#PlaywrightRespect, #WeAreSeniorsToo and @WordsPlayers

It is amazing what a week can do. As I write this, at 2am, I’m in Kansas City on a mini vacation. A vacation before I start a new “real world job” a vacation from the struggle that was directing a musical (even with a talented co-director, music director and pit conductor), and a vacation from the stress of being a playwright in the modern age.

A playwright in the modern age means Tweeting, writing blogs, being active on Facebook, submitting to opportunities (at least a 100/year according to some), the work of a producer (if you are self-producing, which I’ve done and am doing), trying to find that new marketing hook, oh yes an writing.

It was also a vacation from the craziness that was #PlaywrightRespect, craziness that I jumped in on.

Why did I jump in and be, as one commentator said on the Words Players Facebook Page, “one of the more critical, but also one of the more fair, balanced and polite voices I read here.”?

Because I’ve been here before.

If you remember in February of 2014, I called to task a school that I felt was disrespecting their student musicians. Accusations got thrown back and forth, students were threatened, cyber bulling occurred on my site (and was immediately taken care of), but for a week I lived the life of a blogging whose post has gone (somewhat) viral.  My own family was divided on the issue, I heard from parents, from schools, from teachers, from former students and from current students. I’ve often viewed myself as a citizen journalist reporting on the arts and particularly student artists.

I don’t do enough reporting on that, and I should.

There were other lessons I learned, and often didn’t use when the #playwrightrespect hashtag exploded, thrusting a small, amatuar theater in Minnesota into the national spotlight.

I should have remembered that the internet can be a productive place. Bringing attention to what many of us did was important for the Playwright community. Experienced voices (and me) trying to help correct something that went wrong. When private, quiet letters didn’t work, louder voices on social media did. This captured the attention of the Dramatists Guild, Playbill, and Broadway World. Change was made, apologies issues, a discussion was held. I didn’t think change would happen, but it did.

But I should have remembered that the internet can be an ugly place. People are angry and just as I saw insults hurled at me during #WeAreSeniorsToo and at those who stood with me, people were angry at this theater and showed it. I don’t think they were angry at Words Players and North Words in particular. To them, they weren’t “people” but rather symbolic of every theater that every changed their words without permission, or didn’t respond to their query, or accept their submission. I know I was angry at a local theater when this happened, they chose to ask a local writing group to write the script to their Halloween guided ghost tour instead of me, the playwright who lives in their town and is active in this community. But instead of channeling that anger and disappointment into something productive, I saw an opening to defend my fellow playwrights.

Basically put, there are white hats and there are black hats in every community. Those who abuse and those who save. The problem is, often times, we switch those hats back and forth quickly and what we see as a “white hat” is often times seen as a “black hat” to others.

Is there a solution? I don’t know. With Words Players, I think this NEEDED to happen as it did, warts, threats, and all, because in the past, the few that wrote letters seemingly got no where (although Daved Driscoll-the Artistic Director at Words Players acknowledged that he should have changed the guidelines last year and meant to but forgot. Hey it happens to all of us.) This issue, with a small youth theater in the eye, hit at the “perfect time”. It was an issue that had been building for quite some time. And when Words Players seemingly (to us at least) shut down and quit responding, locking down accounts and deleting comments, it spurred us on.

I think the solution is two-fold. Fold one, theaters that are called out like this should respond with something more then “if you don’t like it, don’t submit” and with something like “We are looking into this matter” and asking for a dialog on how to improve submissions so that they are respecting playwrights. And playwrights, we need to voice our voices of concern, quickly and immediately. We need to not worry about reprisals and call out theaters that are abusive or potentially abusive. But we also need to be willing to reach out and help. To guide and explain why the Dramatist’s Bill of Rights is so important to us. And we need to breath and listen and communicate.

Theater is a two-way street, but we are all creative and artistic and crazy. We need to reach out and be collaborative while also respective. Your words are YOURS but they are just words, not your first born or your pet. Be open and listen and theaters should be open and listening too to understand our point of view.

Finally to Words Players, it has taken me several days to write this, because I needed to step back and relax. I also have an upcoming staged reading of Allie In Wonderland to focus on. Oh yes and the productive, real life job starting up Monday. But I needed to write this, and I needed to write this as an apology. I don’t know if I said anything destructive, I certainly tried to be constructive, but I also know I viewed things through a very cynical lens and I’m someone whose words have been respected (for the most part–I don’t always hear about EVERY production) and have been consulted when changes have needed to be made. But to those at Words Players, I apologize if, in my zeal for #playwrightrespect, I didn’t show why we deserve it.

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