Rhino Burst # 3
This week's Rhino Burst comes to you from playwright Sheila Callaghan. Thank you Sheila!
A couple years ago, a young woman (a self-proclaimed aspiring
playwright) contacted me out of the blue with a mean case of "writers
block/ self deprecation regarding my Art/ 'should i even be doing
this?' blues". She wanted to know if I had any suggestions... The
following is what I wrote back to her.
Unfortunately I don't have any lasting remedies for your blues, as I
get them myself and often, and they result in a lot of useless
bitterness and misplaced resentment... BUT one way to help that always
seems to work for me temporarily is to refuel... you don't always need
to be writing in order to engage creatively with the world... in fact,
I think it's totally necessary to keep yourself engaged as an artist.
Chances are a million people will tell you that you are good, that
your work is worthwhile, and you'll still have doubts. EVERYONE has
doubts, especially in our line of work, because the rewards are
largely personal and interpersonal rather than monetary, and so we
need to create our own value system for it. Which is very, very
So what we can do if and when we falter (because we will) is to go
into observation and absorption mode, and trust that our own critical
selves will do the sorting for us. Things that help me refuel are
reading huge complicated novels, finding a new playwright to obsess
over, going to see a David Lynch film or an indie/foreign film,
traveling to a place in the city (or the world) where I've never been,
seeing mind-blowing theatre and taking notes, seeing AWFUL theatre and
taking notes, reading strangers' blogs, browsing through random
people's Flickr accounts, eavesdropping on conversations on the subway
or in cafes or in the park or in the dressing rooms of discount
clothing stores, or wherever... just basically finding ways to
reconnect to humanity and to art. It takes effort but it replenishes
our stores of material (if not our confidence-- that's more
And if you need to remind yourself why it's important... well, hm.
Recently a former student came to visit me in New York, and on her
subway ride to my apartment she saw a teenager have a seizure and die
on the platform. I told her that she should write about it later...
but what I meant was (and which I later clarified to her) is that if
there weren't people out there acting as a documentarians to the truly
horrendous events of the world, the experience of such events would
remain singular rather than universal, and the key to humanity is
universality... because sharing our experiences and our points of view
give those around us paths to empathy. And without empathy, we are
Be well and keep writing....
Sheila Callaghan's plays have been produced and developed with Soho Rep, Playwright's Horizons, South Coast Repertory, Clubbed Thumb, The LARK, Actor's Theatre of Louisville, New Georges, and Moving Arts, among others.Her full-length plays include SCAB, CRAWL FADE TO WHITE, CRUMBLE (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake), WE ARE NOT THESE HANDS, DEAD CITY, LASCIVIOUS SOMETHING, KATE CRACKERNUTS, THAT PRETTY PRETTY; OR, THE RAPE PLAY, and FEVER/DREAM. Several of her plays have been produced internationally and are published by Playscripts.com and Samuel French, and her monologues can be found in various anthologies. She has taught playwriting at The University of Rochester, The College of New Jersey, and Florida State University, and she is currently on the faculty at Spalding University's MFA program in creative writing. Sheila is a resident artist at HERE Arts Center and a member of the Obie winning playwright's organization 13P. Sheila is also a resident of New Dramatists.
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