Finding Confidence With Max Friedlich
For this week’s entry into our Where Are They Now series I had the opportunity to talk with Max Friedlich, yet another creative type who credits Wayfinder as the place for the majority of his development. Max is a playwright, after his play Sleepover was put on at the Fringe Festival, in NYC, he signed with United Talent Agency and has had his work produced at various colleges (including Northwestern and Ithaca), and by some theater companies. He is graduating from Wesleyan and headed out west to pursue a career writing for television. For Max a lot of the help that Wayfinder has given him in his career and life is less about the specific skills of playwriting and more about the way he carries himself into situations, particularly because he often finds himself as the youngest one in the room. “I went to Wayfinder like a supremely not confident person and left there with a lot of confidence, and I think I just that ability to make the decision that I’m going to present, I’m going to roleplay someone who has it together.” That kind of confidence carries a lot of weight in the world, and is something we all struggle with so to hear from Max (both a close friend and former SIT of mine) that we were able to give him a space to develop that was a moment of pride.
The difference in Max’s development at camp being restricted to more development of self than development of skills may have to do with the timing of Max’s departure from camp. He stopped coming when he was 17 years old, right when he started to find success in the world of playwriting. He worked in our workshop departments as a staff in training, and while he may not have hung around long enough to run his own department (something he would have crushed) he still points to this as being a “big thing in life,” going on to say “the experience of becoming an SIT and going from a time where staff were these godly celebrity figures to being friends with them kind of taught me that people aren’t scary. All these crazy, macho dudes with tattoos and piercings are just dorky sweethearts. It helps me navigate to this day.” Being able to remember this about the people he’d looked up to as a kid has helped Max in professional settings, being able to see anyone sitting on the other side of the table as their person and not their job title helps to pull some of the intimidation factor which they may hold.
As with so many other alumni of Wayfinder, camp holds a special place in his heart. “For whatever it’s worth any time I have a project I thank Wayfinder. Even though I’m five or six years removed every time I think about things that have been formative to me and things that I have been incredible indebted to I always think about Wayfinder. It’s really stuck with me.” Camp is built around that kind of shared experience and exploration of self. Roleplaying is nothing if not an introspective act, having a space to do all of that together is something that most people never get so it makes sense that it holds that space for so many of us, but still thanks, Max. It’s always good to be reminded of the effect we have on the people who occupy space within this community.
As for other growth that came about because of camp, while it may fall into the same type of growth that has served him professionally, the recognition of people for who they are combined with the expansion of personal confidence is something Max returned to often throughout our interview. “Someone actually said this at a closing circle, ‘you can just decide to be brave, it’s that easy.’ Deciding to be brave and pretending to be brave, there’s such a thin line because at Wayfinder you’re in character and ostensibly pretending, but you’re also making that decision.” The ability to recognize that in yourself and turn it on is an incredibly useful thing to have command over, in an unending number of situations. To learn that as a teenager is huge because you face down so many new situations every day which are much easier if you have the confidence and knowledge to “decide to be brave.”
Max had some very heartwarming things to say about Wayfinder. “It always felt like it really did feel like a community or a tribe just in that people had different statuses, but I could become you or be friends with you. You know, I had relationships with staff and SITs, that’s not every other camp. I remember being acutely aware from a young age that you guys did not make good money and that it was more than a job. It was so cool, working with people who were my heroes.” Having been in that group of heroes (I’m not assuming here, he told me) I can say that I’m honored to have had the chance to be a part of helping Max grow up and have treasured the chance to be his friend. Thanks so much for being a part of our community, Max, come home any time you like.
There was a summer when my grandma was dying, and I hadn’t seen my parents in a long time, I was signed up for consecutive weeks of camp. So I would just keep going to camp, and I don’t think I was really processing what was going on. Shelby was my wife in a game. [The Game] had something to do with angels and selling your soul, I found out that demons had Shelby, had my wife, and then a bunch of bad guys showed up. I ended up being chased [by one of my the bad guys] to the top field, and there was something just so crazy and spiritual. It was just two of us. It’s always weird, I think, at Wayfinder when you find yourself in the woods, and it’s just one person you kind of know having those interactions which are some of the craziest ones. So we’re just both running, and he kills me, and I was lying in the field, and he walks away, and I just started hysterically crying. In my head I was thinking about Shelby as my wife, I was so in it, but it was a real kind of cathartic release, and it was the first time I was able to really cry about losing my grandma, and that’s pretty wild to have a place that gives teenage boys the avenue to express their emotion by being upset that a demon has taken their wife. You know what I mean? It was just such a circuitous route to what I needed but it really was therapeutic.
Written by Judson Easton Packard from an interview with Max from Summer 2016.