I remember when my perception of teamwork was relatively limited. That was before my younger brother was born. That was before I was no longer the only one. Suddenly I had this alien baby that I had to answer to, that I had to share with. At two years old, I stubbornly decided that the invention of sharing was utter bullshit.
However, once the initial shock dissipated, I started to appreciate my brother. He wasn’t so bad with his platinum locks and pudgy arms. He was actually kind of a delightful partner in crime. Plus now I had someone to wear hideous Christmas pajamas with.
I enjoyed Matthew so much that I barely flinched when my sister Blythe was born. Of course I tried to convince her she was adopted for the first few years of her life, but she was a much more attractive child than me. I suppose I used my craftiness, my ability to “pull one over” on her, to compensate. No surprise I ended up in theatre.
Yup. I think theatre is made up of funny folks. I think we naturally enter the field with very self-oriented goals. There’s a lot of I want to be an actress. I want to be a writer. I want to be best friends with Laura Benanti. I want. Me. Only me. I am good enough without anyone’s help, so watch the fuck out! All throughout my collegiate acting career, I was most definitely a selfish I-want-er. Of course I would play ball with cast mates, be respectful to all teachers, was hungry for knowledge and humble to a fault, but internally, I was constantly strategizing. Figuring out how I could be the absolute best. In my mind, I was Meryl Streep's forgotten child trying to prove I was worth my salt.
That all changed my senior year at Sarah Lawrence. I had been receiving wonderful feedback from teachers and peers, and was primed to hit the pavement as a struggling actress. Ready to wait tables as I waited for my equity card. But. One morning in the Sarah Lawrence computer lab, I had an overwhelmingly simple but significant realization. I didn’t just want to be an actress. I wanted more. Yes, there’s that want again, but this time it was different. This time it was wanting to really be a part of a team, of a community where sharing was genuine. I wanted to be accountable, really accountable, to someone other than myself. So I went to grad school. To learn how to write musicals. To collaborate.
Collaboration is the fundamental building block of writing musicals. Unless you choose to write them alone, which I personally think is totally limiting. Frankly, if you are that good at book, lyrics, and music – well, color me shocked. You are probably not as good as you think you are, because all three of those things are insanely hard to do well. I mean, have some respect and pick two to do max. Unless of course you’re a serious super-freak-genius. Then I’ll shut up.
See I am a terrible musician and an incredibly mediocre shower singer. There is no way in hell I could write music as well as my ridiculously skillful collaborators. Sometimes I think of myself trying to learn piano and then writing a musical alone, and I actually want to cry because it would be so fucking bad. My loved ones would show up and awkwardly clap, and then look at my expectant face and give me nothing but flowers and a lukewarm hug. That’s how bad it would be if I were alone in this.
In grad school, I met my first official writing partner. Joey Contreras. Probably one of the best up and coming pop-writers I could have ever dreamed to be joined with. We share a supreme love of Top 40, melted cheese, and drunk dancing. We are also neurotic perfectionists who cannot settle for anything less than the best, and we are meticulously picky about our stories. Too picky. Like annoying.
Without Joey, All the Kids are Doing It would never have happened. Not just because I can’t write music, but simply because I could never have written this story independent of him. We held each other to a higher standard, we shared, we were accountable, and we had “real talk” all the damn time. To present our musical as our senior thesis at Tisch, and then have it picked up for production by two amazing colleges right after, was collectively the best creative experience of my life so far. I learned more about myself as an artist through writing this piece than I ever had acting. Not that I don’t enjoy acting, because I do, but it doesn’t fulfill me in the same way. Writing a musical, and then watching actors get inspired by it, connect to it, bring it to life, and then to watch an audience receive that life and really think about what it means, what it’s trying to say—well, to me, there is nothing more special or challenging than that. To create work that makes me think, makes others think, and then let’s us all enjoy—what could be better?
So thank you, Mom and Dad. Thank you for giving me siblings. For giving me my first real lesson in sharing. Thank you, grad school. For teaching me the value of collaboration. For making me appreciate that despite that there is a lot of I in this community, all we theatre people really want is to be part of an us. We want to share our talents, ideas, and crazy opinions with our fellow I-want-ers, and we want them to matter in a profound way (and hopefully not a self-serving one). However, I'm still totally trying to be friends with Laura Benanti.
Like I said, funny folks.