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Friday, October 16, 2009

You See Yourself

I made the mistake a little while back of doing a favor for my boss.

You, I'm sure, would never commit such an occupational solecism.

My employer informed me that her friend, a published playwright, had written a play and her publishing company asked her to make multiple revisions on it before it could be published. My boss asked me to review this script and make suggestions, revisions, comments, criticisms, & c "as soon as possible."

Actually, before she asked me to do this, she volunteered my services to the playwright.

"Please don't do that again," I said to my boss when I was informed that my services had been volunteered without my knowledge or acquiescence.

"Do what?" she asked innocently, quite possibly resisting the urge to bat her eyelashes.

"You know what," I said flatly. I've known my boss since I was eleven, so I can talk to her this way, rather like the way we churlish boys abuse our mothers.

"I thought you'd love the opportunity to be more creative!" replied my boss, feigning hurt.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't see slaving over someone else's bullshit children's musical and working diligently to further her career as an opportunity to be "more creative" nor do I see it as something I, or anybody else, would "love" to do.

But that's beside the point. I did it, partly because I was already commited to do it, and partly as a favor to my boss.

The musical, by the way, sucks donkeynips. It has all the hallmarks of a musical about high schoolers written by a fifty year-old woman, because that is precisely what it is. There are the stereotypical characters, even referred to in the character list as "The Jock," "The Nerd," "The Cheerleader," and "The Artsy Girl."

I mean, seriously? Shoot me in the teeth.

But I took several hours, on a Saturday, mind you, to review this woman's daft little musical, because her publisher was breathing down her neck to receive the final revisions by Monday. I reviewed and edited the work, even adding monologues and dialogue of my own, and emailed her four pages of notes. Then, I washed my hands of it.

Until she emailed me back not 25 minutes later with 10 more questions about the play, and other character ideas to consider and get feedback on. Now, I should have said, "Sorry, you got your feedback already. If you want more jumpy mattress, you'll have to put another quarter in" but, of course, I didn't. Because I am a slave, a doormat, an assfuck, a limpwimp. More of my weekend got pissed away making changes and suggestions and additions and deletions to this manuscript that I don't give a hoot in Christ's left nip about. I sent her another email, indicating in a very polite way that this was the end of my critique session. She emailed back and was appropriately grateful.

I didn't hear from the playwright until yesterday, when she called up my office.

"Oh, I'm actually glad you picked up the phone," she remarked. Gee, thanks.

She went on to say how helpful the revisions were and how they made the play much stronger, which was nice to hear. She also mentioned that the publishing company was pleased, which was also nice to hear, since nothing I've written has pleased a publishing company since 2001. She then mentioned that she gave me "credit" in the script for my aid, and I won't lie and say that didn't please me either, because it did, though a fee of $1,000 would have pleased me a good deal more. Unfortunately, she did not stop there.

"And I wanted to let you know that I'll be contacting you again in the future to consult on some of my other musicals that I have coming down the pike that need a fresh voice, because I really see you as a dramaturg. Isn't that how you see yourself?"

This is where I ceased being pleased.

From the ever-trusty Wikipedia, for those of you not familiar with the term: "the dramaturg will often conduct research into the historical and social conditions, specific locations, time periods, and/or theatrical styles of plays chosen by the company, to assist the playwright, director and/or design team in their production."

In short order, The Playwright's Bitch.

I think this is what one might call a "back-handed compliment." I have definitely been on the receiving end of such compliments before, and I know distinctly what they feel like when delivered. Now, this playwright may very well think that it's a high honor to be called upon to flush out and finesse her simple and fatuous theatre pieces, but I do not share that opinion.

Proud? Sure I am.

Snob? Probably.

I think, though, I was less offended by her suggestion that I be her own private, in-pocket, free-of-charge dramaturg than I was by her incredibly and outlandishly presumptuous question, "Isn't that how you see yourself?"

Isn't that how I see myself? As what? As chained to your hip, spending my free time reviewing outdated and ridiculous feel-good musicals about pimples and algebra?

No. Most definitely not.

"I see myself as a writer," I said to my boss this morning, recounting the conversation to her in a voice close to breaking, "but I suppose nobody else does," I said as I turned on my heels and walked out the door. On my way to go to Staples. To stand there for half an hour making photocopies. Of one of this woman's stupid plays.

And so maybe I'm just not.

Of course, I'm a blogger-- you know that. But, is that the same thing as being a writer? I vacillate on that point. I perform in amateur G&S operettas-- does that make me an actor? Maybe. Does it make me a singer? No, I'm no singer. Does affiliation with the arts always have to be dependent on whether or not you get paid? I don't necessarily think so, but that is how culture defines you. The insipid, scripted question you hear the most when meeting some painful new schmuck at a party, "So, whaddyoo do?" refers, of course, to what you doo, for money.

I don't know what titles or jobs or hobbies or anything really means anymore. One thing I do know quite clearly is that, at no point in my life will I answer the question, "So, whaddyoo do?" by saying,

"I'm a dramaturg. Nice to meet you."

Because neither of those statements will probably be true, especially if you write children's musicals.


  1. I'll cut her.

    You're a writer. You love words. You love expression of opinions, ideas, feelings. You may not get paid money for your writing....

    ...but you must admit that a lot of the people who do get paid for their writing are writing what will sell (like plays about high schoolers), and not what makes their hearts sing and their brains hum like tuning forks.

    That's why we're as much writers as they are.


  2. I love that you said donkeynips and dramaturg all in the same blog post. Also, I'm with you, I hate that question "so, what do you do?" with a passion. I forewarned my college buddies that if I ever turn into that person, they have permission to put me in therapy or shoot me.

  3. For what it's worth, I think the palywright feels threatened or intimidated by your writing. That's why she calls you a dramaturg, to put you down, to subtly influence your own thought processes and perceptions of yourself.

    That, you'll think of yourself not as a talented writer, but instead as her bitch, keeping you safely out of competition's way.

  4. Ah, the classic amateur vs. semi pro vs. pro DICHOTOMY! (Or is it trichotomy? Is that word? My spellchecker hasn't underlined it, hm...)

    How much being-someone's-bitch do you take before calling it a day? Which 'opportunities' will actually turn out to be career-defining? What if her musical turns out to be the Next Big Thing?

    But yeah, to put it into musical terms... it's a fine, fine line between happiness and... ah, I forget the last bit.


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