Monday, September 03, 2007

Never give up

About three years ago I sent a play to a theatre and received a discouraging response: my play wasn't really a play, it was far too schematic, the characters weren't fully rounded, and worst of all, I really needed to learn how to write dialogue and not have them spouting great explanatory speeches.

Well, you know how it is: you think, Couldn't they see that the style of the play was consciously chosen (rather than a mistake!), that the 'schematic' nature of the piece was deliberately devised as a comment on the schematic psychology of the characters, and that in any case it's subverted at the end? That it's not intended as naturalist, for heaven's sake - that televisual standard of 'rounded' characters' and real-life replicating dialogue? And that anyway, the things the characters say in their speeches aren't meant to be taken at face value, they are in fact subverted and overturned by the action? Are there no script readers in theatres educated in the history of theatre and who don't view life through the lens of Coronation Street!!!??? Didn't they read my ****ing letter and see that I have done tons of radio and can write realist dialogue whenever I like, thank you very much?!!! (And probably better than them!!!!) (You're getting vicious now and spitting.) Haven't they ****ing heard of me in any case?!!!!! Are there no script readers who know how to read a script? (You are practically foaming at the mouth by this time.)

And then of course comes the moment of doubt, when, even though you have thought all of these things, you think: But what if they're right? What if I am a crap writer after all? Because there's just no proof that I'm any good if I can't get past these script readers and get my plays on... And you start to think that writing theatre plays is a waste of time and you simply stop doing it...

Well, don't do that. In July I attended a panel discussion, 'Joining the Dots', at the Royal Exchange, held as part of the Manchester International Festival, and was greatly encouraged. One panellist was the inspirational Suzanne Bell, Literary Manager of the Liverpool Everyman - with its admirable record of showing new writing - who proved passionate about new writing. Another was West Yorkshire Playhouse Literary Manager Alex Chisholme who said (with what Chair Tony Clarke, AD of Hampstead Theatre, called admirable honesty) that working recently with a PhD student of Drama had caused her to think that British Theatre may well have been missing plays and playwrights by being too hung up on narrative and character because those are the things it's easiest to teach - at which Tony put in with the statement that he didn't in fact think it was up to other theatre professionals to teach writers how to write.

And guess what? Earlier this year I sent the play I mention above to the very same theatre all over again because the artistic director had changed. And when I got back from Wales there was a wonderful letter understanding everything I was trying to do and lavishing it with praise! They're not putting the play on, but the praise was really inspiring - and what's great is that they want to see anything else I may write.

So never give up, I say. And the best news is, I think things are looking up.


Anonymous said...

Congrats Elizabeth - that's great news!!
A while ago I got rejected by Baby Cow Productions for a sketch show I created and performed.
I emailed the guy who runs the Manchester office a while later about something else. He invited me for a little meeting with him and he knew nothing about my sketch show. Said they'd had a really bad guy on work experience at that period of time and it seems he messed a lot of their admin up...
I gave him another copy of the sketch show and he liked it!
He's the one who's behind my stand-up character and he always thinks of me for comedy things...

And my commercial fiction novel got requested for a full read by a publisher a couple of years ago. A reader suggested some changes, which I agreed with and changed them, it then got passed to another reader who rejected it without comment!
It's soooo frustrating!

But FAB news for you!!!

Elizabeth Baines said...

What this all proves is that you should never let one puny rejection stop you in your tracks!

Anonymous said...

I went to the BBC Writers Room seminar at the festival - not sure if you went to that one. It seems the BBC are very thorough - which is good news at least!