I’m getting tired of being told I’m not special.
I was working on an application that’s due on December 3. It’s a fellowship I’ve applied to for the last three years that I’ve been worried I won’t be applicable for soon. The artistic director knows my name and writes very sweet notes on my rejection letters. And I ask for feedback because I keep thinking “maybe it’s me. Maybe if I try harder.” And then, from that specific opportunity, here’s the feedback I get every single time
“No clear goals” // “Your voice is absent from your artistic statement.” (WHICH. WHAT?!) // “The writing is full of heart, and the characters fairly well defined and rounded, in spite of lack of narrative.” // “While your goals are clear, what you would do specifically with this fellowship is unclear.”
Recently, I drove from Madison, WI to Fayetteville, AR. It’s normally a 10.5 hr drive but it always takes me 12-13 hours. When I drive I don’t like listening to podcasts because they require my attention. Instead, I like listening to a specific playlist I build the night before full of songs I already know so I can tune out and just be alone with my thoughts.
And many, many of my thoughts this time around were about playwriting. I kept thinking “If I’m getting back the same vague feedback every single year, what if the problem isn’t me?” The feedback is usually the same. That I’m a “promising” writer but clearly not promising enough.
By whose standards though?
So many theatre companies have been using the same readers for years. And many of them are older and white. When I ask for the demographic of the readers, I usually don’t get a response. I get “well you know, it’s hard to find people who will do this for free.”
Okay. So pay them. “We can’t afford that.” Well, then you’re always going to have an issue. The options are (1) diversify your reading pools and pay them or (2) accept that the same type of playwrights will be let into your program.
But even with diverse readers, I’m still not breaking ground. Because my characters are not “believable” or “relatable.” This fellowship is supposed to be life-changing. So many of my friends have gotten in and I see how it’s launched them.
Which is fantastic. I am so f*cking proud to call them my friend. But what if, what if my career is just supposed to look differently?
I got another rejection letter from a different fellowship that’s supposed to be life-changing. This one did not have a nice note from the artistic director. This one said “We had many highly qualified candidates and, unfortunately, you were not one of them.”
So, I’m not special or qualified, cool.
It’s easy to get lost in despair about this. Feeling like I’ve made it as far as I’m going to go and trying to make peace with that.
But, then, I think about it. In 2020, the year when theatre was supposedly “dark,” I got three new commissions, had over 15 readings that I didn’t produce myself, 4 readings I did produce myself from the theatre I founded with two other amazing artists, two publishing offers, and am working on two different project proposals right now with theatre companies.
All without an agent.
I also got a really cool teaching job, am figuring Page by Page out every single day, and truly coming into my own as an artist.
So, again, by whose standards am I not special? Maybe I’m just not the normal kind of special, whatever that is. Maybe fellowships just aren’t the path for me. I like working directly with theatre companies, anyway. Feels like a more direct line.
Maybe I’m not special or extraordinary. Maybe that’s okay.
I’ve decided to not apply for that fellowship that’s due on Dec 3. Or any other fellowship. Or any submission opportunity* for that matter. For the full calendar year of 2021.
If I’m meant to take a different path, I want to spend 2021 figuring out what that is.
*I will still submit to opportunities that are specific to BIPOC artists at companies with a staff of 50% BIPOC teams AND at least 2 BIPOC in leadership positions. But that’s it.
**If a company reaches out to me, of course I’ll still work with them. I’m just saying I won’t be doing blind submissions in 2021 outside of the BIPOC staff requirement listed above.