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On the Importance of Desperation


Don Zolidis

Don Zolidis

Just over a month ago, I received a phone call from a prominent Artistic Director at a major regional theatre. (As you can imagine, this is something like getting a phone call from Santa Claus.) It went something like this:

PROMINENT ARTISTIC DIRECTOR: What are you working on right now?

ME: Oh lots of things. Lots and lots of things. So many things it would blow your mind.

PROMINENT ARTISTIC DIRETOR: Can you send me a copy of a new play?

ME: Um… Yeah, just give me three or four weeks.

PROMINENT ARTISTIC DIRETOR: Great. We want to choose our season for next year by the end of the month.

Now, as you may have guessed from my suspicious use of the ellipsis, there was no such play in the works. At that moment in time I had exactly nothing in the works. I had essentially given myself four weeks to write a new play from scratch worthy of production at a major regional theatre. Not easy.

So, faced with an impossible deadline and the highest stakes imaginable, I did what I always do: procrastinate. I spent some time on facebook, I commented on writing forums I had no business commenting on, I checked the baseball stats from the 1985 season (I wish I were making this up – I was actually doing this), and generally wasted time until panic set in.

Panic is usually enough to get me going. I spent three weeks in panic mode, wrote about forty-five single-spaced pages of terrible notes, started and abandoned three terrible plays, and spent quite a bit of time smashing my head against the floor in hopes that such an action would result in a fine, well-made play that would win me awards and make me famous.

When I don’t have a good idea, my thought process usually goes like this:

I suck. I suck. I am a fraud. Coyotes will devour my corpse.

That was my mental state on Wednesday, two days before my deadline, with a pile of unusable garbage on my computer, and coyotes circling ever nearer. Then, as fate would have it, I came up with something. I can boil it down to this: I let go and decided to just have fun.

Fun is important. It’s what got me into playwriting in the first place. When I was writing ten-minute plays in college, the entire point was to make people laugh (and theoretically make one of the pretty girls in the audience laugh so much that she would fall in love with me). I had a lot of fun doing that, and over the month that I was breaking my brain trying to come up with something, I had forgotten about fun.

So I went for fun. And the idea came to me. Now, when I have a good idea, my thought process is this:

I am awesome. I am the best ever. I will eat those coyotes for lunch.

Happily, by the time I’m done with the play, I usually settle somewhere in the middle so I’m not completely insufferable.

Anyway, even armed with a great idea and convinced of my own awesomeness, 48 hours is too short a time period to write a 100-page play, so I begged for three more days and got them, and hammered out a play in five days. I don’t mention the five days by way of bragging, remember it took 30 days of mind-smashing to get to my five days, and eighteen years of writing for the theatre to get to those 30 days

The point, which I had forgotten, is that you can’t think of the outcome when you’re writing. You can’t say, “I’m going to write a funny and beautiful play that will be loved by all and provide jobs for six actors and win the Pulitzer Prize and some other kind of award that hasn’t even been invented yet.” If you think that way, you paralyze yourself.

I sent the play in. The Prominent Artistic Director read it with his actors, loved it, and might just produce it. Whew.

Now if I only I had another idea.


"!Artistic Inspiration" Haltom High School, May 2006

            Here’s an artist’s rendition of me writing a play and thinking about how awesome I am

–by Don Zolidis

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