Back-Patting Blues

I found out yesterday one of my short plays is going to be produced at a small theatre in Omaha next month, normally a cause for celebration.

A pat on the back to one local company that always treats writers right

A pat on the back to one local company that always treats writers right

Instead, I was a bit peeved.

Not because my work was selected; I’m always grateful when one of the 150 submissions I send out every year results in a hit, since those hits are few and far between. But how I found out about the selection led to my peevedom, along with several similar incidents this week.

I belong to a Yahoo group for playwrights, and one of the members sent out a message yesterday detailing how he just happened to stumble upon a Omaha theatre that was doing one of his works in an upcoming festival, but had neglected to tell him about it. He also included a list of the full bill, and there it was, my name next to the title of a play I submitted a few months ago. Now, this guy gets a lot more work staged than I do, and he has run into this before, so he didn’t seem too concerned. And it’s not like there’s a loss of revenue if one of the several thousandĀ  small theatres across the land does your work without telling you. 99 times out of 100, non-Equity theatres, especially non-professional ones, do not compensate the playwright. In 20 years of writing plays, I have made, let’s see…a few prizes, scant royalties, minus the loss of self-producing the solo show…about $1,000.

Nobody does this for the cash.

So, I was mostly pissed about the lack of communication, and more so because of what had happened during the week. I just happened to visit the website of one of my oldest clients, and it featured a book series I had worked on several years ago. I wrote five books, they were edited and later reviewed by a consultant, then the publisher decided it didn’t have the money to produce them. Evidently, the publisher came up with the cash, but nobody told me about it. Or about the favorable reviews and recognition the series won.

You know, just maybe the author would like a copy of his work when it’s done. Or to hear that others think highly of his work. Lord knows I don’t make much money with the freelancing either, so a little recognition and positive feedback goes a long way. It’s bad enough there are no holiday parties or other perks…but hey, I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for this gig. No mindless meetings or boring co-workers either (or is it the other way around?).

Now, with this week of faulty communication and non-recognition, the play thing got me thinking: Are other theatres doing my work and not telling me? I Googled Mayor Mac, a full-length comedy that I like and send out a lot, but nobody else seems to think so highly of it. But wait a minute – hello, what’s this? A theatre here in Illinois did a reading of MM this past September. And I did not hear a word about it.

I don’t understand what leads theatres and editors to just ignore writers. In the case of playwriting, don’t you think I might want to see my work staged? Maybe be available, if possible, for rehearsals or to at least talk to the director? I can’t tell you how many times, even here in Chicago, that theatres and directors have shut me out of the process, though at least with those, I was notified the plays were being staged. When I have had the chance to interact with the cast and director, I’ve had the best theatrical experiences of my life. I’ve also usually learned from them how to make the play better, which is what we all should want. The shutting out, now the neglecting to even inform me about a production – I just don’t get it.

I wrote a while back about a recent Dramatist Guild meeting in Chicago. The DG, of course, says we writers have ultimate control and a long list of rights when our work is produced. But as I said in that post, there are tiers in the world of playwriting. When you are in the cheap seats, like me, you really don’t have any rights. Except pulling out of a production completely, which I have done once. Of course, you have to know about the production first. But in general, at my level, you take any production/reading you can get, and grovel your way around the folks who deigned to produce you.

Yeah, lack of recognition sucks when you’re a writer. But it sucks in any part of life. So, to switch gears a bit here, take time now and throughout the year to recognize the people around you for the good things they do or for the good people they are. Especially the loved ones closest to you. Take no one for granted. And please, when you stage one of my plays, just let me know.


~ by mburgan on December 21, 2008.

One Response to “Back-Patting Blues”

  1. Cool blog, Mike. I’ll try to keep up every so often. Great that you can write every day! I’m lucky if I can contribute to my blog more than once every ten days or so!–Matt

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