Thursday, May 20, 2010

Come on girls! Do you believe in love?

Because Aileen Clark has something to say about it!

This is my most recent directing/producing gig and you will feel sad if you miss it. The show is at 7pm this Sunday at the SF Playhouse.

I'm not just proud of this, I am over the MOON about it.


Monday, May 17, 2010

The Madness in the Mission

Not long ago I quit my job so I could write. I had this vague sort of notion that being a playwright wouldn't be too different from being a character in an E.M. Forester novel. Except without the servants or the clothes or the accent. Well, sometimes the accent. I'd wake up late. Do some sort of light physical activity. Drink too much tea. I would sit at my desk, bathed in the sun light and my own brilliance, drinking slightly alcoholic beverages, and I would write!

I'm not going to disillusion you. Let's all pretend that is exactly what it was like.

Except there was also the new part of my life they don't talk about in E.M. Forester novels: submitting. I had done it on a small scale before, but I hadn't really followed submission calendars or anything like that. Quiting my job to write was as much about writing as it was submitting my work, researching theatres, writing query letters, licking and stamping envelopes, and creating contact lists. In a sense, I quit my full time job as an office manager to manage my home office.

Chapter 1:
Miss-guided yet edifying experiences.

I spent a lot of time looking up theatres, festivals, retreats, and grants. Mostly I found I missed the deadlines, didn't have a script that was good for (blank theatre experiment here), or it cost a lot of money to submit (if I see one more ten minute festival requiring $15 or more I'm going to scream.) Not to mention, in the midst of this personal fervor for throwing paper to the wind, the book "Outrageous Fortune" came out. If you are a playwright and haven't heard of this book, I suggest you continue living in your own personal E.M. Forester novel. Turn away. Turn away.

Regardless, my eyes were opened up to the idea that I need to focus my efforts and really think about what I was doing. Besides the submission calendars, I was spending a lot of time doing blind submissions. Which felt as much like an empty gesture as I'm sure it feels like on the other end.

Recently I've been given the opportunity to sit in on more than one meeting of artistic directors, literary managers, and playwrights talking about "Outrageous Fortune". Artistic directors and literary managers bemoaned the difficulty of slogging through the unsolicited script piles. They mentioned that not only were most of the plays just not ready for submission, but they were submitted so blindly they plays were completely inappropriate for the mission and needs of the theatre. I think my favorite example was Melissa Hillman's.

Melissa is the Artistic Director of Impact Theatre in Berkeley. Their tag line is "Beer. Pizza. Plays." This season they produced "See How We Are" and adaptation of "Antigone" written and directed by Jon Tracy; "Large Animal Games" written by Steve Yockey; "Learn to be Latina" by Enrique Urueta; and "Twelfth Night". Scrolling through their production photos will lead you to understand this: they work in a pizza basement, they work creatively and often beautifully in said basement, and they have a lot of young good looking actors on their side.

Melissa's example of a playwright not knowing their audience is perfect. The play she received was a play for several actors all of whom would be over the age of forty or fifty and even sixty.

I suggest you go and look through their production photos again...good. Now you tell me if she accepted this play.

The answer is, of course, no. She said she loved it and thought it was really beautiful, but just not for them. Not their style. She wouldn't preclude EVER accepting a play like that, but it just didn't fit with the needs of the theatre.

But how can a playwright know?

Chapter 2:
The missions and the madness.

Theatres who commit themselves to producing new works also commit themselves to having literary committees, standards by which they will and will not accept scripts, and to spending hours treading over first five and last five pages. They also commit themselves to a hope that the next "Great White Hope" is out there. But form letter rejections all tell us the same thing: the life of a new works literary manager is a hard one. Echoing Melissa Hillman's feelings about submissions, over and over I heard "Why don't playwrights just read our mission statements? Look over our websites? Everything about our theatre is there!"
Is it? I wonder...

Here are several mission statements from several companies around the bay area that all accept new works. Each mission statement has information that is helpful to a playwright: how big the space is, their audience, the way they see themselves, and their history.

Class, your homework is to find the theatre that best fits your play. Go.

Full disclosure...I've edited these a bit. Mostly I've replaced the theatre names. Not that anyone in the Bay Area doesn't know these theatres...hopefully...but place yourselves in the shoes of submitters across the country.


THEATRE #1

THEATRE #1 has spoken to a new generation of theatregoers and enthusiasts alike who want to see something fresh and bold on stage. THEATRE #1’s audience ranges from students to professionals to seniors, all of whom share a taste for exciting, unpretentious theatre that doesn’t conform to stale assumptions of what constitutes high culture. THEATRE #1’s primary mission is to directly contribute to the future of American theatre through focusing on new plays by emerging playwrights. Impact has produced 17 full-length world premieres, including 12 by local playwrights, as well as dozens of world-premiere ten-minute plays by burgeoning writers nationwide in the Impact Briefs series. Impact also prides itself on its fast-paced, vital, contemporary spins on classic drama. THEATRE #1’s shows compel, provoke, and inspire, at prices everyone can afford. And nowhere else in the Bay Area can you eat pizza and drink beer while you’re watching a play. The Daily Californian included three of THEATRE #1’s shows in its list “Top Ten Plays of 2006.”

THEATRE #2

THEATRE #2 has grown from a storefront stage to a national leader in innovative theatre. Known for its core values of imagination and excellence, as well as its educated and adventurous audience, the nonprofit has provided a welcoming home for emerging and established artists since 1968. The Theatre welcomes an annual audience of 180,000, serves 20,000 students and hosts dozens of community groups, thanks to 1,000 volunteers and more than 400 artists, artisans and administrators. With two stages, a school and a Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre, THEATRE #2 is proud to premiere exhilarating new plays. In the last five years alone, the company has helped send five shows to Broadway. Come see tomorrow’s plays today at THEATRE #2. THEATRE #2 seeks to set a national standard for ambitious programming, engagement with its audiences and leadership within the community in which it resides. We endeavor to create a diverse body of work that expresses a rigorous, embracing aesthetic and reflects the highest artistic standards, and seek to maintain an environment in which talented artists can do their best work. We strive to engage our audiences in an ongoing dialogue of ideas, and encourage lifelong learning as a core community value. Through productions, outreach and education, THEATRE #2 aspires to use theatre as a means to challenge, thrill and galvanize what is best in the human spirit.

THEATRE #3

THEATRE #3 is a bright theatrical venue on the Peninsula. Just steps away from the Mountain View Shoreline movie multiplex (but a whole world apart), the THEATRE #3 was created in June 2002 by a group of theatre artists who believe that Peninsula audiences are ready for plays that will challenge them, as well as delight and move them. THEATRE #3 offers audiences a theatrical alternative--intimate, startling productions that prove you can work wonders on a shoestring, as long as your spirit is willing and your imagination wide. Those of us who have come together in this venture have given our hearts and lives to the theatre. We are experienced actors, directors, writers, and teachers (most of us wear a few hats). Our goals are to produce new plays by local writers as well as innovative stagings of classics and less familiar works; to encourage playwrights to grow artistically through workshops, staged readings, and full productions of their plays; and to offer performance classes to both young people and adults. Above all, THEATRE #3 is a place where people come together to create. Writers collaborate with actors and directors to create art; audiences respond to performers and bring that art into the life of our community. At THEATRE #3, everybody gets into the act. Join us!

THEATRE #4

THEATRE #4 is Union Square's intimate, professional theatre. Using Equity actors and world class design, the THEATRE #4, about which the San Francisco Chronicle raved, "San Francisco's newest theatre isn't just another tiny stage carved out of a storefront . . . its an enticing introduction to a new company," has become an intimate theatre alternative to the traditional Union Square theatre fare, garnering 20 Bay Area Theatre Critic nominations in its first year. Providing a creative home and inspiring environment where actors, directors, writers, designers, and theatre lovers converge, THEATRE #4, hailed as a "small delicacy" by SF Weekly and "eclectic" by the San Francsico Bay Guardian, strives to create works that celebrate the human spirit. Our Mission To create and sustain an intimate, professional theatrical community where we celebrate our shared human experience through compelling productions of premieres and re-invigorated classics that resonate for our times and inspire. Based on the principles of YES!, the aim of THEATRE #4 is to provide a creative home and inspiring environment where actors, directors, writers, designers and theatre lovers converge to create works that celebrate the human spirit. The word “family” is central to what this new theatre means to us. All the actors, directors, designers, and technicians we have worked with over the years and want to work with again, and all the playgoers who have supported our work over the years are members of this family that make our theatre possible. We hope to create a warm and nurturing environment for the sharing of dreams, secrets, fears, hopes, grief, and joy because it’s safe to bring all of ourselves to this THEATRE. To discover we have more in common than we have apart, to replace judgment and disdain with understanding and compassion.

THEATRE #5

THEATRE #5 is one of the most prominent theatres in the nation solely dedicated to the development and production of new plays. The mission of THEATRE #5 is to give voice to playwrights, both emerging and established, and to develop and promote the work of theatre artists. THEATRE #5 engages audiences in intimate, professional productions that speak to contemporary issues with originality and wit, a sense of urgency and adventure. For 43 years, THEATRE #5 has contributed to the inventiveness and relevance of the national canon while passionately ensuring the future vibrancy of the American theatre. THEATRE #5 has played a central part in the national new plays movement for most of the last four decades.


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"