by 99 Seats
Man, this post is way, way, way overdue. I actually meant to write about this stuff on the blog about a month ago, but events kept getting in the way. And then I meant to write it last week, but there was too much stuff going on. And then I meant to write it yesterday, but by then, I was tired from everything else. Today, though, today is quiet and relatively peaceful and I have some time to myself. So here it is.
I've left New York City.
On Tuesday morning, I got on a plane for Los Angeles. I'm writing this from my sublet in central L.A., sort of Thai-town, sort of Little Armenia, sort of Los Feliz, if any of those words mean anything to you. They mean only a little bit to me right now. But mostly they mean "home."
So how the hell did this happen? Like Hemingway's quote about going broke, gradually and then suddenly. I've been kicking around making this move for a while now. My reasons are about one-third professional, one-third personal and one-third that place where the personal and the professional overlap and become the spiritual.
On the professional tip, I don't think it's a surprise to anyone that I've felt fairly frustrated by the NYC theatre scene. I've been banging my head against its doors and ceilings for nearly two decades now and, honestly, I'm tired. I'm tired of busting my ass, gathering resources, calling in favors, stretching fifty-cents to make a dollar and then at the end of it, having a lot of bubkis to show for it. That's overly harsh. Let me soften it a bit: I don't know what else to do. One of the reasons I've been largely absent on this blog for the last few months has been an absolute torrent of work. I stepped down from the leadership of The New Black Fest and basically did project after project. Between about last November and this spring, I wrote two full-length plays (one a three-act bear), a longish one-act and two ten-minute plays. One of the ten-minute plays received a full production and three week run. The other ten minute play had a quick and dirty production for one night in a bar. The longish one-act got about a week of rehearsal, then a one-night presentation. About a month later, we got another whack at it, with another week's rehearsal and three performances, in a semi-staged manner. The two new plays got a few hours of rehearsal and then one-off readings. I also got a workshop presentation of another full-length play, a week or so of rehearsal for that, two performances, semi-staged. Oh, and a friend of mine who runs a community theatre in Rochester put together a reading of a group of my short plays. I think I'm even leaving some things out...Wait, I am. I also wrote a short holiday-themed piece for a reading series and two short pieces that I read myself, one at another reading series and one at a special event honoring a friend and colleague. Basically, from November until May, I had a deadline every week. Most of the work I did I consider some of my best. I grew as a writer. And many of these events were well-attended and well-received. All of which is, and should be, satifying enough. I'm doing better than a great number of writers I know and I am blessed for the opportunities I have. But.
My disdain for soccer is well-known amongst my friends. In particular, I'm dismissive of soccer because of the possibility of a 0-0 tie. That can't be a satisfactory result, no matter how brilliant your defensive plays are. As I joke (and I may have even stolen this joke from someone), those guys ran around for 90 minutes and I scored as many goals as they did. And I just sat here drinking a beer.
By the same logic, the guy at my local bar who sat there, every night for the last seven months, drinking cranberry and vodkas had as many productions as I did. I was just more winded.
At a certain point, you start thinking it's you. I can say all I want about structural this and structural that, and none of this doesn't mean those imbalances aren't true, but there's a certain point where you have to consider that nobody here really wants you. Or you don't know how to make them want you. And if that's the case, why keep digging this hole? I'm careening into my late thirties. If there's time to make a change, it's now.
I've always tried to be honest about my skills and abilities: I can write some pretty good dialogue, turn a good phrase here and there, and make a pretty decent joke. I prefer naturalism and realism to experimental theatre. I like contemporary stories, usually with a "ripped-from-the-headlines" feel. I'm attracted to the worlds of genre fiction, but I like tweaking it ever so slightly. The current trends in theatre run pretty much counter to all of that, unless you're a big enough name or can land a big enough name to make it to Broadway. I don't come with the kind of pedigree that opens doors on its own. I've felt stuck in a limbo. And sometimes, even my closest friends and colleagues have basically said, "You should be writing for television, not theatre." Generally in nicer terms than that. So...I may not actually be a playwright.
And if not, well, then, why not try my hand at another medium? At another city? So, to paraphrase the single worst phrase in modern sports history, I'm taking my talents to Venice Beach.
Please don't see this as "taking my toys and going home" or slinking out of town away from a trail of failure. I don't. I see it as a moment of clarity. I think I know what I'm doing, maybe for the first time in a decade. That's a good thing.
Personally...I've never lived more than an hour and a half from New York City. While those kind of roots are comforting, they can also hold you back. I wanted to see who I was without the back-drop of New York around me. Especially before I could never get out, never live anywhere else.
And thus and so, Flight 1691 brought me here, to a neighborhood that is really nothing like anything I've known. The closest equivalent is the farthest reaches of Queens, but that doesn't cover it. It's all just so slightly foreign. Mostly in good ways. I'm starting to like it.
A few nights before I left, I got some friends together at a bar and one of my closest friends and colleagues came by. The bar was in my old neighborhood of Inwood and he came all the way from the depths of Brooklyn, and so had to leave on the early side for the two hour ride back home. Right before he left, someone played Bruce Springsteen's gorgeous anthem "Thunder Road." And we belted it out lustily. This song fit my spirit and the time just perfectly. New York isn't exactly full of losers, but the feeling of breaking the bonds that hold you back and leaping out into the free air, that is what I felt. What I'm still feeling. I want to leave you with that. Even though I'm not leaving you at all. I'll still be sending dispatches from L.A. I do plan to take a whack at theatre out here and I know you're all just dying to hear more about TV writing. But for right now, close your eyes, listen to The Boss and think about driving down a sunlit road, the top down and a bright clear sky above you...