A second blog from Driftwood’s 2018 Playwright in Residence, Alicia Richardson as she continues to work on her play, Solve for X
Sometimes there’s a strange comfort in failure. Sure, initially it sucks. But then there’s some relief. You don’t have to fulfill the expectation of greatness. Success means that you have something to lose and people who will shake their heads and smack their teeth at you when you screw the pooch.* At least when you fail it’s definite, there’s closure. With success, you’re on the wave for however long the surf’s up. There’s really no telling when you’ll wipe out.
Take my case, for example. About a week after getting this gig, uneasiness washed over me: whatever I write has to be great. Regular ol’ “good” just ain’t gonna cut it. This needs to justify the government dollars that are funding this residency. “Artist-in-Residence” sounds so fancy, man! So freaking legit. Am I gonna have to make statements and talk about my “process”? I don’t even know what my process is!**
What if my win was just a fluke? I won the audience vote by four people. Four. Things could’ve easily gone another way. I didn’t even vote for myself because I was so certain that I didn’t deserve to win. There were much more established playwrights in the competition; one of whom has a degree in playwriting for crying out loud! Yet I, the hamburgler, crept away with what I thought belonged to someone else.
After all, I’m just an actor. I’m not even a real writer. But that’s not true. I’ve been writing since I was a teenager: fiction, essay, spoken word, and yes plays too. I thought that what I wrote wasn’t that big of a deal, so my words would spend an eternity in a graveyard of old notebooks. No one reads my work, no one can judge it. But as Marianne Williamson so beautifully wrote, “Your playing small does not serve the world.” No one reads my work, no one can be inspired by it. I can do for someone else what Suzan-Lori Parks and James Baldwin did for me.***
When I think of writing as something I do to serve a bigger purpose, that’s how I kill my inner critic. Suddenly it’s not about being good enough or fighting impostor syndrome. It’s not even about me. It’s about creating more leading roles for black actors. It’s about making women agents of the narrative and not just victims of it. But underneath the revolution of it all, each play I write is a love letter to a member of my family.
Solve for X is part of an ongoing conversation with my brother, about how we can learn to thrive in a system that seems built to destroy us. We’ve learned to negotiate with humor because joy seems to be the biggest resistance we’ve got. Maybe one day he’ll see a production of this show. The thought of his big, baritone laughter filling the air…that’ll be all the confirmation I need.
*But would they really? I mean, people who love and support you are rooting for you. And who cares about the haters? Well you’re not even famous enough to have haters, let’s be real. By you, I mean the proverbial “you” of course…
**Does eating my feelings count?
*** That’s a reach cuz they are both pretty epic. But you feel me, right?}
Alicia Richardson is Driftwood’s 2018 Playwright-in-Residence, working on her play Solve for X, which was first written for Trafalgar 24, 2018.