How a Playwright Got His Groove Back

[The following is an essay I wrote in 1999 for Callboard magazine (now Theatre Bay Area magazine), in which I expound about the writing life and matters of the soul. Although I have changed tremendously over the last eight years, much of the stuff here is pretty valid. And some of this stuff will make you roll your eyes and declare, "Man, that Prince! Some things never change!" I'm always kind of hesitant to dig into my archives because my writing is so much better nowadays and a lot of my beliefs and opinions are very different from when I was younger—but I think many people may find value here despite.]

I do not know any 13-year-old girls. Otherwise, I would've easily found someone to go with me to see Joey McIntyre in concert. (Joey is a former member of the '80s boy band New Kids on the Block. He's now 26, he's gone solo, and he's the sexiest man in the universe.) All my friends gave me looks of either confusion and/or concern when I asked them to chaperone me (after all, I am 27), and they all declined my invitation. Nevertheless, I decided to go anyway, dragging along an equally crazed coworker, because my playwriting career—in fact, my entire life—depended on it.

In the early '90s, I lived with a profound sense of spiritual discomfort, an existential malaise whose source was unknown to me. I wrote it off as something that afflicted all writers and, in fact, all artists. We're supposed to feel this deep, inexplicable pain, I asserted. It's our nature! I wondered, however, if we creative types were a little too in love with our self-proclaimed suffering. I suspected that each of us silently wished to be given a large wooden cross just so we would have the opportunity to nail ourselves to it.

I wanted to change. Thus, I started reading self-help books: Deepak Chopra, Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson. Soon, my personal relationships deepened; my financial situation improved; and my playwriting career took off—leading me to productions, awards, and cash prizes in the hundreds, in the thousands, and eventually in the tens of thousands of dollars.

In 1998, despite all my theater successes, my creative output sputtered to a halt as I literally became addicted to self-help books, reading one after another. Writing plays seemed to be so unimportant in the face of "the human condition."

Playwright Brighde Mullins would declare during times of production-related stress, "It's just theater, and we're all gonna die." Exactly, I thought. I'm concerned with matters of the soul, not theater! And I dove deeper into my self-help cocoon.

Oftentimes I found myself more depressed than before. The more the books expounded on the virtues of joy, the more I walked around defeated and fatigued. And I was also overcome by a huge sense of guilt over not being able to just be happy.

Let's Hear It for the Boy(s)

Then came the rise of the boy bands in 1998: 'N Sync, Backstreet Boys, 98°, Five, Boyzone. I scoffed at them because I was into "serious music." But by the time mid-1999 rolled around, I was listening to these guys enthusiastically and collecting their albums and videos. Their sappy lyrics, infectious pop melodies and danceable rhythms appealed to the teenybopper in me.

I began reading self-help books less and less until I stopped altogether. Yes, I had traded one addiction for another—but an interesting thing happened.

I found myself in better spirits than I had been in for the past, say, two years, perhaps longer. What had happened? I concluded that boy bands exuded a certain quality of joy, a blissful naivete that Chopra and Dyer were unable to communicate fully to me.

Then, a friend pointed out that my newfound joy may have been subconsciously feigned and I may have actually been blinding myself to what was really going on in the world outside my bubblegum bubble. And she was right. Suddenly, I was depressed again.

Anti-Amusement Park

I soon gathered that extremism was actually my main problem. I was on a never-ending roller coaster of sheer happiness and utter doom, moods that shifted with every curve of the track. Again, I wanted to change.

I am reading self-help books again—in moderation. And I am also still listening to boy bands—in moderation. And more often than not, I am both in good spirits and concerned about matters of the soul. And I'm pouring all this stuff—this mix of exuberance and philosophy—into my writing, which I am doing again regularly.

God is a character in my new play, Model Citizens. In the script, God is a sock puppet. The sock puppet represents what one character, Charles, has subconsciously reduced God to being. Later on, we discover that Charles is actually operating the sock puppet. Charles and God scream when they discover they are attached to each other. This is not meant to be a metaphor; it is meant to be fact.

All great spiritual literature teaches us that God (or "the universe") is in us and we are in God. There is literally no essential difference between us. Likewise, matters of the soul and matters of the theater are not mutually exclusive.

On Our Feet

History books reveal to us that religious rituals were the earliest forms of performance, of theater. And in some Native American tribes today, prayers are communicated through dances.

What an empowering thought, that every time the house lights go down, a spiritual event is taking place.

If we only realized how simple it is to get in touch with our higher selves, with the power of the universe, we would see all types of performance—formal and informal—as sacred and holy. And with this knowledge, we would be compelled even in our daily existence to get up in the morning and do something as simple and powerful—and divine—as dance. Dance as if our lives, as if our very souls, depended on it. Because in a very real way, they do.

So get up. Dance.

October 1999


  1. This is a great essay. Definitely one to save for my "does art really matter?" rainy days.

  2. I got up and boogied to Louis Armstrong's "On The Sunny Side of the Street" upon reading the last line of this essay. Just thought you should know.

  3. Bette Midler said:
    "I always try to balance the light with the heavy--a few tears for the human spirit in with the sequins and the fringes. One thing without the other is no good. People have great pain and great joy, and any time a performer comes out and stands up in front of an audience, she has a moral obligation to be an entire human being instead of just half a human being."

  4. Quoting Bette Midler--what are you, a homo?

  5. Shudder to ponder: whom will the younger homos be quoting in the future?