As a dancer, over the years I’ve come to realize what the true job description of being an entertainer is. For one or two hours it is my job to get people to forget about their worries and their strife (cue “The Bear Necessities” from The Jungle Book!). I don’t get to hear their problems, but I have the pleasure of getting them to let go and bring them into another world where they may be at their best happiness. Basically this to me is the definition of a caretaker. Through my writing experience, I’ve come to understand that the term ‘caretaker’ for an artist goes much further than that. Your art is not just about taking care of your audiences’ cares and concerns, but it’s also about taking care of your own.
Before beginning my senior year of high school, I had made the decision that I wasn’t going to go to college directly out of high school. From getting a taste of what the professional dance world was like I came to the conclusion that it was something I want to do for a long time, or really for the rest of my life. Talking about it with friends, family and others who would ask about my “plans for the fall”, I would always do my best to give them the most confident, well-rounded response that I could possibly give, for I am and was very happy with my choice. However, there was a little part of me that was maybe a bit scared. I understood that chasing my dreams might at times be more of a challenge and maybe not as such an easier or safer route as going straight to college, but starting my final year that thought continued to rattle in my head at times.
One day during my writing class Michelle Batt visited to talk about the Young Writers Short Play Festival. When I was making my school schedule the year before I had saw that there was a writing seminar being offered, so in an attempt to get out of gym and being that I’ve always had a love and appreciation for writing, I went ahead and signed up for the class (and was still put in gym, only one semester, but still!). I already had some knowledge of the Young Writers Festival from my junior year, but at the time just didn’t want to submit anything. When Michelle came to my class to talk about it I just kind of thought to myself ‘Well why not? It’s senior year, I’ll try everything!’
What I’ve discovered about who I am as a writer is I am very personal. My style, I’ve come to discover, is very vulnerable and revealing of who I am. I don’t think I ever intended for it to be that way, but it just happens and it’s nothing I can really control. It’s all very natural really. I can remember Michelle told us to “write something you care about”, so when I began writing the script I knew right away that I wanted to write about the decisions I’ve made on my future.
Setting up the script felt simpler than I had anticipated. I just took a conversation I had with myself and basically split myself into two characters. Gave these characters backgrounds and names, turned the conversation into a plot, slapped on a title and Ba-Boom, a play was created! In reality it was built around a line that I had already thought of; what I wanted to say to all the naysayers out there really.
Submitting it I honestly didn’t thought that it wasn’t going to get chosen as one of the lucky 10 plays to get produced. I believed in my work and what I had wrote, I’m just the type of guy that never gets their hopes up just in case things may fall through and not having to face even more disappointment. I will never forget it – the night of January 5th I was packing my bags to go live in Milwaukee by myself for a month because I had recently gotten into a professional dance company and had to leave to begin rehearsals right away. Then all of a sudden I get a call from Michelle saying “Hi, I’m Michelle Batt with MadLab Theatre and we want to produce your play with the 2016 Young Writers Festival”. When I went to go tell my parents they were actually completely flabbergasted because I guess I never told them I wrote a play and they were also dealing with sending off their 17 year old to live by himself for a month… so I guess I understood their shock.
Going to the first read-through and seeing it come somewhat to life, I was honestly a little concerned. I felt like my show was in no comparison to any of the other shows, my story line was corny and predictable, lines were a mess – it’s safe to say I was somewhat stressed. It took me a few more attempts to finally come to a draft I was happy with, but with the help of the MadLab ensemble actors and my amazing mentor Jason Beehler, doing re-writes was actually very pleasing to me in ways I wouldn’t understand until I was doing them.
My two very good friends Devante Brown and Lake Wilburn played the two characters. I’ve known Lake since I was eight, my freshmen year I went to the same school as both of them at Centennial HS before switching to Fort Hayes HS and developed a stronger relationship with Devante, and also was given the privilege to choreograph Centennial’s musicals in my junior and senior years and was honored to work with both of them, Devante for both years. Our first rehearsal together with director Jim Azelvandre was so thrilling to me, and to have the characters be played by two of very close friends of mine whom I adore made this experience that much more amazing.
All in all, what I’ve learned through this experience with MadLab is that my art, my piece, truly is my own personal care. Hearing it, and seeing it performed and put on I’ve realized that writing it was really my clarity with the whole situation. I never knew how somewhat insecure I was about my decision until I actually sat down and wrote it out for others to hear and see being enacted. Artists truly are caretakers, and the beautiful thing about art is we get to learn how to take care of ourselves.
I don’t know what all the future has in store, but I’m excited more than ever to see it unfold, and you can believe there is going to be a lot of writing involved with it. I really just have MadLab to thank for that.