Yep. Here it is. It's another playwright complaining about ... What? Rejection! It's been a hard hitting season in that department for me. Since the beginning of March, fourteen of my plays have been rejected, and that doesn't include all of the venues and opportunities for which I never heard back.
But I'm following here a common thread of self-help philosophy and presenting you with some positivity (if you're patient), which is so easy to dismiss when you think the bottom line is "my play wasn't good enough to make the cut."
The hardest hitting rejections are local and regional theatre companies who say they want to do new work, but are so overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of local playwrights who send them submissions they make no further effort to connect, or they don't think your work is worthy of any acknowledgment. Perhaps a little of both.
Any playwright will tell you that to finish a play of any length is an accomplishment worthy of acknowledgment. Sometimes the wording of rejection/acknowledgment can be tricky. But I appreciate the effort. And it's always better to hear one way or the other. I always send a thank you email to theatres who respond in any way, because many of them never respond. Some state clearly you should not expect a response unless chosen, which is better than the long silent wait, followed by "Oh, that festival already happened, so I guess I wasn't chosen."
My "Most Amusing" Award this spring goes to this one:
"Although your entry in our play writing festival was one from the over 200 entries received from around the world it was not one of the final selections.
We hope you will find this encouraging and supportive of your work. We hope to hear from you again next year!"
The first sentence doesn't really make any sense (with the conjunction "Although" at the beginning). And the second sentence does not make much sense either, since nothing in the first sentence is at all "encouraging and supportive". It sends my mind in a loop back to read the first sentence. Did I miss something? Did they really accept me? Since they're local, I'll probably submit again next year. Honestly, though, if theatres can require that we become familiar with "standard playwriting format", can we at least request that their correspondence with us is clearly written? Not necessarily even "grammatically correct", but at least understandable.
Now for some positivity, the "Most Inspiring" Award:
"Unfortunately on this occasion you have not been selected as one of our winners however we would like to congratulate you for not only submitting some highly commendable writing but also for continuing to illustrate what talent there is in the world of playwriting. We believe that playwrights play an important role in the world, whether it be highlighting injustice, encouraging debate on social issues or allowing people to be transported to an imagined world, which is why [this venue] is so important to us as a company."
Now... this was probably a form letter... for which I paid a $25 submission fee for the privilege of getting. ... But really if you're going to send out the same letter to hundreds of playwrights, please spend more than ten minutes thinking of what you are going to tell them. Take the opportunity to inspire and nurture anyone who is crazy and committed enough to do this work. It might help move our theatre tradition in new and vibrant directions. This company did just that... and should be commended for it.
I know some you playwrights are slapping me on the wrist for paying a f$25 submission fee! Usually I avoid fee-based submissions. And honestly, I didn't realize that 15 sterling pounds was equivalent to so much more in dollars. But I received some expensive scraps in exchange.
Here's my "Sweetest" Award, also from a local company:
"Thanks again for taking the time to submit your plays. Truly yours were some of my favorites that I read. I pushed hard for I am the Rabbit but in the end we simply didn't have enough slots to go around. I just thought I should let you know, it did make our shortlist. We will definitely keep both on file for our festivals later in the summer. Especially since you are a local playwright, I am extremely motivated to keep you on our radar. Rest assured we'll be in touch."
That one warmed my heart...
Finally, not an award, but some wisdom and inspiration worth sharing from a regional playwright. I congratulated him after I saw he was a finalist for a national festival to which I'd also submitted, and to which there are often 700-800 plays submitted. We had met upon each of us being one of the winners several years ago. Much like this blog post, I wrote to him whining a bit. Here was his gracious response:
"I read somewhere, If you're a playwright you've signed up for a life of heartbreak and disappointment — which is so true. I hate rejections as well. I get lots and lots of them, and some of them hurt more than others, but they all hurt, even though the rational part of me understands the mathematical odds against getting a production or reading. The truth is, I crave recognition and I think that any writer who says otherwise is not being truthful. I'll degrade myself by paying a $5 or even in one case a $15 submission fee and three hard copies of a script to some stupid community theatre in Oklahoma on the off chance that I can add another production to my resume. Just the other day I was telling [his wife] that I didn't think that playwriting was worth it, taking into account the high pain/pleasure ratio. Today, temporarily, I feel otherwise, but I know that that can change on a dime."
Shortly after this email, he moved out of the finals for this festival, as well, and will be produced there this summer.
I found most poignant his comment that as playwrights we "crave recognition". What a horrible thing to have to admit, that somehow part of our root driving force, somewhere along with wanting "to change the world", is to be recognized. As Americans, we are somewhat obsessed with "recognition", which might explain the large number of people trying to write plays. But it would seem, at least at this moment for me, that there are easier ways to be recognized.