Creative with Responsibility

Written by UAP alumnus and Academy Coordinator Manny Minaya

Thanks to one of my current jobs at a charter school in Harlem, I work a lot with kids ranging from four to nine years old. It’s an exciting stage in a child’s growth. Psychoanalysts would describe these ages as definitive moments in children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development. I describe it as the moment in a child’s life where they become aware of their imagination and creativity. These children make cities out of plants, Christmas trees out of toilet paper rolls, and design heroes with the powers of Sonic the Hedgehog and Batman combined. “They are who they are,” says Diane Neal, star of Law & Order: SVU and board member of the Urban Arts Partnership.“That’s the thing about kids. Whether they’re at a fancy restaurant, or at home, or at school – they’re true to themselves.” It reminds me of how free I felt when I played as a child.

I used to believe that the world spun in a perfect circle. I used to play hide and seek in pocket dimensions, firing ice beams and psychic blasts. These adventures were mainly written as barely legible chicken scratches that I held dearly. The imaginary worlds I fabricated out of my mind led me to continue to be creative, whether it was in poetry, acting, or writing.

But responsibilities have been the major obstacles that hinder some from being fully committed to their crafts. For me, working two jobs while going to school full-time doesn’t grant me the flexibility I’d like to sit down and write the graphic novel I’ve dreamt of writing for years. When I do write, it’s during work or in the middle of class. For others, it can be relationship problems, being a landlord, traveling to and fro between cities or projects. The arts need time and commitment in order to properly hone them. As more and more of these responsibilities pile up, the more time goes by without my picking up a pen or sitting at my computer to write my story. This results in a loss of passion and a loss of dedication. It’s not uncommon to find artists in the industry who become cynical because they have lost focus. Some people are just ill prepared to deal with the shift in lifestyle. A child-like demeanor and perspective lens may be the cure to relieving that stress. “Keeping [your humanity] has to do with being curious,” Neal claims. “I always took care to being genuinely enthusiastic about the smallest things. This planet is beautiful.”

Diane and I spoke in-depth about how to remain a child in the industry. We compared acting to tea parties we would hold as children. The only difference is that we are getting paid for it. If more people can take a second to breathe in this world and remind themselves why they are doing what they’re doing, regardless of what age you start, then people would be able to function better.

And it’s not just responsibilities that get in the way. Sometimes it’s our own minds, our own inhibitions that get in our way. “I get in my way, you know?” says Jason Biggs, star of Netflix’s original Orange is the New Black. “I start overanalyzing. There’s something about when I was younger, when I was starting out. There was fearlessness, there were no inhibitions. Now I know what my weaknesses are and I play to those.” We are our own worst critics. It takes a lot of willpower to separate us from our lives for a second and try to put everything in order. Becoming your worst enemy on top of dealing with the stress of adult life can be discouraging.

Don’t get me wrong, 22 has presented me with some gainful opportunities, some vices, good times, and smiles. But my two jobs and school have been getting in the way. They have prevented me from invoking my inner Peter Pan, so to speak.

And that’s where The 24 Hour Plays finds its magic. A full 24 hours where writers, directors, actors, producers, and various other mediums come together, put their responsibilities to the side and play like they children that they long to be.

It begins with the 24 actors sharing their props, or the toys. These range from costume pieces, to personal effects such as teddy bears, a stethoscope, or a bullwhip someone has lying around. These props help the six writers compose six worlds, or playgrounds, as I like to call them. The next morning the directors and actors meet and explore this playground where they rehearse all day long. The end result is put on that same evening where the audience gets to witness all the hard work from the past 24 hours. Renowned celebrities partake in the event, including Jason Biggs, Anthony Mackie, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Michael Ealy, Rosie Perez, and Diane Neal. Fun fact: one of the writers for The 24 Hour Plays is a alumni of Urban Arts Partnership, a non-profit organization that uses art education to close the achievement gap in underserved New York City schools. This year is was recent 2012 graduate Devin Mojica. The inclusion of this alumnus further proves how The 24 Hour Plays encourage creativity in our youths and adults.

It is all fun and games. However serious these thespians are taken in their field, it is not unusual to find them making silly choices and partaking in antics during rehearsal and the final performance. From pulling out scripts mid-performance to watching Natalie Dormer play a witty and sarcastic assassin, it’s reassuring to see that these adults, who pay bills, who have extremely tight schedules all the while balancing a home life can still be kids.

It is this show of levity that motivates me to find the time to continue creating, not as an adult, but as that avant-garde youth that has so much to look forward to. Success should be built on the fun one gets out of doing what they love. I love writing. I love poetry. Being on that Broadway stage in 2008 amongst those stars solidified my place in the artistic field. While some called it an accomplishment, as if implying the end of a journey, I saw those 3 minutes in that spotlight as a stepping-stone. Then to grace the stage once again as an actor with The 24 Hour Plays: Nationals… It proved that the universe has something planned, as long as you keep going.

These celebrities, my peers, and the people who have helped me along this path have taught me the most important things to know about this field – patience and persistence.  These are no excuses; if you want to be a kid, be a kid.

Amidst all the responsibilities, it is important to find the child in you, conceive your own Neverland, and fly. I dream to be in my own innocence one day. Hopefully I’ll be able to play forever. I couldn’t (still can’t) draw to save my life but it hasn’t stopped me from writing a metaphysical graphic novel that would make people think.

It would be about children with a special gift called Innocence. This Innocence would grant these children special powers that manifest itself through their favorite teddy bear or blanket or personal effect. Although they’re special, they are orphans; their families hunted down for having these gifts.

The story is pretty self-explanatory – adults, and being an adult, can hamper your creativity. We start off as these kids with everything to live for, with the whole world in our peripheral. The 24 Hour Plays is an analogy for life – take the time out of your busy schedule and responsibilities to play.

Let’s all be kids. Let’s all be nerds and scientists and just be.

“I try to think about it as a huge scientific experiment… to see how far humans go.” – Diane Neal