Episode 23:Brock Talk
Lindsay speaks to first year students at Brock University about her path from a love of the arts to a career in the arts, and how embracing failure, and being open to a non-traditional path are key.
Subscribe to The Theatrefolk Podcast
Welcome to TFP, The Theatrefolk Podcast. I am Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello! I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.
Today, we’ve got a recording of a speech I gave to students at Brock University. But first, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.
Happy New Year! We are back and we are raring to go, so much so that I get right on the road this week. I am off to the Missouri State Thespian Festival where I’m teaching some playwriting workshops and doing something a little interesting. They’re trying out a different workshop scenario with workshops of different lengths throughout the day, throughout the festival, and I’ll be doing a couple of quick-fire ones – half an hour – which are appropriately called PLAYWRITING NOW. Now, you must playwright. Now, sit down, right now, now.
So, they come in, they sit down, we’re writing for the whole time. It should be interesting to see how much we get done in a half an hour. I’m hoping for a warm-up monologue and a scene. And then, the other thing that I’m doing which I’m very excited about is that, over the course of two days, I am going to rehearse and then put up, as an advanced staged reading, my latest play which is called BACKSPACE.
Students from two schools are participating and we literally have three hours to rehearse on Thursday and then there will be two performances on Friday. This particular process is something that I’m pretty comfortable with actually. I’ve done it before – taking a play and putting it up in a kamikaze fashion and in a short time period. It’s intense but it’s totally doable. And, you know, sometimes it does depend on the students you get. I’ve never met them. I don’t know what their skills are. We’re just going to jump in the pod together and see what happens. And regardless of what happens, it’s going to be a great experience for the students who are involved, who get to be basically parachuted into a play. And also, it’s going to be pretty interesting for those who come to watch because, as a part of the experience, I’m going to share the writing process – where this idea came, how scenes have changed from the idea stage to the first draft. I actually have a sort of a handout that shows the same scene in three different drafts and how it’s evolved. Everyone always wants to know: how do you write a play? And I think – I hope, fingers crossed – that this will give them a picture of what it’s like, for my anyway. It’s so individual, the writing process, for, oh, from A writer to Z writer. So, that’s the goal. That’s what I’m going to set out to do.
And lastly, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and on Twitter. You can also find us on the Stitcher app, AND, of course, you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search on the word “Theatrefolk.”
Episode Twenty-Three: Brock Talk
I have a yearly standing gig. 2012 was my fourth year and I’ve already been invited back for 2013. And I give a talk to first-year university students at Brock University. It’s a theatre in education course which is attended by students across the board – students destined for theatre performance, students who want to be drama teachers, students who actually want to be science teachers – it’s a required course for them. And the point of my talk is to speak about my particular path. How I took a love for the arts and started myself from a place of performance and moved through many failures and mistakes and missteps to where I am today. And one of the reasons I am where I am today is that I asked myself some basic but necessary questions about what I wanted for my arts career when I was at the rock-bottom of my arts career. So, let’s go on to the speech.
All right! So yes, my name is Lindsay Price. I am a professional playwright and I have been one for 17 years and I am currently the resident playwright for Theatrefolk. We write and publish play scripts specifically for schools and student performers.
And I’m here today to talk about what it’s been like to take a love for the arts that I’ve had ever since I was a kid and apply it to a career in the arts. And there‘s two very significant aspects of my journey, the first of which is that my career is very non-traditional – it’s a very non-traditional career. I can’t think off the top of my head of any other publisher that has a resident playwright.
“Opportunity often comes in disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat.” ~ Napoleon Hill
For example, people sometimes wrinkle their nose at non-traditional. We have preconceived notions – some of our own making, some placed upon us – that there’s only one way to do things, one way to make a living, one way to have a career, one way to be successful in the arts, one way to be a professional.
When I started out as a playwright, I was in Toronto and I had a very linear preconceived notion of what it meant to be a professional playwright and I got this notion based on pure observation – what I saw happening to all the playwrights around me. Get noticed, get a production, get an agent, get another production, strive for that, show at one of the big kahuna theatres like the Can Stage – that, in my mind, was what it meant to be professional and, if I wasn’t following that very narrow path, I wasn’t professional. I was a failure. And that’s really important to say twice. If I wasn’t following a very specific path in a very specific way, I was a failure.
The best thing I ever did was divorce myself from that mindset. To stop thinking there’s only one way to do things, to embrace the non-traditional. And further, to divorce myself from the idea that failure equals bad which I’m going to get more to in a minute.
“The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.” ~ Sven Goran Eriksson
The second significant aspect of my career is how I have embraced arts education. I believe very strongly in the importance of drama in a well-rounded education, in a well-rounded human being. Drama is one of the few areas that builds real world skills: Communication, Team Building, Creative Thinking, Creative Problem-Solving, Self-Expression, Self-Confidence.
If you are thinking about becoming a drama teacher, or being involved with arts education, I really have to tip my hat because you are incredibly important, more than you know, more than you’ll ever receive recognition for.
And here’s something else just in terms of the realm of the importance of arts education. I’ve come to learn over seventeen years – that makes me very old, ugh! – that theatre in general, it doesn’t change a lot. An adult in the 21st century who goes to a play is not really going to change their mind, right? It’s not going to impact their life. And the complete opposite is true in the school. Theatre does change lives at the school level – in youth, particularly in the middle school level, in the classroom. Being in a play can change a student’s life. Seeing a character go through something that they’re going through when they thought they were alone is impactful. Just gathering up the courage to get on stage and talk to other people, you know, speak in front of an audience, having that courage – that’s very impactful. And I have been so lucky because I have been seeing the impact of theatre through my plays at the school level, through arts education, in the classroom. And I have to say, I love being a part of that as an artist.
“The Arts are an essential part of public education. From dance and music to theatre and the visual arts, the arts give children a unique means of expression, capturing their passions and emotions, and allowing them to explore new ideas, subject matter, and cultures.” ~ Dr. Terry Bergeson (a State Superintendent)
So, today I’m going to outline what I did to get to this point today, how I’ve applied what I’ve learned with a multitude of mistakes and missteps. I’ll talk about how going down a non-traditional path and also how niche markets are really a viable option in the arts, and how being open to change, and particularly open to failure, are key to a successful career in the arts.
A CAREER IN THE ARTS
So, how did this happen for me? How did a career in the arts and arts education happen for me?
I make a living writing plays for schools, for students. That’s a really amazing thing to say, right? Because one of the things, one of those preconceived notion is when we think school, particularly high school, we think amateur, right? I sure did. I resisted – for years – writing for the school market and being involved with arts education. I did not want to write for schools. I did not want Theatrefolk to be my full-time job. I wanted to be a PLAYWRIGHT, you know? All caps. That was the only way to be important. That was the only way to have impact.
But really, that’s just kind of what I thought because, if everyone was doing it, everyone else was going for this all caps thing, I kind of thought that I had to too even though, as I was trying to do it, in no way was it working for me. It just wasn’t working for me at all.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ~ Thomas Edison
In the arts, we’re really big at looking over everybody else’s fence, right? Seeing what someone else is doing. Seeing what some other actor is doing. Seeing what other, you know, play someone else has got going. Wanting what they have. “If I had his gig…” “If I had her opportunity…” “If I had that then my career would go somewhere, then my career would really zoom.”
If what you’re doing in the arts isn’t working, you have to take a long look at why. Is it really just a matter of time? It can be. You could be moving forward, you know. You could be on the right path and it’s just step after step after step. Or are you truly knocking on a door that’s not going to open? Are you knocking on a door that’s never going to open? They don’t open for everybody, right?
I have friends. I have a particular friend who wanted a career at Second City. Did all the right things – took the classes, got in the touring company, subbed in on main stage, never got the call to the show. What do you do, right? You could be the one. You could be the one that the door opens for. You could have the traditional life in the arts that you have always dreamed of. But what are you going to do if the doors don’t open for you? Do you keep going or do you change? That is an incredibly hard choice to make.
Keep going or change? And notice, I do not say, “Give up.” You do not have to give up on a career in the arts simply because the path you want isn’t exactly the path that you’re on. And I have to say for myself, one of the best assets over the years that I have had is that I never give up. No matter what happened. Many things happened which were sort of, you know, you should really go do something else, and I never gave up.
My career is a result of both a lot of mistakes and a lot of choices which kind of seems contradictory. But what makes a successful career is not how well you avoid mistakes. It’s the reaction once the mistakes have been made because you cannot avoid making mistakes in your career – whatever the career. It is impossible. Human beings make mistakes. It is the thing that we are best at, you know?
“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
Unless you’ve got that time machine, unless you’ve got that time machine patent in your back pocket that you’re just waiting for the right moment to swing out, unless you’ve got that, nobody knows what the future holds until it actually gets here.
What if you think you want to be a teacher? You’re sure you want to be a teacher. It is the thing that drives you. You want, it’s the right move until you get in the classroom and you realize that you don’t like teaching. What do you do? Or you love teaching, but all the red tape that comes outside of the classroom drives you nuts? What do you do? What if you’re sitting here and you want to be an actor? It’s what drives you. It is what you are sure you are good at and you want to do. What if you never get the right roles? What if you can’t stand the schmoozing that is a necessary part of being an actor, right? Or what if you don’t want to spend four years to do commercials? What do you do, right?
It’s the choices you make out of a situation that matter. Do you keep going or do you change?
And you also, along with human beings being really great at making mistakes, we’re also really great at failing. You cannot avoid failure. It is impossible. And it would be better and much less stressful if you just embraced it – if you looked at failure as an event in your life and not your life.
Now, school teaches us the exact opposite of that. School is not real big on failure, right? School teaches us that there is the right and a wrong, and it is better if you get more right answers because if you get more right answers, you do well on the test, and life is wonderful. If you fail a test, you’re failing at life. That’s what’s cool. Kind of embeds at us since we’re five years old. When the truth of the matter is, really, the only way to get better at life is to fail, a lot. You fall of the horse? Get back on. You fall off the horse? Redesign the saddle. You fall of the horse? You buy a bike.
It is only failure if you don’t learn anything from it.
So, some famous failures, just to sort of make examples of this:
Michael Jordan, he was cut from his high school basketball team.
Walt Disney declared bankruptcy at 22. Not that much older than you are now, bankrupt.
Abraham Lincoln lost political seats eight times before being elected President. He tried eight times!
Both John Grisham and JK Rowling were rejected by 12 publishers.
Salvador Dali was expelled from art school
“If you’re willing to fail interestingly, you tend to succeed interestingly.” ~ Edward Albee
So, I’m very happy to say I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ve failed a lot in my life. I don’t have a theatre degree. I have an English Degree with a Theatre minor from Wilfrid Laurier University. By far, the biggest mistake I ever made in my life was to go into English. And, second to that, I had an opportunity to get out! I knew in second year, I knew it was the bad mistake. I knew I should leave and I stayed. And in fourth year, I hated every millisecond of every class. I was barely passing. I dropped from an honor’s to a general. And what was I doing? What I should have been doing in second year. I was spending all my time doing theatre.
After university, my initial plan was that I was going to become an actor. I thought that, if I didn’t act, that would die – which apparently doesn’t happen to people. But I didn’t like the roles I was getting. I was never an ingénue – never! And I got into writing because I didn’t like the parts I was getting and thought, “Well, I’m just going to go write my own.” You know, snaps to that.
Playwriting was a complete accident. I saw it as a means to something else. It was a door I could open and I starting touring the Fringe Festival circuit. I toured Canada for six years – writing plays, being in them, and just really learning because I think that the Fringe circuit – and I don’t mean just doing one, you know, just doing one like as a little summer project. I mean TOURING, like, in a car from Montreal to Vancouver. You know, spending months at a time doing show after show after show.
I just think it is the most fantastic training ground for actors, directors, writers, even teachers – even if you’re destined for the classroom. What a wonderful thing to be able to pass on that from a place of experience to students.
It was just an excellent teacher for me to be on the Fringe for that long. My craft as a playwright was honed, not in a classroom, but by practise and by production – a lot of trial by fire, more failure.
I had one show, for some reason, and to this day I do not know why I chose to write about this because I’m not a religious person but I wrote a play about the bible because I thought it was interesting. I’m a total layman and I wrote a number of characters and how they interact. It was okay. It was one of my first plays. It’s all right. It’s now in a drawer – at the bottom of a drawer. And frankly, nobody wanted to see this play, right? We sold it completely wrong. There was one night in Montreal where we performed to three volunteers – not one paying customer. And I think it was at midnight.
By far, it was right up there with one of my most depressing performance adventures. But, what the Fringe gave me was a great sense of figuring out how to read an audience, what they might like to see, and also, writing within limitations which has served me really well in the school market. And I’ve never been bothered by limitations. People ask me all the time, “Don’t you find it very limiting to write for teenagers?” and I’m like, “No, I like it! It makes me creative. It makes me creative to find the right play. It makes me work harder and I like that.” I like being creative within limits.
“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” ~ Henry Ford
The most significant choice of my entire career happened in the year 2000. In the year 2000, I really thought that I was on the cusp of breaking out into that typical, traditional, shiny, playwrights’ career. I was a member of Factory Theatre’s Playwrights Group. I had the dramaturg at the time from Can Stage reading and responding to my plays. I was writing for television – I was writing on a medical talk show. And on paper, it was a really, really exciting time.
And I fully expected that Factory would take my play, and they would put it on, and it would sell out, and I’ve be moved up to the Royal Alex, everyone would love it, and I would get another commission, and I would get a better television show, and then zoom. It would go off. And none of that happened – not a single thing. It was, to date, the worst year of my life – creatively, artistically.
Factory told me they didn’t produce plays like mine which, considering that their mandate is “Canadian” plays – kind of way of saying, “We don’t like you. We don’t like your plays. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” The dramaturg from Can Stage stopped calling. I could not get another theatre to read my work. The television show was like working in a sweatshop factory. It was horrible. The bottom fell out of every single thing I was doing. I was 30 years old. I had nothing. So, keep going or change?
And at that point, I had to make a choice. And the first thing I did was ask myself this question: What do I want? What do I want as a playwright? It is a very simple, straight-forward question, and I had never asked myself this question because I was too busy following the rabbit down the hole, following what everyone else was doing, trying to do anything else but exactly what I wanted.
So, what do you want? Ask yourself what you want. And don’t lie. And don’t give an answer because someone else around you is saying something. What do you want as an actor? What do you want as a teacher? What do you want as an artist? What is your purpose as an artist?
Knowing what you want makes it a lot easier to pursue – easier to come up with strategies, action Nothing feels better than when you are taking action with your career. And you need tor re-ask this question all the time. “What do I want? Do I want the same thing? Has the answer changed?” because hopefully, you’re going to change as a human being. Hopefully, you’re not going to stay in crystal. You’re going to evolve. So, the answer to this question is going to change.
So, my answer? What do I want? I wanted three things when I got right down to it. I wanted to make a living as a playwright, I wanted to write good plays, and I wanted to have some impact as an artist. Every single one of those things was doable writing for schools. Every single one of those things was doable with Theatrefolk – the very thing that I had been resisting like a screaming two-year-old not to do. And the instant, the second I changed my focus from this very narrow, traditional path from traditional to Theatrefolk, everything fell into place. It wasn’t overnight. It took a long time. It took a time to build up the catalogue. It took time to build up the audience. It took time to write the plays. But I was taking steps and I was moving forward which I had never been able to do before.
I had strategy. I had action. I had purpose, and having a specific focus made all the difference.
So, Theatrefolk has also had an interesting journey making choices out of situations. We started out as a production company. We wrote and toured children’s plays during the school year and then we toured the Fringe in the summer. We did that for five years, and after five years of basically spinning our wheels – not moving forward in any way as a company, getting totally burned out – we had to make a choice with this company. Keep going or change?
We thought we wanted to be producers but it turns out we were really bad at it. We weren’t into it 100 percent. What is your percentage in your art? Are you and your art 100 percent? Is it more? Are you one of those 110 percenters? Is it less? We were less so we had to take action and make a choice. So, without the producing angle, we had a bunch of scripts, original scripts were lying around, and very naïvely, we just went, “Well, why don’t we publish them?”
It was a risk and it certainly could have failed but we didn’t stop. Theatrefolk transitioned from a production company to being a publisher. We started out as a self-publisher because the only author was me. But then, we started accepting outside writers and the number of plays in our catalogue started to grow. And we moved up to become independent publishers. We started attending conferences, we’d go to CODE here in Canada and many, many more in the States. This year, we sent out 30,000 catalogues which has changed quite a bit too. When we started out, we went from this, to this, to that. That’s our latest. Change.
“Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” ~ Samuel Beckett
So, at Theatrefolk, we like taking risks. We strive to take risks, to take on risky projects. We actually call them fail projects, not because we expect them to fail, not because we expect them to do badly because we don’t believe that fail equals bad. We know how important it is to take on projects that aren’t safe and that is something that all artists must do.
If you want to grow as an artist, if you want to change as an artist, if you want to survive as an artist, you need risk projects. Otherwise, you’re going in circles, right? It’s a hamster on a wheel. It’s all safe. It’s all beige. Why on earth would you want to make beige art? So, what risks are you taking in your art? And you know I don’t mean sky-diving.
Taking on something that might fail. For us, a fail project isn’t doomed. It is wonderfully unsafe. It’s an adventure rather than something depressing or hopeless and not all our projects work out. We’ve had some spectacular failures. We go to a number conferences – theatre conferences for schools and student performers – and in each conference, we try a new selling technique. You know, trying new ways to bring customers to the table, to take away our catalogue. At one conference, we tried to sell scripts on a USB rather than a hard copy – nobody liked that. One year, we didn’t do a catalogue – nobody liked that either. We’ve tried venturing into textbooks, especially for elementary students, which made us realize that we don’t want to be in elementary schools. We like middle school and high school.
Now, of course, that’s just ones that didn’t work. We’ve also risked and succeeded. Our sales tactics this year is giving away stuff for free. We have a CD-ROM that has samples from every single one of our plays that we’re giving away when we conferences. We’re one of the only publishing companies that offers PDF copies of our scripts and photocopy licences for productions and performers. We’ve started doing e-books, we do resource guides – we have one on inspiring students to write through picture prompts, on how to write a vignette play with a class, and our latest one which is very, very popular – it’s awesome, if I do say so – Emergency Lesson Plans for Drama Teachers.
Every single one of our fail projects – the ones that didn’t work out and the ones that did – all of them make us a better company. They allow us to have sort of instant market research results, and we talk about the results and we can make active decisions based on the results. Keep going or change?
I’m definitely not where I thought I would be at the beginning of my career. But, really, there’s no place that I would rather be. This is a very tough market right now in whatever job you’re going to go into, right? There is no guarantee. A university degree will not guarantee you a job. That’s over. You get one acting job, there is no guarantee for a second or third, right? There’s no guarantees.
So, what it all boils down to is you better love what you do because you’re going to have to work hard at it. So, why not work hard doing something that you love rather than something that just pays bills or gets you by?
I get to make a living as a playwright. I have the opportunity to impact with my writing. I have control over my writing. And it’s hard work, but it doesn’t feel like work. That’s the secret when you love what you do, it doesn’t really feel like work. The traditional path is out there for everyone. It is there for you to go down. It is there for you to take. But the thing is, and the thing they don’t tell you is, it’s not right for everybody. You have to find your own specific path which leads very nicely into talking about niche markets.
A niche market is a focused, tangible, portion of a market.
Theatrefolk follows a teeny, tiny niche – schools, student performers. We only publish plays that are suitable for students. In the world of publishing, that makes us microscopic and that’s on purpose. It’s our intention to remain small. We will not expand out of our niche. We have no interest in going into community theatre, or adult, or going down to, you know, down to elementary. It’s middle school, high school – that’s all we do. There’s a couple of reasons for that.
When you’re a general catch-all kind of company, yes – absolutely 100 percent – you have more customers. You also have more competition. There are so many other publishers out there who cast a much wider net of what they publish and to compete with them is tough. Samuel French is a 100 years old – over 100 years old. It would take years and years, and even if we wanted to, why try to be the next Samuel French? They already exist. It’s already there, right? Why not try to be something special for a special group of customers? I would rather be special to a small group than struggle to compete within a larger group. And bigger is not really always better. Small also means really flexible; we can make decisions, make changes, on a dime.
I had a discussion with one of the reps from Samuel French who was complimenting us on our Facebook page.” Oh, your beautiful Facebook page is so great! We would love to do that!” We were like, “Well, it’s really easy, you know. You just sign up, you make a Facebook page.” And they have so many authors, and they have so much red tape, and so much diversity, they cannot figure out how to do something what to us seems very simple as make a Facebook page.
A niche market focuses specific products on specific audiences.
The same applies if you’re an individual artist. If you’re an individual artist, if you think of yourself as a playwright, for example, plain and simple – there are just so many other playwrights trying to get into the same small number of theatres. There are a limited number of spots in any given theatre season, and on top of that, most of those spots are filled by established playwrights or dead playwrights. Let me tell you, it’s really hard to compete with a dead guy, you know. So, why do it? Why not be something special to a specific group of people? When you are thinking about becoming an artist as a career, full-time, why not think about what small niche you can explore, you can be the best at, right? Why not be the best at a small thing than be just sort of okay at a big general thing?
Niches are really, I think, a viable and accessible avenue for a successful arts career. I love writing in a niche market because it gives me focus to my writing, I know exactly who my audience is, I know exactly who is going to produce the play. I get asked, don’t I get bored writing the same thing over and over again? Well, frankly, it’s my job not to get bored. That’s my job, right?
I’ve sort of boiled it down to there’s only three things that I can’t write about when it comes to schools and student performers and that’s sex, swearing, and going through middle-age crisis. And I’m really okay. I don’t even want to think about middle-age. Okay, that’s three.
There are a gazillion other things that I can write about and I do. A niche makes it really easy for Theatrefolk to know exactly what kind of play is going in the catalogue. We never have to question what’s going in. When we get a submission, it is very specific about whether it’s going to be a fit for us or not. And that’s something else, too. If you ever are a playwright and you want to submit somewhere, it’s really important you know what the guidelines are, what niche a company is trying to fill, because if you try and shove something into their company that you think is really great but it doesn’t fit them in any way, you’re not really endearing yourself to anybody.
So, most importantly, because we follow this very one thing, it makes it really easy for our customers to find us. Drama teachers, that’s what we want. Teachers tell us time and time again, they do not have to wade through a huge catalogue that may or may not something that’s good for them. They know exactly that everything we’ve got is suitable and it’s just a matter of taste whether they like it or not.
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” ~ Albert Einstein
So, when we started out, we did not have a clue about this – this whole idea of niche markets, or focusing on schools or students. We were just swimming in the stream and we just happened to live in North Bay which was – believe it or not – at the time, pretty much a mecca for high school theatre. Who knew? North Bay was the Canadian hub of an American organization called the Educational Theatre Association and International Thespian Festival so there was a huge one-act play festival in the fall for students, there was Sears in the spring, they did a big musical production in the summer. And I spent four years there, watching a lot of crap, watching really inappropriate script choices. Just really, really awful, awful, awful plays. And I sat there and I thought, “Well, I can do better than this. I can write something that is fun, that is appropriate, that is challenging.” And once we started researching what was available for high schools, it became very clear, very quickly, that the school market was underserviced.
When you start thinking about what niche you might be able to fill, think about what research you can do within your art. What is a space that needs filling? What part of your market is starving? That needs someone to jump in and be an expert at it?
We fell into schools and students by accident but made a very conscious decision to stay. And not only that, Theatrefolk has grown from a company that sells school-appropriate scripts to a company that is highly focused on promoting arts education.
So, like everything, we just sort of fell into, sort of by accident, into becoming arts education advocates. We were at conferences and we saw that there was often a workshop component and we thought, “Oh, well, we should teach as well, you know? That would be good marketing for our company.” But then we started saying, “Oh, oh! Teaching is important. Did you know that? Teaching is important.” And then we thought the direct result of arts education. And then, we thought we want to promote arts education through our company. What can we do to help drama teachers promote arts education? What can we do to make drama teachers lives easier?
“The arts teach all of us, teachers and students alike, innovation, novelty, and creativity. We learn to be wondrous.”~ Ramon Cortines, Gaining the Arts Advantage. (Superintendent)
And at Theatrefolk, we think that arts education is what makes us more than a bookstore. We’re not interested in being a bookstore. Again, they exist. Why would I try and be something that already exists? We are interested in being a part of an experience, and whether that experience is teaching a playwriting workshop, or offering a free newsletter, or handing out a free CD-ROM at a conference, or having educational aspects to our plays such as Shakespeare adaptations or exploring different formats and genres that can be to curriculum – you know, all of that is there to help drama teachers lives easier and we love that. We love being a part of that.
And further, I think every student should write a play. Teaching students to write plays and teaching teachers to teach students to write plays is a big part – it’s my personal arts education mission and Theatrefolk’s, too.
For eight years, I taught an online playwriting course which took high school classes from the idea stage to a second draft. In 2010, I got an OAC Arts in Education grant teaching students how to find, create, and develop theatrical and sustainable ideas. We just turned that an online course. And I teach many workshops at conferences and festivals for first-time playwrights – for people who do not believe that they can write a play and I teach them they can. And I just think that so much of what drama brings to the table – creative thinking, creative problem-solving, team building, self-expression, self-confidence – all of that is just wrapped up into playwriting in a wonderful little package.
“The arts’ belief in potential gives each of us — both audience and creator — pride in our society’s ability to nurture individuals.”~ Wendy Wasserstein
I believe every program should have a playwriting unit. Writing a play is a direct form of those real world skills I talked about at the beginning: what is the writer trying to express, how do they communicate that to an audience. It takes a lot of confidence and discipline to organize your thoughts. And if the play moves to production, there’s the whole notion of team building.
So, what this all sums up to is that I love what I do, I see the impact of theatre in schools, I’ve been directly impacted by what theatre does in schools, and I’ve seen how even the lightest, the fluffiest, the most seemingly inconsequential play can change somebody’s life. That’s pretty stunning – realization for a writer, right? That there is writing in the world – my writing – that has that kind of impact. I’m not just writing for myself in a vacuum. That is really way better than just being one of those all caps PLAYWRIGHTs.
I love what I do. I love working hard at what I do. I love having a focus, a niche. I love that the impact of my writing is in the school market and is attached to arts education. I love writing and working for teenagers, and given the opportunity, I really wouldn’t trade it for some traditional path that I thought I wanted just because somebody else was doing it.
So, thank you for listening today and I hope what you’ve taken away from this is a decision to ask yourself the following:
What do I want?
How can I overcome that fear of failure – that whole notion that fear equals bad?
What risk project am I going to take with my art?
How do I get off the hamster wheel?
How do I not make beige art?
How do I take on something that may work or it may not?
And what am I doing here? That’s a pretty big question to ask yourself: What am I doing here?
What is my purpose?
What do I want?
Thank you very much.
The aftermath of my Brock Talk is always interesting. Some years, there are more students into my story; some years, less. But there is always a point and there has been a point every year where – most of the students have laptops now and there’s a constant tick-a-tick-a-ticka from the keyboard, you know, they’re taking notes. They’re like, you know, I don’t know, maybe they’re playing Minesweeper? It doesn’t matter.
There’s always a point somewhere in my speech of dead silence where they’re just listening to what I have to say, to the point where they kind of even forget to take notes. And I look at them, and they’re staring at me, and they are thinking about where they are – as if they’ve never thought about it. And why would they? They’ve barrelled through high school, they’ve been told they have to go to university, so they do, and work so hard to get there, and they’re sitting in a huge classroom, and that question of, “What do I want to be? What do I want to do with my life?” That’s not really at the top of the list of questions.
One year, a student actually changed her major the day after hearing me speak. She sat up, asked herself these questions, and realized the path she was barrelling down wasn’t the one she wanted at all. It’s pretty amazing. I think of this particular speech as, you know, the foibles and screw-ups of Lindsay Price. And hey! You don’t have to make the same mistakes as me. You don’t have to wait ‘til you’re 30 to send your life on a path, you know? But it’s actually something pretty powerful for some to hear.
And if you are a visual learner and you would rather watch this speech instead of listen to it, you can find it on YouTube. It’s on our Theatrefolk channel. If you search for youtube.com/theatrefolk, you can watch me speak instead of listen to me speak.
And that’s where we’re going to end. That’s it. That’s all. Take care, my friends. Take care.