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Capturing Myself in My Own Image

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I went to a photoshoot this morning.

It was a photoshoot for a secret secret project that I can tell y’all about next month. It was a photoshoot for a play that makes me want to scream and laugh and read and share and keep working and keep working and keep working. But all of these thoughts and feelings and joys and frustrations come from working on the script, conversing with the characters, being alone in my apartment as I type into the void that is my computer.

And even after I have a full draft to share, I’m constantly looking for ways to disappear into the collaboration. I don’t ever want the people I work with to feel like they can’t be honest, that they can’t offer feedback, that they can’t find their own dreams and frustrations with the characters I’ve created. I’m the playwright, but I’m not the star. At least, that’s not how I see myself.

Today, I stood in front of lights and backdrops — cameras flashing — and I was the only one there.

It’s a weird feeling, being the only person responsible for something, being the star of my play’s narrative. I spent hours, months, pages creating the work that will accompany these shiny new photos. (Well, I hope they’re not that shiny. I washed my face before standing in front of those bright lights.) But the play doesn’t entirely feel like it belongs to me. I asked the photographer to take a photo of me screaming, one that I’m sure won’t make it in the final cut. But this play has something to scream about. So many of my plays do.

Today, I feel like this image of the Sahara Desert.

Paging through literally hundreds of photos from this year alone, I caught my breath and stopped my cursor over this image of the Sahara Desert, photographed by astronaut Scott Kelly from the International Space Station. I wanted to find a picture of myself, something to share that didn’t feel overly staged. Something that didn’t show up on another page of this very website. But every recent photo I love of myself is of my shoes, not my self. And when I saw this land mass, I felt calm, seen, and so at ease.

I felt calm and seen as I flipped through today’s photos of me, pictures I viewed on a tiny camera screen — an imperfect situation and a special touch. As we introduced ourselves, the lead producer asked us to share a word or phrase that encapsulated what we were feeling in that moment. Mine was “Help!” The photographer did. I didn’t think about my peeling sunburn or my eyebrow pimple or my too long hair or my tight jaw. Instead, I thought about how much fun I was having, how badass it is that I’m getting a new set of professional photos, how excited I am to share this story with a whole new audience.

But I’m ready to be back on the team.

It’s fun being the star for a couple of hours, to take joy in this idea that what I have to say is the authority on the subject, to revel in the fact that my image looks damn great. But I don’t create to be the star. I don’t write to be famous. And I don’t thrive without my team: directors, dramaturgs, actors, designers. Next month, I’m disappearing into a set of rewrites for this secret secret project. And the we’ll emerge together, ready to make this the strongest play it can be.