When I was starting out, I spent a lot of time at the post office. It made me feel pretty good. I’d go through my dog-eared copy of Dramatists Sourcebook, searching for theatres to send my plays to. I carefully wrote out my query letters, printed my ten page samples, polished my resume, and then it was off to the post office to send out the carefully pressed envelopes of hope.
I had a policy that kept me going: “Make sure that there’s never a day when something amazing couldn’t arrive in the mail.” I spent a lot of days staring at the mailbox, hoping to get good news.
It took theatres an eternity to respond, if they ever did, so every few months I’d send out another round of letters. On occasion I would receive a reply from a theatre. Almost always it was something along the lines of, “Your play does not seem like a good fit for our theatre at this time.” Which I accurately translated as “get lost.” Rarely, someone would say that they liked the sample and would like to see the full script, in which case I would race to print it and mail it off only to wait for the inevitable, “Your play does not seem like a good fit for our theatre at this time.”
Last month, flush with success from a couple of well-reviewed shows, I mailed out another round. This time I could quote newspapers, cite production dates, include pictures of the plays –- I thought I had a pretty airtight case to make that these important theatres should at least read the plays I sent.
My response? Crickets. Nothing.
When I was a freshman in college, I met a guy who would later become a very good friend of mine, Rick. Rick was in theatre and had seized my college’s liberal attitude towards directing shows to direct a play in the winter of our freshman year. I believe the play was Other People’s Money. Anyway, Rick auditioned the show, rehearsed it, and built the set himself.
Unfortunately, as this was the first show Rick had ever directed, he had somehow missed the day in technical theatre where they explained that you build sets with screws, not nails. (For those who’ve never built a set before, that’s because you want to be able to take the thing apart at the end and re-use the wood for something else.) Rick used nails. And the set he constructed in our tiny theatre was massive.
We did amazing things in our student-directed theatre, which was a tiny 99-seat space in the basement of one of the dorms. Unfortunately, since there was a new play every week, you could only begin building your set on Sunday of production week. And when you’re using nails, and no one is helping you, and you’re planning on building something massive, that means you hook up an IV drip of Diet Coke into your veins and never go back to your dorm room. Rick slept in the theatre for about an hour or two when he would pass out at seven in the morning. I’m sure the residents of our dorm could hear him at night, like some ghost, hammering away at three, four, five in the morning.
My friend Colin found him one morning, staring in exhausted horror at his hands, which were covered in blisters. Colin got some bandages and helped tape up his hands. Rick said, “Make sure you tape them so I can still hold the hammer.”
So, with his hands wrapped in tape like a mummy, Rick finished his stupidly constructed set in time for the show.
I think about Rick’s hands when I’m sending out my scripts. I’m doing this the wrong way, I’m sure. I’m using a hammer and nails when I ought to be using screws. I keep pounding away and it hurts, but I don’t know any other way to do it.
I take solace from the fact that Rick did manage to complete that set though, with a working donut machine, in time for opening night. So – even though you’re doing things wrong, stupid, dogged determination may yet win the day.
And I still check the mailbox every day.
Visit Don's website: http://www.donzolidis.com/