Nearly twenty years ago now, I was in the midst of moving back to Eau Claire, WI after a brief stint back in my hometown of Lexington, SC and was interested in finding some things to do once I returned to the Midwest. I had long enjoyed my time on the stage in high school and was aware of a friend of mine who had spent a little time working with one of the regional theatre groups in Eau Claire, reached out to her, and shortly thereafter was auditioning for Scrooge for the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre.
I actually managed to get a little role as Scrooge’s friend from youth and then when another actor dropped out, I picked up the additional role of Jacob Marley’s ghost (who, coincidentally, was also kind of a friend of Scrooge). And, although I know this sounds hyperbolic, my life was forever changed.
First of all, yes, it most definitely was forever changed. If I hadn’t started working with the ECCT, I would have never met the woman who would become my wife and the mother of my three children, so, it’s not hyperbolic in the least to say that this was a pivotal moment in my life.
But that’s only a portion of how my life would change, because it also introduced me to the arts as something more than just a fun hobby. While I definitely wasn’t getting paid for my time at the ECCT, I was spending over 10 hours a week there for at least a couple years. It introduced me to a community of artists and friends that have forever changed how I would perceive my own artistries and was the primary reason I found myself trying to make a movie back in the mid-2000s. I had found artistic expression as the pinnacle of what I wanted to do with my life.
Unfortunately, this isn’t quite where the happy ending comes in. I made not only one, but two movies, as well as a few other short-form projects, and I never really felt like I knew what I was doing behind the camera. And so, after I finished the second movie, I entered a period of artistic drought. I had become so disenchanted with my work on these movies because of all of the failures in myself I saw projected on the screen that I simply didn’t know how to move forward knowing that everything I considered a failure about my two movies were entirely my fault.
I then started working a real 9-5 cubicle farm job (which, as a note, happened right before I was offered a paying acting gig at the local dinner theatre, which I reluctantly turned down, partially because of the artistic funk I was in, partially because I was recently married and felt I needed to start providing for my family). I had gotten to this point in my life where I felt like I needed to settle down a bit and think more realistically about my future, and, well, even if I wasn’t feeling so down on myself about my art, it’s not exactly a field ripe with opportunities.
And, I’m again not being hyperbolic when I say how much of an emotional toll my artistic drought took on me. It was during this period that I reached out for the first time in my life to get help with my depression and started taking medication for it.
It wouldn’t be until the point where my wife and I were expecting the birth of our first child that I finally felt myself begin to emerge out of this drought again. Over two years of hiding from my artistic self was ended by the fact that I wanted to do something I could be proud to show my children someday. So, I started working on the book which would become The Legend of Buddy Hero. While working on that book, I began understanding why I had such troubles when I was making films. For one, I had completely rushed the writing process. This was a huge issue, considering I had never written anything with a full narrative arc prior to these movies. I had done some skits and writing for the school newspaper. And I did more than my fair share of writing weird experimental fiction. But I didn’t did anything that tried to tell a full story before. And there I was, crapping out a first draft of a script and handing it to my friends with no real vision for what the film was going to look like, as we head out to shoot for the day. I was incredibly into the concept of artistic expression, but not so much into making sure I knew what I was doing before jumping in.
I wish I could say that this realization made all the difference when working on my first book, but the reality is that I initially rushed the release of that one as well, and didn’t realize how much it remined me of those same film failures until I happened to hear someone reading it out loud and I turned the brightest shade of red as I realized how stilted my attempts at developing a character arc was.
But, this time, I was still in the zone, so I took that book off the market and tried writing something completely different. Something focused entirely on action, just to see if I could get something that moved from point A to point B in a fashion people would find interesting. I first wrote the first draft to Agora Files in only 30 days, because of how much I was into the artistic expression. But, I made the decision to put it aside for a bit and to come back to it fresh, to see if I could maybe see those same things I had seen in my movies and previous book if I simply didn’t have it so fresh in my mind. So, I went back and edited Buddy Hero, which ended up being nearly a complete rewrite.
And writing became so much better when I began developing this process for myself to actually find my best artistic self. And I fell in love with writing hard. While I certainly faltered along the way, it wasn’t long before I had other authors reaching out to me asking for tips on how to do something in their book because of how they saw me doing the things I was doing, or just simply professing their love for my writing. So, although I wasn’t making enough money to write full time, I was definitely feeling validated as an author, as an artist. And that felt incredible.
As noted before, a few years ago I had to take a little bit of a step back from writing because of life interfering and me wanting to focus on my family. But also, like I said, I hadn’t stopped writing completely. And it was at almost this exact time that the executive director of the ECCT reached out to me and asked if I wanted to be involved in their attempts to write their own show. This was to be a committee project, where a bunch of people who had done these types of shows before would get put together and try to piece something together. And it was a fun creative process, but as is to be expected with committee work, it moved slowly.
As our deadline was approaching, I was asked to do the heavy lifting on completing a final script on my own. And although these scripts are broad comedy, which is a genre I hadn’t traditionally worked in, we produced something I thought was spectacularly funny and from what I heard (I wasn’t able to attend any of the performances due to my work schedule at the time) the crowds absolutely loved it.
It wouldn’t be until a couple years later when I was having a conversation with the executive director when we came up with the idea that I should take on writing my own script. Which I did. And I was able to watch. And I had this completely amazing moment of seeing my words performed before me, under the direction of this artist who I’ve long respected for his ability to turn a writer’s vision into something special. And I reached this amazing moment where I was back at this place where I was first inspired to make creating art my life’s work, watching my art come alive before me.
And, interestingly enough, I was inspired again. I’ll always have stories to tell which will work best through novels, but I now can’t help but want to try to write even more stories for the stage. And as if this all wasn’t full circle of a story enough, this same director was asking me if I’d write scripts for them 20 years ago. I just wasn’t confident enough in myself back then.
But now, twenty years later, I got this new season’s brochure in the mail, and I see the title of my newest script included in the season’s lineup. And it feels pretty awesome.