A little back story: not only do I write screenplays, but I also dabble in stage plays every now and then. My leaning is, on the whole, toward the screen. But every now and then I have an idea for the theater, and write that. A while ago, I submitted to a play development festival, which would have brought me cross country to spend a week in a cabin working on a play I wrote. My kind of thing.
Today, I found out I didn't get in. That's not a huge disappointment. We in the League all know that rejection and thick skins are essential to this business. What got me, though, was the reason for the rejection. Essentially, I received a mass email indicating that the company, which shall remain nameless, received more submissions than expected (OK, that happen). However, the staff was unable to read all of the material (...OK). As a result, the facilitators of the festival calculated the number of plays they could read in two months, which wound up being half of the submissions.
They had a lottery for which plays were going to be read, and cast the other half aside without a second glance.
OK, so, I like to think I'm level headed. And, like I said, it's not the rejection that bugs me, but the reason for it. I work with over 300 non-profit theatre companies in NYC, many of which are a two or three person staff. Yet, these companies hold festivals and read through everything that is submitted. To me, there is no justification for an arts organization, be it for the stage or the screen, to claim to promote new writers and develop new work, and not even read the work submitted! As unknown writers, we rely upon opportunities such as this festival to help us further our careers, and when the companies sponsoring them are overwhelmed and therefore neglect to read 50% of the material submitted to them, no kind words ease the burn felt by those left in the dark.
I fully understand the feeling of being overwhelmed by a project like this festival I submitted to, but I believe that a company's ability to simply back out of their commitment to artists is a frightful thing. Most of us in the League have work out to other competitions. Granted, those are national, well publicized, well managed screenplay competitions. Still, if all of a sudden we received an email telling us that such and such festival received too many screenplays and will only read titles that start with letters A-M, we would feel incredibly gypped (if we fell after N).
My anger comes from this feeling that it's hard enough to make it as a writer. We don't need companies that work for writers making it more difficult. In future years, I hope that this festival I was inappropriately dropped from will figure out how it can manage, and make its new policies very clear to all those submitting work. I hope that this is a one time thing, and not something indicative of a larger issue.
It's great that so many people are writing that writing competitions feel burdened. It's terrible, though, that a writer cannot even be guaranteed that someone will read his or her work when submitting to a competition.
Is this a common occurrence?