There’s a grim mood in my city this weekend, Constant Reader, the balmy 70 degree temperatures notwithstanding. (Actually, for some of us – those of us who’ve written plays about climate disaster serving as a tool to implement fascism, let’s say – the weather’s making our mood even grimmer.) The upcoming midterm elections, and the massive uncertainty around them, have people on edge. (Especially since all of the likely outcomes lead to something terrible down the line.) That’s all on top of a host of other social ills and structural problems, a line of dominos all set to fall down upon us in rapid succession. And within my own industry, there are still thousands of workers sidelined by a pandemic that’s never gone away. Commercial productions may be back up and running, but they’re routinely shutting down for days at a time as whole companies get sick – the coronavirus paying no attention to the continual cries that “Broadway is back!”
I’m seeing a lot of despair on my friends’ and colleagues’ social media accounts, and to a great extent that’s normal. I’d be worried if they weren’t worried. But I’m also seeing a lot of people talking about leaving the arts behind as a career. Some simply don’t see the opportunities that have been lost over the past few years coming back any time soon. But many more have expressed some variation on the lament that “they don’t know what they’re doing it for any more.”
To which I have to ask: what were you doing it for in the first place?
I’m not being flippant here. When I first really felt the pull of the arts, when I realized both its inherent value and the role I wanted it to play in my life, I was growing up on Long Island in the middle of the 1980s. The black and tawdry heart of Reagan’s America, a climate that was profoundly hostile to most of what I consider to be the social contract, and just about everything else that I value. In the complacent and judgmental landscape of suburbia, I didn’t have a whole lot of peers who agreed with me about much of anything. But there were books and movies, and the occasional reports that would reach us of what was happening on theatrical stages elsewhere – places we could potentially get to if only we were permitted the train fare. These stories weren’t simply escapism, although the 80s certainly produced a fine vintage of that sort of thing. They were also an assurance that one wasn’t alone in noticing how bad things were. There were names like Orwell and Vonnegut and Huxley, and science fiction allegories on cable, and all sorts of strange and wonderful missives from a world where people didn’t have the blinders over their eyes that your neighbors did. They were resistance, in a time when that meant more than simply putting a hashtag in front of the world.
I tell stories because I recognize the need for that. Not because it’s ever going to make me a ton of money. Not because it’s easy. Not because it sounds like a cool thing to do when you’re talking about it at somebody’s party in a cool Brooklyn apartment. (I may live in Brooklyn myself, but not the cool part.) Not because it’s anything I ever felt entitled to.
Because it needs to be done.
I’ll be cutting this post short (though a glance at the word counter suggests I’ve been my usual verbose self) because I have a deadline coming up next week, and I’d like to think the play I’ve been drafting the past few months might have something useful to say about our moment to somebody, somehow. As always, there is work to be done. And if you believe in this work, then you need to be doing it right now.