Turndowns. Turndowns. Turndowns.

Any playwright worth his salt has scads of letters from theatres telling him "Thank you but no." Theatres never tell you why. No surprise there. Even when they say yes, they never say why. It's easy to hate them.

There's a little voice deep within me whispering, "The reason they never say why is they haven't a clue. And what is worse, they know they haven't a clue and they're too chickenshit to stand up and admit it." I smile. I nod. The little voice is suddenly my friend, telling me what I want to hear.

As for those theatre bastards, I imagine them writing "yes" and "no" and "perhaps" on a stairway and tossing the scripts in the air with maniacal glee. Yes, that's it. I spend months doing what I do and they spend minutes, nay seconds, doing what they do. Whatever. Bottom line is, the nice ones promise to keep your manuscript on file. The asswipes don't tell you shit. And the asswipes always outnumber the nice ones.

I belong to an Internet Group called Playwrightbinge. It's a good group. It encompasses writers at every level of experience. We have writers there who've scripted 30 or 40 plays and have had hundreds of productions and have seen it all. We have writers who are just starting out and joined the binge to get advice and encouragement.

But regardless of where you are professionally, one thing EVERYONE discusses is turndowns. As in, "I just got a turndown from so-and-so." No matter who you are, you never get used to it.

The number of turndowns is increasing. Because the number of opportunities out there are decreasing. Just do the math and you'll see. It's a bad time to be a playwright. It's also a bad time to be a theatre. Theatres are closing. And those that aren't closing are experiencing tighter budgets. Add to that the fact that audiences are getting older and dying off. And those not busy dying off aren't spending much time reading plays. No one reads anymore. No one cares.

Back in the day, a playwright was an honored person. Everyone knew who the great playwrights were. My great-grandfather, Hans Christian Andersen, was a playwright as well as a storyteller and he was famous all over the world. But now, it's different. You might be the greatest playwright in the USA and no one will know who you are. Or care. Case in point. Israel Horovitz spoke at the Long Beach Playhouse in 2001 and only twenty people showed up. In 2005, Noah Haidle spoke to a gathering in Orange County. A gathering of four people. I could go on but what's the point?

Nevertheless, regardless of the times, you keep your turndowns. They're your whip lashes. Your prison chains. Your gulag. Your proof that you do what you say you do.


So what does a turndown look like? What does a turndown say? Let's take five at random.

Here's one that says, you were all sooo good and it was really, really hard to choose...


This one says, so many worthy plays, so few slots...


Here's one that says, we were intrigued (I've come to hate that word), but we'll pass....


Here's my favorite. This one says my play came in second or third or fourth behind a play about a jarhead in tights. Don't ask...


Last but far from least is the turndown I received from the theatre where I religiously went each week for playwrighting classes and when I submitted something, they treated me like a stepchild to the point of misspelling my name. You'd think, after five years of having my stuff read on the SCR Nicholas Stage, I'd at least get a "Way to try, Dale" letter, but no. The asswipes...



There was a Seinfeld episode where Jerry goes to a heckler's jobsite and boos her at her desk so she'd know how it felt. It was a cool concept. How about turning the tables on a theatre that sends you a turndown letter? Guess what? I did it.

I received a turndown from Stageworks Hudson for the play, "The Bridge at No Gun Ri." The Literary Manager said the work was "intense" and "intriguing" but not quite the right fit for them. Okay. Only one minor issue. Hardly worth mentioning. I did not write "The Bridge at No Gun Ri."

That was my opening. Take a letter, Maria.




Damn, that felt good!

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Anonymous said...

My sympathy for your plight and, having been there myself many times, I know how distressing the "turndown" is. But, really, it's a matter of 'live by the sword, die by the sword.' No one asked us to be playwrights. We chose one of the toughest paths for whatever sane or not-so-sane reasons. No one owes us anything. Of course, it would be nice if the turner-downers would honestly tell us the reason. But overwhelmingly they don't, can't or won't. It's part of what we have to live with. Last thought: with so many turn-downs as the normal condition, doesn't that make an acceptance extra wonderful?

playwrighter said...

Yup. You're right, Anon.

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