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August 7th, 2015 donnahoke


A fellow Dramatist Guild rep posed this question to me, in view of the ugliness that followed my blog post about the egregious guidelines set forth by Words Players in Rochester, Minnesota. It gave me pause, because the hate heaped on this small theater company became extreme, and some saw us, the playwright community, as bullies, which breaks my heart. And yet, having been made privy to some of the tweets and emails that Words Players received, I cede that some of us, sadly, are. Whatever I wanted to come of my post, and whatever did come of it, would have happened without discourse that hideous and hateful.  If you saw it, I hope you’d be as embarrassed as I was; they make my original post look like a lecture from Ward Cleaver.


On the other hand, the awareness that’s been raised is absolutely critical. Quiet emails would not—and did not—have the same effect. General posts about #playwrightrespect would not—and did not—have the same effect.  So in trying to formulate an answer for the inquiring rep, I realized there were actually two questions/issues that are tightly intertwined.


1) Would I have done it differently?


2) Would it have had the same result if I had?



Beginning with the first, yes, I would still have chosen to post publicly. I can consider whether or not I might have used a different tone, but when I wrote that post, I was writing for my regular readers who are a fraction of the amount who saw the DISSECTING post. Of course I realize that anybody can read what I write on the World Wide Web–indeed, that’s the goal with any post, as is shining a light, education, and inspiration–but given that I’ve been posting several times a month for several years, it just didn’t occur to me that this post would be different from any other. The fact that it was different revealed deep anger and frustration in playwrights that was begging to be unleashed, and that, therefore, deserved attention.




Let me tell you: watching something go viral is some scary and powerful shit. I can’t and don’t take responsibility for the violent and vulgar things that were said to and about Words Players, and it’s easy to say that had I known what that post would trigger, I would have chosen to use a more instructive tone. But if had, would the post have gone viral? Would any awareness have resulted? Would the Dramatists Guild have gotten involved? And would Daved have changed his guidelines?


Probably not. See? How can you separate those questions?




All that said, however, within two days, when I sensed that things were getting ugly, and I posted a follow-up that I hoped would turn the tide of this movement. It was important to me to understand and try to explain why this had happened, to reiterate the real issue, and to call for constructive action. The problem? Nobody was ready to hear that yet, because they were still passing around—and reacting to—the original post. A couple days after that, I deleted my posts on Official Playwrights of Facebook to curb the talking about it there until the new guidelines were issued. I have been in private conversations with parent Jill Pearson, as well as Words Players’ Michele Nyman, who I think finally understands what we are really upset about and has promised to to convey that to Daved. People are talking about this. Awareness has been raised. People have been educated. News stories were written. Action is being taken. And yes, now, apologies are being proffered (Daved, consider this mine, in anticipation of your new, improved guidelines.) And hopefully, results are in the offing.


But I can’t imagine we would have been taken seriously, or that any of this would have happened, if outrage hadn’t happened first. Or if through quiet communication, we’d gotten just one company to change their guidelines which, I’ve said more than once, was never the big-picture point. (Because I hope those quiet change communications are happening all the time.)


So in the final analysis, I’m glad I raised awareness, but I’m sorry it turned ugly. I’m sorry one small company became the target for an entire movement. And I am left wondering if there is ever a revolution that doesn’t first attempt peaceful solutions. This is small-scale, of course, particularly in comparison to the cartoons I’ve posted here, which are not meant to be comparable, merely illustrative of the dynamic: revolutions happen because peaceful solutions don’t work.


Would I do it again?  Without question. Would I have done it differently? Not if I couldn’t get the same result.


UPDATE: Here is the result of all the discussion, a “clarification” at Words Players, which is a far cry from the guidelines the Dramatists Guild supplied to replace the originals. And here is a very misinformed column still denouncing any attempts by playwrights or the Dramatists Guild to make ourselves understood.


Edited to add: A week after this event, a group of playwrights, as well as the Dramatists Guild, wrote letters to Lowell Arts in protest of their ridiculous $20 submission fee for ten-minute plays. The first two letters got this response:


“Thank you for your email. We have a great deal of respect for playwrights. This competition is intended to provide less experienced playwrights with the opportunity to have their work considered for production, and possibly produced, without the need to incur all of the costs of self-production, but rather a modest entry fee. Additionally they have the opportunity to have their work rewarded with a sizable prize. It is certainly common practice within other aspects of the fine arts to assess entry fees for participants. As a small non-profit arts organization, we believe this is a fair trade-off, but will certainly take your suggestions under advisement for the future.”


Subsequent emails to no response. And likely, no change will be forthcoming because Lowell doesn’t believe it’s doing anything wrong. And, unfortunately, that’s the very point I was making above; why change if you don’t have to? What would Lowell do if they were called out as publicly as Words Players?


Please follow me on Twitter @donnahoke or like me on Facebook at Donna Hoke, Playwright.


  1. 1 Jeanette said at 6:56 pm on August 7th, 2015:

    Thank you for the follow-up, Donna. I think you did a good thing. What seemed to come out of it was also a good thing.

    I think there is an increasing trend for certain groups on social media to quickly pick up pitchforks and torches in the name of a cause. Your intention was absolutely spot on – and inspiring – we need to speak up. Some who quickly jumped on the bandwagon to feel “in unity” with their “tribe” may need to take another look at the “golden rule” when it comes to educating without berating.
    Your blog and enlightenment on the topic made me wish I could be so bold as to not take “status quo” or simply “meh” and shrug off the opp. I recently had a production where I automatically went into, “well, if you don’t like it, I can always change it” mode. And the director (whom I never met) told me, “no, I like it exactly the way it is.”
    Through this past week, I have been questioning why did I automatically compromise? A playwriting soul-searching week, for sure and glad we are talking about it.

    True, we playwrights often face uphill battles and face palms with some places. And – there are those who are absolutely doing it right. Maybe a “list” of those who are making a difference and doing it right is in order? (Just pitchin’)

  2. 2 donnahoke said at 8:12 pm on August 7th, 2015:

    Well said. I think there have been lessons learned throughout the theater community that I hope will ripple. In the posts on this topic that came before and after the viral one, I called for lauding loudly those that do it right. In Arrogance, Ignorance… I actually did name three. I hope the #playwrightrespect tag endures every time someone gives a company a shoutout for doing it right.

  3. 3 Everett Robert said at 7:06 pm on August 7th, 2015:

    Donna thank you for this. About a year and a half ago, I wrote a blog that reverberated through my tiny section of Kansas and my blog, which normally has posts in the 20s moved in the 10,00-20,000 mark. It was about a similar issue and my strong reaction to what I perceived as a school in a community, where I debuted two of my most produced youth plays, as treating their music students different then their student athletes. I too communicated with parents who were afrai to speak out of fear but appreciated me taking action as a relative outsider. I saw communities divided, misinformation spread, and verbal attacks. I ended up respecting some parents wishes and rewording my original article and removin pictures of two students who started this protest. It is always fascinating to be a part of such a conversation. I’m glad, ultimately, that you took the stand you did and gave many of us the opportunity to speak out against things. And I’m glad that you were able to communicate and express your (and the position of many of us) position to parents. Thank you again.

  4. 4 Tristan said at 5:30 am on August 8th, 2015:

    “It gave me pause, because the hate heaped on this small theater company became extreme, and some saw us, the playwright community, as bullies, which breaks my heart. And yet, having been made privy to some of the tweets and emails that Words Players received, I cede that some of us, sadly, are.”

    Including you. You wrote in the original version of the post that whipped this mess up into a frenzy that (paraphrasing) if you could you would slam Daved’s head into the curb until he died.

    On what planet is that an acceptable solution to a grievance regarding the submission of plays to a youth acting troupe?

    The pictures in your post relate to situations in which people were being actively subjugated and slaughtered for things they had no control over. Any sort of analogy between those situations and this one is tenuous at best, and awful at worst.

    It’s perfectly okay to admit that the situation could have been resolved without things getting as heated as they did. Perhaps bringing the standards to the attention of representatives from the Dramatists Guild first, instead of going for maximum public outrage, would have achieved the same result?

  5. 5 donnahoke said at 11:22 am on August 10th, 2015:

    A) I did not make that comment about slamming someone’s head into a curb, and I subsequently deleted it.
    B) On this planet, it’s acceptable to air a grievance about any unfair call for plays. Just because kids are acting in them does not exempt them from ethics and I’d counter that it, in fact, should make them more accountable because they are learning.
    C) I very CLEARLY stated that I was not COMPARING those cartoons to this situation; they were merely illustrative, something Daved himself thanked me for taking care to point out.
    D) My original post was actually rather tame, all things considered. The outrage was not planned.

  6. 6 Andrea Markowitz said at 10:42 am on August 8th, 2015:

    I would like to automatically receive all of your blogs. Please add me to your email list. Thank you!

  7. 7 donnahoke said at 11:23 am on August 10th, 2015:

    Andrea — You just have to subscribe on the side of the site. Thanks!

  8. 8 Peter said at 12:36 am on August 13th, 2015:

    If you knew anything about Rochester Minnesota, you would realize how foolish and haughty all of this indignation amongst playwrights seems to us who live here. Words Players is just a group of kids trying to have fun and bring some culture to an otherwise sleepy small town. To have garnered a response from the president of the Dramatists Guild is akin to having the commissioner of Major League Baseball publicly criticize the coach of a little-league baseball team for how the lineup is chosen.

  9. 9 donnahoke said at 8:46 am on August 13th, 2015:

    No, because if a kid made it to the majors, he’d be forced to follow their rules; he wouldn’t be able to take the wrong practices he’d learned in Little League and perpetuate them in the MLB; further, there’s a lot more money involved in baseball than there ever will be in theater. You garnered the attention of the DG because the practices were wrong; it’s that simple. There are a lot of things that aren’t right just because kids have fun doing them.

  10. 10 TheTex1900 said at 2:18 pm on August 18th, 2015:

    To pursue the little league/majors analogy to its logical conclusion, there are lots of rules differences between little league and the majors, such as the use of aluminum bats, substitutions/re-entry rule. I would venture to say that most American MLB players started out in little league, and somewhere along the way they were taught that things which were ok in the little leagues aren’t allowed in MLB; young actors and directors could also learn this as well.

  11. 11 donnahoke said at 4:17 pm on August 18th, 2015:

    The Tex — To your MLB point, no, because unfortunately, the MLB reaches as far as its teams; theater reaches far beyond. If a young theater student happens to hook up with the right theater teacher in college, great, but I’m here to tell you that there are far too many who learned poorly as children and in high school and carry that practice on. And even if you what you say is true, that doesn’t make it right.

  12. 12 Stephen Sossaman said at 10:10 pm on August 31st, 2015:

    Peter wrote: “If you knew anything about Rochester Minnesota, you would realize how foolish and haughty all of this indignation amongst playwrights seems to us who live here.” Thank you for acknowledging that the problem might not be playwrights, it might be Rochester’s ignorance of intellectual property law and practice, ignorance of the history of exploited playwrights, ignorance of how one embarrassing video clip can damage a career, and ignorance of the relative roles of writer and director. Daved’s call claims for him the right to show video, in perpetuity, of a performance which might have been so altered by young directors as to make the playwright look like a talentless moron sacrificing good taste and skill in order to get laughs and applause from some audience. Daved does not give the playwright any veto power after seeing the video. Do you think Hollywood was doing the right thing when they hired a Faulkner to write a screenplay, then fired him and hired hacks to write the screenplay, and then used his name rather than the hacks’ names in the credits? If Faulkner were not a heavy drinker before this, he would be after the first screening. Young people learning the role of director should be required to at least exchange emails with the writers. I wish the youth program well, really, knowing that it can succeed in its purpose without egregiously exploiting playwrights.

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