#YesOrNo is a wake-up call to the theatre industry (your views, August 30)
I’ve worked across the creative industries as a writer/producer. I’m now writing for theatre. I was amazed to read that casting directors and theatres were proud of their agreement to now offer auditionees a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
To be proud of something that in other industries has been professional common decency for years is typical of the theatre sector.
For most people working, or trying to work, in theatre, it’s a life of 90% rejection. It’s no wonder there are such high mental health problems in the industry. Therefore, how we reject ideas is important. In my time commissioning for film and television, we always tried to make a rejection constructive – talking with producers about why a project wasn’t suitable, what we liked, didn’t like, etc. It’s in all our interests to improve the work.
I accept that, for many theatres, time and resources make this difficult. However, in my experience writing for theatre, 30% of theatres don’t even acknowledge receiving a script, and of those that do, that will be the last you hear from half of them. I can count on one hand the theatres that reply with any kind of supportive response or feedback. It is, to put it bluntly, a very harsh, if not rude, approach.
Here are some hints for a simple, productive and supportive approach to dealing with script submissions:
1. Explain what you want. Avoid words such as ‘exciting’, ‘refreshing’ and ‘original’ – all of us consider our work to be that.
2. Acknowledge receipt of the script. You might even thank us for sending it, but that might be a bit far for some.
3. Give a timescale for a response and stick to it.
4. To simply state that no response should be considered no interest, is lazy and unconstructive. You know who you are.
5. Give a response, including any reader comments. It’s a cut-and-paste job – not hard.
6. If it’s a competition, let people know if they are unsuccessful. Bcc group mail-outs were invented for this.
7. Crack on with producing brilliant work in the knowledge that writers will want to submit their plays to you because they feel you care.
We want an inclusive, supportive, constructive industry, please. The way we treat creative people dictates the industry we have.
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It’s ironic to see #YesOrNo presented as a response to the conduct of an established theatre hierarchy. In fact, the practice of simply ignoring the actors you don’t cast came in with the new barbarism of the internet. People are effectively ‘zapped’.
When I was directing and casting plays at Leicester Haymarket, some years ago now, I rang the agent of each actor we interviewed with comments offered in good faith. It was just called politeness then. Now it seems to require a movement. The National Theatre has signed up to this. Nearly two years ago, I wrote to Rufus Norris asking if he might meet me with Jon Fosse, Europe’s leading playwright, who was prepared to fly from Norway at his convenience. I am still waiting for a reply. Any mature organisation would have the means and the will to respond at the very least.
It is the theatre’s cronyism, elitism and nepotism that need to be dismantled. #YesOrNo is addressing a single symptom of the disease.
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Could the same courtesy perhaps be extended to struggling playwrights? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve responded to a call-out for scripts only to find my work disappearing into the ether, never to be heard of again.
The most galling is when I’ve written something new so it fits their remit, a piece created especially for them, and they can’t even be bothered to send a quick note confirming that they’ve received it, let alone send a group email to all those rejected just saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Some are great at responding, even going to the trouble of personalising the email that contains the dreaded word, ‘unfortunately’ (I got detailed feedback from one, which is virtually – and understandably – unheard of). For others, it seems to be a case of encouraging as many people as possible to submit scripts so they can pick and choose the ones they want and pretend that the rest never existed in the first place. It’s just plain rude.
Am I alone in being astonished that the National Theatre, let alone everybody else in the sector, doesn’t at least give this bare minimum already?
Why do we have to have a ‘campaign’ when this is just common courtesy? As a performer, I have to spend time learning audition pieces, funding myself to get to auditions and the stress and emotion comes as part of the whole package.
How difficult is it to a) advise you directly, or your agent, if you have been successful or not, and b) give feedback if requested?
If you are in the finals, then I think feedback should also be given – but genuine, thought-out feedback that you can learn from, not generic feedback that leaves you wondering whether you should ever audition for that role again or has you questioning yourself. I have learned now not to take auditions personally and generally to not ask for feedback, as it is usually not helpful.
Producing fund is welcome news
Cheltenham Everyman’s Mark Goucher has the excellent idea of creating an investment fund to promote more touring of big theatre productions (May 17, p1). There are a large number of provincial theatres that can cater for big audiences. This could also tie in with an increase in regional musicals, which could make a considerable contribution. Good luck.
Quotes of the week
“If drama school was like doing a BA, coming to the Royal Court was like an MA or a PhD. This building really crystallised what being an actor was about for me.” – Actor Lesley Sharp (Evening Standard)
“The wider industry needs to think in terms of creating a space where everybody can get a chance to represent, where it’s not just the same type of person who went to the same schools and universities. In 21st-century storytelling all bets are off: anybody can do anything. And when is everybody else going to catch up with that?” – Lenny Henry (Telegraph)
“The Arts Council has spent thousands of Grants for the Arts money on setting up partnership organisations. This funding could be going to create art, instead we use it to create more structures. For all the talk of supporting artists and being embedded in diverse communities, our principal arts funder is so focused on maintaining the status quo, it’s incapable of the sort of radical change that is needed.” – Former Bike Shed Theatre artistic director David Lockwood (Twitter)
“Our director just said to ‘give it more welly’ in this scene and it’s the most British thing anyone’s ever said to me.” – Hamilton writer and performer Lin-Manuel Miranda (Twitter)
“I came into comedy when you could swear and didn’t have to worry about being audited. But in the past 10 years, people have been quick to take offence. So, for practical reasons, I stay away from edgier jokes more than in the past.” – Comedian and actor David Mitchell (Telegraph)
“I feel like white writers who are good can mine the human condition, and they’ll be talked about in those terms. Black writers — I mean black and brown — can write a good play but we’ll still be mining the black condition. And that is sad.” – Playwright Atiha Sen Gupta (Evening Standard)
“I’m always on the hunt for stories of black Britons we don’t know about. We didn’t come over here for the first time in the 1950s – black people lived here before that. Emilia might have been of colour or had a mixed heritage. There is no evidence of that, because people had no interest in recording it.” – Director Nicole Charles on making the title role in Emilia at Shakespeare’s Globe a black woman (New York Times)
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