It's always impossible until it's done, and I did it!
On May 1, 6, and 7, I did a preview of my solo show called THE WORLD'S GREATEST. Words can't really describe what it took for me to write the show or describe what I felt throughout the whole writing / production / actually inviting people process; but I will try to articulate it as much as possible.
Let me begin by sharing the reason why I wrote the show: I visited my high school in 2009 as an Urban Ed Fellow for a month during January break. I was a sophomore at Smith College at the time, and I was taking a class called "Education in the City." There was a list of high schools for us to choose from for the fellowship program, but because I went to a high school in the city, I thought, why not do the fellowship at my high school? At that point, it was two years after I graduated from Bergtraum. I really didn't think it was a bad school when I was a student there--even though it was constantly being threatened to shut down by the Board of Education because of poor attendance and bad test scores. However, after the first week of the fellowship, I realized Bergtraum might've gotten worse. It might not be the same school that I went to because after Martin Luther King HS got shut down, a lot of kids transferred over to Bergtraum. Fights became more frequent and security was increased as a result of on-going violence. The school might just shut down for good this time.
During that fellowship, I was critically thinking about all the problems at Bergtraum and how it related to education policies aimed at inner city public high schools (The No Child Left Behind Act: standardized testing, demoralizing teaching by teaching for a test, no sense of place at the school for students/faculty/admins, etc.). I thought it was funny how "No Child Left Behind" caused a lot of Bergtraum kids to drop out and legit get left behind--even when I was there. I was pretty much observing just one class for the entire month, and things were going okay for a short while. Then, a week or two before the fellowship ended, shit broke out (a stampede occurred, and because Bergtraum is a triangular school with no dead end on the 1st, 3rd, and 4th floor, kids were stomping around and around. My teacher, at that point, called the school a zoo). I honestly don't know what caused the stampede, but I think it might be the students' way to resist all the added security. The whole situation made the school environment super hostile. Close the last day of the fellowship, a kid cursed my high school history teacher out. I think that was the last draw for me. I felt angry, confused, and frustrated. Since I was a spoken word fiend at the time, I wrote a poem about the whole situation. This poem is the seed / in a way, the heart of the solo show.
As I was writing the solo show, I thought the seed for the show was "too much" or for a lack of a better word preachy, and decided to water down the whole situation by making some stuff up to smooth over the story. And that's the version that was presented for the previews.
Now looking back, I should've written the truth man. What the fuck was I thinking? The truth hurts; but at the same time, there's so much pain/humor that comes from the truth. And that's where I am with the piece right now. Trying to write the truth, and from the heart. I've been getting a lot of feedback from people who came to watch the show. I'm now at a point where I'm reworking and rewriting the whole show. Hoping to write more shit that went down without feeling pressured or wondering if people will like/find these stories funny. Seriously, fuck what people think. Write the damn truth. That's why you started writing this in the first place. Don't think. Just do it.
In terms of production, finding the venue was the easiest because I rented out my acting school's studio theatre (The Barrow Group, wsup?) for two previews on May 6 and 7. Then came time to inviting people. Man, I wanted to make it special and not just a Facebook or email invite. So I brainstormed a list of people who I wanted to come see the show -- it's a list where, if I was to die the day after the previews, and these people saw the show, I would be happy type of situation. I texted/FB/emailed all the people on that list for their mailing addresses. Then I bought some red envelopes from Paper Source and even a golden sharpie to punk them into thinking I'm sending them a wedding invitation. (Wedding? No boo yet. Seriously, not now, not now. Still gotta hustle.) Then in late February/early March, I proceeded to follow-up and ask if people wanna come. Most said yes, some were busy for Mother's Day, and then some I asked over and over again / they still cannot make it. You're not my friend if you didn't come! (just kidding) I then found out that some invites never arrived at their doorsteps / got bounced back to my home -- two months after I sent it out. It broke my heart because I spent so much time writing each and every one of these invitations. USPS, why you gotta fail me for?
I think the biggest thing that came out of this solo show preview was the pressure I received from my family. When my bro found out I'm putting a lot of my savings into production, he flipped the shit. He didn't understand why I'm spending so much money when I couldn't even guarantee if people are gonna come or not. He also doubted the fact that I can get 80 people to show up. Then my mom found out and said I should seriously look for a full-time job and stop dreaming about this shit cuz it won't get me anywhere. I felt hurt. These two people mean so much to me, and I felt like they were putting me down. I cried so much. I was so stressed out. I felt so unsupported. I didn't even know what to do and didn't not hang out with people for an entire month.
I eventually did, and I had one or two friends who were doubtful and said maybe I should set a deadline for myself for this whole acting thing. I felt crushed again. However, I have few friends (mainly Jenny) who was super supportive throughout the whole process. Always encouraged me, even when I doubted myself. I was going through so much, and what I really needed was just someone to hear me out, and that's what she did. (Thanks Jenny <3).
With all that said, the first two previews sold out by mid-March and I had people asking me whether tickets were still available. I decided to add another preview to my tech rehearsal on May 1 and 25 people came out for that.
Now onto the preview itself: the first preview went well, and I measured it based on the amount of laughs. Second preview, I didn't get as many laughs and I was real nervous even as I was performing--like was I doing something wrong? A new friend, whom I met briefly back in the fall, came to watch the show. He's a seasoned comedian and wrote all over his hand and on napkins. I saw that during the show and thought I was in deep shit. He emailed me right after the show and said he got notes for me. I met with him the next day before the third preview for three hours and he told me all the high and low points of the show. I quickly did a rewrite and dropped all that "performing" shit, and presented a semi-more cohesive story to the third preview. People have been good with providing feedback (funnily enough, all the points hit the same mark), so I know for a fact which part I still gotta work on. Time to buckle down again.
I went through so much throughout this writing, producing, and performing process. Honestly, you have to perform it to know where the weak points of the storytelling falls, so I'm so so so glad I did these previews.
And seriously, half of the battle is just doing it. The second half of the battle is getting wounded and learning how to get back up again. I'm getting back up and I'm for sure gonna keep kicking ass until I get this solo show in shape for the fall. I hope people will come to see it again to see its transformation.
It ain't over 'til it's over. It ain't over yet. Gonna keep trucking along.
THE HUSTLE NEVER SLEEPS, fo'real.