So my mood/wellbeing took a major hit on Friday when Menagerie Theatre's Hotbed 2009 programme came in the mail. See, weeks before I had entered a proposal for a one-act play that I knew could be absolutely splendid, absolutely shit-hot good theatre. But of course like everything I have submitted to theatres and agents and producers every six months for the last seven years, I got the rejection letter: your play provoked a lot of interesting discussion, your play had interesting characters, it was a very close call ... the English write the most tender and loving rejection letters, they break my heart. And over the years I have had them from some very good theatres too: Hampstead, Tricycle, Soho, the National, the York.
When I moved to Cambridge from London I thought well, maybe there are local theatre initiatives that can help me. Maybe London is clogged with American writers and I can get some little thing produced and start to learn from it. I was delighted to find the Menagerie Theatre Company, and I got myself an introduction to its artistic director. I brought my one-act, Moving to Switzerland with me to a short meeting. He takes it and a few weeks later, I get an e-mail telling me he really, really didn't like the play. Unlike my near-miss file, the e-mail bordered on hostile. OK, apparently I'm screwed again.
So I went to see the latest Menagerie production - Out of Something - about some English historical figure's walk across England and it was at best a very tedious piece of theatre so I thought, "Fine. FINE. We just have different tastes."
And a year or so goes by and then I notice on their website that they are calling for four one-act plays for their annual new writing festival AND they have a new artistic director. Hope rises in me. I write a one page proposal as required and I know it could be just such a great play. I know because I do my homework. I go to Edinburgh every year and concentrate on new plays, I buy and read plays I miss. I know because I am the playwright and I see it in my head. And if I could just speak to someone, I know they could see it too.
So I have high hopes for the play proposal but two weeks after the cut-off date, I get a letter stating the classic lines of rejection which have been drafted by fate for me, Rachel Mariner: close call, interesting discussion about it, keep writing.
In desperation I send an e-mail to the Hater of Moving to Switzerland (for he had sent the letter) asking what he really means by this letter: how many entries? why did you ultimately decide not to produce it? what could I do to improve my writing? Just some kind of input from a professional. But of course he has never written back.
He never wrote back and then when I opened the new writing programme on Friday, I saw they had only commissioned THREE one-acts. So they MUST have been lying in the letter, because if it was such a close call, they would have commissioned mine -and made their original number four.
So I am powerfully pissed off.
Is it because I'm American? Is it because motherhood is a permanently marginalized topic for theatre? Does Menagerie really have no remit from their funding to encourage new playwrights? And if they DO have such a remit, why haven't they answered my email?? The disingenuous cowardice of it all.
This is why I want to move back to the States so very badly - because authenticity and sincerity are still considered virtues there that help the speaker and the audience, instead of qualities to be apparently avoided at all costs. If Menagerie is the British way of engaging with people, then I need to get my children out of the country as soon as possible. That kind of fuckery is bad for the soul.
Yes, this is an unreconstructed rant and yes I name names.
I apologize to the kind and gentle folk of this forum for any offense I may cause, but I am just so very done with the bullshit.
Your friendly neighborhood
Last edited on Mon Sep 21st, 2009 07:22 pm by Swann1719
Wow, Swann. I read your thoughts and I well know the feeling, However, I must say that I do not believe it is much different here in the States. As for "authenticity and sincerity are still considered virtues" here in the states; I am certain it is not a countrywide phenomenon. Perhaps your absence has colored your memory of the Republic. Maybe not. I certainly could be wrong--I often am, but this grass is far from the green you may remember.
Swann, I do feel for you, and I think we’ve all been in that place. But in reading your tale I was struck by a couple of things. Firstly, I do think it’s very risky to pin too many hopes on an individual theatre or submission. It really is a tough world out there for any playwright looking to get his or her work produced, and it’s a lot of work researching the kinds of theatres that would be interested in the style, genre, etc, that one writes in. And so much of it is a numbers game. Submit it and forget it. But submit to as many places as you can (having, of course, done your homework and know that where you are sending your work is the type of theatre that produces work similar in style to your own). As your experience showed you, the theatre you mentioned produced a play that frankly wasn’t to your tastes at all. But apparently it was to theirs. That should tell you a whole lot.
Secondly, why are you looking at this from such a parochial standpoint? You mention the desire to move back to the States where you imagine your work will get a better shake. Well, I know nothing of you except that you have access to a computer and the internet, so why on earth, in this day and age, would you limit yourself to your immediate surroundings in terms of where you submit your plays? So many theatres accept email submissions these days. The world is your own backyard.
I’m glad you got that out of your system. Now pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and start banging on those virtual doors!
Thank you all for the very sensible advice. You are right; the United States is not a panacea, everyone is not wonderful there.
I was looking for a theatre close to me because I want to see the plays and develop them with the director, but I think you are right that I should just let it go.
But, but, but:
Menagerie is a theatre with a mandate to (and acceptance of government funding for) develop local new playwrights. And bingo, that's me. So it's a little hard to accept the rudeness, the failure to answer e-mails, even if artistically we are too different to prosper together.
I was looking for a silver lining for the move to Cambridge and there just isn't one to find.
Thanks again, my lovelies, for letting me get that off my chest.
Ah dear, gentle, Swan.
As a Brit I must first apologize on behalf of my fellow countrymen! How dare they treat a Lady in such a manner? Not Cricket and totally unacceptable. Bastard's all I say!
The reasons why?
Ah. Being such a small and nowadays, insignificant Country, its people over taxed (remember the $9+ a gallon for gas alone!) and the funds for 'the Arts' mostly coming from donations from the 'Lottery' rather than Government, it makes each any every theatre fight for its very existence. Add that with the fact that nowadays some pimply faced, stud adorned, poorly educated (but I got my GCSE's), Twenty-something, is the first person to receive your work and unless it is full of "F this and F that" and "Yeah, whatever" you don't much stand any chance of it being accepted.
There is a huge difference between the UK and the USA for opportunities to have your work accepted. Quote: authenticity and sincerity are still considered virtues' Hmm. I agree with Edd there. Not the major difference. I find that the US has so many more theatre's / university's / local communities that ask for 10 minute plays / one acts etc far in excess of those in the UK. And I agree with the honourable Rabbit. Use the internet. Where you are is immaterial.
Excellent rant though. Keep the faith remember:
All writers are the true source - all others are anally retentive!
Having read your postings over the past couple years, I've come to think of you as a lovely person with sound ideas and thoughtful insights. I'm truly sorry you're going through what seems to be an inevitable part of the playwriting ... "process" sounds too tidy. For me it's a desert wasteland punctuated with all-too-brief showers that often evaporate before they even hit the ground and the rare oasis where one's not even allowed to linger. All one can do is keep on trudging. Why? I have no idea.
I think you've got the right idea when you say "Fine. FINE. We just have different tastes." It is all so subjective. I marvel at the serendipity that must be involved in getting a play into the hands of a reader who "gets" it or likes it or even loves it and wants to see it performed. Such people, rare though they may be, apparently do exist, else none of us would ever get anything produced.
Don't let the boors deter you. There's a good home waiting for "Moving to Switzerland," however many doors you must knock on.
My most recent news was good, but I certainly have enough stories as strange and puzzling as this in my history. (And I`ve yet to have anything as nice happen with any of my theatre work as the upcoming publication of my novel.) Just recently the director of the local theatre I've always thought likeliest to produce my work finally sent a long overdue reply concerning two plays I'd emailed some time before. The letter was generally friendly, understandng about what I'm doing in connection with contemporary theatre and its traditions, but said neither play was right for them because their mandate is to produce contemporary, urban theatre. So far as one of the plays, Firewatcher's Wages was concerned, I saw the point--it's a revisionist reading of Aeschylus. But I'm sorry, if Beggar's Banquet, with its ensemble cast of eight homeless characters (though they live, symbolically, in a junkyard) isn`t urban and contemporary, I don`t know what recent play is. Which I (probably unwisely) wrote to tell him. And that`s far from the dumbest response I`ve ever gotten. Really, all any of us can do is keep on keeping on.
Martin, yes, I am very sure that artistic directors get a feeling about a play, that they like it or don't like it, and then come up with post-hoc rationalizations that may or may not make sense - how can eight homeless people not contempotary and urban? I mean, they are not even called homeless people out in the country, are they? They are called hobos or something.
I had a great response from Tricycle in London once. I lived about a mile from the theatre in West Hampstead, and had written a full length play about an American in West Hampstead. My play was rejected because they were looking for plays that reflected the immigrant population around the theatre. ?????
People do what they do and they come up with reasons after. That is why it usually is a false note in a play when people try to explain their motivation and choices.
At least we have this forum to encourage each other. Thanks for the good karma.
i'm afraid i have nothing to offer but sympathy & a story so i offer that.
years & years ago, i was asked by the artistic director of a local children's theatre group to write a play for them. i did & she told me she liked it & wanted to do it next season. "next season" became "the season after next" & then "the season after that." then she read another script of mine & decided she wanted to do that one instead. next season. then the season after that. finally, i realized she was never going to do either one and i was right - she never did.
i eventually figured out why - she wanted scripts with familiar titles (felt she got better houses that way) & my stuff tended to be completely original. so that was that.
but i kept that requirement in the back of my head & eventually wrote a play about a well-known fairy tale character. i gave her a copy & she not only liked it but one of her directors had actually been on the lookout for a good version of that story - perfect fit, yes? so my hopes were high - i had given her the script months before the following season's plays were to be chosen, did her a HUGE favor & gave a copy to the director. i felt incredibly confident.
it wasn't scheduled.
i let her know my feelings & she gave me her reasons/excuses & that seemed to be that.
then i entered the script in a competition, it came in second & she has scheduled it for production this summer.
of course, it could still fall through (i'm not that trusting) but things look pretty good. so i guess i'm saying that you have to just keep trying. i wrote lots of other plays between that first script & the one that will be staged & got productions at lots of other theaters. you have to write a lot & submit a lot to lots and lots of groups.
i know it's corny but i keep in mind the thought that i'm not a failure until i stop trying & give up. until then, i'm still in the game.
Ah Swann,the delights of Ely cathedral,your namesakes drifting on the Cam,the gentle pace of student bicycles,Heffer's bookshop,to name but some of the oysters of my last visit to your wonderful locale.
Forgive me for waxing lyrical in your moment of angst but I do understand the feeling of being a stranger in paradise.
I endorse everything Harvey Rabbit has to offer.
As an, as yet, unperformed writer, I'm busting a gut to see my work performed.How can I write more when I've yet to see how my work tranlates into a performance?
My solution? To include a condition of performance that it is recorded and the video sent to me.
These days videos have 90 minute record times,can be mounted in an unmanned fixed position and the results easily converted to AVI and uploaded via a file sharing service.
As HR said,the world is yours to pluck. Paul