Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: She Submits to Conquer

Marissa Skudlarek, making the literary references.

In the endless 21st-century conversation about “how can we get more gender parity in the theater,” one talking point that comes up repeatedly is that, maybe, male playwrights just submit more than female playwrights do. The stereotypes are true, people say: women are over-thinking perfectionists who underestimate their talents, and men are loudmouths who overestimate theirs. The latest iteration of this theory comes from Kelli Agodon, who wrote an article for Medium about how women writers need to “submit like men” to “become more successful.”

I do feel myself implicated in this, and I agonize about how my perfectionism is holding me back. While I have written some of these Theater Pub columns hastily, without letting perfectionism get in the way, there’s a piece I’ve been working on for another website for three months that I still haven’t sent in, because I don’t know if it’s as perfect as it could be. (Mentioning it here is a form of public self-flagellation that will, hopefully, spur me to just finish and submit the darn thing.)

In the meantime, I’m also sorting through Theater Pub’s Pint-Sized Plays submissions and putting the show together. So it is with great pride that I report that, of 41 Pint-Sized Play submissions, 26 were by women and 15 were by men. Moreover, several female writers sent multiple submissions, but no male writers did.

I’m putting this out here because data, numbers, are important. Anecdotal evidence states that submissions from men always outnumber submissions from women, so I think it’s worthwhile to highlight moments when the stereotypes don’t pan out.

As for why Theater Pub succeeded in getting more female submissions than male ones, when so many other theaters don’t? I can’t be sure, but I do have a couple of theories. First of all, some women say, “If I see that a theater company rarely produces/rewards female writers, I may not even bother submitting, because I figure they don’t want my stuff.” This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy – how can these theaters ever improve if women refuse to submit to them?—but it also reveals a legitimate frustration. Theater Pub, meanwhile, presents itself as a female-friendly organization (if not an explicitly feminist or woman-oriented one). Our co-artistic-directors are both women, and a look at our production history will show that we have presented many projects written and/or directed by women.

Second, our Pint-Sized submissions call noted that “we especially like plays that can be cast flexibly, and plays with good roles for women,” and “we especially dislike plays that promote stereotypes or clichés.” I made sure that this language was in the submissions call because, as producer, I didn’t want to have to slog through a lot of plays that feature elements that frustrate and annoy me. A few years ago, when I was reading script submissions for another theater, I felt like every other play I read was about a beleaguered guy and his shrewish, nagging wife. I really didn’t want to repeat that disheartening experience with the 2015 Pint-Sized submissions. It was my hope that writers of all genders would take this as encouragement to write and submit plays that went beyond stereotype, that said something new and fresh. And also, I hoped that female playwrights might read between the lines and be encouraged to send us their work.

Honestly, I think more theater companies should write specific submissions calls, listing the kind of work they are seeking and the kind of work they’re definitely sick of. I hate to end this column on such a clichéd note (oh no, Marissa, don’t say that, that’s your perfectionism talking…) but I think we should be the change we want to see in the world.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and producer. For more, visit marissabidilla.blogspot.com or @MarissaSkud on Twitter.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Through the Fog, Step by Step

Marissa Skudlarek wrote this on four hours of sleep and we’re very proud of her.

It feels like everyone is ready for this summer to be over. Not just because we have the plays and movies of the Fall Arts Season to look forward to, but because the news this summer has been so spectacularly awful. Environmental catastrophe, disease, war, unrest, injustice – sometimes it feels like the four horsemen of the apocalypse are stalking the four corners of the earth. California’s in a dire drought, but here in San Francisco it’s grey, dreary “Fogust.”

I’ve been having “I want this summer to be over” feelings since mid-to-late July, when the experience of producing a show stopped feeling like an exciting adventure and started feeling like an endurance test. Sure, I was still working hard and getting things done, and I was super proud of my cast and crew, and looked forward to showing their work to an audience. And I took great pride in responding to emails quickly and keeping my nerdy budget spreadsheet up-to-date. But secretly, I longed for the day when the show would not only be open but closed, and I’d have free time again, and my life could go back to normal.

And then I berated myself for having these yearnings, which felt like the height of ingratitude. A “normal” life – who needs that? Didn’t I realize how lucky I was to be making theater in San Francisco, pursuing my dreams, “following my bliss” as the mantra goes? I was doing something big this summer, something special. I should be “enjoying the journey,” waking up each morning to inhale the fresh air and feel the red blood pumping through my body, working long, hard hours and falling asleep exhausted, and loving! every! minute! of! it! And when I failed to achieve that kind of ecstatic, blissful flow, I sank into a funk. I couldn’t appreciate the magnitude of what I had achieved. My efforts might look successful to the outside world, but they had failed to transfigure me, and thus, I discounted them.

Hard lessons come with being a producer, and I’m not just talking about the practical stuff here (like “buy paper towels if your theater venue only has hand-dryers in the bathrooms”). I learned that my perfectionism runs far deeper than I thought, and also started to come to a better understanding of its roots. I learned that taking the time out to pamper myself, as I did the day before load-in, was so delightful that I should be that good to myself every Saturday, load-in or not!

I learned the reason why people advise you to “enjoy the journey”: because you can’t speed up time so that this fucked-up summer will be over sooner, and because you can’t wish your problems away, the only thing you can do is find happiness along the path. It’s not about bliss; it’s about endurance.

I learned that I should be grateful for my health, my friends, my artistic community. Grateful for the goodwill that exists even in a summer when so many people are lost, sad, or angry.

I learned that sometimes, “enjoying the journey” and “putting one foot in front of another” are one and the same thing.

Marissa Skudlarek’s show, Pleiades, has six more performances, Thursdays through Saturdays from tonight through August 30. For more information, visit pleiadessf.wordpress.com.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Be Regular and Orderly in Your Inbox

Marissa Skudlarek: quoting Flaubert because she can.

What attributes make a person a successful theatrical producer? Do you need to have a keen eye for new talent? The ability to raise buckets of money from wealthy investors? The larger-than-life showbiz flair of a Florenz Ziegfeld or a David Merrick?

All of those things may indeed be useful to an aspiring producer, but I propose that the real answer is far more humble. What you really need, if you’re going to produce a play in the 21st century, is a compulsion to read and respond to your emails as quickly as possible. Oh, and a fanatical love for Excel spreadsheets doesn’t hurt, either.

Auditions for my play Pleiades are happening next Monday and Tuesday, and already I’m fielding six or seven Pleiades-related emails a day, a number that I can only expect to increase as the production process goes on. I’m having actors email me to schedule an audition slot, and I vowed to myself that I’d do my best to respond to all of their emails within 24 hours of receipt. The people that I will potentially be working with deserve my respect and my prompt response — they don’t deserve to be left hanging. But I also instituted this 24-hour rule as a way of ensuring my own sanity. Because you know what’s the only thing worse than having seven un-answered emails in your inbox at the end of a day? Having fifty un-answered emails in your inbox at the end of a week.

I derive satisfaction from my obsessive email-management habits: responding promptly and professionally, categorizing and then archiving every email I send. Still, while I say that I do these things in order to reduce my stress level, I sometimes wonder if instead, it’s only causing me more stress. When I’m working on a big, email-heavy project like this, I become preoccupied and easily distracted. My thoughts race and I always have a vague, nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something important and will suffer the consequences. I also become irrationally annoyed with people who are more lackadaisical when it comes to email and online communications. If you’re no longer using a certain email address, shut it down entirely. If you’re an actor and you have a Facebook account, check your messages regularly, and don’t forget that elusive “Other” inbox, because someone could be using Facebook to offer you a part or to gauge your interest in a project. If you need a few days to think about something, a brief “I got your message; let me respond more fully in a few days” email is never unwelcome or amiss.

Sometimes I feel like my relationship with email is healthier than it’s ever been before, because I’m always getting better at managing my inbox and quickly responding to messages. And sometimes I wonder if I’m developing some kind of disordered, addictive relationship to my inbox. Just as an anorexic feels that no matter how skinny she gets, she’s never thin enough; so I feel that no matter how promptly I send and respond to emails, it can never be quick enough.

In thinking about my email management habits, I feel most keenly the divide between me-as-playwright and me-as-producer. The way I write when I compose plays is so different from the way I write and respond to emails, it’s like they’re coming from two different people. Playwright-Marissa takes her time, lets her mind wander, sets aside lengthy chunks of time to work on a specific scene or problem. Producer-Marissa is all business, a machine almost, copying and pasting and categorizing and making entries on spreadsheets and trying not to let the effort get to me.

Maybe that’s the right way to handle things. Maybe it’s good to create a divide between the dreamy, messy artist part of me and the methodical, efficient producer part of me. (I am a Cancer with Capricorn rising: outwardly businesslike, inwardly sensitive.) Other artists have done the same; as Flaubert put it, “Soyez réglé dans votre vie et ordinaire comme un bourgeois, afin d’être violent et original dans vos oeuvres” — that is, “Be regular and ordinary in your life like a bourgeois, in order to be violent and original in your work.”

That aphorism comes from a letter Flaubert wrote to Gertrude Tennant. If only my emails were that wise and elegant.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright, arts writer, and compulsive emailer. For more, visit marissabidilla.blogspot.com or follow @MarissaSkud on Twitter.