Submitting applications is exhausting.
I took a break from completing six different ones due today to write this post. And part of me felt anxious because I want to get these things done and submitted, but the other part was happy for a moment of respite from talking about myself (not a favorite pastime) and expounding on my beliefs as a playwright.
The kicker is that no two applications are the same. In general they ask for a resume, a personal statement, and a statement of objectives. But it’s the specific questions for each of the latter two that make it difficult to just copy and paste and save time. Trust when I say I have spent upwards of 6 hours sitting in front of my computer deciding between plays, researching the theatre companies or grant organizations, tailoring what I say for the specific program objectives, deciding what I want to work on with the play I am submitting (if it’s a writers program) or blathering on about why my play should be awarded the prize that several other hundred playwrights are also vying for.
At some point you stop and ask if people actually read these things. I mean assistants and interns, undoubtedly, run through the first round of applications. Having helped out on application processes for other programs, I know the kind of mindless drivel and hackneyed aphorisms that can make it through. Not to mention the sheer volume of applicants who clearly haven’t read the requirements. And some who don’t even know what they are applying for.
And those who DO copy and paste but don’t change the names.
And I freely admit to having a couple moments of that moronic move myself.
So the lucky few who do manage to get through to the next rounds are now pitched against one another in a non-physical Hunger Games gauntlet of vying for importance in the American Theatre. The assumption is that once you get to a semi- or a finalist round you are not a hack and have some kind of measurable skill and talent. Ah, but you need an edge. What sets you apart? Some will bring their minority cards to the table, others their sexual preference, a few their refugeeism (ding ding ding: ME), and perhaps a smattering of disabilities make their way through. And don’t forget about the exhaustive list of awards, recognitions, accolades, reviews, recommendations from luminaries, and letters from doting grandmothers. It’s not always just about the writing; I mean it IS called show BUSINESS and you have to figure out what the smartest way is to get up to the next rung of the ladder. Marketing attraction and marquee value are not to be underestimated when it comes to things like play titles, playwright names, and personal histories.
The feeling of relief when you are done and submit the application is indescribable. It lasts for about a minute when you realize you have one more left or get forwarded an e-mail from a peer telling you about a grant, award, program, or fellowship you somehow managed to leave off your spreadsheet that you use to track deadlines and submissions.
Or maybe I’m the only anal-retentive overachieving minority who does that…
And then you procrastinate. Oh God, do you procrastinate. You have a month. You have two more weeks. Let me go to the bar tonight since I have one week left. It’s due tomorrow? Hm. I can do it in the morning.
And then you have six to do before midnight.
I’d hate to be the inboxes on deadline days or even during the final hour of the deadline.
But your job is done. Relief. Now you just have to wait. You can get back to looking for applications due in another two or three months, get to those rewrites or the new play you have been meaning to write, go to your survival job, or call up a few pals to get some alcohol in you to reward yourself.
Until a few weeks later when the rejection letters and e-mails come in droves. These formless template form letters thanking you for your play, saying you have promise, explaining how many applications came in and how difficult it was to decide, and how the hope is you will apply again the following year.
The first time you get that letter you feel upset but emboldened. The third time you realize that you are not the only one who got that letter. After the eighth time you just read the opening paragraph and throw the rest out once you know that the odds were not in your favor this time, Katniss/Peeta.
And the reasons you tell yourself you didn’t get in? They include but are not limited to: I am not well-connected enough, no one knows me, I’m too new, I’m too good, I don’t have a name, I’m not friends with this artistic director or that literary manager, the chosen have been produced, I don’t have any awards to my name, I write weird plays, I’m not white/black/Asian/Middle Eastern, I’m not male, I’m not female, they just don’t get me, I’m just not good enough.
That last one is the killer.
It makes you stop writing for a while. Makes you give up for a bit. Makes you question why you are bothering. Makes you tired of trying to break through. Makes you open to feeling professional jealousy. Makes you waste time asking: Why them and not me?
And once you’re done consuming more calories than any human should in one sitting…or two…or a whole week. Once you’ve finished watching reality shows so you can feel better about your life in light of the hot messes on TV. And once you finally manage to open up a file to start rewriting or writing something new, you slowly find your way back. You take that deep breath. And you get back to work. Because feeling sorry for yourself won’t really get results at the end of the day.
And at the end of that day someone is bound to like you sometime soon so that you never have to fill out another application packet again.
At least - that’s what you cling to.
Sevan is at the brink of submission exhaustion and would like to open his own application process for wealthy benefactors to support his artistic endeavors. No statements or resumes needed, but there will be a credit check.
This post is part of a weekly series from the Emerging Writers Group community of playwrights. The EWG is two-year playwriting fellowship at The Public Theater seeking to target playwrights at the earliest stages of their careers. In so doing, The Public hopes to create an artistic home for a diverse and exceptionally talented group of up-and-coming playwrights.