I was on the Amtrak the other day and writing a paper for grad school, and needed to clear my head for the moment to talk about points.
No. These are not Weight Watcher points. These are the points given to playwrights/productions at theatre festivals nationwide. (Maybe even world wide)
This past week I had the pleasure and privilege to have one of my plays featured in a play festival/competition in NYC. It was a wonderful experience and I am in no way ungrateful— I’m actually super grateful and honored— but I’ll get to that. And this festival, like may others, is divided over the course of a couples of weeks, in which 31 plays compete for 4 spots in the finals, in which they have a chance to win $1000! Pretty sweet! But unlike some festivals, where the finalists are chosen by a team of “expert” judges, the shows moving on to the finals will be determined by how many votes they get from audience members (1 being the lowest, 5 being the highest). For many nights this becomes a popularity contest (yes, you thought you got rid of those in High School, after you went 4 years without a prom king/queen nomination).
Basically, if you have more people coming to the show specifically to see your play, you will have the highest score. Friends and Family are GREAT voters because they are incredibly unbiased… I kid. But to be honest, if my friends came to see my play and didn’t score me a 5, I’d be pretty bummed. Then again I would never ask them to give the other 2 plays I competed against a 1 — I’m competitive but not bitchy. I told my family/friends to vote for the other plays based on merit.
Whether or not my play was the best, I do believe it was, but what playwright doesn’t? It’s not wrong to believe that you wrote and your director and actors performed a kick ass play. But it’s always sort of a bummer to feel like you won’t move forward because you didn’t have 50+ family members and friends who could make it.
The reason I’m even saying any of this is because I overheard an audience member turn to her friend and say something like this, in regards to scoring my play, “I think this one was really good, so I’m gonna give it a 1, so (insert name of playwright she came to support her) wins.”
What that means is that some people do come to these festivals and don’t vote based on merit but vote to move their friends forward and that alone… look I can’t judge, but can feel a little sad about it. It was nice to hear her say it was “really good.”
So now here is my question, is there a way to make the festivals where the audience scores the plays fairer? I don’t know. I think there will always be that person who just gives his friend the highest score, because.
I’ve also experienced play competitions where the audience was told “You can vote between 1-10, but don’t really vote any lower than 7, and feel free to use decimal points,” and then anyone who gave a score lover than 8.2 was booed, and scores above 9.5 were cheered! This particular festival also asks for unbiased audience members to do the voting… now, come on, how many people come to see 10 minute play festivals who don’t know someone involved in the productions?
Here is one solution a friend (a director in Boston) once pondered to me… I don’t know if it would work, but it’s worth a try!
Let’s say you are scoring a play between 1-10 points. You’re given a score card, that looks like this: (click the link to see the card).
Rather than giving a play a random number, you are at least given the criteria in which a play can be judged. Especially, since lots of your family and friends might not be theatre people, they might not know how to look at a play critically and even though they’ll probably still give you the highest score, because they love you, this might give the other plays you are competing against a fair chance. Now, I know this might make you think, “Oh shit! Now someone else might win even though I’ve got the biggest crowd!” But, you won’t always have the biggest crowd, and wouldn’t you want to be treated fairly when you represent the minority of the audience? I think so.
So yes, this rubric might not solve the worlds problems, but I think if more play festivals used something like this, rather than some arbitrary scoring system, the results might be less about popularity and more about talent and skill — especially when there is money on the line for one lucky production!
So that’s my rant for today… I think… But just an FYI, I did mention that my play was just in a competition this past week, and I want to make it clear that this isn’t a response to me not making it to the final round, because I haven’t found out yet and wont really know for another couple of days. But it’s something I have been feeling and thinking about for a long time, as I continue to enter competitions.
Also, I promised lots of gratefulness! Here it is! I am so grateful and honored to have had not 1 but 3 performances of my “little play that could” on 42nd and 8th in NYC! We were right across the street from all the sparkly lights and marquees! My cast and director were fan-fucking-tastic and I am so honored and delighted to have worked with them. Also, I am so thankful of the theatre company that accepted my play into the festival and I am so glad and grateful to have had a production produced with that company! I look forward to working with them again soon!
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