Thank you for not assuming


I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an Awesome Lady ally. And I think one of the first steps in becoming an ally to the squad is by looking around and acknowledging the subtle gifts, the extra little pushes, that male artists get that female artists aren’t.

In a recent article I read about the ally movement for racial discrimination, the author “nance” (I looked, I couldn’t find her real name) talks about a funny moment in which her husband rides his bike home one day faster than ever before. He wonders briefly if finally all his months of riding have paid off, if his fitness prowess is seriously improved, as evidenced by his speed and agility during the ride. Soon though, he whizzes past a flag pole and sees the way the the flags are blowing. As he stops he realizes that a strong wind has been blowing at his back the entire time.

In other words, it’s not just his improved muscle tone that’s helping the ride go so exquisitely, it’s an invisible but forceful push that he at first didn’t even realize was there.

The author also references this somewhat “classic” article on the assumptions of white privilege in which the writer sets down a list of ways her skin color gives her advantage in situations, small and large, on a regular basis.

Inspired by these articles, and the corollary of them when it comes to gender privilege I came up with a little list of my own. I call it:




–       If I am a director I am most often working on material written by someone of the same gender.

–       If I am an actor I am generally in the majority gender of the cast.

–       If I am a writer no one will read my play and assume I chose the subject matter based on my sex.

–       If I am a designer I will attend production meetings in which my gender is not in the minority.

–       It will not be assumed I want to work plays that have to do with my gender.

–       If I do want to make work having to do with my gender it will not be assumed this is the extent of the kind of work I intend to make.

–       If I eventually make work about my gender I do not have to worry about this defining how people will think of me as a creator for the rest of my career.

–       No one assumes that a grant to work on projects about my gender should be linked with social change.

–       If I bring up an issue with a gender stereotype I will not be told that I’m inserting my perspective into a piece that’s not about that.

–       I am not often asked to play sexually provocative roles.

–       I am rarely asked to wear revealing clothing onstage.

–       If I am aggressive or meek no one will assume that quality comes by virtue of my gender.

–       If I work collaboratively with people of the opposite sex, no one assumes they are the real driving force behind our work.

–       If I direct a play with mostly or all women, I do not have to worry that people will assume I’m doing that just because of my gender.

–       If I direct a play with mostly or all men, I do not have to worry if I’m being a traitor to artists of my gender.

–       I do not have to worry that my successes or failures may reflect on other creators of my gender.

–       I do not have to feel responsible to other artists of my gender at all.

–       I can assume my gender will not be a factor against me getting a job.

–       I can assume my gender will not be a hindrance to me acquiring roles in which the gender is not a major factor of their character.

–       I can assume if I am cross-gender cast that people will look at this casting as an artistic choice and not a gender diversity handout.

–       I can assume when talking about the artistic canon that it is made by people of the same gender as mine.

–       I can assume that when people talk about the “Greats” of my field they will be the same gender as I am.

–       I can assume that the most produced theatrical writer in the world is the same gender as I am.

–       I can take an interest in classical works and not worry that my gender will prohibit me from getting work in this field.

–       I can assume that works in the canon represent a diversity in type of roles for people of my gender.

–       I can assume there are a wealth of lead roles for people of my gender.

–       I can assume when learning about my medium I will be studying artists predominantly of my gender.

–       I can assume my mentors will predominantly be the same gender as I am.

–       It will not be surprising or impressive if I am good with the financial side of my company’s daily upkeep.

–       It will not be impressive or remarkable if I go into sound, light or set design.

–       I will never have to suspect I’m being paid less because of my gender.

–       I don’t have to decide whether it is more advantageous to dress to accentuate my gender or not.

–       If I’m an asshole, this trait will never be linked to my gender.

–       I will never be called shrill.

–       I will never be called bossy.

–       I will never be called bitchy.

–       No one assumes I’m not funny because of my gender.

–       I don’t ever feel like I have to choose between being funny or sexy.

–       No one automatically assumes I have interest in or will be good at working with children.

–       I can assume that if I have kids people will not worry that my priorities as an artist will be impacted.

–       It will not be automatically assumed that I will be motherly, nurturing or emotional supportive.

–       If I am an actor, as I age I will likely be in more demand not less.

–       It is not assumed because of my gender that I cannot carry heavy things or do manual labor.

–       If I have no interest in manual labor or carrying heavy things (because I’m just not fucking interested in it) it is also not assumed that I feel this way because of my gender.

–       When the gender parity going gets tough or the inequity feels too heavy to deal with on a given day, I don’t have to think about it.

And finally, this list is obviously just my own opinion because I intend to invoke the final privilege of the list:

–       No one assumes I speak on behalf of all people of my gender. I can assume I only speak for me.

See you tomorrow allies!


Can we talk about canon for a minute?

I’d like to talk honestly about the canon for a second.

There’s a tiny moment I recently saw a production of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.

First off, for the record, I’m not writing about the particular production. I’ve seen it a bunch and it’s been in there every time. And so while the moment that struck me was indeed performed in this particular version of the play, but my guess is that the lines I’m wondering about are with all likelihood in almost every production of this play.

What struck me was this series of lines:

Brutus. You are my true and honourable wife,
As dear to me as are the ruddy drops
That visit my sad heart

Portia. If this were true, then should I know this secret.
I grant I am a woman; but withal
A woman that Lord Brutus took to wife:
I grant I am a woman; but withal
A woman well-reputed, Cato’s daughter.
Think you I am no stronger than my sex,
Being so father’d and so husbanded?
Tell me your counsels, I will not disclose ’em:
I have made strong proof of my constancy,
Giving myself a voluntary wound
Here, in the thigh: can I bear that with patience.
And not my husband’s secrets?

Can you see them? Can you see the ones I want to write about?

I didn’t. Or rather, I didn’t really hear them initially, while I was watching. I just saw the scene for what it was – a woman asking her husband to unburden himself of whatever it was that was bugging him. But then, I started talking about the scene to someone and I was trying to summarize what Portia had said. It was when I did that, and had to put her words into my own, put Shakespeare’s words into modern parlance that I suddenly said, “What the hell?”

Portia. If this were true, then should I know this secret.
I grant I am a woman; but withal
A woman that Lord Brutus took to wife:
I grant I am a woman; but withal
A woman well-reputed, Cato’s daughter.
Think you I am no stronger than my sex,
Being so father’d and so husbanded

Right? Now it seems really obvious.

Portia begs Brutus to tell her what’s wrong and he says he can’t and in trying to argue with him that he should she says, “Look I know I’m a girl, and by my very nature that means I’m not as good as you. But you did marry me. And my dad is pretty important. Isn’t that worth something of value?”

Can you imagine a female character saying this in a modern play? You’d better have contextualized that character out the wazoo to be able to say something like that and not have an army of actresses beating down your door. But here? Nothing. No reaction. No one thinks its weird.

Brutus responds by saying, “O ye gods, Render me worthy of this noble wife!” He clearly holds Portia in high regard. He thinks she’s the best kind of woman that a woman can be.

But the implicit assumption in this world is that the best a woman can be is never going to be as good as any kind of man.

That’s what’s super f-ed up about those lines in that scene.

So I’m asking: Are we ok with this?

Are we ok with presenting not only the antiquated language of these works but their antiquated morals?

(Sidebar: Can we all be honest too, that though there are probably a freaking ton of women who would die to get into this role, it’s a pretty weird one? Who uses the argument, “PS I also happened to have STABBED MYSELF A LITTLE IN THE LEG to show you how reasonable it is to tell me things.” WTF? Just sayin’…)

The power of the canon is one I still have trouble buying into. I don’t doubt the validity of aspects of these works. But I am not sold that these aspects justify some of the stuff that comes along with them. If we don’t remark on these things, we quietly, gently perpetuate them.

A huge part of the reason I don’t often engage with canon is that I tend not to feel like the roles and stories told about women align with my personal politics or with my sense of equity for women in the artistic workplace. Usually, rather than fighting that system I often find is set up to place women in a disadvantaged position, I prefer to spend my artistic energies on creating new works, stories that I DO believe in, that have the potential to become the canon of the future. While I can see the value of these works from the past, and understand why people pursue this study, that value ultimately doesn’t add up to enough for me to choose a classical work unless it can also be a part of my artistic code of ethics be that in terms of morality presented, absence of obvious and unquestioned sexist or racist attitudes, stories that not only offer women interiority and emotional depth but a sense of agency over their surroundings, etc.

Why are those Portia lines still in a modern interpretation of the play? Just because they might have said something like that back then, is that enough reason to keep saying it now?

For me, the answer is no. For me, a passive presentation of such language is also a tacit complicity.  For me, ALL the plays I present have to support my sense of a female character as fully formed a human and narratively important as a male character. And when I have engaged with the classics on occasion, it’s only when those works either already do that, are tailored in small or large ways so they eventually can do that, or are re-shaped to point out the lack of this quality in an actively examined way. If none of those things can happen, for me it’s just not worth doing.

In the past few years, I’ve required that women re at least 50% of the cast in a canon work. That’s true from massive Swim Pony retellings of classics like LADY M, to more traditional takes like this past summer’s The Tempest, to academic productions like my Midsummer at Arcadia this past fall. And in all of those pieces I also made a conscious effort, especially with student productions, to carefully comb the text for language that might include morals from the past that I find presently repugnant. We need to talk about why certain parts of text are (and should be) cut so that it’s clear we don’t agree as a cast, as a creative space, as a community with these statements if they are left unquestioned and unexamined.

Why this past summer did I cut massive portions of Prospero’s language about the importance of Miranda’s virginity and warnings to Ferdinand to preserve it?

Because even though I see that this is clearly written into the character, I personally find that patriarchal kind of dominance based solely on a women’s sexual purity pretty unacceptable. And I think there are plenty of ways to create a deep and complex parent/child relationship without it.

Because in the context of Prospero’s journey, neither Prospero or anyone else remarks on this as a possibly invalid way of valuing his daughter. And because I don’t value that value system, I’m not willing to support that viewpoint onstage.

If I HAD to keep it in there, because of a producer or purist’s objection, I wouldn’t do that play.

It’s the same reason I cut the classic Lysander line about Hermia being an Ethiop and Sebastien’s about Claribel being loos’d to an African. Because I would never allow those kind of casual and unremarked upon racist statements in a play I was making in the present, so I don’t include them in these plays from the past either.

And look, I understand the historical context in which they are made, but that just isn’t enough for me to justify continuing to say them. When such language is discussed or remarked upon, or featured in a new contemporary understanding, as say, many newer productions of Titus Andronicus do, or are explored or exposed in some way to unseat the assumptions they are based on (as we did often in LADY M) then I believe that the audience will see that my take on this work is different than the attitude of the character. But when such language is left in and is left un-examined or un-remarked on, I believe it creates a tacit assumption that othered identities ARE these things that the characters say they are.

So my rule is always, if I wouldn’t tolerate it from a modern playwright, I won’t tolerate it from a classical one either.

I think that there are a lot of folks who will never want these works modernized and clearly, cutting to change a character’s attitude in this regard or cross gender casting IS a modernization: A modernization to reflect the idea that women or people of color can indeed occupy the kinds of positions and embody themes that were only allotted to white men in Shakespeare’s time. And I think that those who chide cross gender casting for not being “real” or corrupting the text in some way are just refusing to see that argument from the side of the people it most affects.

So lately, I just tell myself that they’ll all die out and I will become the lord-ess of the Philadelphia art scene.

Not really.

Ok maybe a little bit.

– A

Tectonic Shifts

Something tectonic is shifting.

It’s difficult to articulate the magnitude of the slow but massive moving plate of direction and force I feel. It’s something that says it’s time to let go and ask oneself what I actually want, not what I think I can achieve. Of saying aloud what I truly truly can envision.

Let me back up.

So, it’s been a while my dear friends.

I’ve been caught up in the web of work that distracts and delights. My “life” is in at least three kinds of shambles due to lack of attention. But it’s the kind of whirlwind that I adore. How amusing and ironic it is that just as I start to gain some traction in this space, pick up a bit of speed, find a voice through language that seems to start nibbling on the edges of these issues, the work itself intrudes and demands all of my attention. So I’ve had so many feelings and thoughts about making and doing and what matters over these past few weeks. But the energy that I usually reserve for this endeavor, the space and time to think and carve out reason and lessons from impulse and feeling, is currently directed elsewhere most of the time.

So there’s been a lot to ponder, but little time to share it.

Here’s a bite at least.

I’ve written before about the relentless pursuit of the perfect, about my contentious relationship with potentiality. It has been both a motivator and inhibitor. It was, perhaps is still, a trait that I both love and fear in myself.

Loved because I believed that this need to impress, to perfect, to show the world how amazing a thing I can make was/is the reason I make impressive things. I believed that an instinct that runs far back into me, as far back into the conception of myself as I can remember, must be at the core of the work that I do, that it must be at the heart of the thing.

Hated because it was the same voice that said that no amount of doing was enough, kept me awake in the middle of the night believing I would fail this task while simultaneously shouting that it was too small, too pedestrian, too simple to be worth attempting, and that had I bigger vision, I might pursue an artistic feat more real and true.

And too often what ended up happening was this: the beginning of a work is filled with the elated holiness of that first blush, and over time as the thing came into sharper and sharper focus, it seemed to fade from that Aristotle inspired image of a perfection play that lived in the clouds of my imagination. And it’s apparent to me now that near the end of every major process of the last decade or so, I’ve walked away at the moment of the work’s full birth feeling a bit like a fraud, filled with big words and ideas, and scared that someone will expose me and show that none of them have really made it into the thing itself.

But recently, and it’s been building over time, as I’ve found moments to reconnect with old works, think about what truly brought me joy in them, it strikes me that, no, the ideal that I had in my head was not the thing I wanted and loved about being a creator, but a dolly waived in the face vigorously enough that I was distracted into thinking it the goal.

This current piece in particular, this Tempest, shows more than ever how funny that idea was in the first place.

Perhaps this is news to no one but myself, but there is no such thing as THE Tempest. Certainly not with 6 weeks of rehearsal in a park with little money or people. But even with years and infinite funds and whatever space one could imagine, there is no such thing as a definitive. There is just this Tempest, just a Tempest, that I happen to be working on. A particular work made by a particular group of people based on a particular set of factors that govern how the thing is made. Some of these things we can control. Some we cannot. And while I could lament, if I cared to, about how I might better perfect the process, even if I nothing ever went wrong, even if I had more time or money, even if I never lost a performer to circumstances beyond their control, even if the bounds of physics themselves were magically lifted and anything I could see in my mind were possible. Even if all this were true, it wouldn’t change one basic thing:

At the core, the work is you wrestling it out.


With the need to look beautiful.

With the need to be right.

With the need to impress.

With the need to be known.

With the need to reach out to others.

With the need to be larger than you feel yourself to be.

With the need to say something that matters to the world.

With the need to push sadness away.

With the need to feel at home with others.

With a thousand needs that I cannot imagine that are totally unique to you.

With the need to make something perfect and untouchable that no one can ever criticize.

And whatever of those needs drive our feelings and impulses we are often caught figuring out whether to fight or free them as we make our way through the scene (or song, or paragraph, or whatever). Sometimes that fight can feel like endpoint of the work. But I don’t think it is. It’s never the reason we began our art in the first place.

And, for me anyway, I think I’m seeing that beating oneself up about the distance between the ideal of the thing, the perfect version of The Tempest, or LADY M, or The Ballad of Joe Hill is really not about simply getting to the penultimate amazing version of the show. It’s letting the needs dictate the process.

Because perhaps, if I could just get there and prove the worth of the work, the implicit message is that that need with which I am wrestling will magically quiet. Which is why I keep opening the door to another wrestling match even as I grow weary (and older) and feel a little less ready to duke it out inside myself.

But the voice isn’t so strong any more. And I’m a lot less interested in yelling at myself.

Which at first I feared was a mellowing of the artistic impulse.

And perhaps this is what was so disquieting to me several months back when I despaired about the state of my art and myself in it. Perhaps it’s why I felt so far away from the form and unsure if I could continue. Because the thing I identified in myself as the core of my artistic self, this need to work and work and work towards only this “best” version of a piece, wasn’t sitting right anymore. That voice just made me tired a lot of the time.

And in feeling that, I worried that I was losing the central part of myself that made anything worth anything close to worthy. And I worried that I would give in, and make stuff I didn’t care about. That I would give up and stop making at all. That I would have to concede that the making didn’t really matter.

But I think I was missing the point. That I might not make things that appeased the voice. But I also might get to ask myself what I really wanted out of all this. When I am truthful, when I think about the reasons I actually stay, it is no longer to make a perfect piece. It isn’t really to even impress anyone any more. Those used to be bigger driving forces but I don’t know that they are any more.

And somewhere in the midst of this place, one in which there are so many things I can’t control as I usually do, places where there is no way to keep perfection as an attainable outcome, I realize that I have to ask myself what it is that I actually actually want out of being an artist.  And perhaps rather than being dependent on that relentless voice to propel me into success, that perhaps I am actually succeeding in spite of it.

If this work isn’t perfect, but it still feels worth doing, something else must be at play. And I think I’ve honed in on what it might be:

It is the moment when out of nothing, comes something. Whether a room of 4 or 4,000 I am able to witness a birth of sound or movement or word that I didn’t know or only sensed was possible and by helping to direct it, or shape it, or even just witness it I am part of something much greater than the tininess of me. And it can feel perfect in that moment of birth, but the perfection isn’t really the point at all.

It is that in the face of chaos and nothingness and void, there is connection and creation and discovery.

It’s a kind of divinity really.

And I’m learning that it is what in the work actually satiates. Not the most amazing performance, or the most ingenious transition. Because a particular skill or craft does not always equate to genuine creation. Maybe those less practiced in the outcome can actually be a more direct means to find it.

And strangely, in the midst of seeing how joyful I find the moments of that spark in this process in which I am bereft of so many of my usual tricks, I see more clearly the ways in which I am setting myself up to put it lower on the docket of importance.

And so perhaps it’s why I’m coming to this funny cross roads with theater. Because I’m sensing there are ways more efficient to find that spark that ignites through the emptiness. And that the ways that seems most directly plugged into that are more and more looking less and less like a regular process, or theater, or even perhaps “performance” at all.

Like I said, tectonic shifts.

But for now, let’s just enjoy letting the angry perfect voice go in pieces. Let’s enjoy knowing that I cannot give you THE Tempest.

Just this one upcoming, which I think you will enjoy.



O the heavens, we are in the thick of it. O, yes, we are.

I often wonder what exactly I must look like in rehearsals.

The best days I am blessedly unaware of myself, seemingly like the spirit in this play I’m laboring on, a mostly un-embodied ball of energy that floats in and among the room’s inhabitants, sending thoughts and energy to and into them. I am aware of only the echoes of shape and motion – a sweep of the arm, a pacing back and forth, a note scribbled quickly in a book. In this form I feel massive and all encompassing, a thing of air and energy.

The worst days I see myself far more concretely, feel myself sitting on the floor or see the words almost tangibly come out of my mouth. On these days I am small and desperately trapped – by body, by brain, by the limitations of time and gravity. In these moments I often see a room staring at me and in the space of a breath or pause quietly ponder at the insanity of them to have followed me here.

I try to look at them squarely. I try not to shrink under the glare. I try to tell the truth of unknowing while still believing that I (for it is never they that have brought us here) can lead us out of the tangle and wooded thickets we have ventured forth into.

When in directing mode senses come into sharper contrast – sounds either exalt or oppress, the room can be a nest in which to cozy in or an overbearing push that squeezes down on the work like a trash compactor.  It’s like the sensitivity dial is jacked up to its highest point. Even clothes can suddenly itch and scratch with a fervor that seems sudden and unwarranted.

Am I alone in this? Is this why there are nights I toss and turn? Is it why I cannot help myself but to apologize again and again in the room for such sensorial dissonances, whether not I am the cause? I don’t know if it is also the purgatory of other artists to feel this way, to know you must open yourself so wide and full and then chafe at the rough hewn bits that pass through your fingers. To know that the only way to make them smooth is to sit in that roughness and work it out.

In working The Tempest at this moment, I can’t help but feel a little bit of Ariel in myself. I’ve agreed to be here, sought out this particular form of servitude. And I take delight in the use of my powers to create shape and spectacle, to send the inhabitants of this island running, hair up-staring and all aflame like reeds, in many places and then bring them back to meet and join.

But unlike that dainty spirit, I’m sometimes less perfectly certain that I can perform the task to every article, that I can do such worthy service, and do so without giving over to grudge or grumbling. Like this production’s particular version of that entity, which takes its shape not in human form but appears in and about our space’s fabric elements, I am finding that pushing too hard or getting stuck too long forces the magic to be lost. I see how the promises made and kept earlier in this process are no guarantee for pay off and that there is plenty more toil to do.

But when I sit and ask myself on this morning why undertake this service, I cannot help but believe that unlike that spirit, that when it comes to the end of all this I will not gladly demand my liberty. That for me, the strive towards freedom from this earth-bound form is the freedom. That it is not in the finishing of the task, but in the doing of it that we mere humans glimpse at the capacity for magic. That like another in this play, I will miss it well and be sad in giving this work its freedom, even when I know well the necessity in completing the contract to do so.

The time twixt now and the end will be spent by us all most preciously…


Art crush

Hello my friends. It’s, again, been a few days. And this rhythm, perhaps once or twice a week, is likely where I’ll be living for the next few months.

I don’t say that because I think you’re upset about it, I just like to keep folks informed. Because the truth is I’m back in rehearsals, and that changes the tempo, the rhythmic pace, of one’s existence. It gives me such a different perspective on all these things I write about.

It’s a kind of amnesia, getting one’s feet back onto the floor. It’s as if all of the sudden I’m remembering a feeling that I’ve forgotten. There is a kind of: “Oh! This! I remember this. I love this. Why have I been doing anything else but this all this time?!”

This is always how it starts.

All those things we later don’t understand ourselves putting up with. All those indignities that in stark recollection we are surprised at our ability to tolerate. The long hours, the strange spaces, the running from place to place, all of it.

Last night I had people rolling on the ground outside covered in wet and dirty spandex while it rained.

And when it’s good (and right now, it’s very good) it all seems totally worth it.

A new work, for me, is a little like falling in love. And like falling in love, the moment when we surrender to an emotion that has the capacity to make us feel bigger, fuller, than we had been just the moment before, it is easy to allow ourselves to do anything to stay in that place. It is easy for the feeling, which can be so ecstatic and full, to feel like greater compensation than any amount of money ever could.

It is a constant surprise to me that this can continue to stay true even now, ten years into the doing of it.

I was chatting with a friend the other day about this: how the process of making something can feel like someone opens a door and on the other side is something amazing and incredible. And when you have to close it for some length of time it’s hard not to just yell at people who don’t care about the door, hard not spend all your time just waiting to open it again, hard to recapture the image of what’s on the other side.

An artistic love, like any affection, is a process of revealing oneself to an another, an unknown, and finding how you fit into it, into something larger than yourself. It is an amplifying mirror – reflecting one’s image back to themselves in bigger and sometimes stranger ways than we usually see ourselves.

Like love, it causes me to panic, simultaneously scared and excited to meet this new thing I’ve temporarily committed myself to. And the newer that love is, the less known, the more it throws me into paroxysms of emotion. Ups and downs between wanting to commit the rest of my life to this thing and feeling so silly and small and unsuited to this task, waves that come and go over days, hours, sometimes minutes.

I, for one, still struggle to be in it.

Even when I know the agitation, the terror, the butterflies, the inability to sleep as the mind races through images at night, even though I know all these things are part and parcel with the joy, I sometimes don’t know how to just release and let them in. And for me this manifests in extremes of doing and not doing. I spend  hours creating detailed, printed, minute by minute plans for the day, which are often tossed aside within the first hour. And then later, exhausted, I sit and stare out windows or listen to the same song over and over again trying to get it to reveal artistic secrets to me.

This cycling between manic outward production and preoccupied inward energy gathering, like love, binds us to the thing we cycle around in a way that, like love, can feel so specific and special that it’s hard to believe that other people can share this passion. It’s sometimes frightening to think that even the others involved might not care for it as deeply as I do. And like love, the feeling can make one feel enmeshed and alone all at the same time.

I have these dreams about rehearsals. Both waking and asleep. Nothing in them is ever sexual or explicit in any literal way. But they feel like romance dreams. And in recalling them, they pull on the same strings deep in the center of my chest. It is a love ache that these thoughts elicit. I think about a rehearsal’s scene or sound like a person’s offhand joke or their dimple. And like a giddy teenager I can replay the moments again and again trying to recapture the rapture they engender.

Let’s call it what it is.

It’s an art-crush, this.

And like a new love, I worry about letting the feeling take over me. I worry talking about it too much. About putting too much faith in its newness. About giving away all of myself to it before I know it will catch me.

But really, there’s nothing to be done but to just be in it.

To try take it in so we do not deny ourselves the pleasure, with an eye or two on the rest of the world so we don’t too totally lose touch with reality.

To endeavor to be honest with our new love, so that we do not lose our sense of selves in an effort to fit inside it, but stay supple enough to let it change and open us in ways we might not have known possible.

To keep our sense of fairness and standard and integrity, so that even if we could give everything of ourselves so thoroughly away, we don’t, because later, when our love tempers and perhaps even fades, we’ll need it.

– A


As I sat down to write my last essay I started thinking about a single word that could sum up what I wanted from this collaborator thing. And then I started thinking about the times when I have felt at my own personal best as a creative maker. I thought about the times when I didn’t know enough to know that something should have seemed impossible. And thought about the times when something seemed so easy, so obvious, and I totally psyched myself out and was unable to complete the task.

What’s the magic sauce of the first that is missing in the second?

It’s something to do with confidence, with brazenness, with daring with to use the very best of your abilities. It takes courage to believe that you can even if you don’t yet exactly know how.

More than anything for myself and for the people I make with, I want an attitude of:

“Yeah!!! I am TOTALLY going to do this. And if I don’t know how, I will TOTALLY figure it out.”


 “This challenge is awesome!!! It is exciting to me. And above all it is one I will find a way to be capable of.”

You know that feeling, right? The one where you are on top of the world and able to tackle anything creatively thrown at you? That’s what I want: people who believe in their own badassery.

And if you are like me you also know the opposite, the feeling where supposedly you should be able to do this thing you are tasked with, but for whatever reason you keeping messing up, or feeling blocked, or actually do fine but still feel like you escaped without others knowing you’re a poseur that is just skating by on luck.

What’s up with that? I don’t actually think that about myself. So what makes me feel that way? And more importantly, how can I avoid it?

There are some things that seem obious: We prepare. We study. We learn enough so that we are armed with the info needed to tackle the situation. Without that we might literally lack the tools to achieve our aims. This is the eager student who is handed an instrument he has no experience playing. No amount of “want” will make him know the fingerings on a trumpet.

But it’s not just that.

Because there’s that other end of the spectrum where we’ve been doing something forever and then suddenly, weirdly, we start to realize the mechanics of it. We start to over analyze. We choke. We guess and second guess our choices and things that were once easy are now ending up muddy and unclear. When we know we are smart enough why do we let our own selves get in the way of just doing it?

There was a daring and obliviousness in my early work that I sometimes mourn. That stuff wasn’t as clean, as well thought out, as cogently researched or thoughtfully put together, but somehow, that didn’t seem to matter a lot of the time. It felt like it just had a kind of “heart” in it that was going to come through regardless. And often these days in my theater making I feel myself getting bogged down or distracted by knowing every cultural implication of writing this particular line or so totally aware of the piles of books I ought to read before claiming something in that particular scene.

The more I learn the more I realize I don’t know. And it makes it that much harder to feel like that brazen “I know I’m right” confident creator I want to be. I’ve been burned with saying or displaying things I didn’t know enough about in the past. And I’m now smart enough to know that I might not always be right, know that not every choice is the right one. But in creating you have to act like it is. You have to choose and commit or you hesitate and end up doing even more damage than if you’d just gone ahead.

Sometimes I look at others and think, “How do they know they are right? How do they just continue to believe their art is so good?” I wonder where that magic ability, the one that allows them not to question whether they have made the right decision, comes from. And I want to know if I can have some of it.

I suppose there are people that might think the same about me.

Because I try very hard to look like I know what I’m doing. Sometimes I do. But there are plenty of times I have to make a decision or answer a question and I am simply flying by the seat of my pants. Or rather, feel like I am falling by that pants seat. I want to fly. I want to stop looking at the ground fast approaching and stop worrying if I’m going to hit it. I continue to want that confidence in the people I work with. I want it in myself. I want to be in a state of flow in which my high level of challenge is matched with an equally high level of prowess. I want us all to feel like the beasts of creation I believe us to be.

How do we do that? Literally, in a way that I can implement today, how do I start to nurture that? Do I ask more questions of the people that I think do know stuff so that I can steal their wisdom? Do I just assume that everyone is in the same boat and fake it until it feels real? Both? Neither?

I was talking to someone the other day about how I sometimes wish I weren’t a deviser. I said that I wished that there was a single method or cannon that I wanted to subscribe to. Wouldn’t it be awesome to believe that there was one way, one method, to pursue? To know what success looked like and how I could emulate it? To find the art in every finer and more beautifully crafted depth of a detail rather than starting anew with each and every project?

Then I started to think, maybe it’s a kind of an out, this starting over and over from scratch. Is starting from nothing every time a little bit like waiting until the night before a paper is due to begin?

“I would have researched and written a better paper but I only had one night.”

“I would have made a richer play but I’ve no one’s ever done this before.”

I do believe that it is important to question how and why we make the choices we make. I believe we need to make our work useful to contemporary audiences. But a little part, a hidden part, knows that a little bit of the thrill of starting from a blank canvas is that it’s an impossible task. Create something revolutionary that has never been done before. Defy everything that’s come before and do something richer, better and more relevant to today’s audience. And if one gives oneself an impossible task, any success, even a partial one, is a win.

And it’s in the midst of this that I sit right now heading into a summer project – The Tempest – whose measure of success will be just the opposite.

This is no Lady M. This is a straight up, no f-ing around with it, in the park, saying all the lines, Shakespearian drama. For the first time, I have to think about how to make a cut of a script that a lot of people know a lot more than me about. That’s not self deprecating, that’s just true.  Think about it. There are people that spend their whole lives on this one play. There are people who study single lines for years. So when I decide to get rid of this or that, I’m claiming dominion over all that expertise.

Can I stress how different this is than in a work in which I am the originator, where the only person I answer to is myself and my co-creators?

I was reading a scene in The Tempest in which Miranda meets Ferdinand and I was looking through to see if there were any cuts I wanted to make. Then I read this line where she talks about her modesty being the jewel in her dower. Initially, I passed over it, leaving it in. Cutting it doesn’t really help shorten the play and the whole keeping her pure thing is a big undercurrent in their relations with each other and Prospero’s oversight of their courtship.

And then I stopped and said, “What the hell? Would I ever in a million years let a female character in a show I created tell a dude that her modesty was the jewel in her dower?”

No. Emphatically no. I think that is bullshit. I know it’s a historical text. But it’s a historical text that will perform in a modern world and speak on behalf of how I think it should be shared with a modern audience.

And then I started to think, “Oh god. But there’s probably a million scholarly reasons that thing is in there. It’s probably so important for reasons I am not noticing. And they’re all going to be upset if it’s gone.”

But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, I just can’t. I guess people will have to yell at me. Because if I am doing this play, I have to believe in its message. And leaving that line in is a tacit and casual agreement that the foremost concern in that young woman’s mind should be staying a virgin until marriage. And that’s not a world I want people to see, or a view I personally espouse. I want Miranda to be the weirdo, awesome, strange wild child of this island. The same one to whom it never occurs not to carry logs like a man when the guy she has the hots for gets tired.

Because while I want the benefit of others’ expertise and analysis, I can’t let it stop me from my own opinion.  I can’t let it stop me from my own confidence, because that’s the thing that really makes me the artist I am.