Monday, March 25, 2013

Theatres Don't Say "YES" to a Play They Don't Know About

I decided a long time ago I'd just have to suck an MFA out of my own thumb.  But when I resolved in 2013 to become more connected in the theatre world via social media etc., I had no idea the path I was setting myself on.  What an education I have had in the last three months.

First, I've discovered playwrights, directors & dramaturgs who also blog.  They have become a valuable source of perspective and inspiration.  I would recommend the following:

  • Gwydion Suilebhan - @GwydionS - in particular, his "Advice to Young Playwrights" 
  • Melissa Hillman - @MelissaImpact - in particular, her "Why Your Play Was Rejected" 
  • Brian Doyle - @writeplay - he will submit a query or script 365 days for one year 
Melissa has challenged me to think about how I represent women in my plays-- to make women drive the action of the play by their choices, not simply react to the men in their lives.  She has also made me wonder about how to garner feedback from those Artistic Directors and Literary Managers who my read my plays but reject them (for whatever completely legitimate reason).  I'll be doing some research into Survey Monkey and potentially giving it a whirl and testing the waters.  (I'll let you know how that goes.)

Gwydion has reminded me that it's ok to come late to the playwrighting party.  Not only that, he has brought to the forefront an idea that has been there for some time:  I do have a Dangerous Idea.  Now, where did I put it?  Ha!  But it does make me think danger instead of safe or palatable or popular.  It reminds me that I can do a brilliant thing even out here in my Appalachian holler, far far away from the hub of anything.

Brian Doyle, as noted above, is submitting every day for a year.  It's a reminder every time I see his tweets pop up on my feed that theatres will not, can not, say YES to a play they don't know about.  I shouldn't say NO to myself by letting my plays languish on my hard drive.  If I want to see my work produced again, it is up to me to get it out there, as disheartening as it can be.

And it is disheartening.  Here is the crux of the submission turmoil:  to send something out, the playwright must believe in it, have hope that it will find a new home, while simultaneously steeling herself against what will 99.5% of the time be rejection (with no explanation)--so therefore, disown hope.  One should just submit and forget.  No blame.  It's just the way things are.  Learn to live with the tension.

I also stumbled upon (via a Twitter retweet) Patrick Gabridge's blog post about his 11 year-old Yahoo! Group of playwrights who "Binge" twice a year.  During a "Binge" they each set themselves a submission goal and seek to support each other in meeting their goals by posting opportunities playwrights might not know about otherwise.  It seemed too serendipitous to ignore that I learned of this group right at the end of February.  So, I joined in with the goal of submitting my plays to 31 different theatres/contests/opportunities.  (Or making queries about submitting.)

Thus far, I have made 27 inquiries or submissions in March.  More than I ever have in a single month before (even including poetry submissions).  I have also made a few new connections with other playwrights.  Also, I have put in a ridiculous number of hours researching theatres, reading through their particular requests (unpublished, unproduced or open to 2nd runs, cast size, missions, 10 page sample, full script, production hisotry etc.)  I've crossed out more as "not good fits" for my work than I've circled as potential matches.

Submission really does call to mind a humbling stance-- head bowed, eyes downcast, script offered up.  Yet, I have gained strength too, if I look closely enough.  I can feel proud of myself for meeting my submission goals, educating myself by reading and engaging in virtual discussion, and developing relationships with other playwrights.

Nonetheless, I will be glad when March is over and submitting isn't my priority anymore.  It is taking its toll.  But I'm putting my head down and leaning into the wind.  In April, I can get back to my first love: writing.  Spring is just around this snowy corner.

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