Part of being a creative artist – is receiving rejections. I received this letter earlier in the week:
I hope this finds you well. First, I want to apologize for the delay in getting our feedback to everyone — we were hoping to complete this process much sooner, but, since we don’t send “yes” or “no” form letters, it takes us a good deal longer than most companies to read through submissions and get back to every creative professional with individualized feedback.
In the case of Paula/Poly, we found your story and your characters very compelling. Of course, the story is not brand new, but it seemed as though the heavy use of sociological labels in your piece (“poly[amorous],” “triad,” etc.) — which are socially and ethically challenging concepts to be sure — make the subject matter a little uncomfortable. You call the piece a comedy, but, to be perfectly honest, it didn’t feel like one as we were reading. The emotions that Paula felt came across as very genuine, as did the emotions of the other three principals, and their words were very heartfelt — we genuinely felt badly for the people whose hearts were hurting, and that’s a testament to your strong writing.
Of course, whether it’s a comedy or drama is not really a big issue. The piece could work fine as a drama, or as something in between (like the Netflix series Love, which portrays some very tumultuous relationships). There have certainly been attempts in recent years to portray polyamorous relationships in the performing arts (including a failed recent series on Showtime), but, while the concept of polyamory is by no means new, it is still a challenging issue for the public to grapple with (the way marriage equality still was 8-10 years ago), especially in a relatively conservative state like Kentucky. We also felt that the title, while verbally witty, didn’t really do the piece justice – it just highlighted the controversial nature of the subject matter.
Now, I should note that some stage works, especially those involving music (which seems to transcend many of our artificial barriers), are able to overcome the intrinsic challenge of their subject matter when the music/art is strong enough – Rent is a good example. Unfortunately, we didn’t feel that was the case in this piece. The character of Paula wasn’t developed enough to be someone that we wanted to “root for” – perhaps if she’d had a back story and had experienced some public or professional success, that would invest us in the character enough to want to ride out her challenge with her (sort of akin to the recent PR campaign showing successful public figures saying something to the effect of “Oh, by the way, I’m a Mormon.”). Or, if the music had been truly sensational, it would have carried us beyond the surface level of the challenging words — but in this case, we didn’t have any printed music to look at or sing from, and we found the audio that you provided a little monotonous. Speaking of which, is the female voice in the recording yours? If so, you have a truly beautiful instrument. As a record producer, I would put a voice like that in the studio in a heartbeat. But it does have an unusually low range, and it’s not representative of most female musical theater voices, so it would be difficult for most groups to use this audio as a basis for judging how the music will work for their voices (especially without any printed music). We would humbly recommend, if you’re going to continue sharing audio demos of this work, that you invest in a few singers who have the timbres and ranges that you ultimately envision for these roles. (If you don’t have access to the singer-actors where you are, we might be able to help with that, and I’d be glad to talk further about some sort of recording collaboration if that were of interest to you – we’ve done this with several composers).
At any rate, we felt that, due primarily to the subject matter, your piece was not an ideal fit for us to produce at this time. While we don’t have a spot for Paula/Poly in our upcoming season, we do commend you on your work in putting it together, and we hope that you’ll continue to develop it and keep us in the loop about it. We’ll also hang onto your materials, and, if we should find an opportunity to present any part of this piece in the future, we’ll certainly let you know. In the meantime, we thank you again for sharing it with us, and we hope to work with you down the road!
This may well be the best rejection letter I have ever received in my life! I forwarded it to a creative friend for her evaluation – wondering if my reaction was true – or if I was reading too much into it. She agreed with me.
So, I emailed the artistic director back to thank him for his time and asked if I could post this on my blog. To my amazement, he agreed.
The back story: I am a musician. Music is my first love. Then came novel writing, and acting and video producing and photography and poetry, etc.
But somewhere along the line, playwrighting came onto the scene. My writing partner and I have had several plays produced. But, with me being so heavily entrenched in music, why not combine the two? I had an idea for a play, and by last spring (2015) it had percolated around enough in my head – to start being “cooked” enough to come out.
The topic is a controversial one: a relationship with more than two people. How does that work? What are the problems? What are the parameters? Any time you put two people into any sort of relationship – be it your job or your family or a friendship or your romantic partner – there are going to be misunderstandings, issues, meetings of the mind, clashes of wills.
As a writer, building up characters, and crashing them into each other (metaphorically) is part of the fun!
The title of the work is: Paula/Poly
It is a play on words for the theme of polyamory, and that play on words is utilized in two of the songs.
So the subject matter – well…it’s not traditional. It hasn’t been done to death, yet. I find, that in all the areas of my creative interest, the theatre is the most experimental place of all. If you want to push the envelope, the theatre is where it’s happening.
If someone doesn’t like the subject matter – no problem. There are so many other things out there.
But on this particular project, I completed it. The writing is done. The composing is done. I recorded (incredibly boring) demos in my home studio. And rather than let the project sit in a drawer and molder away – I decided to “put it out there” with the materials that I have available.
So yes, building a musical score and building viable recordings are on my “to do” list. In general and in real life, I have 17 singles in release. That is about the bulk of my “real recording studio” oeuvre. This project, an ambitious project of musical theatre, has – 17 songs.
To take that into the studio and produce all that, arrange all that, execute all that – seems almost insurmountable. As for building the musical score – on a computer: That is way, way beyond my skill level at present. Now to be clear, the composing is done, and I stand behind the quality of composing. It is the building of the score that is difficult.
Anyway…once you have a project, then what?
The basic premise of sales is: to ask.
You have to get over the hump and not be afraid: to ask.
You ask questions like: Will you produce my work? Will you evaluate my work? Will you be my agent? Will you listen to my demo? Will you hire me to act in your television show?
If you are in the creative arts, ninety-something percent of the time, your answer is going to be: NO!
So – you get used to it. You know, before you even start, that a huge majority of your proposals will be met with the answer: no.
That is your mind-set. That is your starting point. You make up your mind, that you won’t let it bother you. You take it. You learn from it. Adjust your course if need be: BUT YOU KEEP ON GOING.
Every “no” that you get, is one more journey along the path to getting a “yes”. And you will get some of those “yesses”.
I am amazed, on my personal journey, how many “yesses” I have received.
The key is to keep going. If you believe in yourself, if you believe in your work, then you KEEP GOING!
And on occasion, you meet someone, like the artistic director in the letter above, who just blows you away. Even on a “no”, he treated my work with consideration and value. He, too, is involved in many aspects of the entertainment industry, and he (a record producer) thought my voice was worthy!
Not only did he give careful consideration to my musical (which was the proposal), but he thought my voice has merit!
Do you know how many years it took me to climb that ladder – in order to get to this place?
I’ve been singing my whole life. I was 28 before I “figured it out”. When I was 13, I took 6 singing lessons. That teacher took everything that was unique about me, and quashed it.
I knew that what I did wasn’t “getting it”, but I didn’t know how to “fix” it. When I was 28, I found someone who could help me sing right – while still retaining the uniqueness that makes me – me.
Fast forward a whole lotta years. The music business has passed me by. I am not young. I am not skinny. Yes, I do go out there on stage and entertain. But the music business – in its current form – is not about music. It’s about looks. It’s about eliminating individuality, and programming humans to sound like robots (while attending media training and starving themselves to an unhealthy place and sounding just like everybody else).
I am reminded of the story about Elvis – when he first walked into Sun Records in Memphis. The secretary asked him, “Who do you sound like?” Elvis answered, “I don’t sound like nobody.”
That’s me. I don’t sound like nobody – either.
So here we are: a completed musical, which I have only pitched three places, and this was one of the replies.
Even though it was a “no” – it gives me hope that—maybe I am doing something right!