I submit plays to festivals, contests, development opportunities, and publishers for the same reason anyone else does: I want to get produced or developed or published or whatever!!
...and even I don't get picked I might get a Finalist or a Shortlist or and Honorable Mention and maybe one of those designations will help encourage the next thing to pick me! Or at least make me feel good about my submission!
...or maybe I'll at least get Semi-Finalist - cuz hey, better than nothing!
There's an assumption in there somewhere that if the play is good enough, and the submitter is diligent enough, eventually... good things will happen with their plays. And I genuinely generally believe that. Or at least I'd like to. I'd like to believe that the subjectivity of the theatrical universe will even itself out, the cream rises to the top, great taste will find it's taster; and if I'm talented enough the hustle will pay off.
Or, it should pay off.
I mean, dang, I hope it pays off...
Having talent and getting one's play to the right place clearly helps, but that's no where near a guarantee of anything. I've been fortunate enough to have 45 of my plays produced all over the world, including many short plays that were originally submitted through the sorts of open calls we see on NYCPlaywrights or the Playwrights Center... but man, more and more I'm learning about the fickle hand of randomness playing a major part. Here's a recent example:
I have a short play that I'm particularly proud of - This Hungry Churchyard. It's a pretty niche piece - darkly comedic Romeo and Juliet riff, written in iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets, it clearly won't be for everyone nor every theatre. Unbound did a reading of it which went over really well, then the play was selected for two more readings, two productions, is shortlisted for a third production, and then it's also in a non-licensing collection of short plays - hooray! During that time it was also not selected for 7-8 festivals, but overall my submission percentage on this piece is looking really good. Then I got feedback from a reputable play festival that - s h o c k e r - actually supplies feedback on all submissions from at least two readers. For this particular play, for this particular festival, the scores from these two readers... were... out of 100... 97!
And then the second score... was 64.
Um - what?
WOW! Amazing! Nearly perfect! This thing is IN!
YAWN! Barely readable! Utterly un-produceable! NO WAY!
Two readers for the same festival, theoretically both scoring from the same rubric, both with a similar understanding of what the festival wants to see... yet they're worlds apart on my little play.
So... was it the less-mainstream parts of my play that spurred the imagination of higher scorer or incur the wrath of the lower scorer? Did the ambition of the play seem impossible to stage from one point-of-view and inspiring to the other? I have no idea! And I will never know! All I know is that one of these two, or both readers, are wrong - because a play cannot be both a 97 and a 64 through any objective lens. So the feedback is useless. All I know for sure is that my play isn't going to be done in this festival.
The only way I've figured out how to combat the subjectivity and randomness thing is with another terrible word when it comes to the creative process, though it's really about the business/submission side - that word is quantity. We always push ourselves to make the best work we can, and we must, but man, if we're not giving ourselves every chance for our play to be read and scored (or mis-scored?) a 97, we're selling ourselves short. That isn't to say that one should submit without reading guidelines, researching the theatre they're submitting to before sending something in, etc. But this thing is hard enough when every submission is a crap shoot, you might as well take every shot you've got.
Interested in reading This Hungry Churchyard? Here it is on New Play Exchange. You tell me if it's a 97 or a 64 or something else.