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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Monday, July 18, 2011

How to Stay a NY Playwright / Day Jobs

Thought I'd link to this lovely essay by Barbara Hammond.

"Re-claim the open road of an empty page and a sharp pencil. Know that if you have a dollar you can get a pencil and a notebook and begin to create. Strive for, but don't require, a beautiful view, quiet hours, a room of one's own. It has been done without any of those things in place. Prisons, deserts, hidden attics. It has been done on the surface of many an imagination."

The essay talks a fair amount about frugality, about cutting costs and embracing a spartan life. I was talking to a friend about being 35 and meeting, regularly, lately a crop of people in their mid-twenties who talk about how nearing 30 makes them feel. These people always seem extremely defensive about taking paid work, or concerned about what it means that they have to. Not that I'm very old, far from it, but I'm in that odd space where many of your friends have either moved out, re-assessed, or achieved some sort of grand success. Being impoverished, though, loses its luster and romance for everyone.

For me, what can I say? I work in an office. I've worked in offices since 1999. Temp work, permanent work. Currently, I actually have an office that overlooks the Governor's Island. I have a tie. I have business cards. I have a company Blackberry. I'm fine with it. In fact, I like where I work - they do good things here. I strive for success as a playwright, whatever that may mean. I'm undaunted by setbacks, I have publications and reviews, I feel like I have the respect of my peers. I aim for bigger stages, think big, believe in my talent and the importance of perseverance. I don't see myself wearing a tie forever, and I won't lie, there are mornings I wake up and look in the mirror and go "Again? Really?"

Then again, I've lived on next-to-nothing and let me tell you: it's fairly uninspiring. I didn't find it freeing and fun. I found it to be a constant weight on my mind and chest. I borrowed money. I stared into space, thinking about how I was going to eat and pay rent. I slept on couches. I got by. I don't think to myself "That was fun. Can't wait to do that again."

No one who currently writes for the stage created the system in which they reside. None of us have the power to create a national arts culture that pays theater artists what we're worth on our own; none of us believe that private subsidies, expensive tickets, TV stars on stage, and Disney are doing us all any good. The cash is elsewhere. When Annie Baker got her Isherwood review that announced her as a major talent, we all knew she'd be writing for television shortly, and I'm sure she is. Where are where we are. Tony Kushner makes his living writing screenplays.

I don't really want to write screenplays. I might give it a go here and there. I want to write plays, in New York, where my family and friends are, where my wife and I live, where my friend's children play underfoot, where we have great restaurants, where they show all the movies, where I've made my life. And so, I go to work. I don't really feel like a bad artist because I go to work. I feel like an artist that lives in the United States, and this country thinks art grows in trees, and should be delivered to them via Whispernet. It is what it is. I do what I have to do.

Maybe what I'm writing seems a little self-justifying and defensive. It's not intended to be. I'm sure there are plenty of other playwrights and actors and directors who feel this way, and often feel a mild sting when it's implied that day jobs are a sort of poisonous compromise. It's more poisonous to create rules for ourselves that make it harder to live an already hard life, I think.

I guess, in short, I think being an artist and making a living are just different things.


ukejackson said...

My "day job" is being a musician -- meaning, most of the time, there are ways to stay broke. Oh well.

ukejackson said...

"two ways to stay broke"

Kristen Palmer said...

I like how you put this Matt.

Gyda said...

I had a lovely acting teacher at NYU who had been in 8 (EIGHT!) Broadway shows at the time (I think by this point it's 9 or 10 or more), and the best lesson she gave was that SHE HAD JOBS ON THE SIDE. That EIGHT Broadway shows under your belt, you still made money teaching at NYU, or being a part-time real estate agent, or whatever. She hammered it in our heads that having a job on the side, for cash, did NOT mean that we weren't real actors. That pretty much EVERY real actor had to work on the side. And that that was perfectly ok. It was a great thing to hear.

Mother of Invention Acting School said...

Really, really eloquent and pithy.

Wallace Stevens worked as an insurance executive till he died. So there's great precedent.

JoshuaSigmund said...

Hey Matt, you said it man. I am not a playwright, but as an aspiring travel journalist, am in the same spot. I have been "crashing" with friends for two months since I returned from my last expedition, and now have to start paying. I got a job as a part time Associate Editor for a state magazine, which is great because it keeps me writing, interviewing, and gives me some time to do what I want on the side. But that's my question: where do you find the time - enought time - to actually get momentum going and get a major project accomplished?