After the final showing of Jessica yesterday I went home and watched the similarly titled "The Incredible Jessica James" on Netflix. The movie's about a young person navigating dating and friendship and New York but my favorite part about the movie is the titular character's passion for theater. She's a playwright, a rare occupation for movie characters nowadays, and at 25 she's in a very similar place to me right now. She lines her apartment with dismissals from all the great theaters and programs in New York and when she gets a rejection that's from an artistic director rather than an intern she reads it to her friend over the phone. When visiting her family in Ohio she decries the current state of Theater in New York including a hilarious if not somewhat outdated rip on the late Jersey Boys. It's one of the most realistic portrayals of a modern playwright I've seen: constantly writing, submitting, and working towards that one victory that comes amongst the thousands of defeats.
The whole movie is really fantastic and worth watching (free on Netflix right now!) but one part really hit home last night. At the climax of the movie Jessica James finds herself meeting Sarah Jones at a writer's retreat. She asks the famous playwright "At what point did you know you made it" and Sarah Jones replies "I'll let you know when I get the memo." Now, this is by no means the first time a scene like this has been put to film, but last night at my most emotionally vulnerable it resonated with me pretty hard. This was the thought that had been going on with me through out the entire summer. After Jessica, what next?
The best and worst part about theater is it's ephemeral nature. On the bright side, it means that everything is always moving forward and current and important. It means that nothing lasts too long so absorb what you're seeing now and remember what you're doing. It means you'll get to do a thousand different things, and your play will be read by different actors with different perspectives and no two productions of your work will be the same. But it always ends. Faster than most things. Even some of the best plays ever written hardly run a year (Indecent is the latest casualty). The memories, the fun, and the friendship from any production were all temporary circumstance. And the only way to guarantee we all get to keep working is to move on from this moment and seek the next one.
Jessica is one of the best moments I've had since I started writing. It was an absolutely incredible experience from beginning to end and I was constantly taken aback by it. This was a real production! There was a set! Actors memorized words and performed them! A nightly audience! Theater critics came and reviewed it! People who'd never seen or heard of me were suddenly writing about my work offering criticism and insight that I'd never even considered! This was big. It felt big. I was constantly wondering if I took full advantage of it. I'm not sure if I did.
I saw the play about 6 or 7 times over it's run. At first it was just about seeing it in action and that was incredible. Then it was about feeling the room as an audience watched for the first time, an even cooler experience. Then there was the anxiety of showing it to people I cared about: my friends, my mentors, my family (none mutually exclusive from each other) who I respect the opinion of very much. And while I know to preserve our relationships they can never be ENTIRELY honest with me, the outpouring of support and attendance from people who I loved and respected was absolutely wonderful (my cousin came from Columbus! My parents from LA!).
But as I kept watching, I began to see all the cracks in my writing that I hadn't seen previously. And as I kept watching those flaws became more and more glaring to the point where I almost couldn't stand it anymore. Sometimes it was small things, a word I used too many times in a scene. Other times it was bigger. Was I conveying this point well enough in this scene? Is this redundant? Worse: is this boring? It's a bit of a narcissistic nightmare to see your words performed over and over again. It's simultaneously so cool and amazing and also maybe a weird form of self-torture.
I became momentarily obsessed with a website called show-score.com, which is essentially Yelp for theater. People who saw the show were going home and reviewing it. And honestly? It was pretty cool. As weird as it can be for someone who has no knowledge of how hard you worked on something to summarize it in 2 sentences, it can also be really interesting. People were seeing different things in the show. Some really liked it. One man messaged me on Facebook early one morning to tell me he liked the play but the ending was abysmal and absolutely needed to be changed. Another told me the ending was the best part. Some people were passionate with their hatred towards the piece, others were ecstatic and surprised by how much they liked it. The best moments were when people I had no relation to came up to me and told me how the play affected them.
This is honestly one of the single best things about writing and creating theater. The ability to affect other human beings is a truly interesting experience. Having enough people view a piece for there to be actual polarization on it is so cool. Having people be emotionally affected by something they saw or even honestly be passionate enough to be mad that they saw it is really awesome. Ultimately I'm glad that MOST people who saw it seemed to like it a lot, and it's been really wonderful to hear their opinions. It's also helped me shape what I work I want to make in the future, including upcoming drafts of Jessica.
So now I've had a production in New York. I've had a play open Off-Off Broadway. Mark it next to biggest accomplishments like having my first reading at school or finishing my first play all the way back at age 19. But what now? My freshman year self never thought past this moment and even as I got older I conceptualized a production as an "end goal" rather than a step. But that's exactly what it is. It's the latest in a (hopefully) long and (even more hopefully) rewarding series of steps that I'll keep taking until I decide I'm done. Right now I see no end in sight.
This morning I returned to the coffee shop where I wrote the majority of Jessica. I sent some emails thanking for people for coming and for their hard work. I wrote this post. After this I'll open google docs. I've got to rewrite Flouridians. Then get to work on the two other full length plays I wrote this summer. Later today I'm meeting with a friend to discuss production on a short film. Tonight I'll apply to two more submission opportunities. Tomorrow, I'll work. And then I'll do it all again. One step at a time, whatever that next step is.
P.S.: I've been listening to Waxahatchee for writing the last 3 weeks straight and it's awesome. So this is what I'll be listening to while I'm writing the next big thing!