Hi-Ho the Glamorous Life: Time to Harmonize

Marissa Skudlarek is coming to you live from the Lone Star State.

I’m writing this column from a hotel room in Dallas, TX, where I’m traveling for the week on a business trip. Being a playwright, arts writer, and girl-about-town is a lot of fun, but it’s not especially lucrative, so during the week I am employed as a paralegal in downtown S.F. My firm has another large office in Dallas, and we’ve embarked on a project to standardize processes, templates, and procedures across all of our offices — the Great Harmonization Project of 2014. Hence my business trip.

While I’m a little put off by the Orwellian implications of that name (“harmonization” being the euphemism that the Chinese Communist Party uses to mean “stifling dissent”), I think there are a lot of good things to be said about sharing and adopting best practices. There was a time that I would have found that idea unbearably corporate, lacking all applicability to my “other” life as a playwright. But, as I’ve mentioned before, I am gearing up to self-produce a play, and I know that my only hope of maintaining sanity and achieving success in this endeavor is to learn from people who’ve done it before. I’ve been scheduling informal meetings with successfully self-producing playwrights, asking questions and taking notes. And, after I’ve produced a play and gained some wisdom of my own, I will be more than happy to “pay it forward” in the form of advice and counsel to other neophyte producers.

In this way, I think, I will do my part to change the culture of our theater from one of fear and scarcity, to one of joy and abundance. I wrote about this in a column earlier this year, and I can see that it might become one of the guiding principles of the year 2014 for me.

Yesterday, playwright Gwydion Suilebhan published a blog post in which he did some back-of-the-envelope calculations about supply and demand for world-premiere plays. The odds don’t look good: roughly 10,000 playwrights and roughly 500 world premieres per year at American regional theaters. Rather than causing me to despair, though, this information serves as reinforcement of my conviction that self-producing is the right thing for me to do at this point in my career.

Moreover, if the odds are so bad, if it’s difficult to achieve either fiscal or artistic success as a playwright, the only thing that we can do is treat ourselves with care, and try our best to enjoy our lives in the theater. This could mean refusing to work with difficult or unpleasant people, or refusing to submit to playwriting contests that make you pay a fee or don’t accept electronic submissions. If you feel that the system is broken, don’t perpetuate the brokenness and bad habits. Find a way of working that satisfies you, because no one else is looking out for your satisfaction. Find a way to harmonize. Find a better way to move forward.

And then, as they say here in cowboy country, happy trails to you.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. For more, visit http://www.marissabidilla.blogspot.com or @MarissaSkud on Twitter.