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We Must Practice Gratitude

Satomi Blair as Hiro and Tom Coiner as John in  God Said This  at the Humana Festival last year.

Satomi Blair as Hiro and Tom Coiner as John in God Said This at the Humana Festival last year.

On February 6, 2019, Backstage published an essay by playwright Leah Nanako Winkler titled “You Must Practice Gratitude for Successes Big + Small.” If you haven’t read it yet, do. It’s incredible. It’s everything I aspire to be in terms of the outlook I have on my career, the gratitude I share with others, and the ability to simply be in this industry.

I am none of these things.

At least, I’m none of these things 100% of the time. And Leah’s essay isn’t about that 100% of the time feeling. Which is probably why I love it.

I haven’t seen God Said This at Primary Stages and I didn’t have the opportunity to see it at Humana either. But everyone I know who’s seen it has loved it. (If you’re in New York and able to catch it before it closes this week, do. And don’t read the NY Times review. It’s racist and garbage.) I look forward to the day when a regional theatre near me programs the play into their season, giving me the opportunity to watch these characters I’ve read so much about come to life.

In addition to being an incredibly hard working playwright, Leah is incredibly supportive of the playwright community as a whole, especially women. In the last 24 hours, amidst all (I’m sure) spoken and unspoken pressure to promote herself, she’s tweeted about two different plays currently playing in New York, plays it’s clear she loves: Queen by Madhuri Shekar and Behind the Sheet by Charly Evon Simpson. (By two incredible women, by the way.)

And then there’s this: “I try not to bask in my own insecurities because that is dismissive of the people who support me.”

Read that again.

“I try not to bask in my own insecurities because that is dismissive of the people who support me.”

I know Leah didn’t write this as a challenge, but I’m taking it on.

I fluctuate between the scraping-candy-off-the-floor career Leah beautifully (and painstakingly) illustrates and the people-are-excited-let’s-do-this career. You know: the dream. What I’ve learned in the last year is that there’s not always a true line in the sand when it comes to that leap from “emerging” to “established.” Things don’t (always) happen the way you hope/plan/dream/desire. Successes come and go — or are offered, revoked, rescheduled, and offered again. You become someone else’s overnight success, even though you know it took ten years of playwriting and six years of trial and error on that one play to come out with something that directors love/are excited about/want to find room for in their season/next year/or the next/or maybe it’s a better fit for someone else?

When someone’s excited about the play, it’s easy to feel like the human equivalent of whiplash. And when you’re still writing it — when you’re only sharing it with your own self-doubty brain and your director (if you’re lucky) or your dramaturg (if you’re luckier) — it’s easy to get in the headspace of “This is never going to happen for me. Never ever ever.”

Which is why I’m taking up Leah’s challenge.

This is going to be easier said than done. I know that. But every time that hateful monster who lives inside of me starts to rear its ugly head, I’m going to start listing the folks who support that play, who support me. I’ll repeat their names, like a mantra. Sara, who once called me “the real deal” and always has a dramaturgical question handy to help me unlock my brain. Maureen, who’s been with me every single step of the way with Voyagers. This play is as much hers as it is mine. Robby, who not only has called Dust “the perfect play,” but also made some key industry introductions for me over the last six months. Emma, who believes in me with all her heart and just last month said “No matter how this turns out, your worth does not change.”

I could go on and on until my fingers fall off. But instead, I’m going to write — holding every single one of these folks in my heart.