There's a war going on inside me.
There are a hell of a lot of wars going on outside of me right now, too… and I'm not sure what to do about those, either. The whole world seems to be falling apart. The center cannot hold. (Why do I wind up back with TS Eliot so frequently?)
My small war is between humility and hubris, between agency and inaction, between process and product, between past-tense and present-tense.
"The Gun Show" is up, now, at 16th Street Theater in Chicago. We are in our third week of performances, playing to strong houses and pleased about receiving good reviews. We've extended. What the hell do I have to feel conflicted about? I have a show up!
Every full-length play I've written has been the creative expression of me grappling with a question I don't have an answer for, and desperately need to. My plays are all very different from each other in form and subject, but like most writers, I tend to circle the same set of questions on a pretty regular basis. "How do we go on?" is a favorite for me -- taken from both existential and practical angles. "The Gun Show" asks (amongst other things) how we as a society are going to choose to deal with guns, these dealers of death or security (depending on who you ask) which seem to be intrinsic to our American identity in a way we're no longer entirely comfortable with. How do we go on? Philosophically? Practically? With them or without them?
"The Gun Show" isn't just about guns, though. It's about me trying to figure out how to integrate a difficult, messy, violent piece of my past into my present self. I've been dragging it behind for a long time -- separate, heavy, albatross-like. But at a certain point, going forward in pieces is no longer a very successful defense mechanism, but rather an impediment to progress.
Progress hurts a bit.
I knew that it would, going into this. It's all right. I'm tough as an old tree, really. I can do this. And for the most part, I'm staying in the game -- feeling all the feels, only occasionally breaking for a Law & Order marathon with a Ben & Jerry's and bourbon chaser. Because what good is all this art crap if it's not going to get me anywhere?
I want to get somewhere.
I want to get somewhere farther than I am.
Personally and professionally.
I keep see-sawing between thinking the play is good and thinking it's self-indulgent crap. I keep remembering things from the past that this play is dredging up, while trying to navigate the present and BE present and let what comes up come in, not slam the door on it like I have before. Because it's part of me. It's part of me. It's part of me.
The play is going well. People are coming to see it. Two more theaters want to produce it. So it's time for me to work to promote it. Now. Right now. Not in a few weeks or month, but now, while it's up and running and growing and becoming. Some people are going to hate it -- disagree with it, be appalled at it. I am actively grappling with it myself, still. Art isn't about the easy questions, after all. Right? I'm not entirely sure what to do with the people who LIKE it.
It's at times like this that I ask myself, "WWEAD?"
I don't know Mr. Albee. I have heard him speak a few times, and am in love with his plays. How do you do better than "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" How could you be more difficult and provocative than "The Goat" or "The Lady from Dubuque" or "Zoo Story?" He has written difficult plays his whole life, and he has stayed in the game for a long, long time. The Mr. Albee in my imagination is a grappler with angels, like Jacob in the story, when everything is at stake. So...
Stay in the game, Ellen.
Send out the play, to the theater and the agent and the director you want to work with.
Don't stop wrestling with the play until it's done wrestling with you.