(For those interested, I've written about this a bit previously in a slightly infamous blog post called "Let's All Just Pretend.")
Some key paragraphs:
"But, if you don't accept submissions anymore, how do we get our plays to you."
I left PlayPenn thinking about this unanswered question and wishing I'd had time to answer it. Here's the thing, Hal. Nothing's really changed about that, if you think about it. When the submission policy was open, writers and agents had the impression they were getting their plays to me by putting them in the mail (or, increasingly, e-mail) addressed to me. Or to our Artistic Director. But they weren't. They were getting plays to a corps of non-staff readers with no real avenue to impact planning decisions. Only a handful of organizations with open submission policies can say the artistic staff reads everything that comes in. And most of those that can are either play development centers or small producing theaters.
So, the plays I read come to me from a variety of sources and each time via an invitation from me or Molly with a commitment to read them. Arena Stage puts a huge amount of effort into attending new play festivals and labs. And we maintain close relationships with the artistic staff of most of them-- these people will often lobby us to take a look at a play they've worked on that they feel is a match for our interests. There's one play in the season this year that came that way- via a "heads up" from a development lab. Arena also puts resources into commissions and more often than not we wind up producing the play that results. There's a play on the season this year that came through a commission. We attend productions of new plays at theaters around the country. There's an Arena production moving to Broadway this season of a play that came that way, and another on stage here this coming season. Last year we hosted more than 100 writers in conversations at Arena, and through those relationships dozens of plays were read by staff here.
Embedded in Hal's question is the real question underneath so many interactions I have with emerging playwrights. "How do we get a production at Arena if we're not known to you already and you won't read our plays when we send them?"
The answer to that one is by being in motion in the world as a playwright. If you're participating in development labs and conferences, if your plays are somewhere in production, if you're engaged in the #newplay dialogue that is taking place online-- where all of Arena's Artistic Development staff is "hiding in plain sight" and actively participating as well-- you have a much better chance of coming to our attention than if you are mailing a script to a theater that assigns it to a non-staff reader."
So, this is honest and undoubtedly true. It's also, perhaps, the only way it can work given that only human beings can figure this stuff out, and there just aren't that many of them to go around. It also, of course, does answer the question of "Okay why say you have an open submission policy when you don't?" The answer: "Fine, we don't." Not exactly encouraging, but honest.
I'm sure that the institutions we're talking about share in the artists' frustrations that the system described above does not embed merit (whatever that means to you) in its bones. Visibility, free-time, enthusiasm, access, audience-interest, freshness, the topical nature of one's work... those things are heavily weighted in one's favor. Maybe that's the only thing that can work. Maybe that's just what does work. I don't envy the sheepish, shy, technologically challenged introvert that is trying to get his or her play seen.
Everyone just keep trying, try harder, try until you get it right.