Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Goals and Motivations

The very first entry I wrote for this new space on Nosedive’s Web site was, as are often my writings on the subject of theatre, blunt and harsh.

For a handful of reasons, I’m actually feeling quite positive about theatre right now, and would like to at least start off this new space with something positive. Don’t worry; the feeling will fade quickly, I’m sure.

Nosedive has recently been chosen for an award for our latest play, Mayonnaise Sandwiches, from the Off-Off Broadway Review. Now, in the great scheme of things, awards mean…well…let’s face it: fuck all. Even high-profile prestigious awards mean nothing when put under closer scrutiny. I mean, when some forgotten play wins the Pulitzer Prize for Drama over Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, when Rocky is named Best Picture by the Academy over Taxi Driver and when Samuel Beckett wins the Nobel Prize for Literature and not his mentor (and superior) James Joyce, you have to stop and go, “What…?”

Awards are really only helpful in the immediate and short-term. History tends to show their irrelevance.

So, for the short-term, the very nice thing (I suppose) about winning an award (besides making mom & dad proud and garnering respect from co-workers and impressing the ladies) is the slight temporary validation from people you don’t know. In other words, it is nice to have someone you don’t know—who is unfamiliar with your previous work, who isn’t a friend or family member and who has no personal bias—consider your work worthwhile. When your mom says, “This is the best play I’ve seen all year,” it feels nice, sure, but it doesn’t mean much. When a total stranger says it—and says it publicly—it means a little more.

It’s not a total validation of everything you’ve been doing, just a nice nod that you may have done at least something right (and in the strange and isolated world of self-produced independent theatre, you need as many little nods like those as you can get).

It’s not necessary to have that little nod, just nice. In current times, where success is defined monetarily, where doing theatre is a stepping stone to get a movie career, what Pete & I are doing in Nosedive is a bit anachronistic. I’ve recently stopped trying to explain to people that no, I’m not writing plays to get a screenwriting gig. I do not want to see any of my scripts be turned into films. I’m not trying to climb up the hierarchical ladder of theatre, thereby turning Nosedive into, say, Roundabout or the Lincoln Center. This is not sour grapes and this is not rebellion against [pick-your-own angst]. We’re not trying to change the world and we’re not trying to be a force to be reckoned with in the theatre community. We’re not here to make money, and we’re not here to purposefully lose money. It’s not a righteous cause and it’s not a stepping stone.

This truly stems—at least on my part—from ignorance. It’s not from defiance or bucking trends or going against the grain, but from not knowing what’s done or how to do things. And making it up.

Pete’s and my goal is to put on plays and to have people see them. We prefer (when push comes to shove) that more people see them than not, that people like them over hating them and making money than losing it, but that’s about it. I’m thrilled and thankful that we’re able to do what we’re doing and I hope we can keep doing it for as long as possible. There will be a time when we can’t (when we run out of money, inspiration, interest, audiences) and I’d like to postpone that time for as long as possible. And…that’s about the extent of it.

A young aspiring filmmaker came to see our play Mayonnaise Sandwiches and had the affectations of a young, hip, edgy cutthroat producer-type (you know the type; they flash you a business card before shaking your hand and call you “bro” and “partner” with detached irony in every sentence). After the show, we talked, and he asked me what my goals were. I told him that my goals were, quite simply, this. Writing a play; getting it staged; having a number of people see it (and we happened to have a full house that night); having those people respond to it (and primarily in a positive way); not jeopardizing my ability to pay the rent; and being able to do this for as long as possible. That’s it. That’s more or less the toppermost of the poppermost in Little Jimmy Comtois’s world. He had said, “That’s great!” But it seemed to me that he didn’t quite understand. There was an air of either slight condescension or bemusement (i.e., “Uh…well…good luck with that, lil’ trooper.”) or disbelief (i.e., “No, really. What are your goals?”). I’m not (completely) making fun of him, but it was clear that we were on very different wavelengths. His goals did not seem to be making a film he truly believed in (I haven’t seen it, so I could be wrong) and doing everything possible to get it made, but rather making a movie to, you know, make a movie; and tell people you’ve made a movie; and have it be a calling card to a job offer; and being discovered. He didn’t want to talk about what the film was about; that seemed to be irrelevant. What was important to him was where the making of the film would take him (career-wise).

For me, it’s an odd—almost Dostoevskian—feeling to be both integrated and alienated from the film and theatre world(s). Nosedive is quite happily involved in a consortium of other Off-off Broadway theatre companies (the Off-off Community Dish). Pete, Patrick and I see theatre, go to films and talk to/hang out with/have sex with theatre- and filmmakers. But when I hear the issues that arise in the theatre world (funding, community outreach, mission statements) and the aspirations of other actors and filmmakers (film festivals, calling cards, points sharing), I can’t really relate. Not that I think I’m above (or necessarily beneath) these issues, but simply that these things don’t occur to me when I’m left to my own devices. Pete has a subscription to American Theatre, and I’ve tried to read it, but I just can’t. What’s being said and discussed in it doesn’t seem like anything relating to my writing or to Nosedive Productions, and it doesn’t go into anything that I love about theatre or art.

I see plays, and sometimes I like them, sometimes I don’t. But there’s no real connection I have to them with what Nosedive is (or I am) doing. In other words, when I see a great play, I don’t feel jealous or competitive. When I see a shitty play, I don’t feel superior or self-congratulatory. I’m often vaguely curious how other self-producing independent theatre companies (Nosedive’s peers) do certain things on a technical, producing angle, but that’s only when I put on my producer/administrator hat. When I’m wearing my writer/creator hat, it doesn’t occur to me.
So it’s kind of nice—in the short-term—when someone thinks you’ve done something right when you’re virtually ignorant of trends in the theatre world. It feels good when you’ve simply written for yourself, and it appeals to someone else.

Trying to impress the ladies With some shitty award,

James “Hey, Ladies” Comtois

May 26, 2004
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