Sunday, October 3, 2021

On Submissions

Dance Nation
(Dobama Theatre, 2020)
Photo: Steve Wagner
This week we are reading Clare Barron’s Dance Nation which, among other honors (including as a Pulitzer Finalist) won the 2015 Relentless Award. A production of this play was underway at Dobama Theatre when all productions were suspended in March of last year.

The Relentless is an annual award, established by the American Playwriting Foundation ten years ago and dedicated to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman due to his “relentless … pursuit of the truth” (quote attributed to Ethan Hawke).

I have applied to this award only once, with the play The Way I Danced With You (The George Michael Play). It was the play that I had most recently written, had workshopped, and I was sending it everywhere, for prizes and for production. Strictly speaking, this play does not satisfy the criteria of the Relentless Award, which seeks new work that exhibits “fearlessness, passion and truth.”

My script is passionate and, I believe, truthful. But is it fearless? No, I can honestly state that it is not. But I was on a submission kick, and so out it went. In hindsight, I should not have done so. I have not applied since.

But why? Why prejudge my own work, why not leave it for others to decide? It’s a waste of the adjudicators’ time, for one thing. I generally follow submission guidelines closely, and suit the script to the sub. I convinced myself that it might qualify. It’s a symptom of privilege, that my work might be good enough, when what is demanded is daring, craft, and above all, originality.

Dance Nation is one such work, just in terms of casting. The script demands that the team of thirteen year-old dancers be performed by an all-adult and varied age company, from twenty to senior citizens.

The script addresses numerous issues, of age, gender and race, and does so in a manner which is inherently, ultimately theatrical, which is to say it must be performed on a stage, for a live audience, and can be executed nowhere else. It’s vibrant, physical, transgressive, dark and powerful.

When I write a play that could not work as a radio drama (The Way I Danced With You would make a fine audio play), or as a film (I have thought of this, too) but could only be performed live on stage to be appreciated and understood, then I might be comfortable submitting for such an award again.

Submissions for the 2022 National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center open tomorrow, October 4, 2021.

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