Cliques are a normal part of everyday life. They can be found in organizations of every size, shape and affiliation. Institutions, groups and gatherings often share the same pedigree. Back in the day, it was sandlot baseball and who got chosen to be on which team. In high school and college, it was those thinly veiled popularity contests within clubs and classes. It was any collection of the ‘in people’ who felt they were above the rest of us peons. We all knew who they were and so did they.
I guess the common denominator among those club members was their like-mindedness to the exclusion of everyone else. After sixteen years of academic game-playing, I thought I was done with that narrow-minded, sometimes contrived notion that their way was the only way. But I was wrong. They say that education, politics and the arts all seem to favor the ‘chosen ones’ above the rest of us. In other words, politics rules the roost. Certainly, the gatekeepers in those fields feel that way.
In my ongoing search for new venues and markets for my plays and novels, I keep running into private clubs that masqueraded as theatrical venues, writing groups, neighborhood organizations and the like. It’s almost as if I’m back in high school and once again I’m on the outside, looking in. But even at this stage of my life, I’m still not willing to do anything to be on ‘the inside’ like all the popular kids in school. In other words, most of the time I’m not willing to ‘play their game.’
One way to get around or combat this silliness is to know who the real players are and to ask myself if I’m willing to play ball with them. It’s analyzing ‘stated’ objectives and goals as opposed to the real objectives and goals. Then it’s deciding just how far I want to go to reach my own objectives.
I was once told that making changes in the world of education is like steering the Queen Mary. It is nearly impossible unless all or most of the university’s colleges, departments, and faculty committees collectively buy into the changes. I don’t think it is much different with these aforementioned theatrical clubs and venues.
Like the TSA agent at the airport who controls your life in the security line for a brief period, usually the artistic directors hold the reins of their venue. It’s their turf, their kingdom and their domain. You’re only passing through unless you’re already a part of the club.
Boards and committees aside, the Program Chair, Artistic Director, or Director decide which plays get produced and whose theatrical work they will herald. This is their ‘real world’ where they reign supreme. Outsiders are simply interlopers who may or may not be welcomed into the club. Some are honest about it and upfront as to their taste in material. Others feign interest in new material but have already decided what meets their standards and critical best.
I had another turn down recently. But this one was different. Usually it’s the absence of a response to my inquiry that broadcasts loudly and clearly little interest in my work. I never get to find out why I wasn’t admitted into the club. This latest rejection came from a large senior living complex where their Performing Arts group puts on a play or two each year.
I had corresponded for several months with their VP of plays. She seemed very interested in meeting me and reading my scripts. I felt confident I had a couple of plays that would meet their theatrical standards and would be a fun evening out for their residents. We met over coffee. The meeting went well and she invited me to send her some scripts which I did that evening. Overall, it looked very promising.
The Vice President of Programming thought differently. She turned down both plays flat. When I asked for an explanation she didn’t hold back. I appreciated that. She was honest and clear about what she liked and didn’t like. She was firm but professional and she treated me with respect.
She certainly felt her reasons were sufficient to reject my plays. I personally thought her reasoning was a bit askew but that didn’t matter. She held the ball and it was her ball game. Now I know what she is looking for and might have something for her in the future. Or not.
I fear she is perhaps looking for that ‘find of the century’ in terms of theatrical entertainment. Some new approach to the theater that would make her a somebody in her tiny theatrical world. Never the less, she was honest and forthright unlike a lot of her counterparts.
I had a boss once who loved to exclaim: “If you take the money and the title, you should do the job.” She did and I respect her for that.
So my quest goes on every time I approach some gatekeeper about my plays. Hopefully, I’ve done my homework upfront. I should know what their audience makeup is like, what kind of plays they’re performing and how they see themselves in the wild and woolly, crazy and confusing world of community theater and art houses.
I’m trying to learn the game as much as I can as even it swirls and changes direction all around me. There are the ever-current trends and philosophies, financial considerations, political gamesmanship and the ever-present theatrical intrigue that permeates this business.
And I thought television was a crazy business.