Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Old Questions for a New Year

Marissa Skudlarek, heralding in the New Year. All the questions at once.

What am I going to write my Theater Pub column about this week?

Isn’t it presumptuous to think that I will have something interesting to write about every two weeks till the end of time?

When will the end of time come, anyway?

Is this format cheesy?

How meta and self-indulgent can I get, anyway?

Is this café playing French music to commemorate the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack or do they just always play French music?

Should I write about the Charlie Hebdo attack?

Do I have anything that’s actually worth saying about the Charlie Hebdo attack?

Do I have anything that’s actually worth saying about anything?

Do I have impostor syndrome?

Do I have depression?

Do all talented people fall prey to impostor syndrome that leads them to underestimate themselves, and do all untalented people fall prey to the Dunning-Kruger effect that leads them to overestimate themselves, and is that why the world’s in such a mess?

Where do I get off, dividing people into “talented” and “untalented”? Isn’t that presumptuous of me, too?

How can I cultivate compassion in my heart for all beings when I am frustrated by how much idiocy I see around me?

Is it ableist to call people idiots?

Is it fair to pull you down the rabbit holes of my mind?

If I were a man, would I be this concerned about seeming “presumptuous”?

If I were a man, would I have a large penis or a small one?

What does it say about me that I just wrote the previous sentence?

Is this column an example of a smart person underestimating herself or a fool overestimating herself?

How could Stuart pour out 5000 words on Monday when I’m struggling to get to 300 words?

Why do I have such a mental block?

Am I out of practice?

Am I coming down with a cold?

When this column is published, will it soon vanish into the sea of words that is the Internet, or will it haunt me for the rest of my days?

How can I be proud of myself in 2015?

How can I kindle a fire in myself, and have that fire be one of warmth and joy rather than one of anger and destruction?

Is that metaphor cheesy?

Would I have made that metaphor if I weren’t sitting next to a gas fire right now?

Are gas fires with fake logs tacky?

Is there anything in this world that cannot be met with words of disdain: “tacky,” or “presumptuous,” or “idiotic,” or “cheesy,” or “self-indulgent,” or dozens of other words that I have not even used in this column yet?

What, exactly, am I so afraid of?

Because this is all about fear, isn’t it?

Have I progressed at all in the last year, when I wrote on this blog about trying to operate out of a sense of joy and abundance, rather than fear and scarcity?

Do we ever progress, at all? Does the world?

Is it worse to be a naïve optimist or a cynical pessimist?

Why do we think that optimists are fools and pessimists are intelligent?

What could we accomplish if we reversed that? If optimism was considered intelligent – and pessimism would get you ridiculed?

Well, we’d probably get the Third Reich, wouldn’t we?

Dear God, how much of a pessimist am I?

Can I end this conversation with myself now that Godwin’s Law has been proven?

How foolish can I be, to speak of ending this conversation, when I live in my head and I know that it never ends?

And if I am a fool, why am I not an optimist?

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. Find her at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

The Real World, Theater Edition: Final Girl

Barbara Jwanouskos, determined to survive the night.

So, you know that ole trope in horror movies where there’s one final young woman who has to confront the killer and tell the story? Lately, what with all the playwright deadlines and opportunities, I’ve been feeling like that person – well, that is, I’m actually not sure if I’m the Final Girl or, maybe more likely, perhaps I’m the Penultimate Girl. What a way to go! You’re in the last 15 to 20 minutes of the film and then bam. Axe. In your brain. Awh, man!

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There was a great article I read recently about one playwright’s attempt to analyze all the rejection letters he had received over the years. By including a stamped postcard to the theaters he submitted his work to asking them to complete a postcard-sized survey and send it back, he found that:

“The likelihood that your unsolicited script will be rejected or totally ignored by a theater is 99.57 percent. That means no production, no showcase, no staged readings. Zip.”

-“How The World’s Most Frequently Rejected Playwright Survives” by Donald Drake

Granted, from a scientific perspective, there are a couple things with his methodology for data gleaning that are bit problematic, but even using this informal way of tracking play submissions, how dismal is that? It’s probably comparable to your odds of surviving a serial killer in a horror movie if you’ve had sex somewhere else in the film.

Like many other writers and artists of all kinds, I spend most of my days sending stuff off, crossing my fingers, and hearing, “No”. It can be a daunting task to continually pick yourself back up after each rejection, and if I could figure out a way to be a productive person without facing rejection or humiliation, I would choose that path. Unfortunately, with the odds ever not in my favor, I actually end up buying into the whole competitive spirit that maybe, just maybe this time, it’s gonna happen. Maybe it’s the drive for artistic survival?

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I will say that once it has been determined that I’ve received an opportunity, an award, or been accepted somehow by someone else, there’s a whole big element of my personality that finds that success hard to deal with and wants to discount the work I put in to do it. When I don’t get something it’s “But I worked so hard!” and when I do get something, it’s “WTF?! I guess I must have been lucky!” This is actually a whole phenomenon apparently, called “Impostor Syndrome”.

Impostor Syndrome basically says that you’re may be a highly successful/high achieving person, but you’re feelings around your achievements don’t match – that there’s an element of low self-esteem that makes you question whether you are “worthy” or “deserving” of receiving such accolades. I encountered this recently when I learned that I was accepted into Just Theater’s New Play Lab for 2014-2015. I saw the posts going up on people’s walls about a rejection and was able to put two and two together that there must have been some crossover with the news I had just received. I mean this is a local theater company I greatly respect who has produced playwrights that I look up to and want to emulate like Anne Washburn, Rob Handel, Erin Bregman, and Glen Berger to name just a few. Why would they want to work with me? And immediately the only reason I could justify it is that I must be good at proposal-writing (not playwriting) since I’ve made a career for myself in that.

It’s so not nearly like this because I would never want to diminish the suffering of another person who has gone through such trauma, but I think of the guilt survivors of horrible events feel that they alone are left standing. I look around at my playwriting buddies and feel a little guilty that I’ve been fortunate to be given an opportunity. But then this amazing thing happened that made me think, “Yes, this is what a community of artists is all about!” I got so many personal messages from people that were genuinely happy that I had been chosen for this role. I did that thing where you post your accomplishment on facebook and twitter, but those messages I received meant a lot. It was if it was saying, it’s okay to have a moment of success every so often.

If you’re gonna be the Final Girl, you might as well try and honor the people who didn’t make it this time around. Because more often we’re the Penultimate Girls and Boys. We’re close, but no cigar. We’re way off the mark. We’re the rejects. And we’re a community where both individual success and failure is completely okay, because as a group we’re still moving things forward.

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Barbara Jwanouskos is a Bay Area based playwright who was recently welcomed to the Just Theater 2014-15 New Play Lab. She is a graduate of the Dramatic Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University under Rob Handel’s direction. You can follow her on twitter @bjwany.