I just wanted to share a personal story with all who want to read it, and hopefully get some feedback on it. I am not sure what exactly is going on.
It starts about 18 months ago, when I completed a collection of one-act plays entitled VOICES CARRY. I started shopping it around to many places, received much positive feedback, some serious interest, but no production opportunties.
I noticed a non-profit theatre here in Iowa that annually selected a new play by an Iowa playwright, went through a workshop process with it, and then produced it. I submitted VOICES CARRY for their consideration, and very quickly received an email that led me to believe that VOICES CARRY was being very seriously considered. My hopes were raised, but in the end, a different play by someone else was chosen. Disappointed, yes, but I quickly was able to shrug my shoulders and get over it. This was about a year ago.
So, I decided to self-produce. That is, I joined forces with a local community theatre group that was anxious to produce VOICES CARRY once they learned of it, and together we did it and put on a great show. Ticket sales were high and response was tremendous. VOICES CARRY is a good collection of plays and they were well-received.
So ... although I still shop VOICES CARRY around a little bit and still get some nibbles of interest, I pretty much went back to the keyboard and started writing new stuff.
Then, about a month ago, I received a phone call from a guy from that non-profit theatre I told you about earlier. He told me that he really wants to produce VOICES CARRY, that he pushed hard for it last year but was voted down, but this year he is in charge of the selection. He went on and on about all the things he loved about the collection. He asked me to resubmit the play again this year. It was two days before their deadline, but he had a hard copy of the play in hand and all he needed was my permission to resubmit the play.
So I thought, great! He is leading me to believe that there is a good possibility my play will be selected, and I would love to put the play through their workshop process and have it produced at a well-regarded theatre in a much bigger city. Who wouldn't? So I gave him permission.
I waited. A month. No call. No email. Finally, two days ago, he called me. I'm in! Mine is the play they selected! He said he wants to set up a meeting with me and the director, the technical and artistic directors, etc. It is the first step in the workshop process, we can all get to know each other, we can set up dates for the reading, I can see their theatre, I can learn all the details about their workshopping and we can come to an agreement about how much creative control I will have once auditions are held and rehearsals begin. I was thrilled, of course!
So this afternoon, I drove two hours to this meeting.
Now we are in present tense.
I meet this guy. I meet another member of the theatre board. They seem very nice. No director. No tech people, artistic people, etc. I am told that the director for the play has been selected, though she has not yet read the play. I am told it might be difficult to workshop the play since I live two hours away, all previous playwrights selected have lived much closer. I am told that they love VOICES CARRY because it is unique, but the fact that it is unique will make it more difficult to direct. When I try to initiate the setting of dates by talking about when my own calander is busy and when it is not, they become evasive. Then I am told, in kind of an offhand way, that it is between VOICES CARRY and one other play, that they haven't decided 100 percent yet, although they really think VOICES CARRY is the better play so they are leaning toward VOICES CARRY.
So at this point, I am unable to understand why they so desperately wanted to meet with me. Did they select my play, then change their minds yesterday? Did they just want to size me up, face to face? Nothing really makes sense. Two days ago, they led me to believe my play had been selected, then today it isn't 100 percent sure.
Nothing came of this meeting that couldn't have been handled through one email or one 5-minute phone conversation. They did let me see their theatre, and they did take me to a pub and buy me a sandwich after the meeting -- but other than that, it was a wasted four hours of driving, on a day when I could have been doing 100 other more enjoyable, productive things.
To top the whole incident off, after my sandwich at the pub I was told, "I'm sure you have to go now? We have some things we want to talk about." I was told I would be hearing from them very soon.
So, my first question is, WTF?
My second question is, even though a production by this theatre would give a play enormous exposure and credibility, would you want to put your play in the hands of people who are this inconsiderate, unprepared and unprofessional? And, it seems, deceptive?
My third question is, should I let them continue to dick me around, just to see what happens, or should I tell them to go f**k themselves?
And my last question is, again, WTF? Can anyone explain this behavior? Is it normal for an established, well-regarded non-profit theatre to act this way?
I will very gratefully accept any feedback, suggestions, empathy, sympathy, possible explanations, similar stories, reactions -- anything. I am at a loss for words and understanding here.
Wow! I've been down a similar path a few times - but no one has been so inconsiderate as to have me drive 2 hours both ways to witness their 'maybe we will and maybe we won't' process. I've been through it in the form of phone calls and email - but not driving to another city.
In the interest of wanting to maintain good relations with a playwright they obviously are considering working with, I would think they would not have put you out in this way.
It doesn't bode well for how they handle their 'business'. It doesn't exactly smack of respect for your time, does it. I agree that playwrights don't get the appropriate respect and often get the run around. Do wear hip boots - yes!
Good luck -let it unfold and see what happens. Just know when enough is enough and draw the line.
Firstly, I would banish any talk of lawyers (as has been suggested) from your mind. This would get very ugly very fast, and since no contract was actually signed, you’d probably be facing an uphill battle to achieve anything but muddying your name in your own back yard as a litigious playwright. Not a good idea for you in the long run.
With that out of the way, let me say I really do think they’ve been dicking you around to a ridiculous degree. However, that said, it does appear that the gentleman who originally pushed for your play collection has been an advocate of your work all the way through your experience with this group, so I wouldn’t be too hard in your opinion of him. He was voted down when you had originally submitted the piece, but immediately took up the mantle for your play as soon as he was in a position to call the shots.
In reading between the lines, my guess is that someone else on their committee is lobbying hard for their own favorite, and a little internecine power struggle is going on. Add a little commitment phobia (no one wants to be the one that picked the flop, everyone wants to be the one that discovered a great new writing talent) and I think you may have your answer.
Unfortunately, as playwrights we’re not the ones in a power position at this stage in the game (sort of like the screenwriter and the movie studio). When you sign a contract and your work is a sure bet for production, you gain some hand in a number of ways. But for now you’re at the mercy/whim of those who call the shots.
Inviting you to come all that way for such a brief meeting does seem rather egregious, but perhaps it was something as simple as wanting to have a civilized face-to-face meeting, rather than our all too common virtual interactions that we seem to live by more and more these days.
In any case, you have my sympathies and I hope this all ends in your favor and the outcome is a great production of “Voices Carry.”
Hang in there. You’ve nothing to lose but a little sleep and a few handfuls of hair you may be tempted to pull out of your head.
While I appreciate your intent, lawyers of any stripe scare the heck out of people. This is not a Broadway debut; this is a non-profit theatre in Iowa looking to workshop and eventually produce the work of a local playwright, which would hardly seem to warrant such a drastic move. If James is a member of the Dramatists Guild, they will gladly look over any contract he’s offered in a timely manner and offer their expert advice. If he’s not, I would suggest he join, as that is only one of the many benefits of being a member. Failing that, he could always ask around here for private advice.
So, I will reiterate to James that any thought of mentioning lawyers should be banished from his mind. Good grief, these people are being skittish enough already about producing his play. How do you think they’ll react if he starts mentioning his lawyer? Simple…they pick someone else.
In your brief time here you seem to have shown a rather contentious, argumentative side to your personality. I don’t want to get into any nonsensical back-and-forth with you. I stated that your advice to James to consider calling in a lawyer over verbal or vague assurances of their intentions was foolhardy. I stand by that. I suggested he contact the Guild if it came to it, and you just repeated what I said. This makes no sense. Are you not reading what’s already been stated?
For ease of reference, I would suggest you go back and read the first paragraph of your original advice to James. This should clear things up and help you understand why I found that comment to veer towards the irresponsible.
I have no advice to add but wanted to lend my moral support.
As for the production of Voices Carry at issue: if you can be the better person, patient and virtuous, then you can see what transpires, but if you decide that this f*ckery is not for you, then quietly withdrawing your play from consideration is not inappropriate.
I agree with HarveyRabbit's assessment of a power struggle at the theatre having little to do with you.
Definitely no private attorney. Definitely The Dramatists Guild attorneys. They have Standard Contracts for all levels of theatres. But "Standard" just means that. You have flexibility beyond those standards. Nothing is agreed to until you sign on the dotted line. In Screen Actors Guild, an oral agreement with a producer and agent is an agreement, as we don't get the contract until on the set.
And I doubt, given where you are located, you could find an attorney who would would know hog squat about the intricacies of Theatre and Literary matters. And the cost alone would frighten you.
"Did they just want to size me up, face to face?" Yes.
"So I thought, great! He is leading me to believe that there is a good possibility my play will be selected..." No, you led yourself to believe that. But in your firm defense you were phone f*cked by a master theatrical flirt.
"Then I am told, in kind of an offhand way, that it is between VOICES CARRY and one other play, that they haven't decided 100 percent yet, although they really think VOICES CARRY is the better play so they are leaning toward VOICES CARRY." Reference phone f*cked above. About here, a jury would only have convicted you of manslaughter by reason of insanity if you had done something terminally untoward.
Thank you for another chilling playwright tale. We have all been there.
Be pissed for two days. Get it out of you system. And begin again.
As I always tell young actors, "Don't ever assume just because people are in the arts that they are nice."
Too bad the theatre brought you most likely into sort of a family squabble. Stay away from family squabbles.
So, you learned something the other day. Keep in mind: "A cat only steps onto a hot stove once."
Most importantly from a playwright's standpoint: was the sandwich good and did they by you a beer with the sandwich?
Best of luck with "Voices Carry!" Great title.
Make sure you keep in touch on a professional basis with the person who likes your play. They move around often, and he may land at another theatre.
in media res
P. S. If they want to do your play, let them do it. Join the Dramatists Guild and sign nothing until you get their approval. And don't let them f*ck with YOUR play. Keep us posted. And I always advise: "Believe nothing until the check has cleared." For fun, rent "Bullets over Broadway."
Thank you all so much for the advice, support and most of all for the empathy. I think some of you were right on the money when you guessed what was going on in this theatre. I am sorry I caused some unnecessary debate about lawyers and all.
I thought I needed to share the end of the story.
The theatre won't be doing VOICES CARRY. Their decision, not mine.
I received a thorough apology for being dicked around (and those were the words he used, not me.) He had spoken out of turn and was over-ruled between the time he told me they were producing my play and the time I went to visit them.
He told me it had been determined the play was "too polished" and "too complete a collection of plays" to gain much from their workshop process. So they are going with a play that needs a lot more work.
I said, "So you are telling me my play is too good for you?"
He said, "That's exactly what I am saying."
I asked him if he realized how backwards that sounds, and he agreed.
(Have you ever had someone break up with you, and give you the old "you're just too good for me" line?)
He then gave me a lot of encouragement, repeatedly told me what I master I am with dialogue, and said to please, please, please continue to submit. Then he apologized again. We parted on good terms.
So yes, I am disappointed. After all, I wasn't even shopping the play to them. A little over a month ago, he called me personally out of the blue and practically begged me to let them have it. Then they reconsidered and turned it down. So that's just not very polite, and here in Iowa, manners are EVERYTHING. I do take offense.
But I shall recover -- for the same reason. I wasn't even shopping my play to them, and yet, for a little while at least one person got a little excited about the idea producing it -- so excited that they couldn't resist calling me personally out of the blue to tell me so.
But they are all effen nuts. No wonder theatres are closing.
That's straight out of "Catch 22."
But I have had a theory I have shared with many over the years in all types of bureaucratic businesses from government at any level, education at any level, insurance companies, call centers...you name it. This is across the board: "No one will hire anyone better than they are." One manager actually said to me, "I don't want to hire anyone who would take my job."
I said to her, "I'd only hire someone who wanted to take my job."
The only exceptions I have found is an actual owner of a business. He or she owns it and they hire the best qualified because there is no bureaucracy but them. They fully expect their people will go out and compete against them one day.
One Literary Manager at a nice theatre when I was known only as an actor in NYC, who was a friend and also was a playwright and is a known commodity now, told me over a beer one time, "The only reason I am Literary Manager is because I want to get my plays done. Of course I'm not going to promote someone's play that is better than mine. The theatre can do that when I leave." Well, he left after about three years and had a lot of his plays done! He is also a good writer.
So, there you go.
Well, you found out. And glad you are feeling better.
yes it does sound odd that your play was "too good for them" but remember that your script was being considered for a slot in a workshopping program and not the regular season. it should make you feel good that your play is ready for a full production & doesn't need any more polishing.
now that your contact at the theater feels bad about dicking you around, can you guilt him into considering the play for a full production?