Social Media Associate
Take a trip with me, will you, with Doc Brown in the DeLorean to the Summer of 2011. The Bay Area Playwrights Festival.
Of the seven plays on the festival, one of them had longest title of a play I’ve ever seen or heard of. As marketing intern, I was required to read every play. Something I wanted to do anyway. Most of the plays had short titles like Hong Kong Dinosaur, Home Below Zero, or even Rock Creek: Southern Gothic.
But the full official title of this play?
We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South-West Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915 by Jackie Sibblies Drury.
I started to read it but (I’m ashamed to admit) work got in the way and, although it was the first play I picked up, it just tossed it into the “finish later” pile – and there it remained.
So, I went about my business. Marketing, posting blogs, and listening to the great minds of all the great artists at work. It was a life changer in many ways. Seeing all the playwrights working on their plays from the pre-festival retreat to the rehearsal process. Being there, seeing these professional playwrights at work made me realize I had things backwards. I had long called myself an actor who writes on the side for fun. But now I knew: this is what I needed to do. Write.
Among the plays I got to see, was the one with the long ass name that I didn’t ever get to.
It started simply. And very quickly I was lost. But in a good way. And by the end, I was speechless, exhausted, and unable to move. It was a heavy topic for sure, race and genocide – but it was the complexity of the journey and its form that impacted me hard, and I don’t think I was prepared for how deeply I was affected. I came out of the play with a feeling of responsibility, that as a storyteller I had a great responsibility to the stories and the types of issues I choose to talk about in those stories.
I couldn’t put all this into words at the time, but thankfully when We Are Proud to Present… opened this year in Chicago at Victory Gardens Theater I saw a video interview with Jackie and her director Eric Ting, who also directed the BAPF reading. He [Eric] summed up what I could not at the time. But I felt it. I felt the mandate that I, as an artist, needed to do better, and write better. Not that everything I wrote should revolve around heavy issues like that, but the realization that storytelling is a powerful tool. I learned that if you approach your work only from the perspective of art-making as entertainment, you lose the work’s connection to society. I realized that, if done well, my stories could change people and, even, society. Such a tool requires the utmost responsibility and care.
That’s why I was devastated at the end of the play. I had the sudden feeling of great responsibility on my shoulders. This work was no longer just a fun, artsy expression of my personal thoughts and dreams; it was more, so much more. And it was the first time in my life that I felt and understood that. After that, everything I wrote had to be more. I couldn’t just settle for something that was mildly entertaining and academically acceptable. If every play I was writing wasn’t the best thing I had written so far, then why write it? It’s like that scene in Walk the Line when Sam Phillips tells Johnny Cash what type of song people want to hear. “If you was hit by a truck and dying and you had time to sing one song…one song that would sum you up”
Now flash forward. It is almost a year later and I have six big ass plays in my “to read now” list. Each one of them is adventurous and challenging, and it seems, as I have begun to read, that I am being again challenged by six incredible playwrights and six amazing experiences that I will remember for a lifetime. Each play challenges the issues of the day, whether it be war, politics, gender identity, the issues of international surrogacy, morality in corporate America, or ameta-theatrical journey mirroring Mao’s impact on Modern China.
Note to self: as we come off of the Des Voix Festival, busy with wrapping up, never get so busy that you forget the great art that’s right in front of you. Had I done so last year, I might have completely missed We Are Proud to Present a Presentation… And if I had I may have never challenged myself to write plays that really matter, and that strive beyond good to truly exceptional. I’m still working on it!
This festival may only last two weeks but, for those of us behind the scenes, it is an endeavor that lasts months and months and creates the memories that last forever. I know many may think I’m over-hyping this since it’s my job to market the damn thing, but believe me when I say the Bay Area Playwrights Festival is an institution that NEEDS to last forever. It has changed my life, and hopefully in the future I can return as an artist and help inspire some confused, soul-searching intern wondering what to do with his life. That would be just perfect.