Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dramatist Me

Deciding to be a full-time "dramatist" is not a decision to be taken lightly. Yet, that is the path I am choosing. This probably proves I'm unrealistic and unstable.

Playwrights and screenwriters seldom earn "the big bucks" as writers. Okay, few writers in any genres become wealthy. That's why so many of us split our time between writing and teaching writing to other aspiring scribblers. Consider the logic of struggling career writers encouraging other writers, but don't dwell on it too long.

There are some precautions to take, like preparing for a wagon-train across the frontier.

My wife and I are stocking up on food and water, buying what we can on sale and storing it in our basement. Canned food and pasta are the staples for starving artists, I've been told. Yes, we have our Ramen noodles, rise, and Campbell's condensed soups on the shelves. It isn't enough to stock for the lean months. No, we're mastering coupon clipping, too. Stock up on the cheap!

Next, you have to have good guides, unflinching men and women familiar with the terrain. I've met several such guides, and a few scouts, too. The scouts are great because they've suffered the slings and arrows of production company rejections. Ideally, I'll learn what not to do by listening closely.

Knowing that failure is the likeliest of outcomes, why in the world would I dedicate myself to this path? Because I've always admired dramatists.

I've lived in some great regions for the theatrically minded. I grew up in the Central Valley of California, a region captured by the works of John Steinbeck and William Saroyan. What playwright wouldn't want to be like Saroyan? A bicycling curmudgeon on the streets of Fresno, I can relate to that.

My wife and I moved to Minneapolis in 2006, where theatre and radio plays are at the heart of the region's creative community. I would look at the Guthrie Theater (despite how ugly I believe it is) and imagine one of my works on the main stage. Maybe the second stage, but still… it is THE Guthrie.

Today, we live in Western Pennsylvania. My plays are being read in the shadow of the August Wilson Center. (While he traveled East to West, we've gone the opposite direction.) Another great playwright, looming large in my imagination, reminding me how middling my works might be.

For every Wilson or Saroyan, there are hundreds of dramatists like me. How absurd is it to imagine I might have a play on stage in Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Chicago… or even New York City? Short of self-production, a path restricted to the more financially secure (or insane) dramatists, the path ahead will be rocky.

Maybe you'll find me in coming months, standing outside the August Wilson Center passing out scripts to passersby in the hopes that one might know someone who knows an agent or producer.

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