For me, as a playwright it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
In my day-to-day life I work with salespeople. With salespeople it’s all about the numbers, and they get real creative with numbers in order to paint a positive picture. They don’t lose sales. They create opportunities for win-backs. The mental and rhetorical gymnastics a salesperson can go through to forestall any illusion of failure are at times hilarious. I have mad respect for that ability, so in my playwrighting life, I take a page from their book, and I track everything; submissions, acceptances, rejections, productions, readings – everything I can think of in order to give myself some sense of progress.
One of my biggest pet peeves has been theatres who send out submission requests, but then don’t “have the resources” to send out a mass rejection email. In a playwright's darker moments (and there can be many,) it is agonizing to submit a work that is a perfect match to the submission guidelines, and then to wait. And wait. And wait, only to finally pull up their website and discover that they have announced their selections. (Yet, they do have the resources to include my email on every donation submission and marketing email until the end of time.)
Well, this year has demonstrated a marked improvement in the industry and pleased to report that 2022 had my highest rejection percentage ever! 32% November was the most brutal month, with 8 rejections against 9 submissions for a staggering 89% rejection rate. Since I’ve been tracking, there is always one month in the year when the rejection rate is in the upper 80s, but 89% is a gut punch no matter how you try to spin it. And my rejection rate for 2022 as a whole was also up. 32%. It's at this point that every artist tells themselves that they're just happy doing the work. They're also usually drunk when they tell themselves that.
Submission opportunities still weren’t up to pre-pandemic levels for me, but I’ve also been a bit more strategic in my submissions. 2019 was my peak, with a total of 240 submissions, and this year I’ve topped out at 194. Two things to note in these numbers: In 2019 I made no submissions that required fees. (The notable exception being the O’Neill, which is sort of the cost of doing business for a playwright.) and in 2022 I have submitted to opportunities with fees, but only if my piece seemed to be an exact match to requirements, and only if my numbers were lagging for that month. I feel like “the market” is beginning to recognize me as a playwright, so it’s not really necessary to send my latest work out to everyone – even if there’s zero chance they’d ever be interested in that play - just to develop a brand recognition. Progress!
So, while 2022 was the worst of times, it was also the best of times – almost – with a 12% success rate. For me, a success is any event that advances my playwrighting. A number of these things are wholly in my control, such as taking a class. Having a ten-minute piece accepted for a reading? Success! “Cookie Eatin’” was the most successful piece of the year, with three events. “Leading Players” and Jumping Puddles followed, getting two nods each.
Of course, the acid test for the success of a year will always be the number of productions. I’m still a fledgling in this category because I’ve yet to land a production with a full run for a full-length play. And I throw in publications because they are public exposure. So, with those qualifiers in place, I can announce that 2022 has been my best year ever with a 4% production/publication rate! Every other year has been at 3%, which seems to be the standard for “emerging” playwrights. I’ve asked around.
So, there are the numbers for the year that was 2022. I’m pleased.
There’s a distinct pattern in the entertainment industry. With patience and hard work, a career is built inch by hard-won inch. Occasionally there are little spurts of advancement followed by lulls. The duration of this period can be an entire career. But with persistence, those little spurts can get a bit bigger, until finally there’s an explosion and an artist is an “overnight” sensation. Here’s hoping that 2023 is that year!