Monday, May 17, 2010

Dear Playwright...

Recently I received an interesting email from the Playwright's Foundation that I would like to share with you.


"Dear Claire,
We would like to take a moment to personally apologize for the generic "Dear Playwright" email that you received regarding your festival submission. We believe that playwrights are the creative wellspring of the theatre, and realize that this was not the ideal way of notifying you of our decision.
We had over 500 submissions this year, and each one was read and reviewed by two committee members and carefully considered for festival inclusion based on a number of factors. We thank you for your submission, and we hope to see more of your work in the future.
On behalf of the Staff and Board of Directors..."

The email referred to is this one from March 25:

"Dear Playwright,
Thanks for your submission to the Playwrights Foundation. We had an unusually large amount of submissions this year (around 500!). We know how much effort goes into writing a full length play and we want to assure you that each submission was given at least two reads. We only have five slots for workshops this summer and unfortunately we are unable to offer you one of those slots. We do not have the staffing to offer you any feedback on your script. Good luck as you continue to find resources to hone your play.
Thanks..
."

Dear Playwright.

First of all, I want to say this isn't a rant about being rejected. I would love to work with the Playwright's Foundation, I really do believe they do good work and to believe in the playwrights they work with. They just didn't want to work with me or this script at this time. And that's OK. Really. I am well aware of how many scripts are submitted, how many slots need to be filled, and who they might be looking for to fill those slots. Not to mention, I've sat in rooms where artistic directors and literary managers have said that maybe 70-90% of the submissions they get are not ready to have been submitted. There are huge grammer and spelling errors. Massive script problems. Or the playwright really didn't know WHO they were submitting to. I've heard them say that there just aren't that many good scripts out there. And you know what? I believe them. I even believe that sometimes I am that playwright who didn't think through what they were submitting or why they were submitting it.

This blog is not a rant about being rejected. This blog is a consideration of how I have been rejected.


I assume that the apology email was brought on by more then a few angry emails that probably went something like "I deserve at least a modicum of respect...can't you even do a mail merge?" Considering most playwrights have been at one time or another an assistant in an office that accepted a large number of scripts (as interns or low level employees at theaters or festivals), they probably all know exactly how much effort it takes to at least put a person's name at the top of the letter, regardless of how many scripts were turned in.

It made me think of all the rejection emails and letters I've received recently and thinking about the process of rejection my name goes through. I send in my play and the twenty dollar reading fee to organization X. Volunteer/trainee/office assistant/intern accepts it and inputs my name, contact information, and play title into an access database. The title is added to a list. The script sits in a box. Then in a committee. Then (if it is lucky) on a conference table. The title is added to another list and the list goes back to the volunteer/trainee/office assistant/intern who clicks a button on access. My check is cashed. A week later, when all the lists are in, that person searches for all of the people who've had that button clicked. A form letter is drafted and approved. Mail is merged, and the rejection letters are sent out. Sometimes with my name. Sometimes with "Dear Playwright" placed at the top where the mail merge was forgotten, didn't take, or never applied.

But, to be honest, when I first received the apology letter I rolled my eyes and thought "silly playwrights, what does it matter? All rejection letters follow a format as closely as a Harlequin Romance novel...none of them are personal. Just put it in a file and get over it." But it made me think. And I went back and looked at some of my most recent rejection letters to compare. Is there a difference? Does the difference matter? Below, I've put together a little comparison.

Sundance: Dear Claire,
Bedlam: Claire,
The Public: Dear Claire,
New Element: Dear Playwright,
McDowell: Dear Claire,
ACT: Dear Claire Rice,
O'Neill: Dear Clarie Rice,
South Coast Repertory: Dear Claire,

Sundance: 600 submissions
Bedlam: 140 submissions
New Element: a large number
McDowell: A number
ACT: Competition was fierce...piles
O'Neill: ...the number was humbling

Sundance: Many of these projects showed great ingenuity, vision and talent
Bedlam: we have to say no to many wonderful projects
McDowell: Excellent Applications
ACT: A delight to read so many new voices
O'Neill: It is our privilege to consider these innovative and developing voices

Sundance: We regret to inform you that we were not able to include your worthy project as one of the finalists.
Bedlam: including yours
The Public: Unfortunately, after careful consideration, we have decided not to pursue this project.
New Element: I regret to inform you that your play has not been selected for participation in this year's festival.
McDowell: We regret that we are not able to offer you a residency.
ACT: ...we can't fit your piece onto the list of pieces...
O'Neill: It is our sad duty to report that your script is no longer in consideration for this summer's workshops.
South Coast Rep: After a reivew of the materials by out literary staff, it does not sound as if it would be the right fist for production here.

Sundance: We trust that you will discover other steps toward refinement and production of your project.
Bedlam: If you would like specific feedback on why your script or project was not selected I would be more than happy to provide it.
New Element: We appreciate your interest, and encourage you to submit again in the future.
McDowell: We hope that this news will not discourage you from applying to the Colony again after one year's time.
ACT: We hope you'll consider entering again.
O'Neill: We do hope you will continue to share your work with us, and wish you the best in your future pursuits.
South Coast Rep: This is not a reflection on the work, but rather a decision base on the needs of this theatre.

Dear Playwright, I realized you were not wrong. There was a difference. Yes, there was a basic format. Yes, they were all mail-merge-fill-in letters. But, just like a play, it was the language that set them apart. And, just like a good play, the effort put into the writing was apparent.

All most all of the companies above required I physically mail in my submission along with a check for some amount of money. Some required multiple copies, but they all required full scripts. Not taking in to account the time and energy I put into the script itself (regardless of whether or not it is spell checked or even good), then take into account the time and money I put into mailing and submitting each script...I've spent over $100 just on these submissions. Do I expect them all to accept me? No. Do I expect them all to send an email telling me they received my application? No. Do I expect them all to write me a rejection letter that at least has my name at the top? No.

Should I? Yes.

The best of rejection letters treat like with like. If I send in a sum of money, physical copies, and my small hopes and dreams...why can't I at least have a letter on letter head back? If I send in an email, why can't I have an email that says "Thanks!" Why can't I have a letter that at least reflects the idea that they would actually like to read my script again next year? Why can't I have a letter that treats me like a future prospect for supporting their organization in other ways?

Playwrights Foundation is dedicated to discovering and supporting local and national American playwrights across a broad spectrum of artistic and career positions, in the inception and development of new plays that speak to and from an increasingly diverse society. Founded on a deeply held belief that the relevance and vitality of American theater depends upon a continual infusion of new work, Playwrights Foundation sustains a commitment to the playwright, who we regard as the creative wellspring of theater.

If I represent the creative wellspring of theatre, if the foundation is dedicated to supporting me and my work...maybe they could at least figure out how to use mail merge. Maybe they could even send me a physical letter. Like this one. It is the best letter I ever received and it is from the O'Neill Theatre Center. I am proud to have gotten it:

"Dear Claire Rice:
Thank you for submitting 'Water Line' to the 2010 National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center. It is our sad duty to report that your script is no longer in consideration for this summer's workshops.
Once again, the number and the quality of scripts submitted for consideration in this year's conference is humbling. We value each script for the effort that has been applied to it's creation and in bringing it to our door. There is much to enjoy in the plays that we are turning away at this time, and all of us at the National Playwrights Conference wish to express our admiration to the many of you receiving this letter whose work will no doubt bind a home. It is our privilege to consider these innovative and developing voices.
The strength of playwriting in this country is evidenced by the great number of talented work we see. As an American playwright, you are still in the best of company. We do hope that you will continue to share your work with us, and which you the best in your future pursuits."

It was written with care and consideration. It might be the same letter they send out every year, but it flatters with out pandering. It comes right out with the point, and doesn't apologize. It never says that all the submissions they get are wonderful and is vague without seeming too much like a form letter. It sympathies with the time and effort I put into writing and submitting, even if the play itself wasn't very good. It doesn't try to prove it read my play by giving me specifics that feel like lies, it just says the name of my play and my name. If I have to be rejected, this is a nice way to do it.

If you yourself received a rejection letter from the Playwright's Foundation, and were a little miffed at it's poor quality, I hope you send this one.

"Dear Reading Festival of New Works,
Thank you for your recent letter of rejection. I have received hundreds of wonderful letters and it has been a difficult process reading all of them. With so many prestigious festivals, I feel encouraged to have been rejected by so many. Unfortunately, I am not able to accept this rejection at this time. I hope that you do not take this personally, as this is not a reflection of your work only my current emotional needs, and continue to send rejection letters to me as long as I send you my scripts. I look forward to reading your rejection next year.
Thank you,
Dear Playwright"





4 comments:

Sophia Ayala said...

Claire!
LOVED the blog, I've recieved msny of those letters myself:) I know you have amazing talents and I appreciate that you are sharing your experiences. Keep up the great work, and limitless success is right around the corner!
XOXO
Sophia

dave said...

Last year I got a letter congratulating me for wiining a particular theatre's festival. The salutation was......."Dear Playwright."

Claire Rice said...

HA! I also received one of those. I lived in fear I would receive a "Oops. Sorry We sent you the congratulations by mistake!"

Playwrights Foundation said...

Dear Claire,
I appreciated your blog, it was witty and interesting -- and informative.

Just for the record, though, we do know how to use mail merge, and we don't use it for these kinds of letters. Generally, in the past, a personalized email letter was sent to each and every writer, however, due to a turnover of literary staff this year, a mistake was made, and it was something that i couldn't live with. you are right to expect a letter that says, Dear Claire. and not Dear Playwright. it's not about mailmerge, its about valuing your work. Your letter was an encouraging one, requesting that you continue to submit your work to us. Why, because we value what you do, and how you do it. We enjoy reading the work, and it's important to us to get to know your work, so that we can advocate for you, and speak of your talents in a genuine and informed way to others, even if, this time around, your work didn't make it onto this program or that one.

Anyway, we all have our perspectives -- ours in taking up the difficult task of reading the work and making difficult choices, and yours, sending plays out and receiving rejection letters.,
We only got one complaint about the non personal email, and that was enough for us to go ahead and individually send out the 495 emails. I don't think we should be faulted for that attempt to be personal and polite. We wanted to extend ourselves.

Respectfully yours,
Amy Mueller, Artistic Director