Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Where Everybody Knows Your Name...Not!

Who’s Craig Lucas?” she said.

I had just told Beth, one of the many intelligent and cultured people in my office, about this playwright/screenwriter and director who I am going to have the honor of interviewing for The Dramatist Guild magazine. I was excited to tell somebody who I thought knew his work (other than Lisa, of course). Y’know, someone who actually attends theatre on a regular basis. She just saw Gem of the Ocean at Intiman. She regularly asks me about any shows that I’d recommend. So when I told her about my upcoming interview, I was a little surprised she didn’t know about him.

“He wrote A Light in the Piazza. Prelude to a Kiss. Wrote and directed The Dying Gaul.”

A flicker of recognition flashed on her face. “Oh, right, I know Light in the Piazza. What’s his name again?”

Slowly, the conversation changed to the last show I had seen..

But it got me to thinkin’. So here’s a guy who has “made it” let’s say, who can do his art and make a living. He’s been nominated for a PULITZER and a TONY award, has been produced on Broadway and Off-Broadway. He’s had three of his screenplays made into films (one of which he directed). Anyone in the theatre knows his name and has read at least one of his plays.

And yet, some people—college educated and cultural savvy people—still have no idea who he is.

I must confess that this filled me with a little bit of satisfaction.

It’s not because I don’t like Craig Lucas or don’t think he’s deserving of the praise and recognition. On the contrary—he’s up there with Tony Kushner and Sam Shepard and Edward Albee as far as quality and quantity of work being done here in the U.S. No, it’s because when someone at a party or at work asks, quite innocently, “What have you written? Anything I’ve seen?”, they’ve no doubt never heard of you. We know this. Writers will cringe at this question. We try to remain calm and collect intelligent and articulate words to express our plays, but usually we mumble, stammer and eventually throw out something about an award won or a show in New York and the other person looks at us as if an Ostrich egg had just dropped out of our butt. They’ve never even heard of the theatre company that did your play, much less your play itself.

So I must admit it fills me with a slight tinge of satisfaction to know that no matter how “big” you get, how well-known you are, how many awards you might receive or are nominated for, some people in certain circles will never know your name or work. It’s quite humbling, really, and levels the playing field somewhat for all of us.

I have to remind myself, people do not clamor over writers the way they do for directors and movie stars. No one knows or cares who wrote The Pirates of the Caribbean or Spider-Man. If you ask most Americans what playwrights they know, you’ll get two consistent answers: William Shakespeare and Neil Simon. And I’m okay with that, actually, because when I really think about this idea of being “famous” or well-known, I don’t think it’s for me. I like anonymity. It’s why I loved living in New York City. I want to be recognized for my work, certainly, and everybody wants to be praised, of course, but fame and fortune is not the bucket of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’m not denying the perks of fortune (I’m no dummy) but my writing is for me, first and foremost, and I’m just happy when any audience gets a chance to enjoy it. The more the audience the better, but I never forget the first audience member to see my work: me. Selfish, yes, but I think you might find that other writers are okay with that—after all, they spend a lot of time alone with that sole audience member.

So the next time I’m at a party and someone asks me about my plays and if they’ve seen anything I’ve done, I’m going to feel pretty good talking about my work and not really caring if there are any bells of recognition ringing in their head.

Okay, I’ll care, but I won’t let it get to me quite as much, because deep down I’ll be thinking, “Even Craig Lucas has this problem”.

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