showing up

knocking at the door

I’ve been thinking about the various – widely varied – periods of my life. No, this isn’t a misplaced Radiography of the Soul post.

Like most people, I’ve had devastating failures and euphoric successes – and a few in the vice versa categories. Again like most, I’ve worked my heinie off (I’d forgotten that term, thank you Michael Symon) both physically and metaphorically. And I’ve been monumentally lazy from time to time, but only after gargantuan bouts of effort.

I’m enjoying the culmination, the amalgamation of my various careers into a discipline I unabashedly adore: Playwrighting. My work ethic and ambition – there, I’ve said it, I’m an ambitious woman – have gotten up the noses of a couple of folks and I’ve found myself wondering, is there a way to grow my career without others’ negatory feelings?

And that brought me to the concept of showing up.

Picking up the pen or turning on the word-processing program. Going to dance class or voice lessons or auditions. Going to others’ performances. Showing up.

The next level is internal: scribbling – unless that’s part of your writerly process – or leaving class halfway through, or rehearsing without knowing your lines or having done your homework negates your having walked into the room.

But if you stuck it out and learned something – even that you’re capable of sticking it out – and you do nothing else with that, did you show up?  If you didn’t send out your play or go to an audition or try to find a job?  Um, nope, didn’t show up.

An actor with whom I’d worked a lot, spent our last rehearsal period showing up late. They had trouble remembering their blocking, but had neglected to write it down. Did they show up? When called to the stage, they answered, “What?” as if they were being called for dinner. And when I showed my outrage at an egregious, time-wasting error – their screaming with laughter and talking backstage for 10 full seconds (and you know how long that is in stage-time) during a quiet onstage moment of the final, recorded dress rehearsal – their response was, “You should be glad I’ve finally invested in this production!” Should I have fired them when, although physically in rehearsal, they never really “showed up”? Hindsight is 20-20, and that action might have saved our friendshp. But I digress.

Another recent example: I put out a call for 10-minute plays by women for Cleveland’s inaugural SWAN Day celebration. At least half of the submissions didn’t adhere to the very clear criteria – another example of making some effort, paying lip-service, but not really showing up. The opportunity included heavy weighting towards Cleveland playwrights, but only one student in the only local MFA playwrighting program submitted, and only 10% of viable entries were local. With a $50 paycheck at stake, in a milieu that usually charges playwrights, rather than paying them. What does it take to get people to show up?

Yet I take a lot of flack for being energetic, not only as a playwright, but also as a self-promoter. “Agents are supposed to do that!” you say? My most successful colleague has mentioned that his agent, while hugely useful for negotiations, has never gotten him any opportunities. So, submitting to opps is another form of… showing up.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if, like a stage-mother, somebody took the reins of both prodding and promoting me (and cooked and cleaned and clothed me)? If all I had to do was sit here and write? Well, no. We live in the world, and the things we learn outside our ivory towers, away from our writing desks, inform our works. The relationships we forge are an integral part of the sitting-alone-in-a-room wrighting-of-plays.

Here’s an interesting realization: the folks who diss me don’t show up when it counts. Hmm. Not really people I want anywhere near my life anyway, right?

I have a new aphorism:

Those who can, do. Those who can’t, don’t.

My advice? Pretty darned obvious: if you want to make success in anything on any level, the first thing you must do is SHOW UP.


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