I’ve always been a big advocate of “Competition of Self” – what I mean by this is that as I navigate the playwright’s landscape, I may see many people winning accolades that I myself covet, but I truly believe that the only course of action from such observations is to learn from these talented writers as I myself strive to top my last work with the new. I may feel a flash of jealousy or of heartache, but I never think to myself “They won! They beat me!” Instead, I think to myself “DAMNIT! (sigh) Alright… well, what can I learn from this writer so that I can do better next time?”
It’s one of the things that keep me sane.
But, in exploring this week’s train of thought, I have to ask myself who my scripts are in competition with… It’s certainly not the brain-child of Sarah Ruhl or Martin McDonough! While I like to think I write on par with them (don’t we all) and while I have been influenced by both, no theater in their right mind is currently weighing my playscript and one of, oh, say David Lindsay-Abaire’s, in their hands wondering “Gee, I wonder which we should go with.” Because I’m simply not a big enough fish yet to be part of that kind of decision. Instead, my scripts are sitting in piles with other “emerging” playwrights – those that have a few awards under their belts, but no BIG productions… yet. We are engaged in silent battle for desk space and shelf space… We go head-to-head for literary manager’s time and interest…
We playwrights just aren’t present to witness the literary carnage.
And so, we send out scripts to various competitions, hoping that we’ll win a reading or a ribbon, or, if we’re lucky, some kind of travel or monetary prize… OR, if we’re really lucky, an airline ticket stuffed with cash all wrapped in ribbons and trade magazine announcements exclaiming our brain-child a total GENIUS…
Yeah, that happens.
But the point is, we hope we will win accolades so that we can use the 5-seconds of fame to edge out the other scripts in that “emerging” pile to the left of the Lit Manager’s elbow. (The pile that sits depressingly close to the lip of the desk and the gaping mouth of the trashcan…)
So what happens when a theatre company run by someone like that first artistic director endeavors to fill slots according to a cross-cultural quota? Does such thinking narrow the question from “Who’s the best playwright?” to “Who’s the best Latino playwright? Who’s the best Woman playwright?” or “Who’s the best transgender-African -American-who-walks-with-a-limp playwright?”
And is it helpful?
I don’t know the answer… I wear enough hats to recognize that it’s overly complicated. There have been times when, in reading a winning script, I’ve scratched my head and thought to myself “Jesus, I wish I had thought of this!” And there have been times when I’ve looked over lists of contest winners that read like a United Nations meeting, but included plays that I had actually turned away for (what I perceived to be) poor writing. I’ve been on both sides of the selecting and entering… and I still don’t have an answer.
Because I want to believe that the best man or woman will reach the stage. I want to believe that if I keep growing as an artist, if I keep writing and dreaming and running this race, that my work will be recognized, produced, and applauded regardless of my gender or (lack of) ethnicity. I want to believe that I will get there on merit…
But as a woman playwright who is all-to-aware of the numbers before her, I will also take any advantage I can get.
I will enter contests designed to honor female playwrights, and I will challenge any contest or theatre company that seems to eschew balance in (perceived) favor to male playwrights over female. I will also look at a list like that one from the “UN” and sigh with frustration – What were the parameters of their evaluation if not totally and irritatingly PC?
Because I want it both ways.
And it all speaks to the one achingly human truth – no matter the rules or the designations, we are all of us reaching and scraping for the finish line. It’s a business, it’s a dream, it’s a damned difficult trail. We try to find the best shoes to get us there… sometimes they’re ugly, but if they get us there…
Well, more often than not (and no matter their “how”) we will defend those shoe’s merits to the death.
Because that goal, that gold, that rising above the tides to be seen, heard, my GOD, produced? Doesn’t it seem built on a lot of hard spilt blood and tears all the same? Isn’t it the mountain we look down on, and not our feet, even as we focus our eyes on the next looming peak?
(Tomorrow: Part 5 (or) Some and Summation )