In the first episode of "Happy Kids", Meg invokes the words of Charlie Chaplin: "To truly be able to laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it."
Whether or not you relate personally to the life of an actor, or have been at the mercy of student loans, the uncomfortable feeling of shame is something with which most people can identify. Though there are several excellent documentaries on student loan debt out there, I feel nothing can personalize this issue like a narrative dark comedy series.
A few years ago, I wrote a show called TICKLE ME, RED MONSTER. It was an autobiographical performance piece about a time in my life when I limbo-danced my way through the living rooms, parks and back yards of greater Los Angeles dressed in a variety of costumes performing at children's parties.
The more I explored the desperation that drove me to take the job in the first place, how Los Angeles itself played into my experience, and the rich themes driving the story, the clearer it became: this had to be a story seen through the eyes of a character who isn’t me.
And so the play became a feature length film which gave way to a series: HAPPY KIDS, the story of an Ivy-league trained actress named Megan Miller who casts her ego aside to take a job as a children’s party performer, only to find herself further in debt to her unforgiving boss - an obsessive, jaded, paranoid professional clown. It is a sometimes funny, sometimes tragic tale that explores – among other things – shame. Shame that comes from living with debt as well as shame about being so far away from your dreams.
I can absolutely relate to the feeling of hopelessness starting your adult life in debt evokes. The "student loan that shall not be named" was a looming, all-encompassing, grim and obsessive overlord that dominated every facet of my existence for a long time. I know there are others who can relate to this – FORTY THREE MILLION Americans who live with this pressure as I write this. I’m making this film for all of us. It’s time to speak out and share these stories. I believe portraying the absurdity of these issues in a film could help diffuse the shame and hopelessness so we can work together to create more sustainable ways to fund higher education and address these problems so many face but so few talk about openly.
Not long ago, the student loan debt burden remained largely a private concern. As the complexities and economic impact of rising tuition costs and trillions in unpaid debt have attracted more of the public’s attention, however, this private struggle has quickly become a “hot” topic across the country, from the White House to neighborhood cafes. The media, economists and policy-makers all see the threat of a mounting crisis that involves EIGHTY-SIX times more money than the subprime loan crisis that crushed the US economy in 2008.
I feel the time has never been better for a show like HAPPY KIDS to arrive on the scene.
It’s time to speak out and share our stories. My hope is that a deeply personal, narrative series like HAPPY KIDS will go beyond the studies and statistics to bring viewers into Meg’s world to not only allow us to "play in her pain", but to also spark meaningful dialogue about the emotional and financial toll living with debt takes on a person’s life.