Watching a grant deadline come and go can be very dispiriting. Many ‘if only I’d’, ‘I just meant to’, and ‘what if’s’ float above your head as you glance at the clock and realize it’s too late. I feel that if I don’t submit a grant application for one of the big three once a year I am a failure as an artist. Asking the government to give you money so you can complete an art thing is a fact of life for a lot of people who support themselves with their creativity. I never make enough money on the last art thing in order to invest it in the next one so I, inevitably, scroll though the mandates of the Canada Council, Toronto Arts Council, and Ontario Arts Council to see what matches my project. There was one, but I needed supporting documents from individuals who just didn’t bother to write me back so I gave up. Sometimes quitting is good for your heart.
I woke up this morning in Stratford feeling like a failure, went to Balzac’s, had a delicious coffee, and read the paper. Then I did laundry and went grocery shopping; I took the bus. Mundane but weirdly satisfying, like picking balls of cotton off of a cheap, but beloved sweater. As I unpacked the groceries I played the Mariah Carey playlist on YouTube and as I danced around to ‘Fantasy’ I realized that I wasn’t a failure, I was just tired of taking on too much stuff.
I write plays and then I apply for grants, and then I try to produce those plays. I don’t hire a production manager because there’s no money to pay them. As a result, I function as everything: creator, accountant, marketing director, cheerleader, editor. I’m in Stratford to learn how to be better at producing but what David Auster does is not what I am attempting to do. His only responsibility is to be a producer. He does not have to worry about re-writes because he keeps switching back and forth from passive voice to present tense. He is not sitting on the phone explaining to the printer that he wanted 500 postcards not 5000. He is not sitting up wondering if his play is poorly written and structured. He also has a team of people helping him that he can vent to when he gets frustrated. I have none of those things and sometimes it makes me sad, tired, and frankly, like giving up and applying for a job at Google.
But then ODB comes on, rapping about babies and pacifiers, and you remember that you make plays. Plays! Not widgets or eyelets for shoes. You are a wizard that makes up stories with fictional people doing and saying things that make audiences think or, if you’re lucky, angry.
I want to be a better playwright, but I am also striving to occupy a leadership role in theatre in order for other black women to see that it can be done in this country. If I could have located a black woman in a leadership position at any of the theatres in Canada I would have found the grant to be mentored by her. Alas, that woman does not appear to exist. Ahdri zhina mandiela is the only black woman I know to have run a theatre company in Canada. Why? Women are not allowed to fail in the jobs that they do because they will be judged harsher than men. Running a theatre company that successfully gives you a return on your investment is a challenge for anyone, male or female. Adding race to the equation compounds the pressure to deliver a critical and commercial success. But, as David says about plays in a season, sometimes they can’t all be sell-out blockbusters, no matter how many variables you anticipate.
I tried to be an uncontested success of a human today, but I dropped a raw egg on the ground and flicked raw, ground pork into the cutlery drawer. Shit happens. Trichinosis happens. I can be really accomplished at a few things at a time and miss the occasional deadline. It will continue to snow in April and I’ll have to make do with wearing wellies for the entire month because I had faith that Spring was here. I am not a failure and success can take many forms, just like a Canadian Springtime. Attitude is everything, friends, it truly is. Keep your head up.