I go to the theater to be transformed. (There are a lot of other words bundled up in that one—excited, frightened, challenged, inspired, enlightened. . .) I write plays and participate in making theater so I can give this experience to others. I believe that theater creates community and encourages empathy. It puts new ideas next to old ones for comparison with a kind of storytelling that is vital. So it’s surprising how long it has taken me to get around to my most obvious and important job, being a playwright.
When I was a student at the University of Iowa, I wrote and produced an original play for my senior honors thesis– one of the most difficult and most rewarding things I had done up to that point. A few days before graduation the head of the theater department congratulated me on the production. He inquired about my future (grad school), wished me well, and then gave me the standard speech about pursuing a career outside of the performing arts if I thought I could be happy. I told him I thought that was good advice. Majoring in English and Theater, I already knew it wasn’t practical to become a professional actress, despite the fact that I loved performing. And although I had a talent and a passion for writing, I also knew that “playwright” was more of an honorary title than a paying job. So I planned to earn a PhD in Dramatic Literature and teach college students, reading my favorite passages out loud occasionally in class.
But plans change. After earning my Master’s degree in Literature, History, and Criticism of Theater from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, I took a job in administration and fundraising with First Stage Milwaukee Children’s Theater, participating in theater behind-the-scenes, supporting a medium I loved. A few years later, in Rockford, Illinois, I worked with a community board to raise $18.5 million to restore and renovate an old movie theater, and turn it into a performing arts center. When the project was finally unveiled, I worked with the Rockford Symphony to move into the 2,200 seat theater, doubling previous subscriptions. I was spending every waking minute working in the arts, but didn’t really have time to write.
A few years later, back in Wisconsin, I shook my head when I heard the Madison Rep had closed. Then a friend founded Forward Theater to take its place and for the company’s first four years, I was the director of development and communications. I established the organization’s voice and its brand. I wrote our brochures and our website. Then in Forward’s third year, one of my plays was selected for the regular season. Walking onstage to lead the talkback on opening night of A Thousand Words, I realized that my entire academic and professional career had led up to this moment.
Since then I have tried to focus my energy, my time, and my creativity on playwriting. I have had workshops and readings in theaters, in basements, and in my own living room. I have judged playwriting contests and taught classes to high school students. My monologues have graced many stages, and I have made friends with actors, directors, and dramaturgs across the country. As I continue to write, my goal is always to transform – to give an audience the experience that I appreciate so much when I go to the theater. It is a difficult challenge, but one I embrace and strive for with every sentence.