New Plays; Happy Days
happy: enjoying or characterized by well-being and contentment
by Jeffrey Schmidt
Here’s a photo of Katherine Owens and me performing Eric Ehn’s adaptation of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury whose title comes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Artists drawing inspiration from artists drawing inspiration from artists. My time at Undermain Theater was the single most influential factor in shaping my aesthetic and working on Erik’s play was the highlight. For better or worse, it set the path I would follow for decades.
In the past 5 years, I have been a part of 11 new plays and musicals created and developed here in Dallas by Dallas artists. Eight of those have been at Theatre Three and, depending on how things go, 3 or 4 more on the way. It’s impossible to describe what that takes. If you’ve done it, success or failure, you know. All I can say is that the odds are stacked against you. And like figure skating, everyone watching is secretly hoping you crash and burn, especially your peers.
Those willing to take the risk, to actually make something, to go beyond the TV dinner process of reheating someone else’s play don’t do it for the accolades. They do it because they are dissatisfied. They have a wrong they want to right. Artists, the good ones, are rarely happy. That’s the price you pay. Sure, they can find moments of joy, they can appreciate the little things, they can find love and return it. You must experience those things to be able to tell a good story. But those things won’t make you happy. Those things, at best, will make you want to tell another story, a better story to right another wrong.
To the many artists I’ve worked with these past 5 years, scheming and dreaming, I appreciate and treasure every little moment. In some twisted way, I think I most appreciate the moments of crisis that come with creating new work. Those truly nauseating moments where months of work can be destroyed by a bad rehearsal and, suddenly, you realize that despite your belief in theatre affecting change in the world, your play is just a steaming pile of poo. 11:30pm. The actors have gone home to the bar. The stage manager just wants you to leave, so she can email the rehearsal report. That’s when the truly talented shine. Those are the people I love. Find the solution. Make the play better. Stolen smokes and liquor. Dallas is flush with those talents.
Who better to tell the people of Dallas a story then the people of Dallas? Like it or not, we’re gonna keep telling stories. Even though the majority could care less, and the vocal minority would rather see Mama Mia, we’re gonna keep telling our own stories. (Calm down. I have nothing against Mama Mia. The four syllables just fit nicely in the sentence.) This isn’t a recent development by the way. This has always been the case. News Flash! The Dallas Morning News didn’t scoop the “9 out of 10 Americans Don’t Care About the Arts” story. It’s kinda almost admirable that they held out as long as they did. Dallas has yet to grasp what art can do. We’re ticket sales, clicks, posts, ‘fun for the whole family’ and community engagement grant.
Art is none of that. Art is “I’m not happy, and I’m gonna tell you why.” Its impact can only be measured after a lifetime of consumption. I love the people with whom I’ve made things. I Boy Scout salute you. But I’m not happy.