DIY- a tale from the LastOnePicked

March 18, 2014

I almost didn’t get into grad school. I was wait listed at Iowa. Rutgers acting problem took back their offer to me that they’d already made when I told them I wanted to wait a little bit to see what I heard from other programs. I remember the time. I was living with a girlfriend in New Brunswick, New Jersey- her roommates were a stunning French exchange student who dated a guy who yelled an incredible amount and a Jersey native female who used to punch hole sin the wall. I was working a day job at a place called MyGym. Which was a gymnasium for kids in Princeton 12 months to freshman in high school. My exact job was the boot camp where parents would drop off overweight kids who I would run through an obstacle course at night while they cried and asked me why are my parents doing this to me? I was much more impotent child counselor than I was talented fitness trainer.

It was quite a life.

Wait listed was not new. Wait listed was much of my identity. I grew up the first of Irish immigrants. A big family- a humble family- you work hard and you expect nothing. You don’t brag, you don’t be too proud. You don’t complain. You don’t expect.

In the politics of middle school life- injustices of All Star Little League status, First Chair, advanced placement– I was told, even if my parents agreed I was being unjustly overlooked- that I should grin and bear it. And so I did.

My uncle has watched me in most of my career, amazed with that background I actually go on stage, that I get applause. He also thinks my upbringing is something that’s kept me back.

“You’re too polite. It’s our upbringing. The people who succeed don’t act nice and polite, they are arrogant or cool. You’d be so far ahead. But I understand. It’s our nature.”

I don’t know if there’s weight to that. I know even when people appreciate my work my first thing I do is disparage it, or say it’s good for where it’s at or say I’m lucky. I don’t want to make people uncomfortable. Which isn’t to say I’m not proud.

When Iowa accepted me I was the last one picked. I found out in May after a few people dropped out. I showed up and I sat in the room and realized I was the only one who hadn’t gone to a private school. My SUNY-Binghamton stood out among Middlebury and Brown, NYU and Yale.

As guest came to festival each year and talked about all the plays I also saw the future ahead of me. It was going to be DIY. The truth is I wrte about things I know which isn’t something people in positions of decision making often care about- I grew up in a dead upstate town. I grew up around people who were working poor- working enough they’d never claim themselves poor but who were obviously dying, kids who couldn’t escape our town without the Army, racially mixed towns who didn’t know how to talk about it… My classmates were writing their experiences too. And I never did or will begrudge them that. And honestly, some of their backgrounds are more similar to those of people who often run theaters. And for any aspiring playwrights who read this I will tell you the absolute truth on getting produced- PEOPLE LIKE TO SEE THEMSELVES ON STAGE. Even if they claim diversity. It’s their background they want to see.

So I turned to self production. Because I was going to have to create my own party. I would never be able to rely on being invited to someone else’s soiree…

Iowa didn’t know what they were getting when they brought me n. But I think they’ve been proud since. I could say the same for theaters or productions where I wasn’t the first choice but the odd gambit, the last ditch…

Today we’re in the Chicago Tribune, an article that I’m so proud of- about a piece I love that I made- my own way. A piece that basically no other theater int he country would have done.

We’ve been in the NY Times.

In the Huffington Post.

On radio across the country.

All with no agents. No publicist. Not because we didn’t want them- but because we were told we weren’t worth their time. I used to be ashamed to even say that. I used to try and wear it like a badge- say I didn’t want their help. Get so used to being LastOnePicked you get afraid how people who don’t know you will look at you if they hear that. If they’ll refuse to take you on your terms but listen to a gatekeeper. I’m not so ashamed anymore.

Audiences will trump agents every time.

Next year, I begin touring KILLADELPHIA again. 5 years after the fact- five years that finally saw the arrest of the murderer of the piece’s main character. Next year sees Working Group tour into multiple middle schools, high schools, colleges, theaters and performing arts centers. It’s a bit unreal. I don’t fully know how to process it.

It makes me want to become even better as person and artist. I have my flaws on stage and off for sure. But the secret of the last one picked is that people start t believe- you start to earn their belief- and that’s worth something. That demands something. So tot he venues, the audiences, the cities, the families I’ve interviewed- thank you.

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