Getting Testy

For as long as I’ve been maintaining this blog, I’ve been worried about its long-term effect on my productivity. As I fretted in my very first post, time spent writing these missives is time spent not doing anything else. I only have seven nights a week to work with (assuming I have no life, which frankly, I don’t), and if I sit down at my keyboard every Sunday night to write the blog, that’s one seventh of my potential playwriting time gone. Yes, I need to promote my work and vent my spleen, but is it worth the trade off? It’s the eternal question preying on my mind – new script or blog post?

Well, it turns out I needn’t have worried. Because nowadays, I spend too much time writing about scripts I’ve already written to do either one.

I spent the past three days writing a one page synopsis of a one-act play I wrote last year; the theater to which I’m submitting it requires it as part of the submission process. Literally – three days. It took three days of me dully staring at a computer screen to tell a story I’ve already told, and hammer out a smaller number of words than what you’ll read in this post. It sounds awful, I know; in my defense, I can only say that if this particular story could have been easily told in four paragraphs of prose, that’s how I would have told the story in the first place.

Of course, the kind of drudgery I describe is par for the course, as my fellow playwrights can attest. It seems that every theatre that welcomes open submissions demands the same things of us, each and every time. They ask that we reformat our entire script, one way or another – sometimes we have to convert it to pdf, sometimes to Microsoft word, sometimes we have to resave the file with a byzantine new name that might accidentally summon Cthulhu, sometimes they ask that we use a format of their own invention and make sure the document uses comic sans throughout. (Which is where I draw the line.) They ask that we summarize the very play we’ve just given them to read, in a completely separate document. And they ask us questions. The same questions. Over and over and over again.

So, to simplify this process going forward, please feel free to refer to this post for any future submission opportunities which require answers to the following questions:

Why do you want to see your work produced by us?

Um, because you’re a theater? And I’m a playwright? And my plays need to be produced somewhere?

What was your goal in writing this play?

To have it produced? To make something awesome? Oh, and don’t forget the goal of having future generations of schoolkids curse my name because they were forced to read me in class.  (I had some more specific goals in mind too, of course, which you might discover once you read the play…)

What do you hope to accomplish by being produced through us?

Being produced!!! That’s what we all want!

How does this play fit in with our theatre’s stated themes?

I don’t know – it’s your theater? Isn’t that up to you? Could you possibly just read the script I emailed to you and decide for yourself?

I apologize for my flippancy here, but I am getting at something a bit serious. That final hypothetical question is at the forefront of most theater’s minds, whether they come out and ask us or not, and it’s there for a reason. Theaters today need to be able to articulate what their specific identity is in order for them to survive – to get grant monies, build interest, stand out from the crowd. They also need to do so in order to build a stable of new writers, especially if those writers represent voices we haven’t been hearing in the theatre before now. But I have playwright friends of all ages, all genders, races, political beliefs, backgrounds, all of whom would be perfect fits for theaters specifically looking for those voices – which is what a theater is promising when it asks that question.

And my friends are all going through the same crap as me, with the same frustrating lack of results.

And the reason is that this barrage of redundant questions, no matter how well intentioned, doesn’t actually accomplish what it’s trying to accomplish. These questionnaires that theaters seem to insist on making a part of their submission process are tests, and like most tests, they ultimately judge a person’s ability to take that specific test, and little more. As in all things, there’s ultimately no substitute for doing the reading.

So guys? Now that we’ve all filled out the five page google spreadsheet and forwarded you three character references, could you possibly do us a favor and read our plays?

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