This was not the blog I planned to put up today. I had another one edited and ready to go. It’s not a blog I have time to write. But it’s one born out of passion and frustration and those are usually the best/worst ones right?
This really is a blog of two halves; one on the way we treat writers, and others in our industry. And another that’s been bubbling for a while with a question of ‘and what next’.
Last night I received a rejection from a script submission. That in itself is no big deal- anyone who follows me on Twitter knows my attitude to rejections is openness and a sense of humour. I started a rejection pot this year, where I put £5 in a pot for every rejection, with the idea I can spend that pot on something silly and fun at the end of the year. And for reasons unknown, I started tweeting an Andrew Scott picture for everyone too. Partly to inject a sense of humour- it’s ridiculous the number of rejections we all get, so why not be a bit ridiculous with it. But I share those rejections also to both normalise and high light the rejections. We all know that social media is a highlights reel but also as writers or other creatives it sometimes feels like everyone else is ‘winning’ but for us. So I share the rejections, not for sympathy, yes for a bit of comedy. But also to make people feel less alone when they’re getting them too.
So the actual rejection wasn’t a big deal. In all honesty, I’d forgotten I’d submitted to this theatre’s open call. It wasn’t like I wrote a specific script, it wasn’t like my hopes were pinned on the opportunity. But three things really galled me.
- The rejection came out at 8.30pm. This is my pet peeve. Schedule rejection emails for office hours. It’s not hard. I personally often work until 9pm too, I was working last night when I got the email. But nobody needs that while they’re watching Bake Off and trying to switch off from the world. It’s about 4 clicks of time to tell even the most basic program to send at 10am. Give people their evenings off especially now when we all work from home and those boundaries are already all but gone. Maybe I’m over-sensitive, maybe other people don’t care. But I think some boundaries on where and when work falls, would do us all some good.
- The email contained the phrase, and I quote ‘We wanted to let you know that your play didn’t make it past the first round.’ again maybe I’m being over-sensitive, but other people’s reactions suggest I’m not alone in thinking; have some tact people. Just do the usual ‘sorry you weren’t successful but thanks for submitting’ making a point that one didn’t get past the first round, in that way is unnecessary.
- Wrapping the above in a call for paying for feedback via a dramaturgy service. Now we all need to hustle right now. But ‘hey your play was PROPER shite but also we can fix it if you pay.’ nah…send that email another day to your mailing list guys.
And so the first half of this blog is about one thing; kindness. It doesn’t have to be a ‘cut-throat’ industry. Yes, the competition is fierce but we’re humans behind the emails. I get it, I’ve been there. I’ve been a busy administrator. I’ve been a person who wrote grant rejections. I’ve been the person who rejected students, who wrote to them about failing grades. I’m Chair of a theatre company trying to keep going in all this; I get it.
But I hope, in everything I’ve ever done above I managed to stay human and be kind. In fact, after 2020 that’s all I hope anyone remembers me for, to be honest, that I was a decent kind person in this industry, because in the face of so much brutality and unkindness actually, I’d prefer it rather than just ‘success’.
And it’s about a power imbalance, right? It’s about theatres ‘up here’ and everyone else ‘down there’ scrambling like some zombie apocalypse to get in the door with the doors slammed and limbs severed on the way in.
And I just think, as we all try and claw our way back from this year, does it have to be that way? Can we not take time instead to try and foster relationships, and collaborations instead of being ‘us and them’…do we have to make writers feel like they’re lucky to get the time of day instead of appreciating the work they do? Appreciate the actors who spend time preparing for an audition that statistically they know the odds are stacked against them? We can’t totally dismantle the processes overnight (we SHOULD dismantle a lot of them) but maybe we can all try and include a kind word or two. Maybe the few at the top could remember they probably got there with a leg up and a kind supportive word too.
Because also it’s easy to forget the work that writers- who I speak for here as that’s what I know- do. And we forget the emotional labour, the emotional impact of what we do. The hours sat working on something with a dim hope it’ll be something. But also how much of us we put into it. Our personality, often our experience, our trauma. And we do that gladly because that’s who we are. But the rejections are personal.
To quote my favourite film ‘What does that even mean it’s not personal it’s business, it’s personal to a lot of people, it’s personal to me.’
We’d do well to remember that. Yes, it’s business, yes it’s not personal in some ways. But my God it really is personal in a lot of others.
I had to say this. I teach a final playwriting class tonight where I’ll be teaching my students about ‘the industry’ and competitions. And I felt like I couldn’t do that in good conscience without saying that.
Or without saying this, which has been on my mind for these long months we’ve been at home.
I miss theatre. I miss theatre so much it hurts, like I’m not being dramatic it physically hurts some days. I long to be back in a theatre.
But I also wonder if I’m done trying to work in theatre. Trying to write for it. I wonder, have I fallen out of love with it in that way.
And look, thinking about the above, thinking about how personal writing is, how personal theatre is. Maybe, maybe it’s just a response to the trauma of having our whole industry whipped out from under us overnight. Maybe it’s a self-preservation thing that it’s easier not to want it anymore when nobody knows what, or how it exists either.
But I also can’t shake a nagging feeling that it’s more than that. After all this, maybe no I don’t have it in me any more. And maybe I just don’t want it any more. And it’s two things right, it’s the fight. The fight to be part of that industry, the ‘want me pick me choose me’ fight (yes, I did just use a Greys Anatomy quote, but that’s all I hear every time I submit for something). But honestly, the words of Meredith Grey’s begging speech to Derek feel like ‘I love you, in a really really big, pretend to like your taste in music, let you eat the last piece of cheesecake, hold a radio over my head outside your window, unfortunate way that makes me hate you, love you. So pick me, choose me, love me.’ how much does that sound like our dysfunctional relationship with theatre?
The feeling that after all this (you can see me gesturing wildly right) maybe, maybe I don’t have it in me to pick myself up again and do it again.
And this doesn’t come from a ‘terrible year’ in that respect. I’m really conscious I’ve had a really good year. All things considered obviously. I’m busier than I’ve ever been, I feel like there is hope for making my own work, making my own path, outside of blindly submitting to competitions. But we all go through too the ideas of ‘but is it worth it?’ and ‘what am I doing?’ at times like this I also always hear Mulder in The X Files saying ‘There’s so much more you have to do with your life’ which is a bit dramatic, but hey, that’s theatre.
But I worry that I’ve fallen out of love with it. And at the same time, in a way this year I’ve fallen back in love with other forms of writing. And that’s ok. I’ve written more words this year than I have, well probably since I was forced to churn out my PhD chapters. And I’ve found a love of writing about things again. There’s a part of me that, if I could do that writing books about things in a sort-of-but-not-quite academic way forever I would. And I love writing articles, I love the journalism side of things and not just to spite my PhD supervisor who called me a journalist as an insult. And getting off the treadmill of theatre reviewing, and getting out of that bubble has made me so excited about what else I can write about in that respect. So maybe, maybe it’s just an evolution. And I’ve written fiction prose. I’ve written silly stories shared in the depths of the internet and some not at all. But I’ve also had comments there that said I’ve moved people and made a difference to them. And ok it’s not a theatre review…but actually, more people have read those stories than might ever see a play of mine. And more to the point what if I’m just better on the page than on the stage (yes I enjoyed that rhyme). Maybe I’m actually not a good playwright, I know I’m a good writer. Maybe I’m just supposed to do something else.
And that’s it. I don’t have any answers. I don’t have any conclusions.
I do say, we could all do with being a bit more kind. Because it’s such a personal thing this writing. It’s to quote a terrible children’s book, but whose quote stayed with me ‘to make good art you have to rip out a piece of your soul and not expect to get it back.’
Again, a bit dramatic. But I think when people rip out a bit of their soul and give it to you, then you owe them kindness.
And if you’re going to rip out a bit of your soul, it should probably be for something you love.