Producing a NYC Festival Play

Part 5: Strike

July 26th, 2016

(In case you missed it… Part 4)

The final word came down from above.

My play, one of 29 which are being shown in this New York City festival, will not be progressing to what should be called the semi-finals. (The artistic director calls these the “finals” even though four out of the seven “finalist” plays are then moved to yet another round of performing, where they are voted on again to find out who takes Best Play.)

I didn’t anticipate being so disappointed, but it is not without sound logic and reasoning. Although not making it into the upper levels may be disappointing in general, I have a very distinct set of reasons for being unhappy about this unexpected and unwelcome outcome.

All plays in this festival are filmed and placed up on Vimeo OnDemand. The number of views each play receives counts towards a score which can progress you to the semi-finals. Upon receiving two email blasts from the theatre which listed all the plays and their corresponding Vimeo links, I noticed this…

In the long list of shows, mine was listed with the title, author and description pieces only. No link, so video.

The artistic director’s response: “I totally missed that it needed to be videotaped.”

Is that so?

Mine was the only play not filmed. This, apparently, left me out of an entire voting category which could qualify a show to advance. When I asked for an accommodation of some sort, I was offered a handicap of five OnDemand view votes. This felt acceptable, given that the regular updates we were receiving didn’t seem to have anyone yielding OnDemand views at all.

The artistic director also made a point to say he hadn’t chosen his play, yet. He was allowed to hand-pick one play to advance, irrespective of votes.

As it turns out, the updates we were being sent were not representational of actual OnDemand views. Those numbers were being kept secret while we were only updated on ranking. It became clear, a bit too late, that a 5 view handicap was meaningless to me if I had no idea what I was up against.

I reviewed the various ways shows could be admitted into the semi-finals. Troublingly, between emails, my playwright agreement and the website, I found no less than three different sets of guidelines on how plays were chosen to advance in this festival. Not only was this drastically inconsistent, but the changes weren’t being acknowledged by anyone. No transparency, no consistency.

My director boldly pointed out to me that he thought we should be ushered into the single spot reserved for the personal pick of the artistic director, given that he’d expressed interest in my material and we were behind the 8 ball. I didn’t go as far as to demand automatic inclusion, because my politeness and diplomacy got the better of me.

Perhaps I should have made the demand.

My play was indeed a contender to progress to the semi-finals because we did come out as the winner of on 2/3 of our performance blocks. Technically, we were tied for second place with five other productions, and rested in the top seven as far as overall “wins”. Coincidentally, seven plays are chosen for semi-finals. When that list came through, I found that all seven of those “winning” plays were advanced forward… except us.

We were literally the only play with two or more “wins” who did not advance.

Over the past 18 hours, I have been slowly realizing the following things:

  • we may have been put at a huge disadvantage due to this little fuck up, the impact of which I couldn’t possibly have realized several days ago
  • I have spent over $1,500 for three small audiences to see poorly-directed versions of my play
  • the panel of industry professionals (brought in only at the semi-final level) will not lay eyes on the work or my committed actors, even though the audience votes indicated we were worth seeing
  • I was the only playwright who this happened to in the entire festival

This year, 2016, has not been very good to me. I am going through one of those very long cycles where everything that could possibly go wrong, damage or inconvenience you, or take away from you… happens. It aaaall happens, one thing right after the other.

I feel very tired, and want to walk away.

Why did he bother pointing out to me that he hadn’t yet picked his personal choice? Was it out of pure politeness? These are New Yorkers. They’re not supposed to be polite. They’re supposed to be real.

Despite all of this, I will plan on being in New York for the closing ceremony, where the actual finals will take place (the remaining four shows will be presented and voted on by the panel). However, the event has taken on a very melancholy tone, in my eyes.

People hate me when I’m melancholy.

I hope that at least one of my actors is recognized in the supplementary awards. I bitterly hope my director is not recognized, since my journey with him has been anything but proactive and progressive.

I greedily want a reimbursement of my festival fee.

I selfishly want an apology. Just one. For any of it.

Most of all, I want to rest. I feel so tired.

Continue to Part 6…

Ainslie Caswell is a fledgling writer and playwright, experimenting with her writing on Medium and Twitter. She is finishing a book about the year of her life spent as an exotic dancer. Visit her at