As I lamented in last Friday’s New Pages spotlight, summer is winding down — okay, only half-lamented; I’m not necessarily going to miss the hottest July on record. But! It is with bittersweetness that we come to the very last of our New Pages spotlights. If you missed last week’s on James Ijames, check it out here. Or if you’re all caught up — good for you! Just sit back and enjoy what today’s New Pages member Bruce Walsh has to share. Bruce, the floor is yours.
“I grew up in the suburbs of Philly, and went to one of those massive public high schools with like 900 kids in each graduating class. I was a creative, artsy, undiagnosed dyslexic kid; I just barely graduated high school. I was a little like the kid in RUSHMORE, but like if Kelly Reichardt made the movie instead? I wrote a play in my senior year that won an award. It was the only thing for which I had ever won an award. For the first time I had a sense of confidence in myself; It sort of pushed me out of the nest and got me moving in the world. I eventually went to college in Philly, and stayed in the city afterward. I did A LOT of DIY theater and worked A LOT of day jobs. Through a very strange turn of events, I wound up making my living (extremely meager) as a mostly arts journalist. I wrote literally thousands of articles for the Metro and City Paper. If you were a working artist in Philly between 2006 and 2012, there's a good chance I interviewed you. (I wrote multiple pieces on fellow New Pagers Jacqueline Goldfinger and James Ijames back in the day.) In those days, as far as playwriting, the majority of it was for site-specific theater. The upside of that was there were people counting on me for a script; I got to see my writing in the flesh a whole bunch, which is rare for a young writer. But the downside is that I never really developed the courage to write without the promise of production — to write to discover a more interesting play underneath my initial idea, rather than just to get something done.
Then a couple things happened, and I said, what the fuck? I'm moving to Indiana.
1. Azuka produced a play of mine, and the Inquirer review literally said it was a "complete waste of time." And that wasn't even the meanest thing in that PARAGRAPH. People think I'm exaggerating, but the word "pretentious" was in the HEADLINE.
2. I had a spiritual awakening that, believe me, you don't want me to go into here.
3. I took a workshop with the playwright Paula Vogel that changed everything I thought about writing — and what I thought "success" meant for a writer.
4. My freelance newspaper work slowed to a ridiculously pathetic trickle, until I found myself writing a Q&A with Paws, the Northeastern University hockey mascot, I couldn't afford toothpaste let alone pay taxes, and the IRS very literally showed up at my apartment door.
5. My girlfriend made a spreadsheet of grad school programs that would pay me about what I was making at the time to basically be a playwright for three years — with health insurance!
6. I got a call from the playwright Ken Weitzman, who was the playwriting person at Indiana University.
7. I married my girlfriend.
8. We moved to Indiana.
9. I wrote plays. I read plays. I wrote plays. I read plays, you know, even like Shakespeare and stuff. I read all that David Ball kind of shit that I was too lazy or busy or stupid to read when I was a real person with real bills.
10. Little by little, I became more patient and consistent in my writing.
11. I had a son, Henry, in Indiana.
12. Then my wife got a job in middle-of-nowhere PA.
So now I live with the constant fragrance of cow manure and drive two hours to New Pages meetings. But it's not as bad as it sounds. It's an adventure. I've never lived in the country before. There are hitching posts for horse and buggy at my town's Turkey Hill. I'm a stay-at-home dad. That's an adventure, too. I wish I saw more theater. I wish there was a falafel stand within thirty miles. I wish a lot of things. But I like it out here.
I'm currently working on a play about a sleep deprived dad that has a recurring dream that he's on the Charlie Rose Show. I don't know that I'd be able to write this play without New Pages. I've actually never struggled as much to find the scene structure of a play. The last draft I brought to the group just completely bonked. I don't think I'd be able to accept that years ago. I would have just given up or argued with everyone until we all left exhausted and spiteful.
But I'm a little clearer on what I'm after in a workshop now. I'm actually after something now! It feels good. And I'm so thankful to Azuka for giving me a second chance at working that out.”
We’re thankful to have you here, Bruce! Thanks for being in the spotlight, and thank you, readers, for being the audience. Hopefully you’ve learned more about our team of New Pages playwrights this summer (as well as other company tidbits from Azuka Extras — check out this week’s on Pay What You Decide here!) and are as excited as we are for next season’s readings. You can visit Azuka’s New Pages tab to see when reservations will go live for each.
Thanks again to all the playwrights — and keep checking back! Summer’s not quite over yet…