Getting the writing out, having it make sense and engage, these are particular hazards of the profession. The step that comes thereafter, well.. that’s the dance.
There is no surfeit of names of talent, who have had their work rejected, or thrashed across several desks as being unintelligible.
But Playwrights, as a breed, are driven to persevere, as a play is not finished just because it is written. Without actors to portray characters, and an audience to react to what they see and hear, the work is without witness, and incomplete..
…perhaps for this very reason, playwrights will also maul themselves, to fit whatever crevice of opportunity they see dangling on offer, making the assessment that apertures are rare sightings, and far too precious not to lose a bit of blood for..
The blood, however, tends to come from the guts of their work.
At a point in an artist’s development, there has to be a moment: when the integrity of a work must stand in front of the gate of opportunity, and be judged, in its proper dimensions, as to whether or not it can fit, or should be taken to some other portal.
I believe it is the artist who has to take responsibility for the call.
The catch is: they can only do so when they are in full awareness of their voice and particular talent, and whether or not the work on offer is actually a work of true dimension, perhaps unintelligible to any company, because it is a new work, and the group has no template to judge -despite its deliberate suggestions that a good whittle here and there will set the thing right.
But this internal step of integrity is a dangerous part of the dance. It might be ill judged, or pushed in some intransigent haughty manner worthy of an enfant terrible –which, in some cases, becomes the package.
In London, when I first started writing, it was under the nurturing supervision of the New Playwright’s Trust, which was under the directorship of Polly Thomas. The Trust gave me the support I needed, and the room to grow, allowing me to test my skills in any direction I chose.
When I emerged from that group, I considered myself a playwright; my first piece was performed by the Trust, at the Theatre Museum, Covent Garden. From that presentation, I was asked to submit a work to the London New Play Festival. Opportunity seemed to be a straight path, leading from one instance to the next.
The play I submitted made it past the first round of judging, and was vetted for the Festival, but then I received a phone call from the Dramaturge of the company, lauding the play, but suggesting, in unalloyed opinion, that there were bits of it that could be clearer.
Of course I leapt at the chance to make the piece better. She offered her services to help with the task, and we set to work.
After much effort and limb reduction, I put the play before the judges of the Festival –and had it summarily rejected. The feedback being that it was nothing like the piece I had originally submitted –less original, and weaker..
Now there had been a little voice in my head during the whole chopping up of the work, disparaging the notions of the dramaturge, and questioning my willingness to maul, beyond recognition, something I felt to be decent. But I was fresh, and it seemed that the title of Dramaturge alone was sufficient moniker of superior knowledge, as to ultimately turn my inner voice down to a mote of insignificant volume.
There was no one to blame in the outcome –except, really, myself; I wanted the chance, the platform, and I was fresh enough to jump any hoop presented, as long as it was facing the opportunity.
Out of that experience I came to recognize that my writing had a particular voice –my voice- and that it was my responsibility to understand it better, to better protect it when I should, and as I could, so that the real urge to find platform didn’t wind up stripping a piece bare, or neutering originality to something banal and uncharacteristic.
It was a valuable lesson: mastering the dance is not just about ably stepping into various arms, but, more importantly, about keeping the precarious balance between ego and purpose…
Because it will always be hard to say ‘no, thank you’ when you’re asked to dance.