I’m Still A Beginner But You Know What Else I Am Now? A Playwright.

By MaryBeth Jarvis Clark

When Plan-B Theatre announced its Creative Aging Playwriting Workshop last December, I applied immediately. I’ve loved theatre and storytelling all my life, and it was great to see an upside to aging. After two years of pandemic and other widespread crises, being accepted into the workshop was the first news that made me feel excited for my future. 

I didn’t have a specific topic I wanted to write a play about; I was just interested in learning the elements of playwriting and building my skills as an enthusiastic amateur. In the first session, one of the instructors assured us, “None of you is expected to write Macbeth.” That phrase caught my imagination, and I used it as a prompt for the first writing assignment. I imagined two coworkers talking about phrases from Macbeth mysteriously showing up in AI (artificial intelligence) generated transcripts of college lectures on unrelated topics. That first attempt, four pages of dialogue, was, shall I say, glaringly unskilled. The shortcomings of that draft showed me what was missing and what I needed to fix. 

It was deeply satisfying to give myself permission to be an absolute beginner as an “older” person and to let my inexperience show without shame. Week by week, my writing got stronger. Gradually the characters emerged as a twenty-something man who was opting out of the rat race, and his fifty-something aunt who was all in on the pursuit of success as dictated by the American Dream. The writing was guided by my reflections on how different life is for people in their 20s and 30s today in the 2020s versus how life was for me at that age in the late 1980s and early 1990s. My generation still had a reasonable expectation of finding full-time employment that offered good health insurance, retirement benefits, and wages that would enable us to become homeowners. My children’s generation can expect to be saddled with insurmountable college debt, a gig economy, under-insurance or total lack of insurance, insufficient wages to pay their bills and buy homes, and a political movement to dismantle social safety nets even further. It’s bleak. 

I lose my patience with people my age who tut-tut and claim that young people today are coddled little whiners. Are you kidding me? The short play I ended up writing progressed from the early working title “Rusty and Limone Set the Table” to the final title “Push Back” as a way of exploring generational differences within a family and giving the younger person legitimacy to challenge the views of an older relative. The play asks, “What do we owe our relatives? Do young people owe deference to their elders? Do elders owe reciprocal respect to their youngers? What constitutes success or responsibility? Does our current system support real well-being for anyone?”

I was really pleased with the unfolding of the creative process I experienced through the workshop. When I got word that Plan-B had selected “Push Back” for its contribution to Rose Exposed: Birthday Suit(e), I had an automatic self-deprecating response. “Who, ME?!” But when they shared why they’d selected my play, I could see, “Yes, those things are true. My play is worthy of production.” 

I’m still a beginner, but you know what else I am now? A playwright.

MaryBeth Jarvis Clark is (mostly) retired. Her short play “Push Back” receives its world premiere on Saturday, August 27 as Plan-B’s portion of Rose Exposed: Birthday Suit(e), the annual, hour-long evening of new short works by Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation, Plan-B Theatre, PYGmalion Theatre Company, Repertory Dance Theatre, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, and SB Dance celebrating the Rose Wagner, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary! Details and $15 tickets at roseexposed.org.

This article was originally published on July 16, 2022.