Part of the "Things I've Learned Reading Script Submissions" series
a cranky post
by Gina L. Grandi, director
I used to be in charge of hiring teaching artists for an arts education non-profit here in NYC. I would get up to 300 applicants for sometimes as few as three open positions. We asked applicants for a few specifics, including that they let us know why they were interested in our organization.
What I learned pretty early on? If an applicant doesn’t follow directions, don’t consider them for the position.
If an applicant sent their generic cover letter and didn’t answer that “why” question, I had no way of knowing they knew us, liked us, and actually wanted to work for us. We were a specific organization working in a specific way with a specific population of young people. Interviewing a candidate only to find they weren’t really interested in the work we were doing? It happened. And it was a waste of everyone’s time.
Also, if you don’t follow directions on an application, why would I assume you’ll follow through at work? An application is an introduction – you’re putting your best foot forward. If your best foot is careless, I don’t want you working for me.
Now I have this little theatre company, and I’m reading scripts. Lots of scripts. Hundreds of scripts. And everything that drove me batty when I was reading teaching artist resumes are the same things driving me batty now.
Being a playwright is tough, people. There are a lot of us out there, and it’s hard to get your foot in the door. It’s hard to keep your foot in the door. It’s hard to get feedback, to get a production, to get someone to notice your work. So of course we’re sending our work towards any opportunity we can. I know that.* We all know that. But I’ve seen and heard playwrights chat - on social media, at events, at workshops – about submission opportunities their work doesn’t really fit, and hear the response, “What can it hurt? Send it anyway.”
What can it hurt? Well, it hurts my cats, because they’re the ones I’m ranting to and they are, frankly, sick of hearing about it. But it also hurts you, because you’re wasting time. You’re wasting your own, and you’re wasting that of whoever is on the other end is reading your submission that in no way matches what the organization wants and needs.
I can’t speak for larger theatre companies, or other individuals inside smaller companies. This is purely my own, busy, cranky, exasperated point of view. That said, I’m pretty confident there are plenty of others like me: people who maybe aren’t getting paid (or paid much) but who love their work, who love reading scripts, talking about scripts, and finding fabulous scripts, and who are irritated by the sheer number of people who don’t seem to have any idea who it is they’re sending their work to.
If I may (and I may, since I’m the director and I have the password to this site), I would like to take this opportunity to howl into the void about those things that I am finding so irksome:
Number One: the .docx
Our submission form says – very clearly and in bold – ‘please save and upload your script as a pdf.” And yet! And yet. Out of the – what, 70? scripts I’ve read just this past week, I’d say 10 of them have been a doc (or docx).
Petty, you say. Does it really matter?
Well, yes, it does. It matters to me, which is why I’ve asked writers not to do it.
First, sometimes a doc(x) shows up on my desktop and the formatting’s gone all wonky. That’s not serving the playwright’s work, and it’s all kinds of annoying.
But also, a pdf opens in a new tab and I can read it from there. Handy! A doc(x) I have to download. And then, after I read it, it’s sitting there on my desktop and I have to delete it. (Are you about to email me, telling me some work-around? I have already found one, thanks – reading pdfs.)
Again, petty? Maybe. But I’m reading a good 50 scripts a month and those extra clicks can wear on a person. Also, I don’t want to! And I’ve asked you not to make me!
Plus, I don’t want to open your doc(x) on my computer – I do not know where your doc(x) has been.
Also, come on. This is a basic direction. Like I said before, I don’t trust much else if I can’t trust you to follow the basics.
Number Two: the playwright questions
The questions we post on our submission form tell us a lot, and we pay attention to them. The first question is, “Why did you choose to submit this script to the Bechdel Group? What do you hope to get out of this reading?” We have a very clear and specific purpose for existing, and if we can’t tell you’re excited about us, it’s harder to get excited about you. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if a writer even knows what it is we do, and sometimes it’s clear they think we do something we do not.
Each of our questions has a purpose and we read them carefully - not only do we get a sense of a writer and where they are with this particular piece of work, but we get a pretty clear idea about who knows who we are and genuinely wants to be a part of our series.
Number Three: ignoring the submission guidelines
Just typing that made my shoulders seize up. For the love of Marvin my Petulant Kitten, read those guidelines. READ THEM. Ours are pretty clear: we ask that submitted scripts pass the Bechdel Test and be in development. We include some other notes and tips, but that’s the bar. I have been sent scripts with all-male casts. I have been sent scripts with one female character. I have been sent scripts where the women are unidentified except by their hair color or breast size. Sometimes it’s clear that the writer has no idea what it is we do. Sometimes it’s clear they read our tagline and stopped. (I’ve gotten a number of male/female two handers where the writers have assured me the females are “strong, complex, layered” characters. Maybe they are, but I didn’t read the scripts. Because they don’t meet our guidelines.)
The first thing I do – after reading the form responses – is look at the character list. Does the character list have more than one female character? No? Done. Does the character list seem disproportionately male? I’ll skim the script to see where the women speak to each other. Not for 40 pages? Done. Only for four pages? Done.
But wait! A writer somewhere is crying. Those four pages are magnificent! My female characters are the most amazing ever!
And you know, writer, you might be right. Your script might be all kinds of awesome and do all kinds of awesomeness for women, but our guidelines are clear. We’re interested in exploring boundaries, but we’re also getting a whole lotta scripts, and plenty of them are giving us what we ask for. We’re just not interested in male centered stories. Plenty of other companies are. We’re not interested in scripts where a woman doesn’t appear for over half an hour. There are plenty of companies who are.
Are you chewing your lip, thinking of that script you submitted but weren’t quite sure about, the one you thought it fit the ‘pushing the envelope’ category? Chances are, if you’re worried, you’re one of those writers who wrote thoughtful responses to the playwright questions on the submission form. That’s one of the reasons they’re there! Some scripts absolutely dance around the edge – tell us about that! Let us know you’re not just sending us any old thing you’re working on, that you’re sending THIS script to US for a reason.
Is it a perfect system? It is not. Am I missing scripts that could lead to some interesting conversations that very much support our mission? I may be. But I’m doing my best. All of us at Bechdel genuinely, deeply care about supporting writers and supporting new work, and we are doing our darndest to give as many writers a workshop as we can.
So writers, all of you – even those of you who only describe your female characters by levels of attractiveness, although I wish you’d cut that shit out – I truly, very much want you to find success and fulfillment doing this thing that you care about. So for the love of the company directors, interns, and producers – and more importantly, for the love of your fellow writers who are thoughtful about where they send their work** – do your research. Send that work you love to someone who wants the kind of work you’re creating. Read the guidelines. Follow directions.
* Dear Red Bull Theater: I am so sorry. You know the script I’m talking about.
** Shout out here to the many, many super fabulous writers we’ve gotten a chance – even on this limited submission scale – to read. It’s consistently heartbreaking that we have so few reading slots. You are amazing and doing amazing work. Please keep writing.