If fall is submission season, then spring inevitably becomes rejection season, as conferences and festivals fill their slots, and theaters choose their upcoming lineups. It can be a discouraging time, as any playwright who plays the submission game knows, and the hardest thing about it can be remaining positive about the merits of your work. To that end, I offer up two judge’s scoring sheets that I received–snail mail!–today from a recent contest.
The full-length play I sent to this contest is one that I rarely send out. It’s not that I don’t like it, but some early criticism from a respected source made me wary about it even though I got plenty of positive reaction as well. Either way, you know how it goes–the criticism made me gunshy and, as a result, this play has gotten little to no development. But, after looking at this theater’s offerings and past winners, I felt as though it might be a good fit so off it went on January 1. And then, as I do with all submissions, I forgot about it.
Until today, when I received a letter announcing the three winners, along with two scoring sheets from judges. Judge #1 gave me 10/20 for Plot, 7/15 for Character, 4/10 for Theme, and 3/5 for Style, for a total of 24/50 points. Comment: “Characters need greater development. Core theme is a bit unclear. ”
Ouch. Maybe this play is as bad as my friend told me it was. The surprising information to me here was that the theme–despite being heavily alluded to in the title–was unclear. I was reminded of what a good friend and fellow playwright always says: “If your only defense is they don’t get it, then you don’t get it.” Was that the case? Do I not get it?
Let’s see what Judge #2 had to say: 18/20 for Plot, 13/15 for Character, 9/10 for Theme (9!), and 5/5 for Style, for a total of 45/50 points! Comments: “This was an interesting collection of characters to explore the idea of trusting and forgiving others [aside, I thought it was about loss, but this works]. Did I miss Cal’s connection to the group? I appreciated his wisdom when interacting with others but wondered at their acceptance of his presence.”
Now, I don’t know which of these is the more careful and thoughtful reader, but I do know that these two people read the exact same play. And of course we know this is how it goes, because we go to plays with our friends and leave with diametrically opposed opinions. And when we read multiple reviews of the same play, very often one critic loathes that which delighted another. We know this, and yet when rejection starts pouring in, it can be easy to start interpreting that as so many negative reviews.
Is this the best play I’ve ever written? Probably not. But given the positive feedback given by Judge #2, I think even I may have judged it too harshly. Maybe I should be sending it out to development opportunities. Or maybe I should take the judge’s feedback and address those issues. I certainly should investigate the winning plays and see what might be a better fit to send next year. The bottom line is that this is all a process, one that we work so hard at. We’ll never please everybody, but it’s important to remember that most of the time, we are probably pleasing somebody. It’s important–especially during rejection season–to be kind and remind ourselves of that. Because then we are pleasing the most important person of all.
(P.S. If you haven’t yet seen Real Inspiration for Playwrights Project (RIPP), check out some of the blog posts by clicking on that category to the right. It’s all about submitting smarter.)