In Praise of Being a Blind Reader
Though the play was being read anonymously, from what I was hearing, the author had to be our resident toad, since the piece was one long pretentious croak. Critique sessions sometimes hatch a resident toad, someone who leans forward, skin stretched tight over his small-boned face, and slams every piece, then leans back, tiny eyes glittering in satisfaction. I did not like the guy. Therefore, I did not like his piece.
I always take notes during readings, both to give precise criticism and because, sometimes what I want to say I should not say, and writing relieves me of the urge to say it. In this case, I soon gave up critiquing and just got nasty: “pompous crap,” “It’s so dull,” “I wish pirates would invade this room.”
American society might drift away from an art form that seems disconnected from it, weakening the cultural ties that keep us relevant and the financial ties that help us survive.
However, when the author was revealed, it turned out to be a friend of mine. That’s when I realized the value of blind readings, not just for playwrights, but for American theatre as a whole, which is in danger of losing its focus on scripts in favor of becoming an insider’s game for an insider audience. American theatre is cutting off fresh creative blood from outliers who didn’t major in theatre or graduate from sanctified MFA programs. The resulting insularity puts us at risk of becoming a cloistered academic art. Anonymous submissions could counteract that.
Theatre’s always had a cliquish rep. I get that. I know our labor-intensive, low-paying art form encourages people to bond with their comrades in the trenches. However, as today’s hermetic network hardens over our subculture like a cholesterated artery, it could cut off oxygen from the outside world in the form of audience, interest, and money. American society might drift away from an art form that seems disconnected from it, weakening the cultural ties that keep us relevant and the financial ties that help us survive.
I sense shrugs of indifference rippling from sea to shining sea. You might be thinking, “Aw, stop crying and suck it up. Theatre’s tough for everybody.” This isn’t a case of tough. It’s a case of theatre excluding artists whose craft improves with wider life experience. A graduate degree doesn’t necessarily make you a better playwright, and not everyone can afford to go to grad school (grad students tend to come from families who can afford to send them there). The resulting playwrights tend not to have kids, or strong interests outside of theatre. This limits both the variety of writer and their life experiences, which can limit the scope of their playwriting.
Our growing academic insularity was noted five years ago in Todd London’s Outrageous Fortune: The Life and Times of the New American Play, “The training track for playwrights begins in college… nearly two out of three practicing playwrights come through one training program or another. Older playwrights are less likely to have advanced playwriting degrees, further evidence that this ‘track’ is a fairly recent development…. Seven schools account for almost nine out of ten of the study playwrights [playwrights interviewed for the book] with advanced professional training… . The picture that appears is not merely of a track for training, but a system, with a handful of prestigious graduate programs feeding the field….”
Today’s theatres are largely run by graduates of ten sanctified institutions: Yale, Columbia, UT/Austin, University of Iowa, FSU, Brown, Julliard, NYU, Tisch, and San Diego. Their artistic and literary directors want twenty-something playwrights with MFAs, preferably from their alma mater. In the two decades I’ve been writing for theatre, I’ve witnessed a disheartening trend toward selecting only playwrights fitting this criteria, as well as theatres dropping open submission policies in favor of agent- or professional-recommendation only. How does a playwright get an agent? Your best shot is as a fresh MFA with a few university productions under your belt and a professorial recommendation. And so the system burrows into itself.
Today, script quality is a quaternary consideration, after personal connections, age, and academic pedigree. Scripts submitted by someone from the desirable demographic are much likelier to receive full and thoughtful consideration than outlier scripts. Theatre also has a strong flavor-of-the-month effect, with insider directors jostling each other to produce newly-hatched playwrights promoted by influential theatre insiders. However, how many audience members really care about the latest offerings from the MFA spigot? You’d think they’d be keener about well-written plays that connect with their lives. That’s why I sing in praise of blind readings.
Anonymous submissions put sole focus on the script. They are especially important in writing competitions, since that’s how outliers usually get a foot in the door. When you read an anonymous script, you can’t have a preconceived bias about the playwright’s region, age, gender, sexual preference, race, or ethnicity. You might deduce it from the script, but the point is, you deduce it from the script, not from contextual bias (and you may be wrong, as I was at the “anonymous toad” reading, which can give you a wake-up call about your personal objectivity). You say that seeing a familiar name or the name of the author’s agent on the title page doesn’t affect your judgment? Then you don’t need that information in the first place. Context can blinker your evaluation of a script’s quality because you automatically make extraneous assumptions. Strip out context and you have a better chance of judging the script by itself alone.
Artistic and literary directors may think they only consider the script while reading it, but everyone thinks in context. For instance, an author's gender influences reader assumptions, female literary directors being more biased than male literary directors against female playwrights. This startling response was discovered when researcher Emily Glassberg Sands sent identical scripts to artistic directors and literary managers nationwide. Ms. Sands said in a New York Times article in 2009, “The only difference was that half named a man as the writer (for example, Michael Walker), while half named a woman (i.e., Mary Walker). It turned out that Mary’s scripts received significantly worse ratings in terms of quality, economic prospects and audience response than Michael’s. The biggest surprise? ‘These results are driven exclusively by the responses of female artistic directors and literary managers.’”
If blind submissions became standard, we might experience the revolution that hit classical music with standard blind auditions. As described in Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink, it used to be that almost every orchestra musician was a white man of European descent. Since classical music was a white male European art form, the assumption was that only a white man of European origin could understand and perform it. But when auditioning behind a scrim became de rigueur, orchestra conductors discovered that many outstanding auditionees were black, brown, Asian, or Hispanic, and quite a few were women. This caused a fundamental shift in the composition of today’s orchestras. Another powerful example of the value of anonymous submissions is the Vietnam Memorial. The review panel received more than 1,400 anonymous design submissions, many from prestigious architects, but selected the one by Yale student Maya Lin. She later wrote, “From the very beginning I often wondered, if it had not been an anonymous entry [Number] 1026 but rather an entry by Maya Lin, would I have been selected?”
Blind submissions wouldn’t mean theatres would have to program the next season from the slush pile, but if a theatre is touting a developmental workshop or barebones production or anything involving new work, blind subs will make the process appear more fair and give outliers a fighting chance. A national method for ensuring blind subs is certainly doable. Mark Gordon, a Manhattan theatre person and software developer, has proposed a website where theatres could submit scripts whose identification is automatically removed; IDs can be retrieved after scripts are selected. If software can sequence the human genome, creating an anonymous submission site can’t be that difficult.
Americans believe in the romantic notion of a meritocracy, and though it might be more honored in the breach than in the observance, blatant bias surely jaundices the general population’s perception of our field.
Some of my friends disagree with the concept of anonymous submissions. “People want to work with friends,” said one, mentioning in the same conversation her high hopes for a playwriting competition, since she knew one of the judges. Another said there’s no point in anonymous submissions since the process can be circumvented. I agree. If you want to get around such a process, there are ways to do so. Then again, people blow through stop signs. That doesn’t mean we tear the signs down.
Perhaps the rise of academic networking is a survival mechanism, bleak times engendering a lifeboat mentality. If so, it’s shortsighted: a reputation for insularity and cronyism makes any occupation easier to dismiss. Americans believe in the romantic notion of a meritocracy, and though it might be more honored in the breach than in the observance, blatant bias surely jaundices the general population’s perception of our field.
A few years ago, I contacted the literary director of an Off-Broadway theatre in The Village. He invited me over, and I pitched my plays and creds to him in the theatre aisle. A staffer came up to him, so we parted ways. As I tromped down the stairs to the street, I heard the staffer ask, “Who was that?” The LD replied, “I dunno. Someone from Georgia.” I realized that even before I’d reached the last step, I’d disappeared. He’d identified (and dismissed) me by the region I was from. Not surprisingly, when I sent a follow up email mentioning a play that might fit his theatre’s sensibility, I never heard back.
Being an outlier can leave you feeling invisible. I once attended a reading by an author I admire because he knows what he’s doing and does terrific work. It was a packed audience, and I was having a great time until it struck me that this was like The Rapture, and I was one of those being left behind. It didn’t matter what I wrote, or how much I wrote, or how well I wrote —as far as professional theatrewas concerned, I didn’t exist: I was too old and lacked an MFA. I drove home feeling physically sick. It was as if, after spending twenty years on my craft, I faced nothing but a closed door.
Maybe it’s time for me to leave. Would American theatre suffer a loss if I do? No. But multiply that by hundreds of potential writers a year, by thousands over the years, and as this army of outliers tromps up the stairs in search of theatre heaven, each writer disappearing before s/he even reaches the landing… yes, that’s a loss.
What if it became sexy to accept only blind submissions? What if theatres that did so were considered cool? At the least, I guarantee there’d be fewer plays about twenty-something middle- or upper-class urban writer/roommates battling Society’s Indifference. Wouldn’t that alone make blind submissions worth it?
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Thank you for this piece and I completely agree. I also think many MFA programs can be great and worth the time and money for a lot of people; they can, however, also be a complete waste of both. It's hard to generalize across all the MFA options and the candidates who seek such a degree. The existence or non-existence of a degree isn't the issue. Most people want to work (i.e., spend time) with people they know, like, or have been vetted by others whom they know and like. It's not unique to putting on a play or making a movie. Putting on a play by an unknown is a bigger risk than putting on a play by somebody who's been vetted. The thing that irks me is when playwriting conferences and theatres make the claim that their mission is to produce "new work by new voices" when the way they find their material is to canvass artistic directors at major theaters to find out who is coming out of the MFA programs and who might be worthy. Observing this first hand, I can say with some authority that most selectors/readers don't even read the material submitted by nobodies. I'd like to be wrong about this so it would be very nice to hear stories of new and unknown playwrights of any age, submitting their plays--blind or not and particularly those who did not go through an MFA program--who had those plays chosen for production. Please bring on those stories.
Thanks for your response, though it's kind of scary to hear that the readers weren't even bothering to read scripts by unknowns and that the new work being "discovered" was going through the narrow network funnel. Reading that was like being in a haunted house where you're sure there's something dangerous in the closet and you don't want to open the closet door but you do and ARRGH!...
Although I love the desire to bring more egalitarianism to our industry I think I disagree with this (I'm surprised to write). Some plays aren't meant to be read, so blind submission policies perpetuate a certain kind of play almost always rising to the top (obviously my subjective analysis). Also one of the problems I see in the theater today is the guest dictate. Playwrights rarely have the opportunity to work with collaborators over and over again (especially in the LORTs where they often try to assign us a director, dramaturge, and cast who we've never met, let alone worked with). Perhaps the issue is our desire to have our work produced at theaters we have no relationships with. I'm in favor of it all (a little of this and a little of that) but definitely weigh in on the side of make your work, produce it yourself, once made take it on tour, meet people, find your collaborators, love them up and commit to them, and try your darnedest not to ask for permission to be creative (meaning refrain from submitting your plays in any form as much as possible). Of course I fail at this agency almost everyday and have benefitted from the blind and non-blind submission but usually productions happen for me as a result of having produced it first myself (with help from people in my community). And one last love-poke is that Georgia bias swings both ways as a great number of the plays produced in NYC are from out-of-town playwrights, which means we local NYers aren't able to work in our home and with our community because the out-of-towners are always bombarding our local theaters with submissions and taking what nyc has to offer without giving any kind of investment in our community.
Interesting perspective, though I can't agree that the nyc theater scene is a community that one should invest in in order to have one's work produced. Though regional theaters have been gaining in strength, the nyc theater scene is still the national standard, and receives the lion's share of national funding as well as big endowments from organizations that want to make a national impact. That's why every playwright who wants to earn some kind of national rep submits work to NY (and Chicago and SF). Atlanta theaters produce far more plays from outside of Joja than locally, and I have no complaints that those playwrights have never ushered here, or helped build a set, just as long as it's a good play.
The last time I was a reader, I read each play at least once before I looked at any of the information the playwright submitted about themselves and their play. Ultimately, I'm glad I could see some information about the playwright, cause I could shape my comments better.
Orchestras that have blind auditions have better orchestras and more diversity in their members.
Wow, I replied to your welcome comments, but my reply disappeared, as well as my reply to a few others. Perhaps some cyber Godzilla in the cloud is eating my words.
Karla, I would like to thank you for this article. My previous comments might appear that I am in disagreement - but I truly do understand anf feel where you are coming from. I have been there myself - but ultimately had to find ways to shake it off and get a new perspective.And I completely understand your coomment about barebones productions, workshops, and readings being spaces where new writers without MFAs can be welcomed. However, I think that over the course of the last fifteen years or so - those types of programs have shifted focus. There was a time when it seems that it was more about identifying and encouraging new voices - no promise of much beyond that and that was the end of it. Oftentimes it was an opportunity for the artistic staff to provide some small support to a play they LOVED but felt they couldn't produce for whatever reason. But that's changed. Now there is so much more emphasis on development for production that even in a theater's developmental offerings there is more a focus on selecting plays and playwrights that either the theater would like to fully produce or developing a relationship with a playwrights they seriously want to produce.So again, that shift means the vetting process is intensified and important even for reading series and workshops.
Word. It's entirely understandable that a theater would use workshop grants to develop a playwright they want to produce, it's when such grants are advertised as nationally open, but the recipients all have connections with that theater, that I question the intent behind those grants. Perhaps it's easier for the theaters to get money from grant organizations if they say it will be an open national process, even if that's not their intent. I've found, from the grants and workshops I've earned, that it's always been an educational and exciting process, but has never led to production; I'm more than familiar with the meaning of the phrase "workshop hell." A grant to develop a play is much cheaper than the cost of producing it. But, I'm starting to wander off-topic, perhaps because it's a hot Memorial day and I haven't had breakfast yet. Must toddle off....
Brilliant! You have said and affirmed my thoughts so well! Thank you!
Why does an article extolling the virtues of blind submissions have to simultaneously be an attack on MFA programs? What if you find out through blind submissions that scripts coming from MFA playwrights actually do have an edge beyond "brand name recognition"? It certainly wouldn't surprise me as those who are accepted into MFA programs have gone through a vetting process to get in, they have usually had 2-5 years of focused training, and the opportunity to interact with both peers and professionals in an environment focused on improving their work. I don't think people reading scripts have a check list for sanctified schools and a requisite number of university productions, but they do look for professionalism, interesting work and a script that has had some workshop productions is likely to have had some of the problems of development already addressed in those early productions. Lastly, I suppose it is true that having an MFA doesn't necessarily make you a better playwright than someone without an MFA, but I hope no one undertakes an MFA program in playwriting to become a better playwright than anyone but the playwright they were when they started the program.
I have to co-sign EVERYTHING that Todd has said. Also, the reality is that for every "hot" or well recieved MFA playwright on the scene there are many, many, more struggling to get by and develop a professional career - same as you and I. It's just that we only hear about the most successful ones. One student comes out of a program and catches fiyah - while their classmates watch from the sidelines -getting little to no attention. It happens. Or maybe they become successful - just takes considerably longer. I say all that to say an MFA (even from Yale) does not guarantee a successful career.Also, I think that the vetting process is a product of the fact that there are so many great programs graduating incredibly talented writers. There is an embarrassment of riches so why not pull from that group of writers?The problem is not the MFA programs. The problem is that there are very few serious alternatives to them. MFA programs provide writers with resources, mentorship and most important TIME to develop and hone their craft. They also provide the space to develop without the worry of critics, reviews, Box Office and putting butts in seats. So many ways you can stretch as a writer when those concerns are taken off the table for a moment. There is nothing wrong with this. And it can be a great thing. However, writers outside the MFA world do not have those opportunities and resources in as much abundance. How can we change this? How can we find ways to creatwe a meaningul balance and offer significant access to professional development opportunites? How do we create alternatives? And these opportunites can live in both large and small institutions. The South Dallas Cultural Center is taking on an amazing six-month long workshop to bring my newest play into the world. And I am learning and growing in AMAZING ways.The final piece of the puzzle and I think another benefit offered by MFA programs is access to leadership. Beyond the idea of simply making connections - is the opportunity to gain more insight into how things get done and decisions are made. I don't really know how successful a pitch made to a lit manager by a playwright they might have never met and have no knowledge of can really be. That by no means excuses how you were dismissed. But I just don't think thats how things work. And I also think a lit manager who agrees to meet with an unknown writer should be more careful and transparent about the meaning of that meeting. It could simply be a getting to know you kind of thing. But many times the playwright will think it means much more. It is important to be clear. Part of the problem is that the decision making process for playwrights is so mysterious, It's not like actors and auditioning which at least allows an actor some view of the 'process" - playwrights never see any of that. So the other part of the puzzle is how do we educate playwrights without MFAs about how the business works.
For whatever it's worth, I think the concern that typically gets voiced about MFAs is not that a preponderance of MFAs from a handful of schools are all successful, but rather that a preponderance of successful playwrights have MFAs from a handful of schools. So the points of contention are usually these: 1. is that true? and 2. is that a problem?
Jonathan Norton makes an excellent point: the availability of collaborative and development time, in this art form, is crucial. In fact those resources are needed by every playwright -- and indeed every play -- throughout a career, project by project, MFA-less or otherwise. The way a person gets to be a great playwright is by working on one's plays, preferably in a production context, and failing and succeeding and coming back from flops and getting another shot. Earning an MFA is certainly one way to set out on that path.
Even if the MFA gives the graduate a step up due to additional training, how is that not an example of class privilege? MFAs are a luxury.
If readers are favoring plays written by graduates from their own schools either because they know them, or because the play meets with the house style (in terms of formulas or a set group of themes) that is promoted by a school's playwriting and dramaturgy programs, how is that not excluding many worthy writers who may have come to playwriting by a different route, and might even have an original voice?
I hear ya. (Were you asking me? 'Cause I wasn't suggesting otherwise.)
Word! You can apply for grants and workshops, but if you think academia's savannah has lots of lions and few gazelles, try the Sahara outside! And the academic network has a strong hand in proposal acceptance.
You make some amazing points. How a play gets selected often truly is a mysterious process, but from what I've seen on stage and heard in theater, non-script factors play a heavy role. Some programs offer training and development opportunities for outlier playwrights who can't necessarily afford to spend 2 or so years as full-time students (the Kennedy Center Playwriting Intensive is an outstanding example of that). Access to leadership? *That* is a big puzzle. Outside of the academic pipelines, there are ways to gain access, but they're kinda like making sausage; you really don't want to know the details. That said, I've found that most LDs I've approached have been very generous with their time, and sometimes have allowed me to submit scripts to agent-only theaters even tho I don't have an agent. It doesn't mean I'll ever get produced at these theaters, but at least I got through one wall. I think playwrights in general, especially in the first few years, tend to be unrealistically hopeful about production possibilities, but we all get whumped upside the head often enough that we learn better. I don't think LDs or ADs are the problem in the narrowing of American theater playwriting; it's the system, man! We all need to have a few tokes and figure out how to change the system. Oh, hey, your response reminded me of the bar scene in Metropolitan where they talk with the yuppie. Well worth checking out.
I'm sorry if my article gives the impression of attacking MFA programs. I'm definitely all for higher education -- I have two masters', myself, in English and journalism -- and agree that one should enter such a program with the aim to become a better writer. I agree that those entering such programs almost certainly have more training and dedication to theater than many who do not. That's partially my point; when one begins as a freshman theater major and graduates 6 or so years later without having wandered the wide world, then spends the next decade or so tunneled into theater, one's life experiences will tend to be more narrowly focused than someone who's gone on walkabout. An outlier may have equally valuable (but uncredentialed) qualifications springing from accomplishments and life experiences . Such qualifications are less translatable to a resume, and unconnected to insider networks, but can lead to creating strong work. Only the especially pure of heart are unaware that certain MFA programs offer national networking opportunities by which careers are made or stalled from the start. I think it would be terrific if someone did a study on whether MFA writers received higher script quality ratings than outliers in blind submissions. A good start to that study would be instituting a national blind submission process.
I am a little sensitive, since I run an MFA program which is intentionally designed to address many of the complaints people have about MFA programs, but since 2009 I have seen a marked rise in animus toward MFA programs and also literary departments, which I think stems from Outrageous Fortune, as I see nearly the exact same wording as the sanctifed six programs and getting past the gatekeepers from that work. I think that the intention of the book was to give playwrights and artistic directors a better or more full and empathetic understanding of their opposing concerns and demands, but an unintended consequence is people using the data and opinions to justify their feelings of being excluded, which may have more to do with a lack of training and experience than an MFA good old playwright gated community. And, that being said, even Outrageous Fortune makes the case that many more factors than the artistic merit of the script weigh in the selection process, in part because the decision makers have been hired for subjective opinions and intuition about not only the work but the person who has produced it. Blind submissions may very well keep a bad play by a known playwright from making the cut, but even a good play might be passed on once it became clear that it was written by a playwright prone to problematic collaborations. It is a difficult issue worthy of discussion, but I hate to see all MFA programs painted with the same elitist brush, even if not intwntionally.
Good points. If a playwright gets a rep for being difficult to work with, that's certainly a valid consideration for selecting a play. The collaborative art of theater is grueling enough without someone acting like a diva. I don't know, though, if the book Outrageous Fortune is having such a strong impact in recoil against MFA programs; it might simply be that people quote from it to back up what they've felt for some time.
Well-said; it's short-sighted (and often, probably, unintentional) to allow a critique of the current theater system slop over, implicitly or otherwise, into a blanket critique of MFA graduates, especially since many of us likely adore some of the plays produced by said graduates. However I'd note it's equally important not to make the rhetorical mistake of implying that non-MFA playwrights who express frustration with the opportunities available to them are not getting those opportunities due to naivete, lack of rigor, poor collaborative habits, or even lack of experience.
(Except insofar as limited experience is a self-perpetuating problem, as getting plays done is the way to become a great playwright, and it seems like everyone's more or less on the same page in feeling that we don't want the incubators of MFA programs to be the only way for developing playwrights to get their plays done.)
Point taken, and apologies. I did say I was over sensitive because of years defending my program and often losing playwrights to those other six schools because they wantwd the name rather than the curriculum. And, for precisely those reasons nearly all our events and guest speakers are both free and open to the public. We also maintain a fund to help offset the costs of production at outside theatres when they produce one of our student plays. We are using our position in academia to identify and correct specific problems. I went to one of those santified schools (and worked at Arby's even while I was on a full ride scholarahip because was was far from an elite caste) and there was much I was disappointed with in terms of support and opportunities. Hollins is my attempt at an MFA dialectic, and a very unique program. I should be careful, knowing that, not to too closely align our program with critical commentary that I know does not apply.
Your program sounds terrific.
Todd, I would love to read some of the work coming out of your program as possible productions for my small NYC theatre company. How can I reach you?
The official Hollins MFA page is kind of stodgy, you would get a better sense of the program from our FB page: https://www.facebook.com/pa...
Also, once you get to that page, in addition to the videos and photo archive, check out the events listings and come on down for a visit. Festival is a blast, and a fun weekend to see a bunch of readings and meet a lot of like minded theatre artists.
I can't completely fault a company for not following a blind submission policy (obviously, some companies want to form long term relationships with a stable of playwrights) -- but I have to agree that when we discuss all the ways that otherwise competent writers are marginalized: gender, ethnicity, class, not being a graduate of a prestigious MFA programs, blind submissions might be our best hope for setting things right.
how do they find playwrights for the stable?
Well, for one, they don't use blind submissions.
Thank you, Karla Jennings. I don't know if we can ever loosen the strangle-hold that academia now has on playwriting, but at least now it has been said.
Speaking as a outlier thank you for this article. Context is king, even in choosing plays. It's the reason I decided to build my own house when my knuckles got tired and bloody from knocking on doors that just weren't opening. It took a long time to not look back with wistful eyes (will they let me in now? How about now?) and be happy and proud of who I am - no MFA and too old - but it can happen. There are ways to make a living as a playwright that don't require the old guard.
You make a living as a playwright? It takes strong talent and stamina to achieve that, it's a rare achievement. I respect what you're accomplishing, and I'm glad the article touched a chord in you.
I've always believed more in stamina (stubbornness, pig headedness, refusal to whatever) than any talent. It's carried me far. :)
Great piece; I could have written it myself. Every contest that promises production at the end of it should have blind submissions. ADs and LMs may want the flavor of the month, but truth is that their audiences have probably never heard of that flavor; they just want a good show. It does all playwrights a huge disservice that submissions aren't blind because it practically admits what a favored system it really is. This article sums it up in the form of a review: http://www.laweekly.com/201...
That LA Weekly article must've been written by my separated-at-birth grouchy literary brother. It's kind of encouraging to realize others also question the present situation.
And very tellingingly, there has been no more news of that Joseph play since.
I wonder if it's possible for a submission to be blind anymore? When I have a new work to promote I add it to my website and mention it in other places online. It wouldn't take anyone who knew the title very long to search and find out who wrote it.
Well, as Mark said earlier, it will take a "shift in the culture of season selection," which would result in readers not searching for the identities of playwrights.
Short of writers suddenly and universally using only initials and surnames, this -- blind submissions -- seems to me to be the best if not only way to eliminate selection bias.
Thank you, Ms. Jennings, for the article and the thinking it provokes.
Thank you for this article. Interesting to ponder as I finish a literary stint at a larger regional theatre that actually accepts unsolicited samples. We try to premiere a new play every season in our Studio space and love receiving work from local writers. There's something really refreshing in knowing I'm not reading the exact same 10-15 "hot" writers from Manhattan (which I can do on my own at home when their fresh published post-Broadway scripts hit Amazon), that we're open to giving opportunity to emerging playwrights.
Your thoughts on blind submissions sound like reasonable practice - but it might be cart before horse: producers have to actually read (and genuinely consider producing) outside the current comfort zone of "the MFA spigot" too. [I love me some Christopher Durang, but I've lost count of how many productions of "Vanya..." will have run by next year.] Maybe's it's not necessarily a process, but a concomitant shift in the culture of season selection.
In any case, I'd love to read blindly.
Thanks for your thoughtful response. I agree, a cultural shift's necessary to change the trend. It might require considerable momentum. I don't know where that momentum would come from, unless, like global warming, directors start wondering if they have a problem only after audiences start washing away. (Karla)