to create a theatre of joy. Maybe I can get it back if I work more on my play about time traveling art thieves. Maybe I can try to get it back through prayer. Because I miss that connection. I miss that deeper sense of self.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Love Letter to Amy London

Two years ago, I was in the process of organizing a meeting on saving the Carbonells. The South Florida Theatre Awards Ceremony was on the brink of going away, and the Theatre League of South Florida was hosting a panel discussion about how could we stop that from happening.

At the time, I privately stated to close friends that I wouldn't care if the Carbonells went away. I had been to two ceremonies by then and they were long and sometimes painful to watch affairs. I had seen how much the discussion about awards had torn our community apart. Small theatre companies felt cheated, people complained constantly that the nominators and judges were not qualified, and Joe Adler never missed a chance to rant about how awards destroy the community, despite his many wins.

I've always been a process person. I prefer the process to the finished product. Ask my parents: awards have never interested me much. I won a lot of awards in school, and I never really cared. The few recognitions that I have gotten that I am proud of have more to do with my pride in my work than the award itself. It's nice that In Common Hours was a finalist for the David Mark Cohen Award, but I'm more thankful that people recognize the craft that went into creating that play.

So when I heard that an awards ceremony that is long, dull, and brings a lot of strife into my community is about to go away, I inwardly danced a bit.

Thankfully, my wish did not come true and Amy London took the helm of the ceremony.

The past two Carbonell Awards Ceremonies have been a wonderful experience. They've been fast paced, well planned affairs, but more importantly Amy knows that the Carbonells aren't about celebrating individuals, but about celebrating this community. She has taken the theatre prom concept and made it into the best possible thing it could be. Amy's Carbonells are about how wonderful it is to be in the same room together.

And I'm so happy that I can be a part of that. Not only as an audience member, but as the organizer of the official after party. It's so great to throw a party for people who walk out of an awards experience feeling jazzed about being a part of their community. The Carbonell After Party has a vibe unlike any of the other parties we throw, and I'm positive that it has to do with the vibe that Amy has created for us with the awards itself.

Thank you Amy London!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Thoughts on Being Present

This past Saturday I was taking a workshop led by Connie Goodbread. She had laid out the room with a bunch of chairs in a circle, and placed a toy on each chair. I went immediately to the chair with the stuffed lemur on it, and started playing. The lemur waived at everyone who entered the room, and at times wagged his tail at folk.

There was a variety of reactions. Some settled right into play with me. Some smiled, but refrained from interacting. Others were made uncomfortable. I discussed the experience later at dinner with others who were at different workshops at District Assembly, and first knocked it off to my being internally five scaring people. I was gently reprimanded and told that it wasn’t that I was being childish, but that I was present. I came into the room and I was emotionally vulnerable and ready to work.

One of the things I’ve noticed in both my faith life and my professional life is that people have a serious ambivalence towards presence. We want people to be with us, but not too with us. We want presence in our actors and our ministers, but not in our audience and our fellow worshippers. Presence is something for others, professionals, leaders. In situations of worship or in a darkened audience, I find that we want to think, but not too much, feel, but not too much, experience, but not too much. Those that do experience the theatre more fully often get berated as bad audience members. Those that come to worship fully present often get strange looks.

If we are to create sacred spaces, it requires participation from everyone in the room. I’m tired of passive church and theatre experiences. I want to be in the room. I want to play with stuffed animals, sing loudly, clap loudly, laugh loudly, cry loudly, and be fully present. I want to gasp when the sword is unsheathed and sing when the spirit moves me.

One of my spiritual practices is to exist in a space that is uncomfortable for me so that others may be comfortable. I understand that some people need quiet in order to be present. I respect that, but I don’t want to mistake quiet for polite or either for present.

In what ways do you find yourself present? What helps you listen or engage more fully?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Holy Theatre

The concept of the Holy Theatre comes from Peter Brook's The Empty Space. Brook divides his book into four essays, describing different types of theatre, including a holy theatre.

Except that he spends most of his essay on the Holy Theatre failing to find a definition for it. He describes experiences of Beckett, Artaud, Grotowski, but never defines what could make theatre holy.

For me, holy theatre is a place of open revelation. A space where I can enter into a relation with the divine through art. It is not a space I have visited often, but I have been there often enough to fully appreciate its value. Many times in Unitarian Universalist circles, we ask about where we have experienced the divine or something greater than ourselves. Most of the answers are about quiet reflection in nature.

The moment that I have felt most in touch with the divine was when I was at the back of the Auditorium Theatre watching the Alvin Ailey Dance Company perform Ailey's masterwork, Revelations. The audience was one with the dancers and we all were performing a sacred ritual together.

I've had similar experiences of audience/artist fusion at The House Theatre of Chicago. When the audience moves from a passive participant in the process, to an active (yet respectful) participant, that is holy for me. I want my theatre and my worship to require me to be fully present, fully a part of this current moment. That's what I seek in a holy theatre.

Why Towards a Holy Theatre?

For a long time, my amazing, soon-to-be-former minister, Rev. Naomi King has been urging me to blog. She is experienced in the blogosphere, as she has three blogs: The Wonderment, Universalist Prayers, and City of Refuge.

I've thought about it...but then I always came back to "what would I blog about?"

Then yesterday, I went to the Unitarian Universalist Association's Florida District's District Assembly and I heard Gini Courter, the UUA moderator, speak. Emerson once wrote, "In every work of genius, we see our own rejected thoughts." Gini spoke to so many of the problems, the worries, the concerns that I have had about my life in my faith and my life in my art.

Why not blog about the intersection of those two segments of my life? The concerns and issues that trouble the theatre world are very similar to those that trouble the world of free religious practice. I have come very close recently to leaving the faith of my childhood and the profession I have devoted my life to. But I keep coming back...because both theatre and Unitarian Universalism have so much to offer.

I hope this blog will explore the intersection of liberal religion and theatre, as they both come from the same prehistoric origins. I hope to use this blog to help me find a sacred space.