Prep School

Oh my goodness…

So, someone who reads a lot of my brother’s blog responded to my “rich kids who don’t care about anything” comment by saying they didn’t *have* rich kids at their school, that it must have been my prep school upbringing.

I once dated a girl who told me “everything you know, you read in a book…”

And then, I came across a string of posts from my theater colleagues, joking about going ahead and lying in order to pretend they had MFAs so they could be taken seriously. Josh Conkel started it, but Isaac Butler and 99 Seats re-posted, and I feel like someone needs to at least clear the smoke a little bit. Or, maybe just wave a hand in the air as if that would clear smoke.

Can we all just admit when we’ve had a leg up? Why is it, when someone loses weight but they did so by taking pills, it’s somehow worse than when someone does it by dragging a tire up a mountain like Rocky in Russia? I get that there’s an *assumption* that the difficulties have built character, but they are just as likely to build alienation and bitterness.

When a young person is given a support structure and a safe environment in which to try stuff, it makes it *easier* for them to be successful, but artistically and politically (for lack of a better word). I know a lot of theater artists who are amazing, but have such a shell of hostility toward the “rich kids” that it’s hard for them to get through.

If you went to college, you got a leg up. If you worked your way through college and took out student loans… YOU GOT A LEG UP. If you have to now pay off your student loans, you STILL got a leg up.

In order to be accepted to college, you have to have the grades and the support structure in place from when you’re a young kid. You have to live in an area where the public schools are worth a damn, you have to have a life at home that has the distractions at a somewhat manageable level, you have to have parents who are educated enough to know that college is a smart thing to aim for.

I know, these are givens for most of us. But they aren’t given to most people. According to the most recent numbers, 27.7% of our generation has earned a bachelor’s degree. The average income per capita for the US is $47k annually.

So, look at those numbers. How incredibly lucky are you? I understand, you worked hard, and you totally slaved over your last play, but if you’re an average person, not even a struggling person, but an average person, then you graduated from high school, didn’t go to college and make less than 50 grand a year.

I am in love with what I do, and if I’m honest then I have to tell you, I’m basically in love with almost every person I run into who does what I do as well. Most of my friends in the theater went to really, really nice schools, many of them are on the boards of theater companies with their friends from these schools, and many of them have teachers from these schools who come and see their shows. Because a lot of them are here in New York.

I have no personal enmity whatsoever to the fortunate. I’ll be honest, I’ve been living my entire life by sitting next to the rich kids and letting them buy the drinks. I’m funny, I’m full of affection for many of the same things they are, and I’m fun to have a drink with, if somebody has access to their dad’s bank account and they’re passing around the bottle, I see no reason why I shouldn’t be there.

But I just want to remind everyone that we are very lucky to be where we are. One of my best friends came from very humble beginnings, worked his butt off to get a full ride to college, spent a year establishing residency for grad school, passed the bar and is now a fancy-pants lawyer. I know how humble his beginnings were, but he would never, not for a second, argue that he had it hard. His parents are still married, he and his sister had a well organized and disciplined family life with two extremely smart and educated loving parents. He knows he had a leg up, even while he was working his ass off.

If you’ve got an Masters, you are among less than 9% of the US population. That’s a Master’s Degree in *anything*. If you’ve got an MFA in one of the theater arts, please know that you are among a very small, very select group.

So don’t tell me that your years at NYU were a trial by fire. Mac, Jordana and I wrote and produced a musical that went up at a 350 seat house and on opening night, we were painfully aware that we HATED the show – THAT’S a trial by fire. It was our money, our writing, our professional reputation on the line. What you got, when you were getting your MFA, was a really safe environment to practice, and it probably had a lot to do with why you write so well now.

I’m not saying you were coddled. I’m saying you were supported. There is nothing wrong with that, and the sooner we give up on the bootstrap-bullshit, and work to support the generation below us, the sooner our theater will re-awaken into it’s rightful relevance. We need to get better, and that means we have to GIVE UP talking about how hard it is to achieve what we’ve achieved and start working on making it easier for everyone to do even better than us.

A confession – My parents got divorced in 1985. Before that, I had changed schools almost every year, except for a two year stint at Norfolk Academy, for 7th and 8th grade. That was the only private school I ever went to. When my parents split up, my dad disappeared and my mom had a mini-nervous breakdown, and within a year we were living in a one bedroom apartment behind a motel in Morristown New Jersey, where I began failing out of school.

I eventually ended up in Los Angeles, dropping out of high school and going to community college, where they will accept you if you are over 18. My SAT scores were high enough that after three years I was accepted to the University of Iowa. I transferred to the University of North Carolina, where I failed out almost instantly.

When I talk about the “rich kids”, I’m talking about the kids who’s parents own their homes instead of renting. I’m talking about the kids who each have their own bedroom, instead of sharing the fold out couch in their living room. And when I talk about the kids who had a leg up, I include myself, because even the desperation of our situation couldn’t take away the fact that both of my parents had advanced degrees from college, and my extended family always had money, and I was white and male. The very reason I had such high SAT scores was because I was born with a leg up, my family *spoke the language* of the SATs at home, and our culture won’t let someone like me fail.

For the three years that I went to community college, my friends there liked me a lot, except for the fact that they assumed I was a pathological liar. Because it’s impossible for someone who’s dad was a symphony conductor, who’d lived in Europe, who spent his spare time reading books instead of getting a second job, it was impossible for that person to end up at a community college.

So, let’s stop pretending that we’re all soldiers with muddy boots here, and let’s stop pretending that the MFA isn’t a fast-track to success. Yes, you still have to be good, but your MFA has given you far more than just training. It has given you support and an opportunity for exposure. Those of us without them will catch up, and, if our shows are better, then that will eventually be recognized, but its absurd to claim that your success is purely based on your labor.

It has been said that George Bush was born on third and thought he hit a triple. It’s an apt metaphor because it’s still his responsibility to score the run and he never did. Those of us born on first or second, we still have t
o score the run as well. But none of us, especially those born on third, should be claiming to be a great hitter. We need to let all of that go, and start running.