What I have learned from Terence
What I love about play writing, and truly theatre in general, is how unbelievably accessible it is. Everyone is allowed and encouraged to take part! It is a form of entertainment and a medium of art for and by the people. Everyone is welcome, and no one is shunned or judged. Well… To a degree.
Yes, from a look on the outside, playwriting seems to be a neutral zone of creation. Perhaps we feel this way because a writer can hide their face behind their words; no one has to see anything. Yet, the majority of our famous playwrights are white men.
I simply refuse to believe that they’re better at writing than the rest of us.
I am a freshman in college, pursuing a theatre degree and something else I’m not entirely sure of yet. This semester I took an incredibly informative class about ancient literature, which brought me face to face with more than a dozen ancient Greek and Roman plays. It was so interesting to learn about how these writers were regaled and held in such high esteem for their art, as well as dive headfirst into a style of writing we do not see so much of today. I even got to write my own miniature satyr play.
Of all these great things I came in contact with, Terence, a Roman comedy writer, drew my interest the most. Terence was an African slave who had been educated by his master a Roman Senator. Impressed by his ability, the senator freed Terence, who would go on to write six plays and die young.
Terence is called by some literary scholars as the father of Roman – and even European – drama! He was an incredibly large inspiration to William Shakespeare, who I do not think I need to explain. Can you believe that the ancient herald of European comedy was a former slave? That adds some color to the history books, doesn’t it?
And YET! All throughout history, do you know what supremacist historians tried to do? Prove that Terence was WHITE. WHY????? Benjamin Franklin (if you didn’t already know, he was a racist) believed that there was absolutely no possible way that Terence, the man who inspired Shakespeare, could be a black man. His reasoning? That he could not have the intelligence to write plays of that caliber. It was the work of what he, and many others, presume(d) to be an finely educated caucasian.
Have you ever seen one of those TV specials where they try and disprove that Shakespeare wrote his plays, because he was the son of a humble worker and was not greatly educated? From the beginning, playwrights have been controlled by elitists who have never created anything insisting that only “people like them” with lots of money and a ridiculously expensive school education are capable of creating great cultural staples like the works of Shakespeare and Terence.
This sort of information means alot to me as a woman trying to make a name for herself as a playwright. I think of Terence, fighting odds and stereotypes to create art that he was proud of and would come to last ages after his death. I think of Terence, and his own race being a point of debate by people who know nothing of art. I think of Terence and how he is responsible for so much that I look to for inspiration, and I feel stronger.
It’s so easy to become disheartened by the audience. An audience that believes that women aren’t funny or cannot write. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, they will still throw your work aside based on who you are as a person. But, it’s been happening forever! Since the dawn of drama and comedy there have been people who have decided that certain people and genres are less intelligent than others.
So, what did I learn from Terence? I learned that long after I die, my work is going to have to struggle against skeptics who do not want me to succeed as a woman, as they did not want Terence to succeed as a former slave. However, I see that art is stronger than skepticism. It may be HARDER, sure, but play writing is for everybody. Anyone who believes in what they can create is able to tell stories. While there will be hurdles and struggles for some who choose to write… play writing truly gives a place that provides opportunity against those odds. No matter what people will try to say, no one can stop Terence (or you) from being important.