Miracles and Failures: Keep Calm and Write on

Life happens so fast these days that it’s not worth keeping up with here. Not that I don’t want to, but I have gained so much over the past few months by letting myself live without the constant introspection. It was great for junior year, but something about senior year defies definition. It’s like I won’t be able to settle down—maybe—until next year. What that might look like is still an ever-changing picture. I’m still growing so much, doing things I would have never dreamed would be easy for me like they are now, and yet new challenges present themselves every day. I’m being vague because it would take too long to break down all the details. Sometimes life is waiting, and sometimes it is happening.

Failures Title Page

For now, I’m busy applying to graduate programs, soon jobs, and all the meanwhile I’ve been doing the most amazing thing: giving myself time to write plays. It has been an odd road for me to find myself as playwright this year. When I told friends and family they never seemed surprised. To them, it has always fit and knew I would see it one day. But, the label has taken me aback. It’s worrying sometimes to call myself an artist. At other times, like when I hear where my friends and classmates are going next year, it is completely freeing. My path is open still, which is what all my summer mentors told me. Every leader I interviewed advised that keeping an open mind was their greatest success. It’s terrifying if I think about it too long, but it’s where I need to be right now.

But most importantly, this post is my belated Christmas present to myself, or maybe my way of closing out the year before starting in on new 2013 resolutions. It’s my chance to look at my successes from this semester–or as I like to call them, my miracles. I found an amazing mentor. As she put it at the time, my modern drama professor stole me away from my other thesis advisor and switched me to a project focused on playwriting. This has been fantastic on so many levels. I get to read plays—for credit. I get to work on graduate applications, new scripts, and revising old scripts—for credit. And I have someone who really knows how theatre works to tear me down and build me back up each week I come to visit her office. For a young playwright, getting time to write and so much one-on-one mentoring is fantastic and super productive. As I said, this was a miracle. Only two weeks before school started, this phone call released me from so much stress and made writing a real priority for this semester and this year.

Failures poster and Me

And in October, it led to the second greatest moment of my Rice career: the premiere of my second play, The Failures. The journey to this production was insane. I don’t know why I thought it would be easier than somewhere never travelled. It certainly took as much time to write and an even more rigorous revision process. I finished the play by the beginning of August, revised the first act twice after comments from a Rice theatre friend and the director (the playwright who picks the director before the producers get their act together gets her pick) in the last week before classes started. And then, after my thesis advisor read over it, I raced to overhaul the entire script and make huge cuts over the Labor Day weekend. It felt like having midterms or finals during the first week of school. It was insane, but worth the effort.

Me and the Director

Me and the Director of my show!

Even when the cast and crew had the script, it wasn’t an easy job to keep The Failures moving forward. We had a chaotic arrangement on campus: produce the play jointly between 6 different theatre organizations so that it can travel to five different locations on five different nights, which meant that the production team was an unorganized mess and the show had no permanent home. It meant that the director and the stage manager had to step up and take on way more than their jobs called for. It meant that the cast had to miss important on-campus events and work their asses off every night to move the set back and forth, even after performing my short but taxing little script. They were troopers. Hopefully one day we can all say it was preparation for theatre world outside of Rice’s hedges.

The cast in action. From left to right: Producer, Susan, David, and Alexa.

The cast in action. From left to right: Producer, Susan, David, and Alexa. (credit: Claire)

The end product blew me away. I tried to get involved more in the rehearsal process for this show, but it got too difficult and I was told by my advisor and the director to stay away. Opening night was again a nerve-biting surprise for me. According to the crew, I laughed through the entire thing, which apparently was an okay reaction to them; it meant I must like it in some way. And indeed I did. Either my writing has gotten better or the direction and cast were so much more prepared and talented, but most likely both. As I watched the play over the five performances, my pride and joy for the final product only grew. On the closing night of the first weekend, I even got to share the show with my family. My father had never seen my first play so it was great to share this work with him. He has always tried to support my artistic leanings, though it’s definitely a different path than his engineering and business degrees, and so it meant a lot for me for him to see what I have labored to create.

Playwright and parents, post-show.

Playwright and parents, post-show.

I know that these productions, happening so early in my career, can help me so much, but I must say that one of the best parts of The Failures was watching the cast bond. They hang out, go to dinner, gossip, and ultimately look out for each other. It reminds me of my first show at Rice University, The Importance of Being Earnest, when I met the cast and crew members that helped me become a theatre geek and now, a playwright. I’m not saying that all the cast and crew members of The Failures should also pursue a career in the theatre, but I am honored to think that I’ve helped them meet new theatre friends at Rice, the people and memories they will take with them one day when they leave the hedges. In this way, I have left a bit of my own personal legacy. And even cooler, they actually like me and invite me to hang out with them, too.

Dance party as we closed the metaphorical curtains on the last show. Bittersweet joy.

Dance party as we closed the metaphorical curtains on the last show. Bittersweet joy.

With these miracles fresh in my mind, I look forward to starting yet another new notebook for 2013 (already been through 3 over the course of the first semester) and returning to my new and old theatre friends (and my non-theater friends, too!). With the void of my future fast approaching, it’s nice to focus on the positives. I could write so much about these miracles and The Failures, but it’s time to channel those good vibes into the next semester and the next script. And also, sometimes happiness is too complicated for words on a blog.


About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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2 Responses to Miracles and Failures: Keep Calm and Write on

  1. Pingback: The NEXT Threshold Approaches | gladlybeyondaustinausten

  2. Pingback: When I Don’t Need Advice from the Internet | gladlybeyondaustinausten

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