I first met Monet Hurst-Mendoza as an intern at The Dramatists Guild. I want to call her the sassiest intern that I have ever met, but I don’t think that would do her justice. I’ll give you one of my favorite moments, and I hope that she’s embarrassed by this. One of my bosses asked her to go down stairs and get him some coffee. Without missing a beat, she replied, “Is it because I’m Mexican?” We all froze for a moment, wondering, oh, my god, what did we just…? And then she started laughing, as did we all. Funniest intern ever.
I don’t want to just say Monet was a funny intern. That was a few years ago. She’s talented, smart, and determined. That’s a triple threat. So pay attention. Right now, she’s producing the Rising Circle Playwrights Festival as well as one half of Angry Patrons. I asked her to write a blog about being a young playwright in New York, someone who is at the beginning of their career and what I got was something that is applicable for EVERYONE, no matter at what stage in their career.
Age is just a number…. right?
About a month ago, I had to answer the following question in an application for a playwriting fellowship, “How do you define ‘success’ as an artist, and how will this fellowship help you achieve it?” “Success.” What the hell does that even mean, and why is it at the forefront of everything I encounter these days? I used to think success was measured by what accomplishments you’ve had and how you are defined by those accolades. Maybe that isn’t so true these days. Perhaps in this nebulous time of shifting uncertainty, success can no longer be measured in that way. Success is a process; it’s ongoing. Like the art we create, it’s constantly shifting, morphing to fit its environment. Isn’t that how we measure the weight of a great play or painting? Tony Kushner, Aphra Behn, Shakespeare, Brecht — all these playwrights’ greatest works are remembered and defined as “successful” for their ability to be retold over and over again to different audiences throughout time. These are just a few examples, the list could go on across all disciplines. Just think about it. Who inspires you? Have they been around for a while? What about their work do you like? What sticks to you? Why does everyone keep doing Hamlet year after year? When they re-mounted Angels in America last year, it was sold out for almost every single performance and extended — FOUR times.
Even though my career is still in its infant stages, am I crazy for feeling like at 25, I should be doing more? I keep applying to things and have been a finalists for various development programs and grants. Being a finalist is truly nothing to sneer at — especially when you think of the amount of applicants you were up against. But, I have to admit, looking at a resume that continually says “finalist” begins to have a daunting feeling over you after a while. I start to wonder, how can I push myself harder? I feel like I’m running out of time! It may sound silly, but I feel like it’s a very real dilemma 20-somethings face. We’re trying to make our mark in the world before we’re considered “too old” to do so. So, how do we achieve that?
I don’t think tenacity has anything to do with it. I think it boils down to competition being fierce. It seems like the world has become inundated with artists (world domination!), and the scary thing is that there are so many talented people out there, but just not enough spots to nurture them. After years of applying and re-writing and internships, it seems like the opportunities for people under 30 are few and far between. A lot of great development programs are by “invite” or “recommendation” Then there are, what a mentor of mine called, “MFA-preferred” programs — this means that you don’t necessarily need an MFA to apply, but you usually have a better shot of getting it if you do because you come off as being more “experienced.” But waiting to get accepted into an MFA program takes time, too, because those spots are also limited. And what if you don’t want an MFA? The list goes on and on.
I consider myself to be extremely lucky and am beyond grateful to have made the connections I have, and to have my work even seen/heard in this city. But, unlike my community theaters in California, I’m “the baby” of almost any theatrical group or project I become involved in. In comparison to my co-workers and fellow collaborators, my young age is either something to subtly joke about, or be really impressed by.
So, you apply, and you wait, and you keep hustling, and you keep making connections, because that’s all you can really do. It feels a little helpless. Some people call it “paying your dues,” but that phrasing has always seemed a little brutal to me because “paying your dues” implies that after you put in a certain amount of effort, you’ll eventually achieve exposure and support. What the phrase doesn’t imply is that nothing is guaranteed. Playwriting, like anything else, is a crap shoot.
So, here it is 20-somethings (and 30-somethings, and 40-somethings, etc etc etc): Let’s just all calm the fuck down.
Success is not immediate — or it shouldn’t be. That pressure to work yourself to death to get straight A’s in high school so that you could go to the best college to have the best life that we were spoon-fed all our lives was just that — pressure. It’s crippling; I shouldn’t have to constantly remind myself that just because I don’t have a prestigious award on my imaginary mantle, doesn’t mean that I haven’t done some pretty amazing things in this town — and that alone makes me a success. Just keep reminding yourself of that and let everything else fall where it may.
I’m only 25.
Just think what could happen over the next 365 days…
Monet Hurst-Mendoza is an NYC-based playwright and director from Los Angeles, CA. Her plays have been developed by Rising Circle Theatre Collective, |the claque|, The Kupferberg Center for the Arts, Bare Bones Ensemble, and Looking Glass Theatre (NYC). Finalist for Hangar Theatreʼs 2010 Playwriting Residency, Youngbloodʼs 2009 and 2010 play development group at Ensemble Studio Theatre, the 2011 Old Vic New Voices T.S. Elliot US/UK Exchange, the 2011 Lark Play Development Center‘s Playwright’s Week, and the 2011-2012 Van Leir Fellowship. Semi-Finalist for Women’s Project Playwright’s Lab and The Julliard School 2012 Playwriting Program. B.A. in Theatre Arts from Marymount Manhattan College (2009 Gold Key for Excellence in Theatre Arts, Writing for the Stage).
Tweet me – @MonetSimone