Posted by Dan Kitrosser: Playwright, WL Teacher, Funny Guy Extraordinaire
I am very bad at getting things together. Even as I write this blog, it is after, weeks, dare I say, months of Rebecca asking me to do it. In fact, I was supposed to do it an hour ago, but then I got a phone call, and I had to schedule a rehearsal, and one actor in a reading of my new play wanted to switch parts, and then other things happened. I had to go to the bathroom, and then my roommate came home. Even now, I'm stalling getting to the point. My procastination defines me in a way that I think is unique and profound, and that other people think is exhausting and irritating.
So why am I telling you about this? What is the virtue of my proctrastination?
I'll say this. Whenever I think about myself as a writer, and about myself as a procrastinator, I think about that inevitble moment when I do complete something, when it needs to be done and how that motivates the spirit and the artist. And I think about (here it comes, the reason for the rambling preamble) the 2002 Philadelphia Young Playwrights Festival. I was 18 when I won for my play "be here now," which went on to be a finalist in Stephen Sondheim's National Playwriting Competition. I don't win things often. I've never won a raffle, or a lottery. I'm terrible at video games, and then there's sports. Ahh, sports. To feign a champion's spirit, I've been known to shout "Victory!" in the supermarket when they have the brand of chips I like. And yet, winning the festival in 2002 wasn't the standout moment of that experience for me.
What is the standout moment?
It was printing the play off my computer. It was binding it with three brass fastners. It was biking a mile to the post-office, paying for the postage with my own money. It was making entering this play a covert operation (insert Mission: Impossible theme music). It was getting everything together, being in charge and in control of the fate of my play.
The year before, I had submitted a play to the festival and recieved a very nice reponse. The reader, who gave me a four paragraph critique of my play, wrote at the bottom, "No matter what rank this play gets in the festival, attention should be paid." And in 2001, of the 1021 entries, I didn't place. The truth was that the play had nothing to do with me. It was about five gangsters. I'm not even one gangster! My skill at 16 wasn't enough to make a play about five guys from the wrong side of the tracks be vital. This was not the play that needed to be written by me. But that reader's response was like Burgess Meredith from Rocky telling me to stay in the ring.
And so I submitted another play. A personal play. A play about me, my family, my life. And I was so nervous about what people would think or would say or would do that I submitted it in a secret--I didn't tell anyone. Again, it was a covert mission.
But there's nothing like seeing one of your plays go into an envelope and then into a mailbox. You want to sit with it, hold it, flip through the pages forever. You want to procrastinate letting your baby go. But there are deadlines for submissions, and there's only so long a postal worker will let you stand in front of his mailbox with your bike on the floor flipping through your play. Looking at "be here now" then, I didn't know that in six months I would be watching it on Philadelphia Theatre Company's stage, I didn't know that in a year, I would be asked to be a judge for the Festival, be asked back as a teaching artist, write more plays, act Off-Broadway. None of that was important. What's important is that every time I finish a play, I cradle it, I touch it, I hold it.
That hasn't changed.
Submitting to festivals gives me the focus, though, to get everything together and to send it on its way. Like I say to my students, "Plays are meant to be seen and heard." Writing is a very personal, private experience and festivals allow us to take that experience and share it with the world.
It still may take me forever to return emails, phone calls. Don't talk to me about the dishes that pile up in the sink. But I can get a play out there, because that's where it has to be.