Thanks to my beloved Copywriting mentors-Tom Messner, Helayne Spivak, Jerry Della Femina and Bill Hamilton-I stumbled into a career, starting as a switchboard operator-receptionist at a fledgling Agency where I was force-fed radio spots to write and, after a while, promoted to Copywriter. I spent a decade of my adult life sprawled out on some hideously tattered piece of office furniture (always left over from the 1970s and almost always orange, green or mauve) in an office that felt more like a dorm room, staring blankly across a stack of unread briefs at a succession of partners I was either fantasizing about jumping into bed with or fantasizing about stabbing repeatedly through the Adam's apple with my uni-ball pen.
These partners and I lived in constant fear of the moment our Creative Director-think formerly abused child with a terrific sense of humor, a substance abuse problem and a tiny, shriveled, black heart-would come around after a long lunch to see if "we'd cracked it yet." Of course we rarely had "cracked it." And like all acquisitive Juniors, we quickly figured out that bullshitting our way through these meetings was actually Advertising's highest achievement (in a business with 907 award shows, that's quite an accomplishment).
At this point, you might be thinking: OK, the play's going to be cynical. But, thanks to a mysterious and profound genetic pocket of mental health I can't claim a bit of credit for, you're only partially right. After 10 years in the Creative Departments of various Agencies (whose lawyers have already contacted me and "requested" that I not mention their names, locations or details of their Account Rosters) I decided that if I was ever going to go on to write anything other than Advertising, the first step would be to somehow get all of the years of built-up sexual tension and pent-up rage out of my system. So I wrote a play. About Advertising. Called Sex in Advertising (note incomplete sentence structure and arbitrary use of Initial Caps-both direct results of 10 bad-habit-forming years in the Biz-maybe I should sue my Ex-Agencies?). My play is, in effect, an exorcism.
Sex in Advertising begins at a major New York City Advertising Agency as the dependable heroine, Leanne tries desperately not to be affected by the lurid dream she's just had about her partner, Bart (can a person's subconscious be sexually harassed?). Bart's arrival (he's two hours late and reeking of Jaegermeister) on this particularly stressful day could threaten their jobs and perhaps even the complex, personal relationship they've both grown to depend on.
Speaking of Depends (just try to sue me, I never worked on that one) . . . Within the other think-tank cubicles inside this monolithic testament to consumer confusion, dysfunctional partners Jeff and Dave are in the process of stealing the Adult Diaper Account away from paranoid and sex-obsessed co-worker, Jennifer.
Meanwhile, Ronnie, the maniacal Creative Director of the Agency, proceeds to terrorize them all (his most recent row of hair plugs is throbbing, his Evian holster is chafing and his morning dose of Dexatrim just kicked in). Ronnie believes in a lot of unhealthy competition. But of course, so did his Daddy.
Over the course of an excruciatingly long day, this romantic comedy explores what happens when that line between what's appropriate and inappropriate gets crossed in the workplace. Is it harassment if those feelings of attraction are mutual? And what happens if those desires lurking just under the surface suddenly force their way out into the undeniable fluorescent light?
Between their weirdo co-workers, their Dickensian boss and the most ominous deadline of their careers, the one insurmountable distraction for Leanne and Bart turns out to be
. . . Sex in Advertising.
If the play goes well, I will never have to have a single thought about Advertising again. If it goes less than well, I will have burned every bridge I've crossed since I graduated with honors from a respected University and began writing incomplete sentences for a living.
Here's to living on the edge.
Margaret Elman is a New York-based freelance copywriter, formerly at [Agency names deleted. Whaddaya think we are, suicidal?]. Sex in Advertising opens November 6th at the Miranda Theatre, 259 West 30th Street, New York. Call (212)