#APlayADay Reflection

#APlayADay

The Project:

This past November I undertook a mini project to read a play every Monday-Friday over a period of four weeks (But why Mon-Fri? To execute the project like it’s my job… because it is). I made notes on content, theme, style, staging, and development history. This project was created to provide an education for myself that I do not have. In order to keep myself accountable and to share with others #aplayaday progress was posted on Twitter.

The Plays (in order of reading):

1. The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble – Beth Graham

2. Age of Minority – Jordan Tannahill

3. Blood (A Scientific Romance) – Meg Braem

4. The Fairytale Lives of Russian Women – Meg Miroshnik

5. Armstrong’s War – Colleen Murphy

6. That Elusive Spark – Janet Munsil

7. Concord Floral – Jordan Tannahill

8. Annie Mae’s Movement – Yvette Nolan

9. Tombs of the Vanishing Indian – Marie Clements

10. Brothel #9 – Anusree Roy

11. The Flick – Annie Baker

12. The Unplugging – Yvette Nolan

13. Café Daughter – Kenneth T. Williams

14. Pig Girl – Colleen Murphy

15. Night – Christopher Morris

16. Bug – Tracy Letts

17. All Our Happy Days Are Stupid – Sheila Hetti

18. Fred’s Diner – Penelope Skinner

19. Late Company – Jordan Tannahill

20. Kill Me Now – Brad Fraser

21. A Man A Fish – Donna Michelle St. Bernard

22. Antigone – Sophokles (Anne Carson)

 

Questions I Ask Myself:

Why this project?

There could be no better way to improve ones playwrighting skills than to read, watch, and write. That is: to read everything, to see as much as possible, and to write all the time. #aplayaday provides the opportunity to create an easy framework for studying contemporary scripts. 

Why did I choose the plays I did?

First, I chose to catch up on reading the pieces I had on my ‘To Do’ list. Second, I grabbed contemporary, Canadian, female plays that my public library had on offer. I didn't think very hard about it and I didn’t go out of my way. It was just about reading.

What did I learn?

- Forcing myself to carve out time every day to sit and read a play was a great exercise in dedication, discipline, and self guided study. 

-  #aplayaday allowed me to ask the question ‘What makes this piece uniquely theatrical?’ of everything I read. In each play I isolated an element of style, setting, staging, timeline, or technical production which presented a theatrical highlight. The scripts that offered the opportunity to create a unique theatrical experience were inspiring and the most enlightening for my purposes.

- #aplayaday offered the opportunity to study dialogue, monologue, timeline, style, staging, precision of written direction, script development methods, rich content, and more. Each play showed me something I didn’t know and left me to ask many more questions.

What will I read next?

- Wajdi Mouwad’s quartet of plays: Littoral (Tideline), Incendies (Scorched), Forets (Forests), Ciels (Heavens)

- For the next #aplayaday I would build a specific curriculum to focus in on style/medium.

- More women playwrights, always.

The take-away? 

- The best undertakings fill you with inspiration and #aplayaday was no exception. Reading these works was to be given access to an intimate world created and crafted by a playwright dedicated to investigating a question, person, or situation.

 - The Canadian Drama cannon is rife with stories which explore all walks of life and offer the opportunity to expand horizons through sharing and investing in one another's realities. So, the next time ‘they’ tell me that plays written by women aren’t being produced because they are too hard to find - I'll know the truth - I'll know they just aren’t looking. I found a whole slew of them sitting, waiting to present their magic, in the stacks of a single library. A reminder not to let anyone tell you that your story and the story of your neighbour isn’t there to be told.

NOTE:

I’m passionate about new work so when I'm reading plays I like to keep track of development history. If you do #aplayaday look at who worked on the script, note which artists and which theatres have contributed to the development of new work. You will notice very quickly that the same names and theatres pop up again and again. Find out who these champions are and support them if you can! #aplayaday reminded me that here in Saskatchewan, Gordon Totoosis Nikaniwin Theatre (previously Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company) has been doing an incredible job of producing and developing new work. Many thanks to them for doing a very hard job and doing it well!

Thank-you to all the story creators and facilitators who make new Canadian Theatre possible!

(P.S. If you do a play a day will you share what you learn with me? I'd really like that!)

Be Grateful.

In November I wrote an article for The Billfold on negotiation and the concept of 'being grateful'. Writing it was rewarding and allowed me the opportunity to articulate a major lessons I've learned over the past few years. Here it is:

  • CLICK HERE to open the article on The Billfold site.)
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I was a few years out of University when a project I’d been working on got picked up by a big company. As soon as it happened, I knew I had to start handling my career from the grown-up table. It was an important opportunity and I stood to gain a lot. Too bad I went on to screw it up.

Until that point I was living the “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy of life and had convinced myself that my degree held the same amount of clout as a high school diploma. I’d been struggling to accept my role as a professional in my field until it was forced upon me by this upcoming deal.

I quickly realized that the contract the company proposed did not offer to compensate me appropriately. This didn’t faze me. I felt ready to negotiate. After all, I’d developed the product; I knew the role I played in its existence and that I was crucial for its further development.

I went to the company and provided concrete reasons that demonstrated why I wanted a better job offer: work load, timeline, special skills, specificity of task, etc. I had a clear, rational, and intelligent list of issues to negotiate.

The conversation was tentative at first. I sat in an open posture, nodding my head dutifully with a smile on my lips as I listened to the head of the company lecture me on how contracts work. I was insulted by his assumption that I had no grasp on the basics. I may have been a young professional but I was a professional. Once he finished his mansplaining, I ignored my resentment and returned us to the point: the negotiation.

What response did I receive for expressing my terms with patience and clarity?

“You should be grateful for the opportunity and the exposure that we are offering you.”

And with that, the conversation was over. Trump card. Negotiation finished.

What just happened?

That sentence! How did that sentence get me to shut my mouth and walk away when I had such a strong foundation to stand on? I knew the job couldn’t move forward without me. But what did I do? I buckled.

I thought to myself, “They’re right. I should be grateful to be offered a position in the competitive industry that I’m passionate about. I should be grateful just to be present. I’d better shut up and take it!” So I did.

That was over a year ago. I find myself thinking about my failed negotiation more and more. I find myself wondering if the desire of wanting to working in my chosen field is tied to the assumption that I can be paid inappropriately (or not at all) because of that desire. Is this conclusion implicit? And does it hinge on the concept of ‘being grateful’?

Markets that function within competitive employment pools create opportunity for a particular brand of employer to develop. These employers work from a version of the implied sentiment, “You’re the one who wants to be here. I could have any one of the many who aspire to this position. If you reject this offer someone else will gladly take it. Because there are so many candidates you should be grateful and accept the position as offered even if it doesn’t reflect the responsibilities and work load of the job.”

This philosophy of gratitude appears to function only as a tool employers use to retain the upper hand in an already un-level playing field. Does this philosophy mean a company shouldn’t have to pay a fair wage, or offer decent terms? Organizations such as the one I faced promote a version of gratitude that allows them to manipulate individuals into valuing inappropriate workplace conditions. We are meant to appreciate that the job, any job, exists and that they’ve deigned to make an offer of it. This concept diminishes the value of a potential employee and erodes self-worth. Can this really be gratitude?

In order to combat this dangerous form of gratitude I had to develop a system.

The FIRST thing I had to figure out was who I am and what I’m worth.

I had to learn how to take ownership of the skills I’ve developed in my life. So I made a list. I sat down and wrote out what skills I’ve got — yeah, Instagram counts — as well as what skills I want to develop, and what I want to achieve. Once I had done this it was possible to speak to these points when it became necessary.

Bonus: creating a list of my individual skills made those skills seem more valid.

Acknowledging your skills is key to recognizing that you have your own individual value and that you’re not just the millionth candidate for employment. Until you know what your value is, you can’t articulate it to a potential employer. Remember that if you turn down a bad job offer and a company foolishly lets you, they will be forced to go after their second, third, or fourth choice for the job. They don’t want their second or third choice; they want you.

But they will take you at a bargain if they can.

The SECOND thing I had to consider is that the pressure being created by the competitive market might actually be coming from me.

Instead of allowing doomsday pronouncements about bad job markets and hyper-competitive entry into organizations make me fold for less than I’m worth, I do my research. I ask: what’s required of the job and what does it take to fill the position? I look into hiring practices and any statistics I can find on the company’s employees, wages, benefits, etc. I also look at comparable companies. Then I ask myself: where do I fit in all of that?

Are there really as many candidates as they claim? Or are you the perfect solution to their employment woes? It’s easier to speak up for yourself if you’ve looked at your situation and your potential employers from all angles.

The THIRD thing I had to accept was that what motivated me wasn’t greed or arrogance, and that actually my consent came with consequences.

This realization was hard-earned. I felt ashamed any time I considered contracts to be insufficient, especially when my peers seemed ready to accept them. Didn’t they know that their value was too high for them not to stop and think twice?

I had to accept that knowing my value and fighting for working environments that reflected that value wasn’t hubris. It was me wanting to see myself and my peers functioning in workplaces that appropriately valued our abilities and contributions. Knowing your value doesn’t mean you can’t be grateful when you get an offer, and even grateful if you choose to walk away from one.

I want myself and my peers to occupy workplaces that value our abilities and contributions. Knowing your value doesn’t mean you can’t be grateful when you get an offer, and grateful if you choose to walk away from one. And sadly, just because you know your value doesn’t mean you’ll be rewarded appropriately. Sometimes an organization recognizes your awesomeness and doesn’t have the means to offer you what you deserve; they’re not all bad (your research should tell you if this is the case). There’s no shame in saying yes to these less-than-ideal scenarios — sometimes you just need a paycheck — but remember that there can be strength in walking away.

What happens when I accept a contract that doesn’t reflect the value of my work? By consenting to those contracts I feed into the system that allows those transactions to exist. I give my vote of approval and propagate the cycle that trades on gratitude and desire, making it more difficult for my peers to stand up for themselves in similar situations. If I’m willing to accept terms that are far less than ideal then why shouldn’t they?

The FOURTH thing I had to wrap my head around was that if I wasn’t prepared to walk away from the job, then I couldn’t expect to negotiate with this type of employer. The gratuity concept will always win out, and they know it.

The FIFTH and most important tool I had to develop was a gratitude radar. I had to learn to be grateful for the right things. Such as:

+ good work (not just any work)

+ positive companionship

+ health and safety

+ people who challenge me and make me better at what I do

I got duped. They worked the gratitude angle so they could pay me in “exposure and opportunity” rather than a tangible commodity, and I let them. I wasn’t prepared to stand up for myself and I wasn’t prepared to walk away. I am now. I don’t accept this “be grateful” model of employment anymore.

On occasion, I’ll take a job even when it comes with less-than-ideal terms. In those instances, I’ll be grateful for the paycheck. I won’t be grateful that current business practices provide opportunities for employers to take advantage of young professionals and that, all too often, we let them.

By all means: cultivate a healthy, generous outlook.

But don’t let them use it against you.