I've never been one for resolutions, or, rather, I've never been one for keeping them.
Over and over, I swore that this would be the year I changed my body, kept a serious journal, and banished all bad habits. Instead, my office is littered with enthusiastically started diaries that peter out around January twelfth.
In order to overcome the misplaced optimism that the new year ushers in, I am making my resolutions deep in the slush of mid-January, where the resolution rubber really meets the road, where good intentions go to die. 2016 was a dumpster fire of a year for many people, and the first few weeks of 2017 are looking pretty dark too. As artists, we have work to do.
Resolution 1: Write
This seems obvious, but also necessary. Like most writers, I am excellent at finding excuses not to write. But in the end, I have to stop looking up quotes from famous writers on writing and just sit down and do the work.
As Maya Angelou said, “What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'”
Please don't ask how long I spent finding that quote.
I won't resolve to stop procrastinating, but I will resolve to actually put words together into things.
Eventually. I promise.
Resolution 2: Watch and read more plays
This is an easy one to keep in the Twin Cities. We are blessed with an abundance of theater – new plays, classics, devised work, improv, dance. You could see a different show almost every night, provided of course that you could afford all those tickets.
Recently, a group of publishers and playwrights started the Playwrights Welcome initiative in which participating theaters give away unsold tickets for free to Dramatists Guild members. Currently, the only Minnesota theater participating is the Children's Theater Company, but fortunately, many theaters do offer a pay what you can night during their run.
Reading plays can be a bit trickier. Some publishers, like Playscripts, open up a rotating selection of their catalog to read for free. I'm also a part of the New Play Exchange, a script database with a really intense search tool. Something like 3,000 playwrights have uploaded 11,000 plays and readers can search through them by by genre, cast size, keywords, and more. On my reading list now are plays about sharks, swans, wolves, and the French Revolution.
Resolution 3: Seek out and amplify the voices of people of color, queer people, and women
This is a biggie. According to The Count, a study of what playwrights are being produced in regional theaters in America, in the 2011-2014 season, about 22% of plays were written by women, and only 12% were by writers of color. In our empathy-challenged time, it's important to make space for voices traditionally excluded. We need to hear as many stories as possible.
As a white person who wants greater diversity in the theater, I consider it part of my responsibility to support excellent work by playwrights of color, queer playwrights, and women. Getting a play produced is hard, and there are extra hurdles for playwrights who aren't white men. If me getting a ticket to a show contributes in a small way to its success, maybe it will make it easier for producers to take chances on unfamiliar work. And that benefits everybody.
Even if my personal economic contributions don't make much of a difference, I at least get to be very, very excited about Qui Nguyen's Vietgone this spring.
Resolution 4: Speak up
We're in the midst of a big cultural shift and there's a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds. I want to engage more in shaping the conversation and creating the kind of future I want to live in. I want my words to matter, whether I'm calling elected representatives, standing up for people being treated unfairly, or finding opportunities to better my own behavior.
I need to practice, because it's going to be important. Especially as the new regime takes a lot of time and effort to shame and silence artists who do speak out at Broadway curtain calls, Golden Globes speeches, and late night comedy shows. I want to keep my eyes open and my voice ready.
Resolution 5: Practice self-care
It's been a rough start after a rough year and a lot of people I love are scared and anxious and angry. I'm scared and anxious and angry. But, I'm not much good to anyone if I let those negative feelings wear me down to nothing.
I need to take time to be gentle with myself and the people I love, which may mean finding a shoulder to cry on, drinking enough water, or even watching a few extra videos of baby sea otters instead of reading Twitter.
Resolution 6: Write something stupid
I have this play about Victorian lady ghost-hunters accidentally summoning a Lovecraftian horror at a trendy séance. Kind of an Eldritch Mean Girls. The problem is, as soon as I get these characters in a room together, they keep getting hung up on sad, serious things, like how difficult it is to be a woman in the Victorian era, instead of dumb, awesome things, like chasing ghosts around the fainting couch while wearing extravagant hats.
I want to spend at least part of 2017 being dumb and awesome in an extravagant hat. Maybe that's a form of self-care too.
Honestly, I feel better. I may not be great at keeping resolutions, but it's a great exercise. These are the kind of resolutions I want to keep, and I hope sharing with you helps guilt me into following through. What can I say, playwrights love audiences.
Let's kick 2017 in the butt, starting right now. Let's make mid-month resolutions and keep them. Let's speak up and make art. Let's be dumb and awesome in extravagant hats. And let's reach out and grab one another's paws, and like sea otters, float off together into a brighter future.