Social Media and Playwriting
I know social media is important. During every seminar, workshop, conference and class I’ve taken related to theater, someone has mentioned the importance of social media and marketing production companies and plays. I know social media is important, and I try to maintain a social media presence… But being present on social media also reminds me that 75% of the people on social media are performing… not being.
Case in point, last week I was looking through Facebook posts from one of the groups to which I belong. There was a post from a playwright/actor who talked about her experiences in the 1960s with racism and bigotry. The post was beautifully written and reflected a feeling of victimization to which I related in a relatively private way. I wanted to reach out and say, I’m sorry that happened. I also had a story to share that was very personal to me… And after reading her post, I really felt that she was open to a conversation.
Boy, was I wrong.
I messaged her with a response to her post that I believe acknowledge her experience, that acknowledged the fact that she’d been victimized not only by individuals but by our culture as well. I responded to the fact that her father had passed and that her father had been her support system during a time in America when racism had reached its apex, so we thought. I shared my own experience, an experience I wanted to share only with the person who had written that post.
Her response to me: Why are you contacting me through messaging? Are you ashamed of your empathy? Don’t message me. If you want to respond to my post, respond on my public page.
I guess I never learn… I not only didn’t see that coming, I was a little shocked. For some reason, I still assume that people post on Facebook hoping for a conversation. I’m trying to learn that that’s not true. I’m trying to learn that most people post on Facebook because they’re performing and sometimes posing.
I guess marketing oneself is also… posing?
It’s so easy to control the narrative when one person talks or in this case writes… Like a soliloquy in Shakespeare. “I’m speaking now; I am telling my story from my point of view; don’t interrupt me; just applaud when I’m finished.”
I guess I shouldn’t have been this shocked, but I was. People, I have to learn, are not reaching out to other human beings. Most of them are not. Most of them are soliloquizing. Most of them don’t care what our responses are unless those responses are in the form of likes and applause.
I’m a playwright. I love live theater because there are live human beings on stage telling a story in a way that is unique to the playwright, the director, and the actors. Human beings. Some people have said that playwrighting and acting are manipulative and contrived. I don’t agree. Ultimately, theater is a collective, collaborative art form. It’s about people…. sitting in large theaters or tiny black box theaters; it’s about a story, hopefully a good story… that isn’t about how smart the playwright is, or how clever, or how existentially alone she is. It’s not about sexy actors (although that part can be fun) … it’s about all the people in the room and on the stage and in the wings and at the typewriter (computer) and lightbox and sound equipment and music. It’s about the people planning and sewing and building and searching for chairs that match the scene, etc. All of these individuals are on some level reaching out for a kind of conversation that revolves around and evolves from magic on the stage. It’s about dialogue, not monologue. It’s not a soliloquy. We’re not manipulating and contriving… we’re conversing.
Social media is important. However, social media is marketing, not reaching out. Social media is a great source for information and news, for posts about dates and times, and announcements, about self-promotion. And a few people on social media are genuine and supportive and actually want to reach other humans in a generous way with compassion. I do know a few of those people… but they are few and far between.
DROMIO AND FEMALE ANGER
Yes, I feel FEMALE ANGER!
I went to the “Women in Theatre Leadership: Challenges, Choices, and Change” on March 26, 2019 at the Lewis Arts Complex across the street from the McCarter Theater on the campus of Princeton University. It was sponsored and organized by the New Jersey Theatre Alliance.
On the dais were Emily Mann, McCarter Theatre Center, Princeton; Bonnie Monte, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Madison; C. Ryanne Domingues, Passage Theatre, Trenton; Ari Laura Kreith, Luna Stage, West Orange. The discussion was moderated by Paula Alekson, Artistic Engagement Manager at McCarter Theatre Center.
Okay, so I started my own production company... I’m not alone in this, but I’m the driving force. And honestly, so far this is been nothing but a buffet of heartache, worry, expense and a pain in my ass. So why am I doing it?
Good question. In March, I went to the Women in Theater Leadership conference in Princeton… Just across the street from the incredibly beautiful and famous McCarter Theatre at Princeton University. Impressive. That’s probably the best word I can think of when I describe the conference, the McCarter Theatre, the Princeton campus, and the women on the platform.
The most powerful moment of the conference came for me… and it was a kick in the gut… happened toward the end of the question and answer period. Another female playwright asked the participants at the conference how she could get one of her plays into the hands of one of the women on the stage. Emily Mann, incredibly successful producer and director, said with no hesitation, start your own production company.
I don’t think I heard anything else that was said that night. I left there, driving home through winding rural streets, holding back tears. I’ve been a frustrated writer and playwright for a long time. I write every day. I go to plays. I read plays. I take classes. I engage with other playwrights. Up until that moment, I didn’t expect to have to start my own production company to see my work staged.
But even more debilitating is the fact that drafted plays, even sixth or seventh or eighth drafts, are not ready for production. People reading this know the meaning and the importance of development. How can women expect to get produced when:
1) we can’t get artistic directors or literary managers to even read our plays? I understand, this is a very expensive industry. Everything is expensive: venues, insurance, costumes, props, lighting and sound professionals, directors, stage designers, advertising, etc.
I understand this fact even more now that I’m trying to pay for it myself. I get that. But none of that matters if the playwright can’t even get a literary manager to read her play. How does one do that? The subtext of Emily Mann’s statement is, ‘you don’t.’ No one will read your play. That’s the subtext. In other words, if you don’t have a big following and you can’t promise box office success, forget it.
Back to development: you have this good play with a lot of potential, but it needs work. It needs development. What do you do?
2) even if by some freak of nature, you can get a literary manager or artistic director to read your play, your play is probably not ready for production. It needs development. But no one is going to invest time in development unless you can promise a huge box office return. Thus, you got nothing. You might as well give up.
I used to attend religious services on a regular basis, and in one church I attended, there was the most beautiful music. Every Sunday, this angel-voiced young woman would sing beautiful, religious songs. It was amazing. Every Sunday for a year, I listened to her beatific voice. Then one Sunday, a young man showed up and sang one song. He was pretty good, not great. The congregation applauded. Why? Because he was a man. It was absolutely twisted. The story is a little like the ‘prodigal son’ but with a splash of female anger. I always believed that the point of the biblical prodigal son story was that the ‘father’ wants all of his children close by to love them, and none of us should be jealous of what God gives to others. But my overwhelming understanding of female anger tells me that the church singers’ story is about the fact that our culture has instilled in all of us the belief that anything a man does is better than anything a woman does. ‘Men are the movers and shakers.’ I even had a female professor say that in class once: she said, ‘Why are you getting a master’s degree? You’re just going to go home and have a baby.’
Why is that still happening in our culture? And why in art and theater, where there is supposed to be an equalizer? (Not sure what it is, but it’s supposed to be there…) Why is it still happening in theater and performance art?
So I started my own theater production company. I started planning my first show: a festival of women’s 10-minute plays based on the theme ‘Film Noir on Stage.’ Great theme, people said. I immediately began collecting props and costumes, planning, looking for a venue, getting quotes on insurance, talking to multiple people about production and staging, talking to directors… and inviting female playwrights to participate.
For some reason, however, many of my female counterparts, women playwrights, opted out of the festival. Why?
I’m busy. That’s a busy weekend. I have other commitments. I’m not sure I like the theme. How much time do you want me to invest?’
But I, as a female artistic director and producer, heard, ‘I don’t think you can pull this off.’
Our culture has so ingrained in us that men can do things that women can’t. And even now, I’m struggling with this. Every day I apply for at least one new financial resource. Every day I do research on opportunities for instruction, training in production and directing, checking on equipment like production and sound equipment, searching for sound files, costuming, etc. This is a lot of work. It’s costing me a lot of money, a lot of sleep, and I’m stressed to the max.
But is this what it takes? A couple of people killing themselves to uplift an entire community? A community that has no idea how much of our souls are being chapped by this process that may lead nowhere and to nothing?
Is this what female anger looks like? Does it feel like being alone?
Why did I start my own production company? I look back on that conference and believe that day was a curse. Or not.
This is what women see when they look for play development: a tragic traffic jam...
Letter from a playwright soul sister…
“I’m really, really weary—of the “gatekeepers”, the people who have done a little of this work and then—whether by choice or happenstance—have moved into these positions where they run things or manage things or administer things. They seem to have forgotten about the work. They seem to have forgotten about artists not just as people but as the red hot of theatre. Face it. All we really need are writers and actors. We don’t need directors, we don’t need designers or artistic directors or heads of foundations, etc. to make theatre. They add to things, they can make theatre spectacular and exciting and beautiful but what comes first, by definition, is the play and the people on stage saying the words. And all these people—people who write a few plays and then become administrators—i just don’t feel like they have the best interests of writers at heart. I don’t trust them and I don’t like them. They are businesspeople. Products of a neoliberal economy that has infected EVERY aspect of our lives. I remember watching the film version, years ago, of Randy Shilts book “And The Band Played On.” There was a scene where a bunch of MDs on the board of the Red Cross were deciding whether or not to test the entire blood supply for the HIV virus. After crunching the numbers and taking into account public perception they decided it wasn’t prudent to do so, thereby allowing the virus into the blood bank supply. And one fellow on the board said, “If doctors behave like businesspeople, who can the people depend on to be doctors.” That line always stuck with me and I think of it often in the context of our work. We’ve allowed the businesspeople, the marketers, the $$ people, the instagramers and the literary managers to run the show. No wonder that there is so much emptiness at the core of so much writing today.
[People] talked about all the shit scripts that were accepted for this conference or that competition…
But the question is, what sense do we make of this fact?
…When stuff doesn’t get accepted, I think we feel we need to look at the essence of who we are—our age, gender, race, sexuality—and blame that. And certainly ageism, sexism, racism, etc. always play a part.
But I think the larger context is just that people are picking scripts the way they toodle around Target with their red basket picking up unnecessary plastic shit. They are grazing. They are consuming. They have no vision, no passion, no desire. A lot of the gatekeepers in our field, sad to say, are dead inside. All the more reason why it’s incumbent upon us to be madly alive. Their vision of a visionary is a CEO. Ick. I don’t WANT to be a CEO. I don’t want to balance profits against costs, I don’t want to be responsible to shareholders, I don’t want to run a company. I want to excavate truths.
We are all flopping around like fish out of water, desperate to figure out what we need, what we should do and where we belong.