In honor of spooky season, I’m writing about ghosts...ghosting...theatre companies whose spirits haunt playwrights with echoes of promises like, “We love your work! We just don’t have the budget to produce it...right now.” Or something like, “You’re a promising artist. We can’t accept you into the program this year, but please apply again next year…and next year, and next year, and next year, neeeexxxxttttt yyyeeeeeeaaaarrrr….” On and on, those words are whispered into our ears and when we turn to see where the sound is coming from – WHOOSH – it disappears into the night.
When I started my playwriting career, I was told opportunity would beget opportunity. Acceptance into a festival, conference, workshop, or reading would expand my network and introduce me to producers, literary managers, and artistic directors. These gatekeepers would see my work and give my plays a home on their stages.
Take every opportunity.
Say yes to everything.
Big or small.
With or without pay.
It’s time to break this haunting curse.
Here are four ways playwrights and theatres can rid ourselves of these ghosts.
Have I been accepted into playwriting workshops and festivals? Yes.
Have I met amazing artists whom invested their time and talents into directing, acting, and designing my plays? Yes.
Have the theatre companies that hosted these workshops and invited these artists to collaborate on my plays said wonderful things about all the work we completed and can’t wait to see the play taken to the next stage of development? Yes.
Have those theatres ever offered to take the play to the next stage of development? Nope.
Well, okay, a few (you know who you are). I would say out of all the festivals I’ve been a part of, in addition to all the opportunities I’ve been a semi-finalist for, only about 16% of those theatres actually did something, ANYTHING, to help further develop and/or promote the play.
The other 84%, once the festival wraps, we all say our goodbyes, and then – 365 days later – the theatre company welcomes another play with another group of amazing artists and says the exact same words to them. A powerful spell is cast over all of us and we remain haunted by the promise that maybe, one day, they will make good on their words of new play advocacy.
There are thousands of submission opportunities for playwrights to apply. And the cycle continues again and again, year after year. Thousands of opportunities, thousands of plays and not even half of those get accepted. And, way less than half of those accepted plays ever receive that next level of commitment from a theatre. We create a new play graveyard where the ghosts of apathy, disingenuity, and aloofness haunt our hopes of ever raising our plays from the grave. Let’s break this cycle, end this curse, and breathe life into old work, that is actually still new work viable for the stage.
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There is one in every group. That one person in your friend group that does that artsy thing. Maybe they're a writer, a playwright, an actor, a designer, a painter, an illustrator, a director, really into theatre etc. You don't quite understand this passion of theirs. You don't get how they make a living. And you are often confused by the industry terminology in general. But, at the end of the day, despite the setbacks and frustrations, your artsy friend is happy or proud or fulfilled. At minimum, this artsy thing gives them a sense of purpose and you want to support that. If you are wondering how you can be an active supporter for your writer (or artsy) friend, click through the presentation or choose your own adventure below and discover supportive options big and small! Full disclosure, I'm using myself and my current project, Murder, We Spoke, as the example. But feel free to apply this to any and all of your artsy friends.
I think every playwright has heard a few sayings when it comes to submissions and rejections.
“Rejection is just protection.”
“It’s not a ‘no,’ it’s a ‘not yet.’”
“You were rejected from this so you could achieve another…”
“It’s a game of numbers, the more you enter, the more your odds go up.”
My favorite: “Just keep submitting – every year – so, they get to know you through your drafts and variety of plays. They will start to recognize your name and watch your writing grow.” This piece of advice is something I have in fact given to students and other playwrights.
I truly believed it, or at least I wanted to. But, how do you know when it’s okay to keep believing and when to just face reality that maybe they're just not that into you?
Let me tell you what actually happened to me...
THE HUB: Loved your work and great application! Just didn’t see how this particular play you submitted speaks to what you described in your artistic statement.
ME: Okay, I will rewrite my artistic statement and make sure it relates to my submitted play.
I did what I always do…I submitted again. I figured a strong application and a well-liked play might make it in this time. After all, it is “a game of numbers,” right?
As of 2022, I received another, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
What am I missing? What am I not saying? What am I saying too much of (is that a thing?) What balance am I not striking? What is The Hub looking for, exactly? Do they want someone with a following? With multiple productions? With the “right” recommender? With the “right” work with the “right” workshops and affiliations that are just as prestigious as them?
This is the bigger question…should I just quit (submitting to them?)
Honestly, the time and effort put into their applications, finding different recommenders - every year - I could put that energy into a different playwriting submission somewhere else.
I’m really curious, is there ever a time you realized that it isn’t a “not yet.” That it isn’t “a game of numbers.” That it isn’t anything we were told? That maybe they’re just not that into you and you really should take the hint and move on.
About the Blog
I write plays. I tell stories. I create content. I vent. I offer advice. I hope people will learn from my mistakes.