By Don Nguyen, member of the 2008 Emerging Writers Group.
Greetings. This is your unreliable narrator speaking. Right off the bat, I've already lied to you. You see, this post is titled "Sorrow, Depression, and Desolation in the American Theater, or How To Be a Sad Playwright in 10 Easy Steps." Yet this post is not limited to just the American Theater. This could very well apply to community theater in the Ukraine or children's theater in Switzerland. Also, there are only 5 steps. And they may not be so easy, depending on who you are.
Let me explain. Two weeks ago, on October 31st, I launched a website called sadplaywright.com based off of my semi-popular sad photo series (sad office and sad umbrella). This new website is a collection of sad playwright photos. Prior to launch, I urged all my fellow playwrights that I knew personally to submit their sad photos. The site started with just thirty photos and within two weeks it jumped to over one hundred playwright photos from all over the world. Playwrights from Russia, Prague, Norway, Scotland, England, Australia, and of course, the United States. Not only that, we've had over 5,300 visitors to the site!
But why would I want to be a sad playwright and how would that better my life?
I would, as any playwright worth their weight in gold, answer your question with another question: Why does Christopher Shinn want to be a sad playwright? Or Natalia Antonova from Moscow? Or Johan Herstad from Norway? Because we all are sad at any given moment in time. We are sad because we are human. But even more than that, why has sadplaywright.com become so popular amongst playwrights that it would cause them to come out in droves to submit their own sad photos? I think Sheila Callaghan said it best when she sent her photo in: "Thank god a venue exists in the world for playwrights to express their sadness publicly." You see, there is simply a need, and we as playwrights probably didn't even realize we needed it until it was there. Like Angry Birds.
Why are you so sad, Don?
Blame it all on Christopher Durang. Early in his career, he wrote a play called The Marriage of Bette and Boo, which in my opinion is one of the funniest saddest plays ever written. In it, he talks about the concept of laughing and crying and how they go hand in hand. That's the beauty of Durang's humor. He finds the funny in the sad, and the sad in the funny. Durang's sense of humor has enormously influenced my own work, be it plays, or sad photos of playwrights.
So, you're saying it's actually good to be sad?
I think sadness has gotten a bad rap, and I think it can actually be good for you. Even Joseph Forgas, a psychology professor from the University of New South Wales, found that being sad makes people less gullible, improves their ability to judge others and also boosts memory. His study showed that people in a negative mood were more critical of, and paid more attention to, their surroundings than happier people, who were more likely to believe anything they were told. The study also found that sad people were better at stating their case through written arguments, which Forgas said showed that a “mildly negative mood may actually promote a more concrete, accommodating and ultimately more successful communication style.” See? Being sad actually helps playwrights to communicate better. Who wouldn't want that?
Again, why would I want to be a sad playwright and how would that better my life?
Because I believe sadness and happiness can't exist without the other. Do you really expect a playwright to not be sad? Why, when our profession is based on drama? And if we agree conflict is the basis of all drama, then we as dramatists are creatures of conflict. And conflict is sad. But in a good way. Even British philosopher John Stuart Mills claimed "it is better to be an unhappy Socrates than a contented pig."
Fine, so what are these five not so easy steps to being a sad playwright?
1. First, admit that you're a playwright. I don't mean to yourself. I mean to your friends, family, neighbors, boss, etc. You get extra points if you come out as a playwright at your high school reunion. But brace yourself as they give you "the look." You know the one. It's the same look people give when they smell bad cheese.
2. Admit that you sometimes feel sad. As I stated, there's nothing wrong with that.
3. Instead of wallowing in your sadness, hoping for something or someone to make it to go away, EMBRACE IT.
4. Take a picture of your sadness.
5. Share it publicly at sadplaywright.com/sad-submissions And know that by sharing your sadness, you are actually spreading happiness around the globe (via the internet). I'm not claiming sadplaywright.com will change the world or better your life, but it may very well make your day. And that does not make me sad.
Don Nguyen is a member of the 2008 Emerging Writers Group, The Civilians 2010 R&D Group and the Ma-Yi Writers Lab. His play "Red Flamboyant" was recently developed at the Ojai Playwrights Conference this past summer and he is currently working on "Sound: A Sign Language Play." For more information on Don, please visit his website: thenuge.com.
This post is part of a weekly series from the Emerging Writers Group community of playwrights. The EWG is two-year playwriting fellowship at The Public Theater seeking to target playwrights at the earliest stages of their careers. In so doing, The Public hopes to create an artistic home for a diverse and exceptionally talented group of up-and-coming playwrights.