A Playmaker’s Most Valuable Resource

by Callie Kimball

in National Conference

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(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Art | People} blog salon.)

It’s not time, or inspiration, or even the latest version of FinalDraft. Your most valuable resource is each other.

I’m bending the theme of “Crossing Borders” to suit my purposes here, since the idea of a border in theatre is a bit elusive to me. It seems to imply one wholly separate space divided from another by a line, when so few of us are wholly one thing, or wholly not another thing. And so rarely does it take just one step to cross a border, whether demographic or geographic—it often takes a lifetime. So rather than ask what theatre needs in terms of crossing borders, I like to ask how can we build bridges to connect people and open spaces as we move toward explicit goals of inclusivity.

I wouldn’t presume to offer a macro view of what it means to cross borders in the theatre. I can only speak to my own direct experience at creating an infrastructure to reach my own goals. These goals range from the personal to the social and the political. Central to my approach for each goal is connecting to other people. I’ll briefly touch on each of these goals and how connection helps me reach them.

My personal goals are unapologetically selfish: 1) steal time to write; 2) nurture inspiration; and 3) find collaborators to produce my work with. Just over a year ago, I moved to a once thriving, now nearly empty mill town in Maine—it’s affordable, working class, and where my family is from. I telecommute to my job back in NY, but I am looking at a thicket of trees right now, and the beach is nearby. I wake at 4am a few days a week to write before the workday, whether inspiration hits or not. It’s often painful, but bit by bit, I get my writing done. As for finding collaborators, I have three plays in Maine and New Hampshire going up between now and March—the people in my new community have been incredibly welcoming.

My social goals are only slightly less self-serving: 1) have fun; 2) identify and advocate for artists I believe in; 3) strengthen my personal and professional networks for the long haul. I’ve kept up with my friends in New York, and now I have all these smart, talented colleagues in Maine, too. My problem, which I’m sure anyone reading this can relate to, is that I can’t see everything I want to. Tomorrow morning before work, I’m driving three-and-a-half hours to Yale to see a friend’s MFA thesis production. We moved to NY the same year, and we’d have quarterly goal-setting meetings at Veselka. Out of those meetings, we both ended up going to grad school. I wouldn’t miss her show for the world. I’ll poach the hotel’s wifi so I can work during the day, see her play at night, and drive back home the next morning. Obviously I can’t do this sort of thing all the time, but there are shows you are heartbroken to miss, and I can only take so many heartbreaks a year. I’d have to say these social goals, of mutual investment in each others’ work, of sharing dreams and setbacks, of reading and responding to each others’ work, of passing their scripts along, is at the heart of all I do. Even when I run out of steam and can’t do or be everything I want, these friends and their work are always on my mind. And time and again this social infrastructure has supported me in countless ways, if only by making me feel part of something larger.

My political goals also happen to be deeply personal: 1) I want to see working women and working mothers on stage in matter-of-fact ways; 2) I want to see characters of color and white characters together in stories that are not explicitly about race; and 3) I want to create roles for women and for actors of color and to support their work. These political goals are where I fix my energy, my money, and my plays—my characters live at the intersection of language and power, and struggle to break free from the constraints of class, race, gender, and systemic abuse. One of my plays next year is about a woman who makes an act of reparations, and I am more likely to give $100 to an artist of color than to give $10 to 10 friends. Until we see stories on stage where gender and race are not stereotyped or exoticized, we can’t begin to see stories in our daily lives where women and people of color are respected and treated fairly as a matter of course. We need to see these stories.

We need to see each other.

Right now we’re only getting part of the story. And that should concern not only women and people of color. How can anyone know themselves, understand social context, find their way in a world that deliberately marginalizes the majority of experiences? Why have we relied on a single anemic narrative built on exclusion to dominate our shared cultural experience? We must invest in each other, grow the stories that have been missing for so long. The plays of Dominique Morrisseau, Carla Ching, Tanya Saracho, Catherine Treischmann, Renee Calarco, and Kathleen Akerley are crackling and bright and necessary.

Sometimes it’s tough on the ego knowing that the best-case scenario is the occasional short run in a 50-seat theatre. I’m in the middle of a five-year plan, and a few years from now, I may spin off from what I’m doing now and decide that I want to teach, start a theatre, or somehow provide platforms for fellow artists. No matter what, I know that by shoring up this infrastructure of fellow storytellers, I stay aligned to my goals, whether they’re personal (fulfillment and advancement), social (connecting to and advocating for others), or political (creating stories by and for people who should no longer be invisible).

It’s simple, I know, but there are no shortcuts. Invest in each other. Build those bridges. For they will support not only your own work, but the important work of us all.

Callie Kimball‘s plays have been produced or developed at Washington Shakespeare Company, Lark Play Development Center, Project Y Theatre, the Kennedy Center, Mad Horse Theatre, Halcyon Theater, The Brick Theater, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA in Playwriting from Hunter College, studying under Tina Howe and Mark Bly, and has received a MacDowell Fellowship, a Ludwig Vogelstein grant, a Playwrights’ Center Core Apprenticeship, and won the Rita & Burton Goldberg Playwriting Award two years in a row. She was a finalist for the Clubbed Thumb Biennial Award, a finalist for Kitchen Dog Theater’s New Works Festival, and a nominee for The Kilroys’ 2014 List. She has written for NPR, Wired.com, Theatre Communications Group, & the Dramatists Guild. Regionally, she will have three world premieres in the 2014-15 season: at the Portland Fringe Festival, Mad Horse Theatre, and at the Players’ Ring in Portsmouth, NH. She works as a Production Manager for NBCUniversal and teaches playwriting at the Maine College of Art.