Friday, July 13, 2007

Confessions of a non-Genius

Art Hennessey's Mirror Up To Nature showed me this great post from the Working Group. There's much there that got me thinking, but this quote was terrific:

I think everyone in the theater wants to be a genius. I've never really met a theater artist who thought people were better than them at their particular field. I've met the best director in the world 20-30 times, the best playwright twice as often a and the best actor? I meet him everyday. And even those of us who are humble, deep down have a belief that what we personally do is "true art" it's "real theater" and so in the rehearsal room we believe it should be respected. So, you often end up with a room of people who think they know more than the others around them and are saying "prove it to me, that you're so good" in every note session.

(Confession #1) I used to be this way. I thrived on attention from productions and achievement and desperately wanted to be "important" in some artistic sense. I felt sure that someone would see my stuff and pronounce that they'd found the next playwriting prodigy. Or at least I hoped they would.

(Confession #2) I'm not a genius. Over the years, with experience, I figured out what the rest of the world apparently already knew.

This turns out to be a pretty helpful realization, because it saves a lot of time and energy, which I can then put into making the project of the moment, be it a play or novel or screenplay, better. (Yes, I still practice my Academy Award or Pulitzer Speech while washing the dinner dishes, but not quite so often anymore.) I'm a pretty good writer, I'm a hard worker, and I'm getting better all the time. I make a point of trying to work with other writers who are better than me (I'm definitely not the most talented writer in either of my writing groups).

Would I like my work to reach a broad audience and have a wide-reaching cultural impact? Sure. But it might not. In our culture, we're conditioned to want to play in the Superbowl or the World Series or the Masters. And win. I went to MIT, and there's a certain expectation there, just as part of the culture, that you'll get out of school and go do something earthshattering. Change the world.

In the end, though, the real writers are those who, when they figure out they're not going to win the Pulitzer, don't quit and get a job making a ton of money, but just keep getting up every morning and writing pages. I'm relieved to know that I'm a real writer (even if I'm not a genius).


Dan Milstein said...

Pat, can I just say, this (excellent) post captures something I admire tremendously about the way you approach your work. The drive to create steadily, to always be learning, to collaborate with and learn from people you admire.

Great stuff, and worthy of emulation.

patrick said...

Thanks, Dan. It's really the collaborative nature of theatre that's the most fun (and interesting) for me. I'm one of those playwrights (as you know) who likes to attend as many rehearsals as possible, because I really like to watch people work and see how they negotiate the process.