A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG CAREERIST

Lately, I’ve been preoccupied with questions of work/life balance and particularly with the shape of women’s careers. For serious reflections on this topic, see my previous post: https://carolslashof.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/confessions-of-an-intermittently-emerging-playwright/
For a comic treatment of the challenges facing an emerging artist, read the ten-minute play posted below. GAIL & PETER puts a contemporary, gender-bending spin on the Greek myth of the sculptor Pygmalion who falls in love with his statue, Galatea. (This myth was the inspiration for Shaw’s play Pygmalion, which, in turn, was the source of My Fair Lady.)
GAIL & PETER premiered at TAPAS 2012 at Pegasus Theater in Rio Nido, California.

GAIL & PETER

GAIL’s studio. A winter afternoon. Grey light. GAIL is putting the finishing touches on her sculpture of a handsome tennis player. He stands on a pedestal in the middle of a drop cloth, positioned as if to make a serve. Next to the sculpture is a stepladder. GAIL kneels at the statue’s feet, gently sanding his ankles and legs while talking on a cell phone. Gradually, she works her way up his body, polishing, gently brushing away stone dust, climbing up on the step ladder when it becomes necessary. She is wearing an artist’s smock over sweater and jeans.

GAIL

Ohmygawd, he’s so beautiful. And he’s mine! Okay, not mine exactly. Strictly speaking, he belongs to the Beaumont Pool and Tennis Club. … Yeah, today—the movers are coming at four. … Do you know how many months I’ve been living on ramen, trying to finish this commission on time? And I haven’t even been on a date in—I don’t know—so long I can’t remember how long… But it’s all gonna be worth it—the offers are gonna start rolling in now, as soon as they see this guy… Hey, whaddaya think I should call him? …

(Sarcastic)

Yeah, right, Rumpelstiltskin is sooo romantic. … No, nix on Pinocchio too. I’m serious. He needs a name, a for real name. Something befitting his incomparable beauty and all the fame and glory he is going to bring me.

(By now, GAIL is standing on the step ladder, working on the statue’s left shoulder and arm.)

How about Peter? What do you think of “Peter”? You know, like Pierre, stone. … Well, to me it’s beautiful. Stone is beautiful. Especially when I’m carving it.

(She gazes at him lovingly.)

Hey, Peter. I love you, Peter.

(GAIL touches the fingers of PETER’s left hand very gently with the fingers of her right. The gesture suggests God touching the hand of Adam. PETER shudders; GAIL draws back, nearly falling off the ladder.)

Uh. I’ll call you back.

(GAIL steps down from the ladder. PETER steps down from the pedestal. Tentatively, GAIL reaches out to take PETER’s hands. He grasps her hands firmly in his and pulls her to him. He kisses her hard and long. After an extended embrace, they separate. GAIL takes a couple of steps backwards.)

GAIL (CONT’D)

Uh. Wow.

PETER

(More a statement of self-realization than an introduction.)

I’m Peter.

GAIL

Yes. Um. Hello. I’m Gail.

PETER

Hello.

GAIL

How… ?

PETER

You said my name. Peter. You touched me.

GAIL

Yeah, but…?

PETER

Before that, there was nothing. Only darkness and silence.

GAIL

And I… I brought you out of the darkness?

PETER

Yes.

GAIL

Wow.

Pause. They look at each other. He kisses her again.

GAIL (CONT’D)

No one has ever kissed me like that before—like I was the only thing in the world that mattered to them. Do you know what I mean?

(PETER shakes his head.)

With every other guy I’ve been with, it was like he had something else on his mind. Not me. Sex with me, maybe. But not simply me.

(Pause. Hastily.)

Not that I’ve been with so many guys—it’s not like I’m, well, you know… No, you don’t know, do you? You didn’t exist up until now.

PETER

Up until now, there was nothing. And then…

GAIL

And then…?

PETER

And then there was now. There was you.

(Pause.)

There is you.

GAIL

Never in the world has there ever been anyone like you, Peter.

PETER

I like it when you say my name.

GAIL

Peter. Peter. Peter.

They stand still, holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes. A sudden wind blows open the door of the studio, startling them; they separate. PETER shivers and rubs his bare arms. GAIL hastens to the door and looks out. Seeing nothing, she closes it and returns to PETER.

GAIL

Oh, dear. You must be freezing.

(GAIL feels the thin material of Peter’s t-shirt and shorts.)

GAIL (CONT’D)

You need something warmer. I didn’t think to… Well, of course, I didn’t know that you… I mean, it’s always warm at the Pool and Tennis Club…

(GAIL wraps her arms around PETER, trying to warm him up. They huddle together, briefly, then suddenly, struck by a realization, she pulls away.)

Oh, dear, the Beaumont Pool and Tennis Club… What the hell are we going to do?

Pause. GAIL looks at PETER. He shrugs.

PETER

We could kiss some more?

GAIL

No, I mean… I mean, yes we could do that, kiss, that would be nice, but I meant, about the Beaumont Pool and Tennis Club? What am I going to do?

(PETER looks at GAIL without comprehension. He shrugs, moves to kiss her. She pulls back.)

Oh, you don’t understand, do you? How could you? Um, see… How can I explain this? You don’t belong to me… I wish you belonged to me.

PETER

I belong to me? To Peter?

GAIL

No. You belong to the Pool and Tennis Club. They commissioned you. Uh, I signed a contract. I made a commitment, a promise… The art movers are coming this afternoon. Soon. To pick you up.

PETER

And you?

GAIL

No. Not me. Only you.

PETER

I don’t want to go anywhere without you.

GAIL

Oh, Peter… I don’t want you to go anywhere either. But what can I do? They paid a fee, an advance… It’s a legal contract. I have to deliver a statue to the Pool and Tennis Club. And if I don’t deliver a statue, then I don’t get paid, and if I don’t get paid, then I can’t pay my rent, my horribly, horribly overdue rent, and I can’t buy

GAIL (CONT’D)

groceries, and… oh, I’d have to pay back the advance too… I’d be worse than broke, Peter. I’d be out on the street.

(PETER stares at GAIL with utter incomprehension. She points out the window.)

Out there. In the cold.

He walks to the window and looks out. She joins him.

PETER

What’s out there?

GAIL

The city. Buildings. Streets, cars, people.

PETER

I could go out there.

GAIL

You don’t want to go out there.

PETER

It looks noisy out there. And bright.

GAIL

You like noise?

PETER

And light. Yes.

GAIL

It will be dark soon. The temperature is supposed to drop below zero tonight.

(Pause. PETER looks at GAIL.)

Fahrenheit.

(Pause. PETER continues to look at GAIL.)

That means it will be cold. Very cold.

PETER

Cold is not good.

GAIL

No. Cold is not good. Warm is good. A warm place to live, and to work. Those are good.

PETER

The Pool and Tennis Club is warm. You said.

GAIL

Absolutely! You would be nice and warm and cozy there.

PETER

You too? You could be nice and warm there too. And cozy!

GAIL

Well. No. I couldn’t. Actually. Because I don’t belong to the Pool and Tennis Club. I could visit you, I guess, but I couldn’t stay there with you.

PETER

Will you be cold?

GAIL

Not if I pay my rent and the heating bill. And if you go to the Pool and Tennis Club, like you’re supposed to, then I’ll be able to pay my rent. And the utilities.

Pause. PETER considers.

PETER

Okay.

PETER sits down cross-legged on the floor. He looks comfortable and content, prepared to wait for the movers to arrive.

GAIL

You’ll go with the movers when they come?

PETER

Sure.

(Pause.)

Can we kiss?

GAIL

Now?

PETER

(Nodding yes.)

And later? When you visit me.

GAIL

Later, um… later, I don’t know. See, the Pool and Tennis Club didn’t commission a person to come and stand in their atrium. They commissioned a statue. That’s what they’re expecting. It’s what they bought.

PETER

But I’m not a statue. Not any more.

GAIL

Yeah, and that’s a problem. A way huge problem.

PETER

Why?

GAIL

Because, if I don’t deliver on this commission, I am totally screwed.

(Pause. Pleading.)

There must be some way to undo—whatever I did. Some way to turn you back into a statue again.

PETER

I don’t want to be a statue again. I like being Peter.

GAIL

I like you being Peter too, but…You wouldn’t really know the difference, would you?

PETER

I don’t like it. The darkness. The silence. No kisses.

GAIL

Oh, Peter. I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry. But I don’t know what else to do. It’s not just the money. I mean, I’d probably figure something out… I could move in with friends, I guess, or… my parents, if worse came to worst. But I’d be finished as an artist.

(She is silent for a moment as she contemplates the truth of this statement.)

No one would ever give me another commission. No one would ever take me seriously as an artist again. Do you know how much I’ve sacrificed to get this far?

PETER

I won’t go back!

GAIL

But, Peter… Listen… I owe a statue to the Pool and Tennis Club.

PETER

Give them another statue. Not me.

GAIL

I don’t have another statue to give them.

PETER

I’m Peter. I belong to Peter.

GAIL

And you think that’s enough? You think you can live by simply being Peter?

(Pause. PETER shrugs.)

You don’t have a social security card or a green card or an address or a phone. Or a government-issued photo id, for chrissake. You don’t have a bank account, an ATM card, a credit card … I know these things don’t mean anything to you right now, but believe me, you can’t live without them. Not here. You don’t even have a last name!

PETER

I’ll figure something out.

GAIL approaches PETER coaxingly, holding her hand out. For every step she takes towards him, he takes two steps back.

GAIL

Like what? You don’t have parents to move back in with, or friends.

(Pause.)

Only me.

(Pause.)

Peter. Listen to me, you’ve got to try to be a statue again.

(Pause. By now, PETER has backed himself up to the door. He stands leaning against it.)

Maybe if you step back up on the pedestal and think quiet thoughts, maybe that would work. We could try it… Please…

(GAIL takes PETER by the hand to lead him back to the pedestal. He pulls away from her and runs out the door, slamming it behind him.)

Peter!

(Pause.)

Hell.

(GAIL stands in the middle of the room, looking around her, at a loss. After a few desperate moments, she sees the door open again. PETER enters. He is wet and cold.)

GAIL (CONT’D)

Oh, Peter, you poor thing!

(GAIL takes off her smock as she tentatively approaches PETER. She rubs him dry with her smock, cooing over him. He is shivering too hard to speak.)

You poor dear, it’s sleeting out there. It’s the worst weather ever invented. Half-rain. Half-snow. Come on, I’ll warm you up.

(GAIL takes off her sweater—she is wearing only an undershirt or camisole underneath and shivers a little herself. She does her inadequate best to wrap the sweater around PETER. Then, with an arm around his waist, she leads him back to the pedestal.)

In the atrium of the Beaumont Pool and Tennis Club, it’s always warm.

PETER

No sleeting?

GAIL

No sleeting. No wind blowing, no rain, no hail, no snow. I promise. And it’s bright, and noisy. Lots of people coming and going all day long. And they will all stop to admire you.

(PETER allows GAIL to guide him back up onto the pedestal. She climbs up on the step ladder in order to position him as he was at the opening of the play. Her sweater falls off his shoulders. She leans down to give him a brief kiss.)

Goodbye, Peter.

PETER freezes into position as a statue just as the doorbell rings. Presumably, it is the movers. GAIL glances at her watch, climbs down from the ladder, and walks to the door.

END OF PLAY

CONFESSIONS OF AN (INTERMITTENTLY) EMERGING PLAYWRIGHT

October is high season for applications. As usual, I am helping a couple of high school students with their college application essays, and I am writing essays of my own to apply to “development opportunities” for playwrights. The eligibility requirements for one such opportunity include that the candidate be an “emerging playwright,” a “prolific writer” and “committed to playwriting as a career.” My (stereotypical) image of an “emerging,” “prolific,” and “committed” playwright is someone who has made writing her (or more likely his) single-minded pursuit, whatever the personal costs. No doubt this eligible playwright is also relatively young, since most people who have given over their twenties and thirties to the theatre and have not yet “emerged” will probably seek a more reliable career.

In other words, this mythical emerging artist is not me.

I was an emerging playwright at the age of 21, when my first one-act play won a national competition judged by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. That was in 1978 when calls for plays were posted on bulletin boards. Cork bulletin boards. With thumbtacks. I was an emerging playwright again at 24 in 1981 when The Story, a retelling of genesis, was produced at the Magic Theatre of San Francisco in the same season with a new play by Sam Shepard. I am now 56 and still, or again, trying to emerge. In between, I’ve written a handful of full-length plays and a dozen or so shorter plays. Some of them are very good. Some of them have found an audience. But I have fought and am still fighting the fear of being seen as Not A Real Writer because in many instances over the past 35 years, I have chosen to put financial independence, community responsibilities, and family relationships ahead of my writing.

From 1983-2008, I taught at Saint Mary’s College of California—and did my fair share of advising students, serving on committees, and chairing programs. I married in 1983 and my daughters were born in 1988 and 1991. I volunteered in their classrooms, helped with their homework, and cheered ecstatically at soccer games and ballet recitals. Before I had children, I imagined I would write while they played peacefully at my feet. Before I began teaching, I imagined that I could write in the mornings, teach in the afternoons, prepare classes in the evenings, and grade papers on the weekends. And if and when I was lucky enough to get my plays produced, I would somehow sometime attend rehearsals and make rewrites. Thanks to my husband’s equal participation in the life of our family, and thanks to healthy children and having the means to pay for good child care, and thanks to summers and sabbaticals and occasional unpaid leaves from teaching, and many other fortunate circumstances, I was intermittently able to “do it all.” But usually something went by the wayside. And usually it was writing—because writing did not pay the mortgage, and because it was awful to walk into a classroom unprepared, and because children grow up.

I believe my writing is the better for the other passions I have pursued alongside of it. And now I am grateful to be a fulltime working playwright, whether emerging, re-emerging, or submerged.