Dear Peter, Nelson, Trey, Celia, Chris, Lorraine, Tim, Maura, and everyone else I’ve forgotten, for which oversight I hope you will forgive me:
I am writing to ask you all a question about a word you often use when describing me in your reviews. The word is local, as in “local playwright Gwydion Suilebhan.” My question, which I ask honestly, is this: what are the implications of that word?
It does accurately describe where I live in relationship to your readers. I make my home in Silver Spring, MD, and I’ve been living in the DC area for as long as I’ve been writing plays. Local does function, then, as a literal descriptor of who I am.
It doesn’t quite function as a literal descriptor of where I work, however. In the last few years alone, my plays have been commissioned, produced, and read by theaters in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and St. Louis — heck, even in Mankato, MN. I’ve also given talks in Chicago and St. Louis, and my writing about theater has appeared in a variety of online journals that (because they are virtual) aren’t in any way DC-centric. In fact, I believe I’ve actually played more away games than home games in the most recent part of my schedule. (I’d have to ask my traveling secretary to be sure.)
I also wonder about what’s connoted by the word local. It seems to suggest — and I may be either mistaken or reading too much into it — that my work is “merely” local, by which I mean that if I were really any good, I’d have moved to New York (or at least Chicago or Los Angeles) by now.
The fact of the matter is that I’m never going to move to New York or Chicago or Los Angeles (though my wife and I might retire to the Twin Cities one day in the distant future). I like it here. I like being a playwright here. I don’t want to go. And I see no reason why my address should be correlated to my talent level… if, in fact, that’s what’s actually being suggested when you use the word in question. Again, I may be wrong… but ask yourselves this question: do playwrights who live in New York ever get referred to as local? I can’t recall it happening.
I really don’t mean to be telling you what you should or shouldn’t be saying or how to do your jobs. (In my signature below, I’ve suggested the term I use myself in place of local, but I’m sure there are other alternatives, including the status quo.) I’ve been a critic myself before — books and restaurants, not theater — so I know how difficult it can be. I’m merely asking a question, respectfully, and wondering whether you have any thoughts on the matter. If so, I should like to hear them.
Thank you so much,
Gwydion Suilebhan, DC-based playwright