The 2020 William Inge Theatre Festival was supposed to start today. At this hour — 6:00 a.m. — I was supposed to be boarding a flight to Dallas and then on to Tulsa for my 29th trip to Independence, Kansas, where the festival would honor the memory of the playwright who gave us “Picnic,” “Come Back, Little Sheba,” and “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,” among other works including the screenplay for “Splendor in the Grass,” for which Inge won an Oscar. The festival was planning to honor playwright Lynn Nottage with the Distinguished Achievement in American Theatre award in the name of William Inge, and I was going to present a paper for the scholars conference on the role of mothers in Inge’s plays. We would also do what we do best at theatre festivals: make friends, read new plays, and eat a lot of good comfort food.
That’s not happening. I’m sitting in my study at home in the eighth week of stay-home isolation, and the Inge Festival has been postponed for a year. So has the Valdez Last Frontier Theatre Conference, the Midwest Dramatists Conference, all the remaining car shows, and my summer camp reunion in Colorado. The warnings from the smart people who are speaking out beyond the roses-and-rainbows forecast of the idiots in the White House are dire if we don’t pay attention to the real science, and we are all hoping against hope that by January we’ll all line up for vaccinations against the virus. Maybe a year from today I’ll be finally using that ticket to Tulsa, along with the upgrade that came with it.
These are the things that occupy me right now, along with the health and safety of my friends and family. I can hear about the global impact of the virus and the devastation it has caused on so many levels: physical, emotional, economic, and all the collateral damage that comes with it. It can be overwhelming, and the urge to turn it off and tune it out is strong. That would explain why the subscriptions to Netflix and other streaming services (and of course, porn, or so I hear) are through the roof and why everyone is now learning how to use Zoom for everything from doctor’s visits to play rehearsals and performance. We are learning to cope — I found the New York Times crossword puzzle archives to be a godsend — and we are learning to turn our energy to other outlets. For instance, I have written ten new plays and completed a novel since January, which means that I’ve done more playwriting in the last five months than I did in the first forty-three years since I had my first play produced. And some of them are pretty good, if I do say so myself.
So, how are you doing? How are you coping? How’s your family? Your friends? Your pets? What have you learned about yourself and your loved ones?