The Real World – Theater Edition: A Couple Words

Barbara Jwanouskos, speaking up.

So, it’s been a while since I’ve written more of an editorial for San Francisco Theater Pub instead of conducting an interview with a local theater maker, but I thought I’d write down a couple words this week because I’ve been thinking.

I’ve been thinking about how our artistic systems are set-up and how we engage in them. I’ve been thinking about how we develop our craft and make connections across communities. I’ve also been thinking about all the barriers that come about when you’re trying to make art. And why even make art in the first place and not something useful like a chair? Though it seems even chair-making is a becoming a lost art.

Barbara: Writing is hard!

Barbara: Writing is hard!

I have been extremely fortunate to have been able to connect with other people making theater, help them out, get them to read my stuff and give me their feedback, submit to stuff, have people I don’t know give me recognition, have my writing bolstered by being a part of development groups. Not everyone gets these chances. And I feel very lucky that they’ve come my way.

At the same time, I’m writing my plays and as much as I can I go see theater and be a part of my community (though it’s not been nearly as much as when I was younger since I had less that I was responsible for then). And then something happened. I stopped doing that as much as I was.

Why?

When you look at how we put on plays, you usually have three choices:

1) do it yourself – self-produce
2) make friends with people who can put on your play, like a theater company
3) send it into the ether and hope that your writing holds weight against anyone else out there doing the same

(We haven’t even gotten into the question of how to get people who are not your family or friends to see your plays or pay attention to you in anyway.)

So, these things are hard, which is not a reason not to do them, but something about this process felt icky and off. I felt overly attached to the idea that someone else knew more about what I should create, why I should create it, and whether it was any good. Everyone needs feedback – you can’t live in a vacuum. BUT.

I was thinking to myself at some point this year – why do I do this? It’s extremely painful. There are so many other things I could do with that time that may be more enjoyable and relaxing. Maybe even more rewarding. Why do I keep coming back to this? And the simplest answer that I could come up with is that I do it because I have to do it.

I don’t have a deeper answer than that. I wish I did. Because then I could keep reminding myself of that when it gets hard, when I feel like my writing sucks, that I suck, and that it will probably always be that way. It’d make it so much easier. Maybe this is why I can’t be motivated by money or even pushing to a greater good – though I do think my role in that realm is partly enacted through writing.

A couple months ago, I started looking for ways that I could get in between 5 minutes to 1 hour of writing regularly. Everything that I did was based off a deadline, but it usually went something like, do nothing, do nothing, do nothing, deadline approaches – note that, do nothing, freak out, do nothing, freak out to the point of breakdown, turn inward, do nothing, start doing some mindless task that has nothing to do with writing, deadline is around the corner, freak out, and then finally write something. Suffice it to say, I procrastinate. And I’m a perfectionist. It’s a winning combination. ☺

Anyway, I was trying to break that cycle so I figured, well hey, if I can do a little tai chi every day and get after what I want, then I should just shut up already and figure out a way to do it with writing.

I had this blog that I wasn’t using. Guys, it was the equivalent of a rundown old warehouse that had bug problems or something. Totally useable space that needed some work.

At first, the idea was, “Oh, I’ll just share these short plays and snippets of scenes I write”. But it gradually morphed into a space and time where I could very casually explore creativity through writing without boundaries or rules. I made a goal – write and post something on there every day – so it’s been mostly poems and short stories (WHICH I NEVER WRITE) and then most recently, a little scene popped out the other day.

I was like, “Oh, hello, friend. What’s this?”

The whole shift towards devoting time to this space was to take the power to create back in my own hands. To say, hey, I don’t need anyone to give me a grant for this, welcome me into a development program, say I’m a good writer, buy a ticket to see a play of mine, or pay attention to me in any way at all – and I can STILL write good shit every so often. Honestly, I personally find something of value in everything I put down in words. Some resonate with me more than others, but everything has helped.

A strange thing happened – a small group of people started paying attention to me. No really, like 10 people. But, even though it’s a small group – I don’t know any of them personally. Not a one. All of them live all over the world. Occasionally I get a comment that I restored their faith in online poetry or something – which real Barbara is like, “wtf, me? Really? Are you sure? Cuz I’m just winging it and going with the flow…” And online Barbara is like, “omg thank you for reading!”

My point is that in being able to remove my attachment to any sort of outcome with where my writing should go or what it should do or whether it should make me money or open up any doors, it is in some small way giving people a little joy or inspiration in their day and for me, it’s opened up a huge door of possibility. I’d never fully considered/believed before that I could write a book, or even in theater – that I could get that fellowship or teaching appointment or have my play produced and developed by X, and now, I’m like, “Oh, well, I would just need to set it up as a goal and start training.”

I want to share this because so often as artists we are told no or that we’re missing the mark or that we’re confusing and people aren’t going to get it or that we’re not going to make any money and survive by our art alone. And I just want to say, I think that’s all bullshit and that if you burn with a desire to write, then just write stuff and fuck everyone else who will give you a prize or a pat on the back. They’re cool too sometimes, but it starts – it ALWAYS starts – with what you love. Do that and then if you have a goal you can chip away in some small way every day.

Eventually you will reach a height you hadn’t dreamed of. And eventually you will be working with such speed and proficiency that you wouldn’t recognize yourself five years ago or even five months ago.

And for the people out there that have keys to doors we don’t have – remember why it is that you do what you do. You have the power to open up opportunities for lots of people who are very passionate about what they do. All it takes is a second to listen and a little patience as someone reveals what they are capable of. Know that they have to reveal it to themselves before they can reveal it to anyone else.

Official Babs Headshot

Official Babs Headshot

Barbara Jwanouskos is a local writer. She has a blog called the Dynamics of Groove, which if you go to, know that the bio is still under construction. She is co-writing a play about the Greek god, Thanatos (think the Grim Reaper only less scary) with her friend and fellow writer, Julie Jigour. It will be presented through the San Francisco Olympians Festival on October 15, 2016 at EXIT Theatre. For more information, click here.

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9 comments on “The Real World – Theater Edition: A Couple Words

  1. Hana says:

    Funny that I was talking to a friend last night about getting back to writing and how to get into the habit of designating 30min to an hour a day…per week at least. I’m a procrastination master and need a deadline to force me to write, but I’d like to change that because it’s not efficient. Well, I take that back…maybe…well it helped me write good college papers. 🙂

    Yes. Thank you for this blog as it will help motivate me. So far, I’ve been going to shows and auditions for local theaters. Hopefully one day I’ll have a short play for production. I love theater and I shouldn’t let anything stop me from being part of it.

    • bjwany says:

      That’s awesome, Hana! Happy to help in anyway and thank you for saying that.

      Yeah, I feel the same way — how you described your process is very similar to how I work too. Having a deadline is key because otherwise I’ll hem and haw forever. But I also have all these daily practices that I do and have managed to stay consistent about as long as I do a little of it every day. Basically, it’s like a shark, if I don’t stop swimming, I’ll keep living lol…

      Eventually when I tried this whole write something small every day and post it, it kept me honest. Because if I logged in and missed a day, I’d see it on the thing and be like grrr. At the end of the day, you can’t beat yourself up over it. I mean life happens, right? I tell myself that I’ll keep doing this as long as I can/am interested in it before moving on to the next thing.

      I’m sure you’ll find something similar for you — a process, ritual, or way to write that makes sense, makes you feel rejuvenated and keeps you going. I’d be curious to hear what you find along the way! Happy writing vibes!

  2. devonlabelle says:

    Hey Barbara,
    There are a lot of theatre artists who make useful things. Carpenters and Props Artisans and Costumers are theatre makers too. Sometimes we forget that there are other disciplines beyond writing, directing, and acting, and that not all of those are working in a theoretical context, but in a concrete and grounded one.

    • bjwany says:

      Hi devonlabelle,

      A fair point! I’m also a stage manager and a sound designer, so as a designer, I can completely appreciate your feedback. In my series, I’ve been mainly focused on playwrights and theater artists, but if the blog was continuing, I’d be hoping to expand to include more interviews of other theater artists (of which I would include carpenters, props artisans, costumers, lighting designers and more) like the one with David Molina that I did a while back.

      https://sftheaterpub.wordpress.com/2016/05/27/the-real-world-theater-edition-interview-with-david-molina/

      I would challenge you on your contention that writing, directing and acting is not concrete or grounded since written word, movement, and the conducting of various elements of theater are part of what transforms ideas into an experience. Still, you raise a fair point and I am curious about interviews with various types of artists and makers of all kinds both in and beyond theater. Perhaps it’s something to explore personally.

      Thanks for reading!

      btw, thanks also for your patience with the delay — I didn’t see your comment until now.

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