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Who Decides?

As a playwright searching for production–and one who has had both acceptances and rejections–I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years thinking about who decides what gets included in a season. It seems rather monolithic, when you’re behind your computer and sending off submissions. You send your work out and the mysterious “They” will tell you whether or not they’ll take it. It’s tempting to scoff at “Them,” to come up with various reasons why “They” just don’t get it. And there are in fact more barriers to production for people of color, women, and other people writing from marginalized perspectives–that’s a fact of our society–so it is fair to say that there are some things that “They,” as a faceless monolith, don’t get. But while recognizing that industry-wide fact, I’ve also found it important for myself to curate empathy, to remember that “They” are people too.

One of the easiest ways to learn this is, of course, to read scripts and be one of those darn decision makers who you had previously dismissed. I had the good fortune to be a script-reader for a festival of shorts in college, so I started my playwright journey with some small humility based on that experience. But I also learned  a lot from coordinating a reading committee for the New England New Play Anthology (which, fun fact, comes out this month). Working on the anthology, I processed comments from multiple readers, organized the team in their decision-making, and had an eagle’s-eye view of the process. I recognized a few key facts:

  1. Everyone wants the play to be good. No one is picking up your play and rolling their eyes before they hit the title page. They’re eager to believe that your script is the most fantastic piece of literature on the planet. Script readers want to be the one who discovers the gem.
  2. The process is long not because they’re torturing you, but because coordinating a reading committee is hard. Everyone who’s selecting the scripts is possibly not getting paid, and has a job, maybe three or six jobs, to do. I have so much more patience with months-long wait times now that I’ve been through this process.
  3. Each reader has a different taste. (And each company has different needs for their season or collection of work.) Now, in the case of the anthology, there were definitely a few plays that rose to the top for the majority of the readers–but even when a response was positive, sometimes the script was applauded for different things. This might sound obvious, but remembering that a company is made up of more than one person–and that you may have an advocate even if your script was rejected this time–has been useful for me.

Long story short–no matter who decides, they probably like you more than you think they do. I’m reminding myself of this as I continue sending out my work in the hopes of future collaboration.

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