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?