Success (or Not) by the Numbers

Can raw numbers tell the true story of “success” in the subjective world of art?

a. Oh, don’t be such a philistine.

b. Of course.

c. Both of the above.

I belong to an online playwrights’ group. At New Year’s time, some members tally up their submissions and successes (“hits”) for the past year and share them with the group. This is usually depressing for me, since my hits always seem to fall below the numerical average or don’t carry nearly the same prestige as others’. For that reason, and the general disinterest my fellow playwrights show in my postings, I don’t publish my scorecard.

Ah, New Year, new opportunities...

[An aside – Yes, I am vowing to start 2010 with more confidence in myself as a writer and a person, but my experience at the Yahoo group sometimes leaves me frustrated. It’s not just seeing others’ constant success in the midst of my fail — ah, not that word. My less-than-successful submissions. It is, as I mention above, the sense that everyone slaps everyone else’s back and offers heartfelt comments in our little virtual community, except when I post. Yes, I admit, I am mostly a lurker, but I have responded to others at times, offered a few submission possibilities, posed questions. It’s like my postings vanish into the ether. Or else I have somehow mastered the art of mass alienation without even meeting any of the people involved. Weird.]

But since I am amongst friends at C?WC?, I thought I would post the results here. Thinking maybe seeing them in black-and-white will either spur a redoubling of my efforts as playwright or convince me to throw in the towel once and for all.

A scene from Bob's Head, one of the scant productions of 2009 - Wishbone Theatre Collective, Chicago

I submitted to 160 theaters, mostly community theaters, small non-Equity companies, or programs affiliated with schools. I had a grand total of three productions and one reading. Two more productions came from plays I submitted in 2008. Another play was chosen for production this year but will not be staged until 2010. None of the plays produced was longer than 20 minutes. Three of the productions were for one night only.

This is not the scorecard of a playwright poised for great success in the coming year.

As depressing as the batting average was, and the meager quality of the hits achieved (more like squibbers and Baltimore chops than stinging blasts to the alleys), the year was not a loss. OK, I didn’t start a new full-length, as I vowed so often to do. But I wrote a good number of short plays. More importantly, I like most of them and feel they exhibit some improvement in my craft. One of them, a short based on the structure of Schnitzler’s La Ronde, was chosen as a finalist in a Valentine Day’s-themed contest sponsored by my Yahoo group. It may never be produced, but I felt like I was in good company.

I was also inspired to think about new creative avenues for the coming year. I hope to start work on the book for a musical, based loosely on the band I briefly worked for after graduating high school (and leaving college, and losing my virginity – all topics explored in the last full-length I actually completed, my solo show). If this project happens, I’ll be collaborating with a talented Chicago friend, which I hope will give me more excuses to visit the city.

2010 also has several workshops on tap, and a good chance for a weeklong retreat on Block Island to do nothing but write (all mentioned here, I know: “I repeat myself when under stress, I repeat myself when under stress, I repeat –“). And for some reason, despite the bad numbers for 2009, something in my gut tells me I’ll have more productions this year. As Liza sings, “It’s gotta happen, happen sometime, maybe this time….”

No, my musical - if ever finished - will not be like this one (no Nazis, for one)

(Strange how such an optimistic sentiment emerges in a movie detailing the rise of Nazism. I’m not sure what that means…Irony, perhaps?)

Anyway, my track record as a prognosticator is about as good as my production average, so best not to put too much faith on the hunches. But at least I start the New Year knowing I will write, even if it’s nothing others deem produceable. And in the back of my often-addled head, the idea of self-producing again sometimes scurries about like scared vermin. Of course, haven’t told Samantha that one yet…and in my heart, I know that’s not the kind of staging I want.  Right or wrong, I still think outside validation of my work is the true gauge of success – if not personal fulfillment. But perhaps I can at least be less number conscious – and less worried about what other playwrights might be producing.

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~ by mburgan on January 4, 2010.

2 Responses to “Success (or Not) by the Numbers”

  1. Honey, if you want to self-produce, I’d do it again for you. Also, I know I’ve said this before, those people who post their numbers on-line do so *because* they have the successes (and they want all the back-slapping). Don’t let them suck your energy or make you feel undeserving of recognition. Your talent has nothing to do with their fortune. AND when you do start having productions, let it be a reminder to you – not to do the same boasting to others. ILY

  2. Don’t think we ever have to worry about the boasting–just not my style. (Though if I ever get the reconfigured solo show up again, I might gloat a bit). And I just might take you up on the self-producing again, though I think we have enough going on for the next few months…Thanks for the offer, and love you too.

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