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How to Show Up

Please Participate (2015) by Jeppe Hein is currently on view at the Portland Art Museum.

Please Participate (2015) by Jeppe Hein is currently on view at the Portland Art Museum.

This morning, I spent an hour or so on FaceTime with a young playwright I’m mentoring. He’d be embarrassed to say that what I’m doing is actually mentoring, but mentorship is the energy that I bring into every interaction the two of us have. He emailed me, asking a career question and rather than hem and haw in front of my keyboard for an hour, hoping to find the perfect set of words to answer the unanswerable question, I asked if we could schedule a time to do a video call.

I wanted to show up for him.

I wanted to actually be there, as much as I could be. He’s a college student in New York, I’m making my own wonderful way out here in Seattle. We’re separated by distance and time zones and a million other things, but we both had the means to use technology to our advantage. So we talked for an hour in a way that was more honest and more deliberate than any email could ever be.

Connor’s email — oh god he’s going to be embarrassed that I’m even using his name — Connor’s email arrived in my inbox on my way home from Portland last week. I was on the Amtrak in a region that doesn’t have quiet cars, or even the luxury of selecting our own seats. It was loud and, despite several empty rows, I was seated next to a young stranger — a youth who reminded me, at least in temperament, of this same playwright.

My Cousin Vinnie  gets it.

My Cousin Vinnie gets it.

I thought back to my first interactions with my mentor Duncan — car rides to and from the airport, ten minute breaks from his own rehearsals, post-performance drinks, dinners. All of them face to face while he was in town from London. I was 22 when I met Duncan and, honestly, I don’t know how much I would have persevered if there wasn’t someone in the industry cheering me on from the sidelines. Well, not from the sidelines. More like from three steps ahead of me in our career.

And then another thing.

I was on my way home from showing up in a completely different way. I’d arranged to go to Portland (for the day!) in the middle of the week, just so I could meet with a few artistic directors down there. I’d put in seven hours on the train and another ten in a city that isn’t my own, simply because I know how important those face to face interactions are. These artistic directors took a chance on me, agreeing to put me on their calendars and talk to me seriously about the plays I thought would work best for their companies. They listened to me share my excitement about my work and where I’m living. They matched my enthusiasm with an enthusiasm of their own. And while I did sacrifice sleep, comfort, and one day of work in order to make the trip happen, what I gained from those meetings far exceeded any financial and emotional spending.

These artistic leaders showed up so that I could too.

This conversation I had with Connor wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last. And Connor won’t be the last playwright I mentor. (And I probably should stop saying “mentor” because the only people who really use this language are mentees.) I know that when I’m retired (haha never!) and I look back on my long career as an artist and a playwright, the people I’ve spent time with in this industry will be just as important as the art I’ve created. The amazing human beings I’ve worked for, worked with, and have been lifted up by will leave a lasting imprint on my art. The folks who’ve torn me apart, deceived me, and hurt me will live on too — as lessons for what not to do, how to not treat people. Those people are teachers too.

What’s a play without a community?

It’s a flat set of words. It’s a static piece of art. It’s the potential to be something great, only without the greatness. But every time I show up for someone — or they show up for me — those words become something bigger than all of us combined. That’s the world I want to live in. That’s the art I want to make.