I have to apologize – I’m in a real artistic funk and I leaked some of that frustration in Monday’s post. Rather than spend the week whining (isn’t that a seductive plan), I’m going to attempt to treat your time with care. After all, if you visit this site, chances are you’re some kind of theatrician as well and already well-know the challenges of this life.
So let’s talk about sprinkling yourself across mediums… and the wearing-thin of it.
I started a new blog – it’s called Twaddle Squawk and is devoted to fun opinionation. I’ve assembled a terrific group of talented writers, and we will publish our third issue next week.
I write for that blogzine – I’ve got all kinds of things to say there – but I am not writing full-length plays.
I’ve also been producing new play festivals in AZ… it’s exciting to me and I enjoy wearing the producer hat (most of the time) because the results are tangible. I have some major say in what happens and I usually write my own 10-minute play for each, so that Playwright Tiffany is bearing the benefits of Producer Tiffany’s hard work…
I write for those festivals because I know the result will get produced – but I am not writing full-length plays.
I’m organizing theatre workshops, rounding up students and such – because it’s solid and fun, and teaching feeds my soul! I will spend these workshops giving of my experience and knowledge, sharing my path with young aspirants…
I will teach the sh** out of those classes – but I am not writing full-length plays.
But I wonder – With these other creative outlets eating up my time – am I cultivating creative growth, or am I allowing the feeling of completion and ideas-come-to-fruition-ness (via producing and teaching) get in the way of my passion: writing plays (without any guarantee that anything will come of them or not) and letting my muse run wild?
For the reality of the artist’s life is that we are constantly besieged by the “real” world – demanding we meet our real world needs (like eating, paying rent, getting our knee tended to when it’s busted – that sort of thing) – that we can start to lose faith in the solvency of our dreams.
I used to believe that my plays had no chance at being ignored – that if I worked hard enough at my craft, I would certainly succeed – but here I am at a place where I find myself exclaiming “Certainly I’ve worked hard enough to be further along than this!” – and it leaves me grumpy and feeling stuck.
So, I don my other creative hats and revel in the completeness of different-than-playwriting tasks… and mourn the creative zeal that used to light my fire so determinedly.
Full Disclosure: I do not pay submission fees. At first it was mostly because I don’t budget for it, but the more I submit to play-writing contests, the more it just doesn’t jive with me. I liken it to the nearly-only-in-LA procedure of dues-paying ensemble companies. More full disclosure: I used to work for one and was partly responsible for collecting said dues.
It makes my stomach turn.
Submission fees for playwrights isn’t as sickening to me. I understand fees are sometimes considered part of the beast. I mentioned this topic to my husband and he automatically assumed you paid for your play to be in the contest, not just considered. The wide eyes when I explained…
Many people have differing opinions, so instead of this being merely my thoughts, I want to share what I learned as I investigated across multiple social media platforms.
I detest submission fees. Producing entities unfairly pass the burden of contests and productions on to prospective writers. I believe if you want to have a contest or do a production, fundraise for it. Don’t make writers pay to play.
Brian doesn’t agree that submission fees are equivalent to dues-paying companies however, a situation I could not resolve in 140 characters or less .
Donald has also gotten more prize money with contests that charge, and sees another benefit: One of my best experiences in the theater came from a competition I paid to enter – the O’Neill, which provided me with a wonderful month in Waterford, Ct. with incredible actors and directors and a wonderful staged reading of my play. I can understand why small theaters can’t afford to pay for running a competition and I see the submission fee as a business expense on my part.
Ian Hornby‘s perspective was especially interesting: Having run a playwriting competition on behalf of The Playwrights’ Co-operative, there are two edges to this topic. We started with a small entry fee ($10), purely to fund a decent prize at the end. But we had so many sites that would not list us because we had an entry fee that we dropped the fee and made it free entry. What a mistake we made. Although it’s not the right kind of filter and has so many undertones of not providing equal opportunities for those unable to afford the fee, at least it was a filter. We were completely snowed under with entries, and our panel of judges didn’t have time to do anything more than speed-read all entries so as to arrive at a shortlist, which could then be read in detail. Without doubt we’d have missed some gems.
Regardless, he does applaud contests without a fee.
Tony Earnshaw from the UK has an interesting perspective: …in the poetry world it’s difficult to find any contests which don’t have a fee attached and I’ve heard no grumbles. I’ve recently entered a short play for a competition run by a small theatre and am one of the winners (there are ten of us). The read through, at which I met the other writers, the directors and the casts, was worth it in itself.
Anyway, 5 on Linkedin from all over the world say YES, 9 say NO and 1/3 of the NO’s will make exceptions in rare cases.
Gregory Fletcher believes: If a theater company wants to attach their name to my play as the premiere producer, then figure out how to evaluate my play without charging me. Do painters, musicians, dancers, actors, or anybody else in the arts pay to have their work considered for production?
The answer to that, of course, is yes, in some cases.
I then took to Facebook. The results are as follows:
Prefer not to, but will if the contest interests me enough: 17 votes
I don’t mind at all; I just want my work produced: 0 votes
Here is the thing. (We’re back to my opinion now.) Regarding my more recent experiences:
Last summer, I self-produced a Fringe show I wrote with under $500 budget. I felt shame every single time we cut corners, every time I saw how very hard these wonderful actors and director worked for nothing more than a hug and immense gratitude. We had an incredibly supportive and hard-working awareness team as well, who donated their time for some experience and the cause of the piece.
There was a chance to remount and I had to turn it down for many reasons. I knew the team was happy and willing, but I just couldn’t look these artists in the eye and ask them to work for free again. I also have had some fights in my day with supervisors on Equity rules for actors and the worth of one designer versus others.
What’s changed? I often work freelance and negotiate my contracts. On a weekly basis I tell someone my worth and stick by it. When I began working for myself, I undercut my rate. That changed pretty quickly.
I also see way too many people pay upwards of $30/month to join an ensemble company; sometimes I’ve heard of $85/month. Actors may have their reasons – and I fully admit I have it easier as someone who can create my own work – but honestly, I’m fed up.
If you don’t have the money or means to produce a show, you shouldn’t do it. I have done it myself and will not do it again. Personally, it demeans everything in the work that has value, be it the writing, directing, performances, dramaturgy, design, right up to the viewing audience who pays money (in most cases) so that the artists involved may at least get nice thank you gifts.
This is a personal decision after years of self-producing and co-producing. As an extension, I refuse to pay a submission fee. If your readers (and Lord knows, I’ve donated my own time to reading plays) need money, raise the money. If you can’t produce without artists paying into the production in order to be considered, don’t produce.
Some excellent and imaginative pieces don’t “need” money. Artists involved should still be paid.
Yes, it’s hard. So is writing and acting and directing and designing….
Find the people who will donate to your work. They are out there. They are hard to find. They are hard to woo.
Art ain’t easy.
I do not mean any of this as a judgement on those who choose to pay fees and who choose to join ensemble companies, nor do I want to demean the artists who have worked for free on my work over the years. They hopefully got enough in return out of the investment.
They deserve better.
I also know for a fact there are plenty of playwrights out there who will happily pay fees for their own reason. No theater company is crying right now that they won’t get the chance to consider my plays for their competition.
Every even mild success I have from last June onward rests squarely on the backs and pocketbooks of the actors who braved traffic in LA, subways in NY, missed opportunities elsewhere or felt guilty for skipping rehearsal to audition for a commercial (they shouldn’t).
I don’t feel the need to go further into production teams’ sacrifices; just know I married a designer and learned everything about negotiating a contract from friend Cricket S. Myers. By the way, she was nominated for a Tony last year and will walk away from a job rather than accept a mediocre situation.
Often times, she is my hero.
Some may think these arguments are separate. I do not. Every time we de-value our work, an arts education program dies. After all, what value is there in it? Arts advocates are saints. Not all producers or self-producers are money-grubbing and selfish either. Many produce for the sheer joy of art, some for profit, numerous others simply because they’re good at it and theatre needs producers. It’s unfortunate that the most meager of producing codes must dictate paying actors gas money.
I drove home from rehearsal last night, my brain firing off lists like nobody’s business – Program, DVD, Certificates, Monk’s, Forks, Fruit, Sound, Tech (!), Blog, Blog, Blog…
So I got home and stuffed my mouth with a ChocoTaco and set down to tidy up a few things on that list before my lids revolted and permanently shut down for the night, in the hopes that I could get a handle on it all somehow…
What is it that drives me to continually engineer means to be busy? I look around at my “Civilian” friends who have their evenings free to eat at the table, watch t.v. and help the kids with their homework and I think “Am I just crazy?”
Or is it part of the artist’s path that s/he may not be satisfied until her/his work is out there… in the world… making some kind of imprint…
I woke up this morning after dreams about tornados and long, treacherous hallways (thank you subconscious) with that list-making brain already back in full gear, and noticed -forming at the bottom of that list – were fresh thoughts about the next big “What if…” project.
Umm, I might be obsessed.
Which may be why I’m so tired.
See, I started LittleBlackDressINK out of my frustration with waiting… it felt like, as a playwright, I was always waiting for a reading, or a production – and (to be honest) although readings are fun, I’ve had about all of them I can cheer about and now just experience them as the observational meet and greets they mostly are – for very rarely does it seem the reading is being held to weigh in on possible production. (If you haven’t read Outrageous Fortune yet, they talk extensively about the realities of what many of us call “Development Hell” and it’s seriously fascinating to hear from both other playwrights AND theatre companies on this subject)
Which isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy readings – I do, I do. I just attend them with my writing ears on and little expectation beyond some new business cards in my pocket and rewrites on my mind.
Meanwhile, I’m hungry for stage time.
So it seemed the obvious step to carve some out for myself.
Yet… the hat-juggling of working a “real” job, plus producing/directing a show, plus the numerous other projects I have running simultaneously (I’m in the midst of managing some theatrical marketing for an upcoming event and I edit two other blogs) does make me wonder when I’ll tire of this circus life and…
Doesn’t it manifest a “Throw in the Towel” type vibe when you read that?
But will I ever be able to truly support myself on my writing alone?
Will I ever be able to truly be satisfied with a teaching gig and some writing time in the summer?
Will things change when I finally tie my wagon to another’s and start popping out tots of my own?
Or am I too hard wired for motion? Too geared for hurdle-jumping, to ever truly slow down to a snails pace, and get back to just “Waiting”?
It’s probabaly all a little too much to be thinking about at the moment- I’ve got a mountain of things to check off that list today and scant time for little else – but still, it lingers…
It lingers along with loud dreams of the next “What if?”
Well, what a crazy week this has been! My first 40-hour workweek in… oh… I don’t even know. I mean, sure, when I was in grad school juggling two part time jobs, class, and teaching, I pulled in some gnarly hours – but they were varied, they were all over the place – they were almost unquantifiable.
Heading into an office 5 days in a row is new; staying there for 8 hours at a time even stranger.
So imagine my glee at the weekends arrival! “Ahhh, time to sleep in, time to read, time to (gasp) WRITE!” because although I spent a fair bit of time this week responding to the insane comments my blog stirred up, I hadn’t really gotten any work done on the script I’m currently revising (and we all know submission season is banging on the door!)
But then I got asked to come in today as well; Orientation is Monday and there are still things to do, and I didn’t even hesitate to jump on board.
This is how I know that I really like my new job.
I guard my writing time like a tiger guards its cubs; I don’t want anyone messing with or infringing upon it. I get grumpy when I don’t have enough of it, and I get angry at those who try to take it from me… I know, real pretty picture, huh?
Which is why my willingness to head in on my day off surprised the hell out of me…
Although I really aspire to (double gasp) make a living writing and teaching, and although I hope, Hope, HOPE that this next year brings that dream to fruition in a big way… I am seriously enjoying working at this burgeoning college, running their learning center, and planning student activities. It’s fun! It makes me happy.
It’s kind of amazing.
That initial panic that I was wrestling with has kind of faded into an exhilarating kind of high… I won’t be rolling in money, but I will be doing something useful, helpful to students, and enjoyable to me and my little sparkling muse.
So while I don’t think I could pull 40 hour + work weeks every week (woof!) I don’t mind doing it for now… Very soon I’ll be down to the promised part-time schedule, with plenty of days off to devote to my computer; only now, perhaps, with a bit more bounce in my step, and a bit more fuel in my emotional tanks, for although I’m tired at the end of the day, I’ve noticed I’m attacking my tasks with a lot more enthusiasm than weary old, worn out, dejected and unemployed Tiffany was doing.
It seems that feeling useful goes a very long way in feeding the muse.
What a thing to figure out this far into the game 🙂