Friday was one of those lovely early fall days here in New York, when there’s still plenty of sunshine to be had, but the temperature has finally started to cool down after the long and oppressive summer, and the air for once is clean and clear. I therefore made it the occasion for an adventure of sorts, exploring my new South Brooklyn home for a little while before hopping the subway and heading to the opposite end of the city, to the Riverdale section of the Bronx. I spent a few hours wandering Van Cortland park, marveling that this area of forested land and colonial mansions could be contained within the limits of the same city as my seaside community, before heading off for my true objective in briefly returning to the Bronx.
Which was to see Shakespeare, obviously.
Manhattan College, a picaresque little campus nestled in the hills at the end of the 1 line, was hosting a touring production of The Winter’s Tale. Quite a good one, at that. (Winter’s Tale is fast becoming one of my favorite Shakespeare plays – I’ve seen three separate productions in my life, all wildly different and all wonderful, and no other play in the Shakespeare canon has been batting a thousand like that in my experience.) I expected it to be good, and was happy to be proved correct, for the production visiting that campus was a touring company launched by the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia – the same company sponsoring the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries playwriting competition.
I haven’t mentioned it before now, because they’d asked us all to hold off on publicizing anything for a few weeks, but both of my entries – The Tragedie of King John Falstaff and Philostrate, or The Revels, both of which I’ve mentioned here before – have been named semifinalists in the second year of this competition. (I’m delighted, obviously.) The various entries will be whittled down to a smaller group of finalists sometime in November, and then this year’s two winners will be announced in January. Those two plays will then be produced by this company in January of 2020, and to get a sense of what to expect I went to see their performance on Friday.
Moreover, the theater’s literary manager and overall leader of the SNC Project, Anne Morgan, was giving a talk before the performance. She was covering the selection process, mission of the theater, and so on. This seemed like a great opportunity to do some reconnaissance, to try and get a sense of what to expect as the plays work my way through the judging process. To put faces to the names, and come to know exactly who these folks are that will be evaluating my work. So I went, along with a playwright friend of mine who’s also a semifinalist this year (I only hang out with the best).
It was indeed an informative talk we all had, in the chapel upstairs from the campus performance space. ASC clearly knows what they’re doing – both in terms of performance quality and in terms of how they’ve organized this competition. They’re treating their writers with the utmost respect and transparency, which is always a good thing to learn.
I may have learned more than I bargained for, however.
The SNC competition uses blind submissions; the readers at the various stages of judging do not know who wrote the plays they’re reading, and can therefore evaluate fairly. But we all did include our names, and our other biographical information, in the applications. And as I learned on Friday, that information is known to one person, the person administering the overall contest and the person who ran our information session – Anne Morgan.
So Ms. Morgan knows exactly which two plays I wrote. And since I RSVP’d for this event from my email account - the same one I used on the application - she now knows exactly who I am as well. What I look like. What I sound like. How I come across in a Q&A session. What sorts of novelty ties I like to wear.
In seeking information for myself, I had revealed a tremendous amount about myself. And so I watched that evening’s performance with a heightened awareness, knowing that the observer was at once the observed as well.
And it occurs to me that, if necessary, the information I’ve already provided can lead to even more research on their part, should they deem it necessary. It may even come to pass that, at some point during the adjudication process, Ms. Morgan (or one of her assistants) may even come to read this very post.
So Ms. Morgan, may I just say that I’m a huge fan of your work? And that I’ve always fancied a trip to Staunton?
Posted on October 15, 2018
by Michael C. O'Day