By Jack Canfora
This evening, I will have a (virtual) table read of a new play of mine. I think it has promise, but for me, and I think I’m not alone in this among playwrights, until I hear it out loud, I can’t be sure. Reading it is different from hearing. Unlike, say, novels or poetry, the text is not the event, although it’s main event in a reading. It’s what they call a “two-hander,” as it has only two characters. To me, more times than not, it would seem the phrase “four-hander” would be more accurate, but I don’t have the kind of pull to make everyone change that idiom. I just don’t.
The two actors who are doing the reading this evening aren’t good: they are absurdly gifted. This is double-edged sword when hearing a play for the first time. On the one hand, they’ll do your text justice, but on the other hand, they’re both so good, that their talent might wallpaper over some cracks in the wall you’ve built (that’s obviously a metaphor. I wouldn’t have the first clue about how to build a wall, other than an emotional one). Actually, that’s two hands. Huh.
Anyway, by rights, both of these actors – professional, working actors – should be household names. They are simply as good as it gets. And hopefully they yet become so, but as of now, they aren’t. Watching the sublimely gifted face the same cruelties and randomness endemic in all the arts fills me with both grief and a certain degree of thankfulness. Don’t get me wrong – I wish these actors, who are also my friends, every success in the world – but it also reaffirms that very randomness I’ve just mentioned. But they actors, they dedicated their lives to the that craft, and have become masters at it. That’s really the only thing in their control. I tell myself the same thing re: my creative endeavors (I’m not saying I’m as gifted as they are): do the work as best you possibly can, always look to improve it, and, if you feel you’ve done something of some merit, that’s it. That’s the ballgame. That’s the whole point. It’s all you can ask of yourself, which is hard enough, you can’t also expect the world to come to your door by chance.
Sure, you do the business-like activities that a life in the arts demands, and you push and hope for the best. But all you can control is what you can control. So when you get a chance to spend some time with gifted artists willing to give some of their time and talent to you, there’s a degree to which it would be greedy to expect or even want more out of your creative life than that. Don’t get me wrong; I’m greedy. But at least I know I am. And no matter the outcome of this evening, short-term or long-term, I’ll know that tonight, I was lucky. I got to spend time doing what I love with people who are doing what they love. And, I think, that’s the point.