Where does the dmz between collegiality and mutual, friendly assistance devolve into a theater of operations? What’s the line between being the best person you can be, and being a patsy?
I’ve been a working playwright for a few years, now, and through the work I’ve done, all sorts of opportunities come across my desk. Many of them are “career-builders,” opps that don’t pay much – or at all – but allow one to build up one’s CV. One that just showed up is ideal for a play written by a colleague.
No-brainer, you say. If you’ve read my other columns here or in mise en théâtre, you’ll know that I’m all about supporting, sharing opportunities, offering feedback and information and reinforcement. But I had a conversation with this colleague just a couple of days ago, in which they said they’d eschewed applying for a very prestigious local opp because it would require them to do something other than sit and write.
Don’t get me wrong, sitting and writing is absolutely the fun part, and that to which all writers aspire. But in this day and age, we must also market our works and, often, stage them, because everyone and their sibling styles themself a writer. Even if one is the next Aphra Behn or Sarah Ruhl, theaters and festivals are so glutted with works that a weary Literary Manager might not realize what is in front of their eyes after having waded through a couple hundred other scripts. Not to mention, playwrighting is NOT a literary art in the same way that a couture dress pattern is not what you’ll see on the runway: plays can only truly be known to be well-made when seen or at least heard on a stage. But I digress.
The writer to whom I refer has won a few opportunities – and is, I hasten to say, a good writer – but the idea that they should sit around with their light under a bushel and wait to be promoted is anathema to me. That conversation offended me so much that I’m still thinking about it, days later, and even writing about it while three enormous, deadlined projects clamor for my attention.
How did my pay-it-forward synapses learn to fire? Through the hand-up and sometimes leg-up given me by other writers, of course. Am I grateful? Yes. Do I reciprocate? Oh boy yes. Does not passing along an opp make me sick to my stomach? You betcha. With a fair amount of difficulty, I’m not sending this opp to that writer. It’s possible they’ll see it without my intervention – although this is also a writer who was given short-list status for an opp, a paying opp, a well-paying opp, but needed to put a very small amount of work into a work-in-progress and needed to bother to submit, which they did not, so their seeing this one is highly doubtful. I’ll still wish them well, give feedback when it’s requested, but otherwise, I wash my hands.
Do you know how hard that is, for me? Not to give someone a leg up when it’s within my power? Do you know how many people have trotted themselves over my back and sometimes across my face after I’ve given them that leg up? Aha. The crux.
Maybe it has to do with my ideas about work-ethic. Maybe it’s that my work with awareness of the lack of gender parity in theater has also revealed the massively entitled behavior of many men and women. Maybe I’m just getting snarky as I push 60. But I’m not passing along opps any more to those who aren’t also working their tails off to get ahead.
To stop this habitual generosity, I have to practice behavior modification. The synapses to help are so entrenched that I had to shout “NO!” to be able to avoid passing this opp along, and I’m still feeling queasy.
If, like me, you’re working hard, I’m there for you. If you ask my help, I’m there for you. But I will no longer hand over that laden silver platter of opportunity. I have too much of my own work to do.