I’ve been meaning to write a post for a while now, but things have gotten in the way, mostly my Dad ending up in the ER in Pennsylvania and having to have his gallbladder removed and me having to drive there and back to Columbus a couple of times. I’m still exhausted!
I wanted to write about the awkward/odd feeling I had at the opening of my play, A World Without Allergies; A Talk by Dr. Michael Kramer (feel free to read it) , at MadLab Theatre’s Theatre Roulette. I had never been to a MadLab show; my theatergoing experiences in Columbus have been very limited due to finances and having a job in retail with a fluctuating schedule. And now, there’s a little boy to worry about!
It felt very, very, very strange to be sitting in those chairs, in that space, at that time. The seats were a lovely hodgepodge of seats from other theaters. Some looked like they came from old movie theaters. My wife and I chose some nice, comfy ones near the center. My stomach was a mess. I was very ecstatic to be a part of Theatre Roulette. I remember listening to the voicemail left by Andy Batt that they wanted to produce my play; I had let the phone go to voicemail because I didn't recognize the number and I hate surprises. There are always telemarketers calling from different energy companies or home improvement companies and I think it's best just to ignore them. Anyway, I listened to the voicemail and when I heard that he wanted to produce one of my short plays, I was dumbstruck. It's not that I didn't think the play was good (I do), but I've been so used to rejection by form e-mails, form letters, and silence that I'd forgotten what “yes" sounded like.
Sitting in the theater, I wondered why I had such an intense nervous feeling. It was almost to the point of anxiety attack. Maybe not that far, but it was a very familiar anxious feeling that I haven't felt in a long, long time. And as I was puzzling through reasons for my discomfort, I realized that it's been six years since I've heard my work in front of and alongside an audience. That long? Yes, that long? Really? Yes, I told myself.
I couldn't handle the implications of that realization. What was I doing with my playwriting career if I didn't have anything to show for it? With no recent productions, not even reading, how could I call myself a playwright? In those moments I tried to put myself back together. I closed my eyes a few times, trying to find some way to relax, to not feel as though I was going to be judged by the entire audience, that my entire worth as a playwright was riding on this 5 to 7 minute play that was going to take place towards the end of the evening of short plays. But then, Andy Batt came on stage and said that there would be a change in the order of the plays and that my play would go first. So, I really didn't have time to let the anxiety fester anymore. It would be over with, and then I was able to concentrate on the other pieces. I also couldn’t stop laughing during The Incentive Program by John Busser and one of my other favorites was by Jeremy Sony: Cuckold Walks into a Bar. You can read the play at his website. I think it's awesome that he has those plans available to read. He's part of the reason why my short plays are all available for you to read on my scripts page. If he could be so brave, then maybe I could, too.
It isn't that part of it? Bravery? Being brave enough to call myself a playwright. Even through the dry spell of the past few years without a production or reading, I can still call myself a playwright. A playwright writes plays, and I write plays, so, by definition I am a playwright. But it’s hard when I see other playwrights I know get many productions and readings and all I seem to have is my day job and my day to day. I’m very proud of my fellow playwrights and get excited for them when I see them succeed. I don’t think that playwriting is a competition measured by the length of a resume or bio. It’s a community. I just want to be part of it.
I’m amazingly grateful to MadLab and the audiences that support MadLab for letting one of my pieces be a part of their community. I’m grateful and excited by the fellowship I received through CATCO and the readings I’m going to have of my play coming up in June. Rehearsals for that start this Tuesday. I’m nervous as hell for those readings, for the audience to hear my work. But I'm comforted by knowing that I’ll be surrounded by a community of supporters. As I tell my wife when she doubts herself, “They’re all rooting for you. No one wants to see you fail. They want to see you succeed.” I hope that I listen to my own advice and just enjoy these new opportunities I have and look forward to the next ones. I just hope I won’t have to wait another 6 years.
Good luck with all the opportunities you have, my fellow theatre-makers. Let's celebrate our communities of collaborators and audiences. Be excellent to each other.
This post is two things happening at once. One of my playwriting gurus taught me that irony was "the simultaneous delivery of two conflicting points of view." This post is about as ironic as it gets. It's about how much I hate marketing as a playwright and is also about me telling you about my upcoming projects. It's the anti-marketing marketing post!
In grad school, my part time GA was working for marketing for both the Theatre and Dance departments at The University of Iowa. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed designing posters and programs; I enjoyed writing the articles; I enjoyed interviewing the directors and choreographers for the articles. All fun stuff.
At that time, marketing for shows was mostly text and print-based. This was when Facebook was only available to people in college (remember that?), so social media wasn't an option. We were frequent guests on the Dottie Ray Show on KXIC. She has a wonderful 15 minute show early in the morning broadcasting from her home. I had the pleasure of meeting her twice. I also was also lucky enough to be on a different Iowa Public Radio show to talk about the New Play Festival that happens every year at the University of Iowa for the MFA playwrights, which is, completely coincidentally, happening next week, May 5-10. There are readings in the afternoon and two performances of plays in the evening. We also branched into TV with a commercial that aired during Commander in Chief and Boston Legal (Remember those?).
I like marketing in general, but when it comes to talking about my own work, I get stuck. On those radio shows, I was able to be an authority when speaking about the plays of my peers. I believed in their work; I was excited about their work. While I'm excited about my work and believe in my work, I can't help but feel that lingering ball of doubt in the pit of my stomach that calls me, to be overly dramatic, a fraud. That's completely untrue, but sometimes that voice in the back of your mind can be cruel. Kimya Dawson's song "The Competition" really hits me as true:
I never wanted to be better than my friends
Another verse goes on:
I thought if I succeeded I'd be happy and they'd go away
Listen to the song. It's great. You'll relate. Anyway...
The point is I have a hard time talking about and promoting my work, especially when it comes to social media. I still feel myself stumbling and fumbling along with the etiquette of Facebook and Twitter. Who do I invite to an Event on Facebook? What hashtags do I use? #NewPlay is okay to use? Maybe? Definitely don't use #2amt for promotional use ("We’re not here to promote shows or scripts, and we’re not here to shout each other down. There are plenty of sites for both of those.")
How do we market ourselves (and brand ourselves) as playwrights in the new media? We need to make ourselves part of the conversation so that our posts and exchanges in the various hashtags and happenings are not completely narcissistic and disconnected from the larger conversations. We need to engage. We need to contribute to the well and not simply keep drawing from it. It should be a relationship. A friend of mine said that a relationship is like a bank: If you keep making withdrawals from the other person and don't make any deposits, there's going to be a point where the funds run out. Or the well runs dry, choose your metaphor.
If I add to the conversations then that little, dirty feeling that comes inside of me when I talk about myself and my work can go away. It becomes less about me and more about the community. I always wonder whether I'm depositing enough to the conversation to be able to make a withdrawal. It's that doubt that makes me hesitate to post something promotional.
Another question is: When do we post? Do we post a month before the event? A week before? Do we post once a week? Twice a week? I have rehearsals and performances starting Sunday (first read-through for Books & Bridges!) that I want to share, to promote and entertain, but don’t want to inundate, oversaturate, bore or annoy my followers. Does anyone else have these questions or fears when it comes to marketing? What are your thoughts? What are your rules of marketing etiquette?
And now, the plugs. You have the chance to see my work in Columbus Ohio!
You can catch my ridiculous short play comedy A World Without Allergies, A Talk by Dr. Michael Kramer is being performed as part of the 15th annual Theatre Roulette at MadLab Theatre in Columbus as part of an evening of plays by Ohio playwrights, including two by Jeremy Sony. I'm excited to see his plays. Those performances are 5/9, 5/17, 5/22 (all at 8pm), 5/24 at 2pm.
The big one is the staged reading of my play Books & Bridges on June 8th at 6pm presented by CATCO here in Columbus as well.
All the best to you, my fellow theatre-makers. Be excellent to each other.
Here's the full line-up of plays for MadLab's Theatre Roulette! Tons to see: