The end of winter is in sight; depending on who you choose to believe, the end of (at least the worst of) the pandemic might be in sight as well. After the usual winter doldrums, to say nothing of the past two years of forced inactivity, artistic directors throughout the land are beginning to program things again. Summer festival line-ups are being announced; the 2022-23 theatrical seasons are beginning to take shape. After months of deliberations, be they in offices or zoom meetings, critical decisions are being made.
Which means, among other things, that rejection emails are coming fast and furious.
At the start of the pandemic, I completed a draft of a play dealing with our climate crisis (you know, the OTHER ongoing apocalypse. No, not that one either) entitled An Arctic Confederate Christmas. It’s a work in progress, as all drafts are, but I’m proud of it; it deals with the ways that racial and economic divisions intersect with and impact the climate emergency, so I think – I hope – it’s especially relevant. I certainly want to get it out there in the world, to be heard; for two years I’ve waited for suitable opportunities to come along. I submitted it to the major competitions, of course, to no avail – but opportunities like Yale University Press receive literally thousands of submissions a year, so those odds are rather long. No, I was looking for something more targeted, something specific to my play’s themes. I found such an opportunity in a festival focusing on environmentally-themed plays; I submitted to that a few months ago, and had been waiting eagerly to hear from them ever since. Until last week, that is, when I received the email telling me I hadn’t been selected.
Rejection is an all-pervasive part of the business; everybody knows this. It’s never personal, and you get used to shrugging your shoulders and moving on. Even so, given the paucity of opportunities over the past few years (not to mention that lingering sense that we as a species might not have a whole heck of opportunities left), this one stung. I couldn’t stop that hypercritical voice inside my head from kicking in and going into overdrive. This play’s too dark, too confrontational. Nobody wants to be depressed. Nobody cares what you have to say about this. The system’s rigged anyway. You might as well give up.
I didn’t give up, but I did go to bed that evening in an extremely grumpy mood. And the next morning, I logged in to my email and saw another email, which had actually come in at 11:30, just after I’d gone to bed. It was from the Valdez Theatre Festival – formerly the Last Frontier Theater Festival, which has built a lovely name for itself over the past two decades of showcasing new work. And to my delight, they had selected An Arctic Confederate Christmas as one of the new works to showcase this summer.
Take that! screamed my internal voice, now exultant with triumph. This is a major American play that’s finally going to get noticed and define the conversation about climate change from here on out and they won’t know what hit them and hot damn it’s going to be a fun summer! And on and on and on, in embarrassingly fulsome detail.
Two emails, a few hours apart, about the exact same script. The script hasn’t changed, and neither has the fundamental reality of the theatrical business. You’d think I’d be able to keep a more even keel by now – and the whiplash-inducing tonal shifts in my inner monologuewould prove you wrong. I expect it’s because of the essential loneliness of the past two years – we’ve all been wrestling with these issues by ourselves, with limited feedback from the outside artistic world, so I imagine most of us are having conversations with our own self-doubts that rival the Gollum/Smeagol scenes in The Lord of the Rings.
In any event, I’m grateful for the opportunity presented by the Valdez Festival. I’m especially happy that this festival takes place in Alaska, since An Arctic Confederate Christmas is set in the Barrow, Alaska of a nightmarish possible future. (Again, climate change.) And I’m looking forward to a week of listening to and collaborating with fellow playwrights from around the country. Hopefully this will inspire me to write a slew of new works – that will be the occasion for even more rejection emails!