Several folks have asked me for text copies of a short piece I performed at the recent City Lit 30th Anniversary Benefit (some of it originally written/performed for The Callback, a radio show podcast out of Strawdog Theatre back in 2007). I am perplexed. I have no idea if a performance piece will work as an essay… But I am glad to share it:
What’s my deadline?
When I sit down to write… I need a little treat. I need a little reward for sitting down to write. I also need to set up the scene: a real writer would be sitting at the computer with a cup of coffee. Or a scotch. Yes, a real writer would have a scotch. But I don’t like scotch. I’ll have a glass of wine. Yeah… this looks good now.
I bet I could write if I wasn’t hungry. I should make a little snack and then I’ll be able to focus. Except who could write in the middle of this mess? I’m not going to be able to concentrate until I clean the apartment.
I know a lot of artists who are self-starters. Artists who produce work even though no one is making them do it. My dad was that kind of artist. He was a painter. He’d come home from a long day at work, eat dinner and then sigh, “Well, I guess I better go paint.” Like someone was making him — but no one was! He was painting because he wanted to. Or even when he didn’t want to, something inside him was making him do it.
When I was a kid, whenever we had guests over my mom would whisper “Keep an eye on your father,” because sometimes he would disappear. He would run down to the basement for an extra chair for a guest and wouldn’t come back. He had passed his workstation where that landscape was not turning out as he hoped. And it’s not that he’d reject the party — he’d forget it was up there. He had no reason to be in the basement but to fix the sky.
I get that. I understand sudden inspiration and the pull just taking you from wherever you are. But in truth — I don’t have inspirations or pulls – unless the press release has gone out and I’ll have to return ticket money if I don’t finish the project. But my Dad could say, “I guess I better go paint.” And then be able to do it! No deadline! I so admire artists that have that thing in them that drives them and makes them create. I don’t have that thing.
One of the many features that is wonderful about theater is the deadlines. If you’re acting or directing or writing or designing for a show, then it’s going to happen. If you’re ready or not, if it’s good or not — that train will be leaving the station. You can only explore and experiment and start over and delay decisions for so long and then you just have to do something — because the audience is coming. I love that about theater. With any creative project, you can always make it better. But better is the enemy of done.
For years I wanted to write but I could never finish anything. I’d barely even start. I’d write a page or so and it would suck so I’d stop. But the first time I committed to creating a show and it was put on a theater’s calendar… then the fear of producing Crap was replaced by the greater fear of showing up empty handed… of being in breach of contract… and then I had no trouble producing work.
The only thing that makes me finish a show is having a gun held to my head. Otherwise I just keep making it better.
Yes, I’d love to create a little something for your show… What’s my deadline?