I tried to write “normal” plays for a while. I really did. I just couldn’t do it. When I first started writing stories (not plays), I didn’t even think about realism. My favorite writers were always surreal, fantastic, speculative, so that’s what I tried to imitate. I liked weird, so I wrote weird.
The turning point in my life as a writer came when I wrote a one-man show called Mona about my great-grandparents who immigrated from Mexico to America in 1910. It wasn’t limited to realism, but it wasn’t trying to be weird either. The story just happened the way it needed to happen to be truthful to the people who really lived it, which meant that I needed—I really needed—to use elements of the surreal in order to externalize the internal. If I just documented the facts of their journey, it would’ve been incomplete. There was a whole world going on inside of my heroes, and I needed something more than realism to show that.
And at the time, I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t have some high-minded, dramaturgical strategy to incorporate genre or utilize literary elements. I didn’t know any that stuff yet. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I just knew the truth when I saw it, so I tried to tell the truth. And it worked.
After several years of doing my thing down in Alphabet City, I decided that I didn’t want to be a struggling artist anymore, so I thought I’d write something that would sell, something for the masses, something realistic, something normal. Should be easy, right?
It was a disaster. Play after play, screenplay after screenplay, they were all mediocre at best. The simple conclusion was that I didn’t know how to tell the truth if I was restricted to realism. (I have nothing against realism. I love good writing in any genre. I just don’t know how to do it. I sincerely admire those who can. They amaze me.)
So I went back to what I know. And eventually, I wrote a play that I’m really proud of called Three on a Match. And I sent it out all over the country and it got rejected by everyone. The most common reason (when given) was that it was just not the right genre. They wanted “normal.”
But then, IATI said “yes.” IATI is not interested in normal. IATI is interested in the truth. I finally found my audience. I wish I hadn’t wasted a few years of my life trying to be something I’m not, in an effort to satisfy someone else’s audience. But maybe I had to go through that to get where I am.
So, here’s what I think: You might not find your audience right away, but keep looking, because they’re out there somewhere. And the good news is, they’re also looking for you.