Random thoughts about watching, working and living in the arts, from HMS co-founder and executive producer Scott Silberstein. "In The Moment" offers a quick 60-second read about new ideas, events, shows and productions in the HMS world, and "Adventures In Yes" takes a deeper dive into how art and media reflect, define and inspire our world. Enjoy!

November 26, 2018


Facing down writer's block and getting back to work.

Abigail and Sean Bengson. Exposed. I want to be more like them.

Writer’s Block sucks, and it comes in many shapes and forms.

For me, there are two. There’s the version where, telling myself I can’t write, I don’t. And there’s the one where I write but don’t show anyone.

When this happens, what I think I’m doing is wrestling with questions like, “Who’s going to read this? Who’s ever going to perform it? What difference will it make? Who cares?

That’s a hard spot for anyone trying to be creative, not just because it stops us from making work, but also because it's based on a false premise. It isn’t about whether or not others will care, nor is it about what they will think. It's about the primal fear of being exposed, and living with the embarrassment.

When I can parse the difference, I go from loathing myself to forgiving myself, which makes it possible for me to get back to work. That's when I write, feel and behave more interestingly, creatively and thoughtfully.

Getting there is hard, but recently I've been thinking that mayb the best way is get myself in front of as much genuinely and generously confessional work as possible, work that is more about “look at us” than it is “look at me."

So curating a “Look At Us” festival is tricky. But a few weeks ago, over the course of five amazing days, I saw three deeply personal, confessional adventures in “Look At Us” that rocked my world.

It began on a Tuesday at the La Jolla Playhouse with Hundred Days, a show I would have missed were it not for Jessie Mueller's exhortations to get myself to California and see this show as soon as I could (how she knew I needed to see this show, I’ll never know, but I think that’s part of what makes Jessie Jessie).

Hundred Days is a hybrid of a great alt-indie-rock show and The Moth, in which Abigail and Sean Bengson, through extraordinary stories and songs and backed by a dazzling band, tell the story of the three weeks it took them to meet, fall in love and get married. At first familiar and seemingly linear, it turns surprisingly intimate and then powerfully epic. Hundred Days, with both power and fragility, positively rocks.

Five days later, I was back home in Chicago at The Goodman, where I saw We’re Only Alive For a Short Amount of Time. Playwright, performer and songwriter David Cale, under the thoughtful direction of Bob Falls, puts his life on display in a way that is at first comforting; it suggests that this is going to be a relatively standard if also very artful confessional of what it means to become an artist, to come out, to discover one's purpose and passion.

But then it explodes with real-life horror that leaves its audiences' jaws firmly dropped. That Cale's story is true makes it all the more shocking, but he shares in with tender care, and as I recognized that he and Bob created something that could reasonably have been punishing to watch and instead fashioned a gentle and even loving experience, I was swept into sharing Cale's journey of acceptance and forgiveness.

In between those shows, I attended a book release event for Jill Soloway’s new memoir She Wants It, an evening that included vitally memorable teamwork and accompaniment from Jill’s sister Faith, their mom Elaine (who had thoughtfully managed to get me a last minute ticket), and their two guests, the intersex activist, writer and performer Pidgeon Pagonis and the sensational standup Hannah Gadsby (who’s Netflix special Nanette is itself an unforgettable example of a life put willingly and artfully on display). The event’s combination of stand-up, improv, debate, reading and personal confessional was hilarious, poignant, furious and inspiring.

Jill prefaced reading a passage from the book by confessing that no matter how many great things have been happening to them over these last several years (creating, writing and producing Transparent, receiving invitations to The White House, writing the book and so on), they still have to hear and confront that voice that rears its head when it's time sit down to write, that voice that screams the same familiar refrain, “Who cares? Who will read this? Who do you think you are?”

Jill's not the first person to share that anxiety. But because I needed to hear it at the exact moment, I felt profound gratitude that they did. If Jill Freaking Soloway can publicly wrestle fears of exposure in this moment of celebration and vulnerability, then maybe I can get off my ass and get to work.

Because the truth is that all of us have an epic story. All of us have a story asking to be told in some way. Maybe it’s something that belongs on a stage or a screen, or maybe it's something that want or need to share with our partner, a friend, or the family dog. It doesn’t matter. We all have a story, and life gets better when we find someone to tell it to, even if it’s just ourselves.

A few years ago I was strolling through the modern wing of the Art Institute with my dear pal Kristen Brogden, and I joked, “Welcome to the ‘I Coulda Done That’ section of the museum.” (How many times have we heard that about any kind of modern art – “A plain white canvass with a red dot? I coulda done that.”)

“Yeah, you coulda,” Kristen replied. “But you didn’t.”

Time to get back to work.

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