Didn't tell anyone what I did - not even my partner in life. Just quietly filled out the application and took it by a mailbox. Stomach queasy, I shut my eyes and took a deep breath.
Why did I keep it to myself? Because if you're an author and a playwright, 9 times out 10— No. Make that 999 times out of a thousand, you're going to send your sweet little puppy off and never see it again... or get a letter back telling you how ugly your puppy is.
So I was more than surprised to receive notification that my play Case 22 made it into the 2010 Capital Fringe Festival in D.C.
Hey, it's not like they picked the play after reading it. They only see a synopsis, but in 2010 there was an 80% increase in applications and a long waiting list, so it felt pretty good to make it. Made me feel as though I'd won something, and I guess I did: an opportunity to produce a play that is, as Shakespeare would say, "not for all markets." Certainly not for my local market. Case 22 is a dark farce — not the sort of fodder folks around here are used to seeing me produce… seeing anyone produce, actually.
So why did I write this one? Playwright Martin Blank’s has said great playwrights “ask important questions and then try to answer them”. I don't pretend to have the answers, but I do believe Case 22 asks an important question: When a sane teenager wants to leave an abusive home, why does that teenager have to be deemed crazy before they can get any real protection?
Somebody will argue (and many have) that social services is there to help those teens, so we needn’t be concerned. Well, those people are welcome to write a play about all the happy endings out there, but they’ll have a hard time finding them. Case 22 is based on true events, and unfortunately the play represents the statistical majority.
There are two incontrovertible facts in the world of community assistance:
1) Physical abusers rarely stop abusing, and
2) American courts are generally geared to keep families together "at all costs."
And because of these two unavoidable truths, happy endings are rare as hen's teeth. I’ve worked in local theatre for many years, and that world is filled with open, accepting, kind, generous, and enthusiastic people. Due to this unconditionally welcoming environment, unusual kids find safe haven here. So, too, do the children and youth who live in abusive homes. The facts behind Case 22 occurred while I was producing a play and getting to know yet another young girl who had found a degree of refuge in theatre.
Turns out she couldn’t contact Social Services herself for fear of retribution, and so a friend and I went on her behalf. And in no time at all, we smacked up against the two impossible facts mentioned above: “Keep that family together!”, and "Your abuser will never stop hurting you”.
As a result, despite our best effort to engage the system in her protection, she got very little help. Soon after, Case 22 came to me in a torrent. The words poured out of me as characters screamed the story in my ear.
I waited for a production opportunity to present itself, and when the Fringe application deadline loomed, against all odds I went for it.
Naturally when it was accepted I became terrified — terrified it wouldn't come together as hoped, that no one would come, they'd come and not understand, or get it and I'd have to deal with — who knows what.
And, although I was wrong on all counts and this particular play received an excellent review from DC Metro Theatre Arts, I know perfectly well that's not going to happen every time I submit a work - not even that one.
There's only one thing I know will return: the paralyzing fear failure.
But I know the most worthwhile questions to ask are likely the most frightening to pursue. And I have a list of important questions here, don't you?
Meredith Bean McMath is a prize-winning playwright, award-winning historian, stage director, speaker and former Managing Director of Run Rabbit Run Productions, Inc.