Dorthy Fortenberry is a ray of sunshine. So, that’s why I am so shocked to find out that she hates. Shocked. Ok, not really. I hate often. Well, my hate is in the shape of intense jealousy. And Yoda knows where that can lead. I think it’s a natural part of the business, unfortunately. As the people around gain success, and they will, it’s hard not to think, “why isn’t that me?” (I, of course, will over look my own successes.) Ugh. Enough about me and MY jealousy, let’s let Dorothy Fortenberry, wonderful playwright, member of the Playwrights Union, and yes, ray of sunshine, talk about her hate and how she does her best to not hate everybody.
How Not to Hate Everybody
If you’re a playwright, you have probably come to a point in your life, or even a point in your day today, when you decide that everyone is doing better than you and so you hate everybody. Facebook is the worst for this, and industry blogs are pretty bad, and even the actual hand-smudging newspaper can cause hatred, but really, it doesn’t matter how you get the news, the important thing is that someone who’s not you is having some success that is not yours and it hurts and you hate them. I get it. I hate them, too. I probably hate you. But the important question is: what should you do with your hatred? Where can you put the ball of rage in your tummy that’s eating away at you like a gremlin ulcer? From where I sit, and I’ve been hating a lot recently, there are essentially three options for not hating everybody, and it’s up to you to choose your strategy. Let me explain.
- Hate Everybody. I know, I know, it seems contradictory, but hear me out. If you get motivated by your hatred, then by all means, hate away. I have friends who wake up in the morning hating with a blazing white-hot passion and it gets them out of bed they write till their fingers cramp and it’s awesome. If you hate the plays that get produced because they are too conventional or too cloying, and you want to upend every expectation about theater with your ballsy, genre-defying masterpiece, then, by all means, hate hate hate. Geniuses throughout time have done this. Drink your hate as fuel, feast upon it, if that works for you. Fuck them and their little dogs, too!
Side note: This doesn’t work for me. Hatred doesn’t make me write. Hatred makes me eat Trader Joe’s organic peanut butter crackers and watch Bethenny Ever After.
- Love everybody. This is what I will admit I am aiming at, this is how we were taught to act in grad school. To feel, truly deep-down that someone else’s success is good for me, that it is good for theater in general. Especially if that someone was a peer, then we are boats rising together in the same rising tide, and while, okay, my boat might seem a little submerged at the moment, surely, over time, it will even out. I have had a lot of chances to see if I can do this, and sometimes I pass with flying colors, and sometimes, it’s like that thing where you smile even though you’re not happy and your mouth tricks your brain, except not really, because your brain is still like, “why are you smiling, dummy? I thought you were depressed.”
Side note: This is really hard. It’s best in conjunction with information limiting (like maybe don’t open Facebook on the same day you get your rejection email). It also may be only consistently achievable for canonized saints.
- But really, the strategy that has worked best for me is something I call “X-treme Success.” Imagine the people you know who are having some success. Then imagine them having more success. Did your friend get a great review in Time Out? Okay, now imagine he got a great review in the Times. And imagine that his play wins the Pulitzer. Which is crazy since it’s only a one-act. And it runs for years on Broadway in a really sensitive and winning production directed by David Cromer and starring Stockard Channing. And then they make a film adaptation, but, unexpectedly, it’s really faithful to the original, and Meryl Streep takes over for Stockard Channing, but she brings something different and vibrant to the role, and it wins all the Oscars. And meanwhile, this person, this successful playwright person that you know, he meets the love of his life and they get married in a beautiful, tasteful ceremony, and move into a gorgeous brownstone and have 3 children (2 adopted, one biological) and their children are beautiful and smart and humble, and one of their children writes the Great American Novel, and the other is a Supreme Court justice, and the third discovers the cure for cancer. And your friend, after donating much of the Nobel money, dies at a ripe old age, at the exact same time as his wonderful spouse, surrounded by their loving children and all their Tony Awards, and you know what? Actually none of this has had anything to do with you. You were living your own little life and writing or not writing and that’s actually all you can be in charge of. So.
Side Note: Knowing all of this doesn’t make it easier to love everybody. But I’ve found it really good for not hating them.
Dorothy Fortenberry is a playwright from Washington, DC who lives in LA. She is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, and a winner of the Helen Merrill Award for Emerging Playwrights. Her plays have been produced and developed at Arena Stage, Ars Nova, Chalk Rep, the Management, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival, among others. Currently, she is working on two new plays and chasing her toddler around the living room.