ecently I had the great pleasure of experiencing my play Hunting and Gathering at Rep Stage in Columbia, Maryland, ten years after I initially wrote it. It was great fun revisiting the source material as I'm currently married and raising a child, theoretically stable (although we did just move last summer), and in very different circumstances.
Hunting and Gathering is a comedy about rootlessness, four characters who for different reasons are between housing options and figuring out their logistical and emotional/spiritual homes. When I wrote it, I myself was living in much this way. I'd been happily settled in an apartment in Soho before 9/11 and then, after the attacks, I lost my job and my apartment and was suddenly couch-surfing and subletting until I could afford what felt like a monumental outpouring of money — first month's rent, last month's rent, security deposit. (Forget real estate agents! For a self-employed New York artist and writer, such people are luxuries we can't afford.) Once I was settled again (with a roommate for whom I wrote the character Astor), I started drafting the play. And by the time it was produced, I was yet again out of a place – my belongings in storage, my work in New York City, and my long range plans in Los Angeles. I was often pathologized for moving so often, people would patronizingly ask if they should write my address in pencil because it changed so often and/or if I planned on landing at any point soon — as if my sad income and its accompanying frugality were character defects and not a byproduct of working in the theater.
But in 2016 this is not the case. Whereas in 2007 (when we went into production), this play spoke of a particular group of people — the "Creative Class" — it now speaks to everyone. Before the 2008 financial crisis, only artists lived like I did. Now, we have a generation of young (and some middle-aged) people down-sizing material holdings, moving to smaller quarters and shedding extraneous belongings, living "at home" with parents or older family members, taking in roommates, becoming a roommate, looking for solutions to problems that we once thought would stop plaguing us as soon as we (got a job, got married, sold a pilot, got settled on a tenure track) and so on. This is a play for a new generation of Americans. Which made it particularly thrilling to see onstage in Columbia this Spring.
Before the 2008 financial crisis, only artists lived like I did … More and more people today are finding that the promise of Permanence — in home, in relationship, in job security — doesn't pan out the way it did for our parent's generation.
It used to be that you found your spouse, your home, your place in the world in your late twenties and early thirties and then settled down to enjoy them and build equity for retirement. That model no longer holds. More and more people today are finding that the promise of Permanence — in home, in relationship, in job security — doesn't pan out the way it did for our parent's generation. The center cannot hold. Things are shifting. Daily. People are losing their jobs, having to sell their homes, downsize, streamline, move across the country, start over, start again, redefine, re-brand, re-imagine. Which has everyone talking about home: from mortgage rates to foreclosures to refinancing to gentrification and finding the right downtown loft, home is on the brain. How to get a home, find a home, pay for a home, and lastly — how to decorate what you've got.
The production team at Rep Stage asked me about the theme of "gratitude" in my play (the final line is: "Thank you." Which is also parenthetically true of Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha — written and produced a few years after Hunting and Gathering). When everything physical is shifting, what else do you have? Gratitude becomes key. If our homes aren't meant to be permanent; if there's no blame attached to impermanence, in a very Buddhist sense, then there is nothing wrong with us for drifting. Thank God or whomever else is responsible — and give thanks! I always think, let's be grateful for what we've got while we've got it. Because you never know what's coming …
Hunting and Gathering comes from a period in my life in which I wondered: where is stability? And how do I negotiate my own feelings about what I've left behind while proactively creating some place to land?
The director Kasi Campbell and cast, most particularly Kathryn Tkel, were amazing. And I'm grateful to them for loving my play as I did and for bringing it to life for a new audience.
Queens, New York, 2016
PS: The Queens neighborhood Ruth makes fun of is where I now call home. My husband and I bought a coop in 2015 and are happy Queens-dwellers. Who knew?