If you are a reader for, or a manager of readers for, a theatre company that judges open submissions, are you rejectionist or acceptionist?
I think rejectionism is the standard. By that, I mean “don’t pass a play on to the next level/give it high marks unless it deserves to go on.” In other words, reject most plays unless they excite you.
I think acceptionism should be the standard. By that, I mean “don’t reject a play/give it low marks unless it deserves to be left back.” In other words, accept most plays unless they repel you.
It’s a difference in attitude. A play in draft or early form, on the page, is a diminished thing compared to what it could be on the stage or after much development. Not every potentially great play reveals its promise even to the keenest reader. Every reader carries a weight of bias into their reading of their play submissions, unconsciously turning off from plays because they remind them of something bad they saw once, or because they don’t “buy” the central premise, or because the playwright is a no-name so the reader gives no credit to there being deeper subtext.
Imagine if, when giving readers in a play contest their plays, the plays were given blindly – no names on them. Imagine the literary manager told the readers, “Now, listen, it’s a secret because this is a blind submission process, but we happen to know that Sheila Callaghan and Katori Hall submitted plays to us. So please, for the love of god, don’t rush through your submissions or reject any because you thought it was a little weird. God knows Callaghan’s stuff is always a little weird, so make sure you give everything as much chance as possible. If a play seems not to be working, for all you know it’s Callaghan’s play, and you’re just not getting it. So take your time and make damn sure you’ve tried to get it before your reject anything, because none of us want Callaghan’s or Hall’s play tossed out early because someone had a knee-jerk reaction.”
Imagine if the readers went into the submissions – the BLIND submissions, because for heavens’ sake why aren’t all play submissions blind? – with that knowledge and attitude, treating every play they’ve gotten like it could be a masterpiece if only they could see it. In other words, if their immediate response to seeing any flaw in the play is to instead attribute the flaw to themselves. “I didn’t like this character,” they think, “so maybe I just didn’t read it right. After all, this could be the work a master playwright who knows better than me.”
Well, every submission you get – even the ones from total no-names – could be the work of a master playwright who knows better than you.
So it is better to be acceptionist – to assume that any flaws are just in your reading, until you can prove and identity otherwise. Until you can say, “Yeah, well, I read it twice, and tried to think of any actor or approach that could make that character likeable, and there’s just no way. And there’s no way the playwright could make an easy fix; it’s too ingrained in the plot. It’s definitely a flaw in the writing,” don’t turn the play down. That’s acceptionism.
Acceptionism takes a little more time than rejectionism – the attitude that you know better than the playwright, and any flaw noticed is surely there and not just due to a hasty and unfair reading – but it is far more likely to raise up the really promising and great works, the ones that hold up under scrutiny and consideration, whereas rejectionism lifts up only the works that have the least potential for offense or confusion.