By Mary Kathryn Nagle, member of the 2013 Emerging Writers Group
Once again, it’s 11pm and I am just now leaving the office. In fact, I am sitting in the backseat of the black Lincoln sedan that the client is paying for (because I billed 12 hours today) furiously trying to type my blogpost, the draft of which was due today, and which—despite my best intentions—I did not have time to start drafting until now because I have been typing briefs and letters to the Court pretty much non-stop for roughly 72 hours straight, with a few breaks here and there (yes, I sleep “some” at night, and I also take breaks to the go to the bathroom).
As I settle in to my car ride home and open up my laptop, of course my Dad calls, from the Midwest where it’s a good hour earlier.
I just tried to call your office. You weren’t there.
That’s because I am on my way home.
Oh, that’s wonderful! This is early for you!
Yes, it is. (and then here it comes, the question that one of my parents asks me at least once a week)
How much longer are you going to stay at this job? I think you should think about doing something else. I just think you work too much.
Oh, I don’t know. I don’t have time to think about what else I would do, so . . .
Why don’t you quit being a lawyer and just be a playwright?
What? Did my Dad just tell me to quit being a lawyer and just be a playwright? Does my Dad think I am a playwright?
Back up a bit to 2005, when I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed senior in college. I had just discovered my passion for playwriting and I could not be more excited. I wrote my first play and it won a student playwriting competition on campus. Watching my first play performed for the first time, I knew—this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to write plays the rest of my life.
My parents were horrified. They pleaded. They begged. Anything but playwriting. I had previously expressed an interest in going to law school—and that became the new campaign. Get MK to law school.
And it is true, I wanted to go to law school. I chose to go to law school—not just because that was what my parents wanted me to do, but because I wanted to be a lawyer. But I also wanted to be a playwright.
After I started law school, my parents breathed a huge sigh of relief. Their daughter had a career. She had a clear identity: lawyer. Until . . . I wrote a play in law school. (Eh, WHAT is she doing?!!!)
Everyone tried to convince me not to. I remember my Mom.
Mary Kathryn, shouldn’t you be studying?!
I am Mom. I am also playwriting. I think I can do both.
My favorite law professor.
If you want to write a play, just wait until you’re done with your first year. Then you can write all the plays you want and they won’t jeopardize your grades.
Have you ever tried to tell a playwright to stop writing the play she is writing? Have you told a woman in labor to just take a break and finish the task later? Yeah, good luck with that.
The first year I was in law school, I wrote a play. I got together with my fellow law students and we produced it. And then the next year, I wrote another play. And we produced that. And then my last year in law school, I wrote another play—and we produced that. And still, even after that, no one in my family called me a playwright. They all insisted that I was a lawyer.
Four years later, my parents are now begging me to quit being a lawyer and just be a playwright. The irony of this reversal has certainly captured my attention. At least my parents have finally accepted my identity as playwright. But now I am supposed to give up my identity as lawyer?
My parents aren’t the only ones. When I tell people that I am a lawyer and a playwright, most people immediately ask me: When are you going to quit being a lawyer and just be a playwright?
There are several misconceptions that ultimately lead to this question I repeatedly hear:
1. The Legal profession is more stressful than the playwriting profession
Being a lawyer is stressful. You have to write briefs about complex legal issues and there are long hours and very demanding expectations.
Have you ever talked to a playwright? Writing a play is no easy task. What do you do when all of a sudden your characters refuse to talk to one another? Or when you’ve written the whole play and you realize there’s no plot? Or when you know the end you’ve written really isn’t the end, but you can’t think of the real end because you are thinking too hard and it won’t come to you until you pretend you don’t care anymore and OH MY GOD!
Don’t tell me it’s not stressful to be a playwright!
2. If you want to write out of passion, you have to be a playwright because lawyers don’t write from a place of passion—they just write for the money
Playwrights write from a place of passion. That is exciting. Lawyers write just to make money. That is lifeless.
Sure, some lawyers write just for money. Just like some playwrights write for T.V. to make money. Of course, this question highlights one of the largest crises in the American theater: successful playwrights really cannot sustain themselves economically through their writing for the stage.
But setting that critique of American capitalism aside (that’s really not what this blog post is supposed to be about)—the idea that lawyers don’t write from a place of passion is ridiculous. I decided I wanted to be a lawyer for the very same reason I wanted to be a playwright: I felt there were stories that I desperately needed to tell, and I had no choice but to tell them.
The stories I tell as a lawyer are no different than the stories I tell as a playwright. They are all part of the same fabric of life, blood, words, energy, and sweat—and at the end of the day, whether your audience is someone who has paid $55 to hear your play, or is someone who is being paid $55 to serve on a jury—you are telling a story. A story that needs to be heard.
Some of the most passionate people I have ever met are lawyers.
Some of the most passionate people I have ever met are playwrights.
3. BUT- you can’t be both a playwright and an attorney
WHY NOT?! I think by now you realize that this statement couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Playwrights are playwrights and they are teachers, they are lovers, they are lawyers, they are doctors, they are sisters, they are brothers, they are daughters, they are drivers, they are smokers, they are runners, they are dancers, they are singers, they are . . . They are.
No one is just a playwright. Everyone is a playwright, and well, some of us just write more plays than others. Perhaps I write more plays than your average attorney. I don’t expect that to stop anytime soon.
Mary Kathryn Nagle is a member of the 2013 Emerging Writers Group and is currently working on her new play MANHATTA.
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.