To the World; To All the Boys and Girls

Let’s talk about joy.

There’s always going to be plenty to get mad about in the world. My recent foray into Internet debate reflects that. Let’s leave that for now, as important as it is, as much as it can teach you about what you do and don’t care about. Instead, I’d like to talk about the things that get you, not groaning out of bed, but springing up, excited, energized, hoping for something amazing to happen.

Let’s talk about what you do in your free time. Not because anyone says you have to, but because you get a charge out of doing it. The thing you don’t blow off when you’re feeling tired or sick because you know that you’d regret not doing it. The thing that gives you joy.

Last Saturday, we had a reading of Underscore’s newest original musical, “pr0ne.” My collaborators and I worked over the winter to write songs, scenes, character arcs, themes, until  in the safety of our apartments and studio we’d put together something we felt pretty proud of. Ultimately, though, you never know. In our first show, “Liberal Arts,” we had a side arc that felt at the time like a pretty solid B plot exploring what it’s like to be an adult vis-a-vis the liberal arts. It even had lesbian romance, because these characters just “got” each other so well. People laughed at the jokes, they shouted and clapped for the love song, and in the talkback…they agreed that the arc needed to go.

They were right. There are always parts of the show that you’re too close to and don’t see clearly. So it was a real possibility that we’d be told by a group of discriminating audience members that “pr0ne” just didn’t work. That it needed to be completely re-imagined, and fast, because the show goes up in August. Those were the stakes when we got up on Saturday morning to prepare for the reading.

No one at any point has held a gun to my head to say, “You must get up early on a Saturday to clean a warehouse room and make it presentable for thirty people to watch a musical about internet pornography!” I like my weekend sleep, but there was no question in this case–I was out of bed and an hour south on the Red Line before you could…do a task that takes an hour and a half. It’s a long commute.

I can say without irony that months of long writing sessions, trekking out of my house in the cold, getting frustrated at my collaborators and having to leave the room, feeling exhausted and just wanting to go do something fun were completely worth the feeling of watching nine actors I respect bring this show to even half-imagined life.

Even before the audience came in, during their rehearsal, I sat with an irrepressible grin on my face, thinking to myself, “This sound like something. This is actually something.”

So if that dry run was worth all the work and frustration, the reading itself–listening to the actors for a second time as they found their stride, and watching an audience laugh and squirm and shout “Oh God,” was gravy. Pure joy.

I still didn’t know, at that point, if they were going to tear holes in it. All I knew was that moment by moment, they seemed to enjoy it. They seemed to get it. Getting to watch both the audience and the actors at that point, this first point in the journey that will be the performance of this show, was in a word, exhilarating.

And then, listening to the audience debate the meaning of the work, listening to what worked for some people and really didn’t work for others (often the very same thing), and hearing a non-theater person say, “I came here to laugh but yeah, now you do have me thinking about our society,” that was such validation of why I want to do this work that all I could do was sit and scribble notes and clamp my teeth down on my tongue to stop myself from bursting out with a thousand million thoughts and thanks.

They didn’t tear anything apart. They made suggestions for improvement, a scene there, some clarity here, but as a story they thought it covered almost all of the bases and not too much extra fluff.

So yeah. I get sad and I get tired and I get despairing about the world and I don’t know what I’m doing sometimes. But some days I’m so obviously “following my bliss,” in Joseph Campbell’s terms, that everything I do seems charmed, like I’m walking on the Path of the Beam in Steven King’s “The Dark Tower” series. Everything I’ve been up to, everything I’m working on seems to be Leading Somewhere, even if that somewhere is just continued walking of this path. The only accurate word is “joy.” I want to make sure to talk about, commemorate, and honor that joy just as much as I do the issues that piss me off and make me cry and make me seethe.

Thank you for being here while I pursue my joy. I hope I can do the same for you.

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