Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Do the work.

I've been inspired by one of the emerging voices of the American theatre to take a good hard look at my generation. Over on HowlRound, Mat Smart has some biting and indicting words for his fellow emerging playwrights, as well as for artistic directors and literary managers the world over about why so many of his fellows are flailing and failing.

I would like to extend his indictment to many if not all theatre-makers of a certain age. It's not just playwrights, Mr. Smart. It's all of us. We're all fucking lazy.

And come to think of it, I wonder if it's just theatre-makers of a certain age - I wonder if it's not a great big cross-section of the American population who needs a kick in the ass. The concept of post-collegiate flail is not a new one - there are movies, tv shows, books all about the idea that America is chock-full of intelligent, well-educated, liberal arts inundated slackers who are baffled by the world's seeming refusal to open up and let them at the good stuff because they just got a degree, dammit, and had that bitching internship at that fancy company and that somehow makes them qualified to be in the room where the decisions get made.

My generation is one of crippling entitlement and deceptive self-concept. To speak from a place of acknowledged privilege for a moment - in my circles of friends growing up: mostly white, mostly middling middle class or so, predominantly in Central California, Oklahoma, and Eastern Nebraska - going to college was never an "if" but rather a "when." We are the first generation raised to believe we can be whatever we wanted to be. The sky is the limit. Take this aptitude test. What kind of work would you find fulfilling? What kind of lifestyle do you want to lead? Where do you want to live? Where would you like to go to college? What are you looking for in your college experience? College, college, college, choice, choice, choice. We were taught that we are loved just the way we are, that we're good enough and smart enough and with hard work we can do anything our little hearts desire - anything at all.

But we've forgotten the "hard work" part. What we haven't forgotten - as made evident recently in the New York Times - is the blame. Mat Smart talks about the perceived blame that lies with artistic directors. The NYT piece blames politicians and the torpor of the economic engines lugging themselves back into motion.

Meanwhile, Seth Godin is talking about the opposite. To me, included in the tyranny he's railing against, is that tyranny of blame. And the entitlement that its presence implies. Young college graduates, emerging artists - I'm sure we're all lovely. I know we all did really well on that paper we pulled an all-nighter to complete - that one that counted for 25% of our grade and which we totally got away with. The one that we wrote in 5 hours even though we had 5 weeks, because as long as it got an A who gives a shit and there was just so much other exciting stuff happening in the middle of our "college experiences."

I know you put in your time. And I know no one told you how to adjust your measures of success for your "real-life experience" post-college. No one told me, either. And, like you, I am subject to those reinforced habits of procrastination and distraction by all the cool shit there is to look at and do all around me all the time. But guess what - it's time to focus, kiddos. It's time to pick. It's time to stop blaming other folks for not being in the room where the decisions get made.

It's not just playwrights, Mr. Smart. Our generation needs to get our collective ass in gear and do the work, do the work, do the work.