I am 16 years old and obsessed with two things – movies and musicals. I am desperately trying to get myself into a position where I can make these things when I grow up. I am just starting to write my first musical, a 20-minute musical we put on at school, called Nightmare in D Major. I’ve already filmed a couple of two-hour-long movies with my friends with my camcorders. When I was 16 I took it all so much more seriously than I do now. I remember having a temper tantrum one day when I really wanted to film a scene for my Meat Loaf musical and my friends didn’t show up. I was like an angry big-wig Hollywood director, trashing my own room. Then I was like, well who have I hurt here except myself – I’m going to have to clear all this up now.
My parents both loved musicals – we listened to a lot of musical cast albums. Camelot, The Sound of Music, my dad’s favourite, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, with Debbie Reynolds. He was in love with Debbie Reynolds all his life. And I was always interested in hip-hop. I grew up just one neighbourhood away from where it all started in the South Bronx. Hip-hop really was in a great place in the early 1990s, with so many different genres. A Tribe Called Quest, Dr Dre, Biggie… I’m grateful I grew up in that time, when hip-hop could be anything and tell so many different stories. Some of the best storytellers I know are people like Biggie. So it was a no-brainer for me to bring hip-hop into theatre because of course it could tell stories as well as musicals could.
I was definitely an anxious kid. I don’t think it’s an accident that all the protagonists in my shows are grappling with legacy and how much time they have. I think that’s hard-wired into you as a New Yorker, but it’s also something I was painfully aware of at a very young age [his best friend in kindergarten drowned in a lake behind her home]. I thought, we might only get one go around, what am I going to get done in that time? Cut to me trashing my bedroom because my friends haven’t shown up for my video.
I was a very sensitive child, very empathetic. I could watch something bad on the news and that would be me in the foetal position all day because I’d seen something horrible that happened halfway around the world. I think that stressed my parents out a lot, that I would extend my empathy so far that it would cripple me. I mean, it would ruin me for a day. But I also think my mum worked hard to protect that in me. She saw it early and the tools she gave me for dealing with that were… you want to be a writer right? It’s all grist to the mill. Remember what this feels like. One day one of your characters will feel like this and you can pull this memory out.
If you met the teenage Lin now, I think you’d find him pretty funny. He’s not without his charms. But he’s very self-serious. If you wanted to talk to him about film or theatre he’d talk your ear off about his theories. And probably he’d be a little insufferable with his intensity. Picture your most insufferable record-store guy – that would be me at 16. “What you really have to underSTAND is…” But when you go through making something yourself you realise how hard it is [and] become a lot kinder. Even if you don’t respond to something, you just go: well, they tried. Then you see Sweeney Todd or West Side Story and you really surrender to it, and then you’re transported back on Earth at the end of the show and you think, what the fuck just happened here? If only I could one day write something as gorgeous or as deep or as complex as that.
The younger me would be very pleasantly and happily surprised that I found someone I love and want to spend my life with, and we’d have kids. Because you’re terrified at that age. ‘Well, I’m the most hideous, unloveable thing in the world. Will anyone ever kiss me?’ And ‘Will I ever get to first base?’ So the fear that I might never find someone – younger me would be shocked to hear he found someone who is actually just two corridors away in the same high school. But I’d tell him to relax. When I had my first serious girlfriend, around sophomore year, we stayed in the relationship too long because we thought “This is it. Nobody else will ever love me, I’ve found the one person, so I’m going to hang on for dear life, all
through college.” We were terrified to let go. I’d tell the young me it’s OK to feel lost and alone for a bit. There are going to be a lot of people in your life in the future.