The Real World, Theater Edition: What I Don’t Need Anymore

Barbara Jwanouskos, focusing.

It’s actually really fitting that for the first month of the year we decided to focus on downtime and balance. I’ve felt the need lately in all aspects of my life –professional, personal, and artistic– to really take a solid look at myself and what exactly I want to achieve in these realms, and to make decisions about what I don’t need.

You all know that in my downtime from theater, writing, and work, that I practice kung fu and tai chi. I’ve mentioned before how the lessons learned from the pursuit of that art meld into other areas of my life. Most recently, I took a seminar, in which, I was reminded of how MUCH I truly do carry around! The task was to try to relax as much as possible while retaining the bare minimum of structure. It’s like you’re going on a backpacking trip — you want to pack light.

So, you’re thinking “great, so Barbara is tense, so what? So is everybody and what does this have to do with theater?” Which is probably pretty valid. I guess for me the connection and the a-ha moment in both activities, is that in order to progress further you need to give up something. And again, this might be kind of a duh realization. Still, I think it’s a good reminder and a good self-check to do every so often.

I have a couple writing goals for the year:

-To expand my portfolio by writing new plays. I don’t yet have a goal, but I figured at the very least writing one new full length, one short play, a short film, and revising my play “i stole lance armstrong’s bike” would be a hefty set of goals for the year.

-To get my personal website up and running. This one is so easy that I continuously put it off.

-To write consistently, as in every day. I used to do this more and fell out of practice with it, but to relate back to tai chi again for a moment, the time I started making deep, yet subtle (though absolutely tangible) progress when I made the small goal to practice for at least ten minutes every day and to write afterwards notes on what came up. I have a stretch goal to practice in the morning and evening and each month to increase my practice session by 1 minute.

I’d like to bring in some observations of why these things seem so hard to actually DO (especially consistently). Well, there’s my work schedule, there’s where I live and my commute time, there are the other commitments I have, and then add in the very necessary social outings with friends and family. But there’s also a lot of stuff I could cut out — for instance, really pushing for a fulltime job (I have been already, but I could make some even more pointed decisions to create more time). I could not volunteer myself for as many theater (or other) pursuits.

This one is hard because for me sometimes (especially when your role as writer is to be erm… writing) because I like being involved and socializing. I like helping out. I was talking about this with some of my friends the other night and it’s like, I have this need to only focus on my projects (and of those only the ones I really care about). We were reflecting that everyone else is certainly going to survive without us and no one would probably notice in the first place. Maybe this is sounding too pessimistic, but it really was an affirmation that I believe the work I do has meaning. So why get mixed up in other people’s art children dream projects because you want to “be involved”? I can be involved in a variety of ways. I can make plans to hang out with friends if that’s what I want to do. And I can support organizations, projects, and worthy causes in a variety of ways.

So, to digress for a second, by now maybe you’re like, “Wait, I thought this column was going to shift to interviews…” Well, you know how life goes. As it happened trying to balance all the above stuff and still try to fill my cup before I burned out, I got the timing wrong on my first interview of this year. And so yes, I did decide to write this as an alternative to that. Hopefully it is valuable or possibly interesting to others. But honestly, I don’t care. Not in a “I really don’t care about the content of this blog” way. I do, I absolutely do. I mean “I don’t care what others think about my decision to address this situation in this manner and what I think that they think it may say about me as a person, my abilities as a writer, or my aptitude to be a conscientious theater citizen.”

Phew! I know that’s a mouthful, but this gets to the last thing I’m willing to give up in order to swiftly achieve my goals: thinking. I’m sick of thinking and I’m all about doing. Thinking is great sometimes, but it gets to be natural. I can’t shut it off really. All I do is redirect and intensely focus on what I’m DOING. Maybe I’m over-emphasizing this point, but actually I with I had some companions on this “less thinking, more doing”. I’m so sick of navel-gazing theater to death. Can we just do it? Can we just write plays? Perform in things? Find a makeshift place to put on a play? Even if it’s really slow to get all the pieces in place. Even if it wasn’t as good as it could have been. I wonder if maybe I could do this (and possibly others, though I am certainly not interested in forcing or even working to convince anyone), maybe I could create some great art!

Barbara Jwanouskos is a Bay Area based writer and member of Just Theater’s 2014-15 New Play Lab. Website coming soon…