My Dearest, Imposter

For context: for the last three years, a mysterious human has been taking on my identity in order to get free press theatre tickets (and access to opening night parties) in my name. This has grown into something of a long term fascination for me. Help me find my imposter by sharing this article. 

My dearest, Imposter:

I’m not always so pompous, but it seems right to start by saying that that comma is intentional. You are – really – so dear to me. Which is to say, sometimes you kind of are me.

And for that, I actually really kind of love you.

In my fervor, I have neglected to properly introduce myself! I’m Jonelle Walker. I’m 27 years old, but I’ll be 28 in about a month. I make theatre, usually by writing the plays. I write about theatre quite a bit; I’m a scholar getting a PhD at the University of Maryland and I also used to write a lot of theatre reviews in the Washington, DC area. But, you already know all of this, don’t you?

I first learned of you in the summer of 2016 when my friend, then the publicist at a local regional theatre, asked me if I was excited to see their next show. I responded with the requisite industry response: “Of course! I’m not sure when I’ll go, but – “ Her wide-eyed stare should have been my first clue. “But, you have press tickets for opening night?” My wide-eyed stare in return was more than enough for us to start laughing at the confusion. No one in their right mind would impersonate me, a 25-year-old nothing person with a few theatre credits to her name and a handful of bylines on local culture blogs … right?

But, as you well know, for some reason I was wrong. And in that moment I became both enamored of and frustrated by you. You, illusive Imposter, like a flirtatious suitor lurking in the dark corners of a country dance in Jane Austen’s mind. You had set your sights on me and passed the digital equivalent of a love note into my friend’s hand. “Can I be you? Circle Yes or No.” Like any good Byronic object of romantic persuasion, you decided for me.

Sure, there were free theatre tickets in it for you. But, in the depth of my heart I knew that this long form seduction was really about me. You had taken a shine to me and my ideal position as a known-unknown local theatre writer. You could see I was going places and if you couldn’t go there with me, you would go for me, instead. You had a desire for what I had: access to artists, free high culture, and, perhaps, even the simple recognition that your opinion could matter enough to warrant an exchange of free goods. Sometimes I wonder about the burning desire that led you to this conscious choice; the rote labor of developing a template email that could reasonably come from a fourth tier journalist like me. It really meant something to you and, thereby, I really meant something to you.

Ah, me!

Because – I thought to myself late at night as I contemplated you staring up at the same urban dark – it was really quite easy to carve out an opportunity to write theatre reviews on small blogs in this region. Even to be paid for that work. And, yet, your mission instead was not simply to see theatre to your heart’s desire but to meet your heart’s desire as me.

Ah. Me.

You could not have known – perhaps you didn’t want to know? – that I was already having a full, complex life when you decided to take on my identity. I had just gone through a break up, moved into a new apartment, balanced two part time jobs and a master’s thesis while preparing for my first play to premiere … it was exhausting to be me, so I only wish you had rightly shared the burden and not just the free tickets and glitzy opening night parties. Which is all to say: why in the world would you be both me and you when being me alone is not as glamorous as you clearly imagined. I think you rightly owe me some of you in exchange – maybe I’ll attend the next wedding you’re invited to in your stead and have an absolutely fabulous time. “Goodbye, and thanks for all the free cake!” Too harsh? Not to worry, I always tease the ones I like.

Dear Imposter, who is it that you are trying to replace with me? You have had ample opportunity over the last three years to change tactics and take on the veil of another member of the bloggerati. Yet, you return to me every season, going on as my understudy in a role that has such little consequence for the greater world around you. But, it means something to you, doesn’t it? To take on another life and to be someone else for just a short time. The relief of just stepping outside of yourself for an evening. The freedom of luxuriating in a rip in existence you’ve made yourself. I understand it well, actually; it’s the very desire that drew me to theatre in the first place.

And this is why I kind of love you.

It is perhaps a kind of warming joy that is hard to understand if you don’t work in or really love theatre. We spend hours pulling our hair out and wracking our brains to get people like you to sit in the theatre for two hours.* To have someone care enough about theatre to commit borderline identity theft? Darling, I’m not sure I care enough about theatre to arrange such an elaborate and petty scheme.

So, I think that’s why I’m writing this public love letter to you. I want you to know that I love your passion for theatre and, honestly, I kind of love your passion for me. You probably think about me more than most people in my life and, in that way, my imposter, we are already quite entangled. However, part of my love for you is also asserting this:  you don’t need to be me to watch and write about theatre. You don’t need to be me to indulge in your passion and carve out a mysterious corner of the universe for yourself. In fact, I have some ideas for how you can change your ways immediately.

Have you ever tried writing a play? If you respond to my letter, I’ll consider it the start of a beautiful artistic collaboration. A Platonic dialogue that goes back to the very pre-origins of our beloved art form. We can call it “A Look in the Mirror.” It will be epic and romantic and a grand meditation on identity and art and love and magic … I wouldn’t want to write it with anyone else.

Write back to me, my beloved Imposter. Write back to me, so you can stop pretending to be me and start getting to know me.

But, seriously, stop scamming small theatres out of tickets. I’ll help you get comps. We’re friends and collaborators now; you have an in.

Yours (and you),
Jonelle Walker

*Albeit, paying for it; did you know that theatre is really expensive to make?

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