36 Conversations Summer Performance Retrospective
This has been a busy summer for a little play called 36 Perfectly Appropriate Mealtime Conversations. First it got a staged reading at Willamette University in June and then it was performed for three weekends at HART Theater. It’s hard to put into words all the feelings that come along with the experience of watching other flesh-and-blood human beings inhabit characters I made up and recite lines that made me snicker to myself once upon a time when I wrote them alone in a coffee shop somewhere. It’s amazing and beautiful and at least mildly validating (even for curmudgeons like me who staunchly refuse to ever feel fully validated by anything). Years ago, straight out of high school, I enrolled in Willamette University with the idea that I would study Psychology. I dropped out a year and a half later when I realized the only thing I really wanted to do was the same thing I knew about myself before I got there: I wanted to write stories. I moved to LA with a TV pilot. This is a long story but somehow it ends with me in Portland, Oregon again (but this time with cancer!), taking psychology and biology classes between chemo treatments “so I can still feel like I’m moving forward with my life somehow.” Once I finished treatment for cancer, I enrolled fulltime at PSU with a schedule full of science classes and psych classes. The minute I got home from my first day of school, I dropped out of all of my classes and picked up creative writing, screenwriting, and some other artsy fartsy classes instead.
I guess my point is that I’ve been fighting against myself for years. I keep trying to choose something else, and I keep realizing that I can’t. The instinct to continue second-guessing myself, however, is always there. Especially during times of political instability, I become preoccupied with my inability to justify myself. “Amid rampant corruption, discrimination, and flagrant human rights violations…I’m writing poop jokes? Good going, Brianna.” But there have been some really beautiful reactions to my play this summer, and I want to take a moment to acknowledge:
--The 17 year old who announced to the room afterwards that a friend of his at school recently came out to him as gay, and that watching this play helped change his thinking about it. -- The much older gentleman who stood up after that to say he, too, felt differently after watching the play --The actor who dedicated their performance to Salem’s LGBT community --The actress who told me she felt empowered by the idea that women should be able to say anything a man can say --The audience member who mentioned that what they really liked about the play is that people are more than their gender or sexuality --The people who have told me they now think about this in their day to day interactions in the world; “how would this be different if this person was [female, male, trans, gay, straight]?” --The audience member who said they don’t have conversations like this, but they wish they did. I don’t know when, or if, I’ll ever get to the point where I feel 100% certain I’m making the world a better place by being on it. I wrote a play filled with kinky sex fantasies, poop jokes, pop song parodies, bad movie references, and passive protagonists who struggle to advocate for themselves most of the time. Don’t get me wrong – I really like this play. Being a writer means writing the book you wish you could read, or the movie you wish you could watch, or the play you wish you could see. It’s a joy for me to watch this play, because it’s quite literally a play that is specifically designed to be exactly my sense of humor, exactly all the world views I agree with, or the types of themes I think are interesting to examine. It’s a play I would pay money to see. I wouldn’t have sent it out to anyone if it wasn’t. Every joke is a joke I think is funny – I would have deleted it otherwise. That said, for all these same reasons it’s easy to feel like there’s something inherently kind of selfish in being a writer. A play that’s a nonstop 2 hours of shit I like is…you know…yeah, just me talking to myself about a bunch of stuff I like. Right? I guess my point is that, though I’ll never shake those moments of insecurity that really I’m just a self-involved asshole laughing at my own jokes, it’s incredibly meaningful to me to hear that – at least for some people – this play has been of genuine value. That for all its silliness, it really does make people think. That maybe it’s make the world a little kinder somehow, or that it’s helped a few people understand something about a few of the other people in their lives. Honestly, that 17-year-old kid gave me the best review this play is ever going to get. Also my play is totally not appropriate for children. But maybe they should see it anyway? Yeah. They should. You should, too. Whoever you are. I feel comfortable saying you should see my play.