… well, it’s not blame so much as credit (depending on the day), but that doesn’t make for an intriguing title, does it?
It was 2003, and I was an MFA student at ODU. As part of my teaching assistantship, I got to help my mentor Dr. Brian Silberman with the university's Litfest. That year, Danny Hoch, the amazing playwright and actor, was one of our guest writers, and it was my job to take him to and from the airport.
By way of making conversation, he asked me what my plans were after grad school. I was saving money to move to NYC—I had purchased a book covering everything I needed to know about that move, assembled a 3-ring binder with notes about how/where to find an "affordable" apartment (yeah, I know), and even created a hypothetical budget. In other words, I wasn't just dreaming about moving to NYC—I was gonna make it happen.
He proceeded to give me reasons why I shouldn't—reasons that I argued against (internal monologue-style). Then, he bottom-lined it by saying theatre is about community and that I should make theatre from my community—to which I didn’t have a good argument.
Danny Hoch's statement ran contrary to all my plans. How was I supposed to pursue a playwriting career in a town that didn't even have a professional theatre company?
Long story short, I did move back to TN after graduate school. I started a theatre company with my friend, Lisa Neely, and we began the difficult task of making theatre. After renovating a movie theatre into a black box theatre and producing two full seasons, we decided to close the theatre. I won’t go into all the reasons why. Suffice it to say, running the theatre was all-consuming. I didn't have time to write, and writing plays was what I really wanted to do.
Now I'm a professor, I write plays (and occasionally screenplays and fiction), and I produce an annual new play festival of my students' work. And that's the short history of why I'm a playwright living in Tennessee... and how I make theatre from my community.
To be honest, though, it's sometimes hard not to feel like the theatre world is passing me by. But when I'm not freaking out about my "career", I believe that my plays are better because I live where I do. I'm more connected to the diverse cultures, voices, and characters of this region. I get to teach playwriting to young artists, and that keeps me inspired and forces me to stay sharp.
Deep breath—I live in TN, for better or worse, and I write plays.