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Man-ing Up as a Writer

Mya Kagan, a New York based playwright, has built a steady career for herself as a playwright and screenwriter since graduating from NYU in 2006. Her resume includes productions and awards in NYC, and her impressive list of special skills (she can speak American Sign Language, French, Hebrew, and Zulu) confirm that she’s clearly an accomplished and interesting woman—but has being a woman prevented her from receiving opportunities?

This question sits at the center of Mya Kagan’s project Submitting Like A Man (SLAM). Kagan, like many young playwrights, submits her work to many theaters. Like many young artists, she experiences rejection regularly (she boasts a 10% success rate, better then most playwrights). Unlike most writers produced in this country, she’s a woman. As her website (http://submittinglikeaman.com/) states, “51% of the population in the US is women, but only about 20% of our writers in theatre and TV are female”1. Kagan grew curious wether her gender deterred theaters from producing her work, and as a result she will spend the next year resubmitting her rejected plays. 117 theaters will receive an unchanged script with an unchanged application, with only one exception–she’s submitting under a male alias.

Kagan openly admits that this project is not an exact science—many uncontrolled elements could influence the results (new readers, weaker competition, etc.). I’m not interested in the uncontrolled variables. I’m sickened by our country’s broken new play development. As a male writer I’ve also submitted my plays into what seems to be a black hole. The maddening process requires endurance, patience, and quite a lot of stamina because often times it does not work out. But there’s always hope, right? If you’re a man at least.

I, like most followers, am nervous for Mya’s results. If her acceptance rate increases even a little bit then every reader in this country must look at themselves and ask “why do I favor masculine writing?”. But if her acceptance rate remains the same (or falls) the question will still remain. Only 20% of our stories don’t come from a masculine perspective. If this project does not produce “desirable date” the question we must still ask ourselves, why aren’t women being produced? Then again, if Kagan’s project results in a higher success rate then nobody wins. We’ll scold theaters for their subconscious (or conscious?) sexism, and we’ll encourage female writers that someone will make space for them soon.

The results of Kagan’s project are irrelevant to me. The fact that one writer became so frustrated with her career that she would dream up such a strange project, put it in practice, and present it publicly on one of the cruelest forums known to the human race (the internet) should make us all ask ourselves “why do we favor masculine writing?”. Kagan should be admired. She’s raised the question in a non-accusatory way, she’s taken matters into her own hands, and she’s taking a risk. Let’s learn from her efforts now instead of waiting for the statistics to role in.

1Kagan, Mya. “Manning Up.” Submitting Like A Man. N.p., 10 Jan. 2016. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

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