World, meet Tracy Help Potter.
I’m a writer from the San Francisco Bay Area who is based in Los Angeles to get into writing for television and film. I’m a single mom of two awesome young boys and I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to show my sons what following their dreams looks like.
Right now, I have my first Hollywood production, a one-woman, multi-character play called “Suddenly Split and Swiping Over” directed by a savvy director named Katherine Vondy and starring Susan-Kate Heaney (Masters of Sex/Funny or Die) with a touring performance going to the Bay Area starring Angela Jaymes SF performances July 8-9, Berkeley performances July 10-11. It’s a play about ending a long term relationship and diving into the off-putting world of online dating for the first time.
This is my first full production since I got my MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon University, so it’s the debut of my “new” writing after a very intense and rigorous two-year writing program, and it’s my first opportunity to present my work in Hollywood.
I’m really proud of this show and I’m delighted that it’s gotten such a great response, especially since my productions last year weren’t as enthusiastically received.
Last year was rough: I was wrapping up my grad school program in Pittsburgh and I was running on fumes. In addition to the regular course-load, I was also teaching a class, putting up my “thesis” play, writing a commissioned full-length play for the Loud & Unladylike Festival that my friends and I co-founded, AND I was still raising my two preschool-aged boys while preparing to move back to California. Oh yeah, and I had recently started dating again after it was clear that my divorce paperwork was going to get processed by the court. Basically, I had a lot on my plate.
My thesis play, Plastic Nest, was essentially a way of processing my divorce. People have a lot of opinions about whether or not you should write about things that are so close to you: some think it’s a bad idea and some think that’s the best time to write. After struggling with this play for a year—and it was really a struggle, I’ve moved to the middle. I think writers need to write what they’re going through, but maybe it shouldn’t be the project that people will think defines your academic career. Maybe.
When the play went up, I had a contingent of people who really loved the play and thought it was moving and vulnerable. Most of those people had been with me from the beginning of the writing process and knew how much I’d worked and fought to make it what it was. However, people who didn’t know about the massive rewrites and the emotional journey that I went on with the play, understandably, saw mostly the play’s flaws.
When a show ends, it’s usually pretty clear how people feel about your work. When a production excites or moves someone, that feeling stays with them well after the curtain falls. It’s palpable and transfers from that person back to me.
After this particular play, most of the people who didn’t rush out of the door gave me a similar, quiet look that said, “That wasn’t good.” This was a pretty universal response.
A month later, I followed that production with my Loud & Unladylike reading. Although the play I wrote for this festival was way less personal, it needed a lot of work. I was coming off graduation, moving back to California, exhausted, and my personal life was a wreck.
I didn’t even have a full draft of the script until our first public reading. The actors who worked with me were generously patient and compassionate and I worked hard to give them material that they could use and that would tell a story worth sharing. By the end of the festival, I’d done a number of major rewrites and ended up with a solid first draft. However, I put this play up knowing that, again, I was presenting work that still needed a lot of development.
As a writer who has gotten a number of productions—both filmed and in front of live audiences—I know that not everyone is going to respond to my work, and I don’t need them to. I know what my process is and I know what I need to get out of a production. Sometimes, a production exists just so I can finish a script.
So, when those two productions ended, I felt like I needed to go into my writing cave and stop generating new material, and just focus on making the stuff I’d already started better. I spent most of the last year heavily rewriting my TV and film samples to make my portfolio as solid as it could be.
Fast-forward to March and a friend suggests that I put up something at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. It was very last-minute, and I had to scramble to get a venue and build a team … and also to turn my 20-minute play into a 50-minute play in about one month.
I know, it sounds like I was rushing again, but here’s the thing: I was settled in a new place, my personal life was, and is, going well, I could dedicate most of my time to this project, AND it was a play that flowed out of me. This was the play that I wrote during my last semester of grad school when I was on the cusp of burning out and was still asked to write an extended one-act play for the class.
Unlike most of my other work at grad school, people responded to this piece immediately. It had my voice and my humor all over it—and people loved it.
Also, I respond well to pressure, and this was a great opportunity to get myself onto the scene in LA.
Lots of people immediately relate to the heartache of a breakup and the ridiculousness of online dating, and they LOVE this play. On good days, I can feel it when they walk out of the theater.
For the first time ever, a reviewer came to my show and actually commented on my writing. Usually, when reviewers cover my shows, they just give facts about the production, with no commentary on the quality of my work.
I did get one review of a play that I directed that described my directing as “weak.” I thought the review was awesome. Someone was thinking about my work? Sweet!
But, here at the Hollywood Fringe, I got my first real critique of my writing and the critic described my play as … “brilliantly written.”
It’s like my decade of writing has made me a better writer.
It’s like that intense two-year writing program gave me the tools I needed to make my stories stronger.
It’s like using my voice to tell my truth allows others to connect with my work.
The best part has been talking to other writers who have come to the show and hearing them talk about the play with satisfaction. They savor moments of the play when they relay them. It’s an awesome feeling.
I still get polite “congratulations” on this piece—again, not every show is for everyone. But that’s always going to happen, and it’s nice to be able to identify people’s tastes and what they respond to.
Now RUN out and see one of Tracy’s shows. But, first, check out her intimate answers to the BONUS QUESTIONS.
If you could cure one disease in the world what would it be? Why?
Depression. This is the only health problem that inherently deprives people of hope. I’ve known people who have had cancer or AIDS who still found hope and strength and those things allowed them to persevere. What do you do when you run out of hope?
Do you hate anyone? Why?
I don’t think hatred is a worthy use of my energy. I feel disappointment and frustration with people, and I can use those feelings to transform my interactions with them or others. Hatred doesn’t give me a way of creating a shift. In fact, it forces me to latch onto a negative feeling that I have to feed in order to retain. I’d rather not.
What is something you enjoy doing that some people might think is weird?
I really love studying effective advertising. I do a lot of nonprofit fundraising and promotion of creative projects, and marketing and advertising are important parts of that. Good advertising speaks to people on a deep level and when something is done well—and responsibly—I really enjoy it.
If it was life or death, what one thing would you give up for the rest of your life. sex, access to the Internet, your favorite food, TV, your best friend?
Although my career is now focused on getting into TV, I would much rather give that up than anything else on this list. I’ve watched so much TV, that I could replay significant portions of episodes in my head, and there are so many other storytelling forums that could satiate my need for episodic drama.
If we are filled with an infinite amount of love, why do we say we fall out of love? What’s the difference between being in love and love?
I feel like “love” is a generous feeling from our heart, and “being in love” is that feeling plus an additional need for connection with a particular person.
When I was getting divorced, I read a number of children’s books to my kids about divorce, and I would cringe when the books said something like, “Just because your mommy and daddy don’t love each other doesn’t mean that their love for you has changed.” There’s an assumption that just because a relationship ends that there has to be animosity, but I love people that I don’t get along with and can’t be in a relationship with. I just stop needing that love to be paired with other things that make a relationship.
Have you ever thought of an invention? What?
I came up with an invention that I thought was the greatest thing, and I submitted it to a contest and was shocked when it didn’t win a prize. I think we should design Christmas lights that can be powered by the cold.
What is your favorite game to gamble at?
I like roulette because I like the spinning wheel. It feels dramatic and takes longer than slot machines.
What one subject would you add to high school curriculums?
I really think that teachers and principals should have more autonomy to design their students’ curriculums, but if I had to add a subject, I would create a class that allowed students to explore their interests and pursue them in depth. When I was in high school, I took a summer class on illustrating for comic books. If high schoolers could spend time doing the things that really inspired them, school would be a lot more relevant.
If you were asked to take a shuttle to Mars, with the probability you would never make it back, would you go?
What one song have you listened to more than any other?
According to iTunes, “Love Someone” by Jason Mraz (259 plays since I got my computer over a year ago).