Once upon a time, I was so young I thought all artists were progressives. I had taken the long way round to writing but there I was, a finalist for The Texas Playwrights’ Festival not with one short piece but two. It wasn’t the Pulitzer Prize or some such but, “Hey!” I had put my toe in the water and had been given a nod. Then the surprise.
Both of the submissions were monologues, though one did have two characters. In this one, a young photographer talks to a young woman as he snaps photos of her. She sits in a chair with her back to us. We can only see the top of her head. He talks and talks and talks. She never does. There is a rap on the door. The picture taking stops abruptly. Everything is frozen, no movement, breath held. There is more rapping on the door. Then the young man picks up the young woman, moves her over to the bed, puts her in the bed, gets in beside her, asks her to be quiet (she hasn’t made a sound), and covers them both with a tarp. The end.
As rehearsals began, there was an uproar. A group of women associated with the theatre declared the monologue pornographic, the man cast as the photographer quit the part. I was stunned. Pornographic? Censored? The group wanted both of my submissions disqualified or they would boycott the Festival. There were protests. Was this happening? Don’t the so-called religious right do this sort of thing? But artists? If there were Bible-toting, Torah-toting, Quran-toting arch-conservatives carrying picket signs out in front of the theatre, what would these progressives say? This could not be real.
Porn? Anyone who knew me then or who knows me now would laugh out loud. I don’t traffic in porn. I probably had never even seen porn back then … not that I have seen it since …
The artistic director balked, turned the angry mob aside, recast someone else to play the role of the photographer, and both monologues remained as part of the Festival. But my confidence was rattled. Then the review of the Festival appeared in the newspaper and that did it for me for another half-dozen years or so. The “porn” piece didn’t receive a bad review but the other submission … Well, still to this day I remember only three words from that review … “for unadulterated awfulness” … I was riding in a car as I read it. It was like staring at those three words through a long dark tunnel. I put the pen down and gave up writing. My confidence was crushed.
Why do I share this? Do you want to write? Then write. Don’t let rejection stop you. Don’t let a review stop you. Don’t let a protest stop you. It did me for a while and I am sorry for that. I’ve let other experiences stop me as well. And I deeply regret that. So, here I am writing again and on some days I am writing about writing. Maybe my experience will help keep your pen moving?
And there is another reason I share it. Several years after the fiasco, I was cast in a play at that same theatre. It was during rehearsals that a group of women began getting together once a week for food, drinks (mostly drinks), and conversation. Yes, you guessed it: some of the women in that group were part of the mob that wanted my submissions banned from the Festival. I was hesitant about the invitation to join them for a night out, to say the least. But we are still together — mostly over Zoom now — and all these years we’ve referred to our gathering as Womens’ Night Out (men are always welcome). My play Irish Mist is about WNO — “a play loosely based on a semi-true story.” The porn incident doesn’t come up but what does is a dive deep into those relationships. I could have missed out on those relationships.
So, a writing career stumbled out of a bad patch. And a faithful bond between a group of women was born.
Keep your pen moving. You’ll never know what will happen if you don’t.
Remember, first we called it “Thursday Night Out” ? I can’t remember why we chose Thursday night to go out after a show & drink great quantities, especially since we had to perform the rest of the weekend. We managed it in our youth. You are the historian, Bren. When did we change it to WNO?
When My Sister in This House opened, we began the transition to other nights, usually, Fridays sometimes Saturdays. The name began to shift when the day began to shift. I liked “Thursday Night Out” as the name though … But we weren’t so young that we thought we could keep those wild nights going then follow them up with the bulk of the performances before us.
So glad to see your pen moving again! Don’t know how I stumbled upon your site, bless some Google search, but great getting reconnected with your spirit, even if over the inter-webs. Best wishes and fair sailing on whatever you are expressing, conjuring and manifesting in the world with your spirit. People don’t like looking in the mirror and seeing their shadow, especially audiences at times, but that is what your work always meant for me as a Rice University student so many years ago. Fearlessness, but with an incredible amount of ethical and moral consideration, common decency and courage. Many of your lessons I repeat now as mantras to my own students!
You made and still make that time in my life my Garden of Eden … before the Snake and the Fall, of course. You were a light then and a light now.