The Locker Room and the Specialist Reader

It serves me right. Absolutely and completely my own fault. But it's quite interesting. So here goes.
The back story is this. I have this play called The Locker Room which has been sitting in a folder in a drawer for several years. I wrote it with the Traverse in mind. It is a dark study of the effects of sexual abuse on a young athlete and, having revised it extensively, I eventually submitted it to the Traverse from whence it bounced back quicker than a speeding bullet. The artistic director didn't like it although he didn't feel there was anything technically 'wrong' with it - and their 'reader', whoever that was, I've never been able to find out - had been very enthusiastic indeed. I filed it away, as you do, and then sent it to one or two Scottish theatres, including the Ramshorn, at Strathclyde, but heard nothing. And by nothing that's exactly what I mean. Plays (much like manuscripts sent to Scottish publishers) simply disappear into black holes. They don't say yes and they sure as hell don't say no. Me, I think they use them to fuel their central heating boilers.
Anyway, cue forward several years, and I read about the Scottish 'Playwrights' Studio' and their 'Fuse' scheme. You can submit a play which is then read, anonymously, by a 'very experienced specialist reader' (reader, not writer) who delivers a judgement. The play is then forwarded - with or without the assessment, it's your own choice - to various 'partner' theatres within Scotland, a long list of them, some of whom I wasn't even aware of. Couldn't hurt, I thought, even though the scheme is probably not aimed at playwrights of my weary years of experience. So I printed out the full length play, sent it in, with the proviso that the assessment should not accompany it to the theatres - do you think I'm daft or what? - and went off on holiday for a week.
Somewhat to my surprise I returned to an instant response (so instant that I wondered what else the reader had had to do with his time, but hey, why I am complaining about speed?) Did he like it ? I'm saying 'he' because I suspect he is of the male persuasion, but I could be completely wrong on this one. No he didn't. S/he began by saying 'you clearly have an ability with language and some interesting ideas or intuitions about the ambiguities of love in its various forms'.
Well it's kind of nice to know after all these years that I still have an ability with language (sometimes you do wonder!) - and why do I think it's a man? - oh yes, it's the faintly perjorative use of the word intuition.
He thought there was no clarity of motivation - which I take issue with. Well, what I suppose I mean is that I take issue with that as a criticism. Show me the character who has clarity of motivation, and I will certainly be looking at a two dimensional character.
Nobody real ever has clarity of motivation. Do you?
He thought - strangely -that there was a contradiction between the 'single setting' and the 'poetic style'. Not sure why. I'm never averse to moving my characters around, but in this instance, I made a conscious choice to place my characters in one enclosed, claustrophobic, and slightly risky space. So no, the play won't ever 'move' in that sense.
His main gripe - much more helpfully in my book - was that there was an imbalance in the characters and 'no competition of energies' and he could be right. The Locker Room is, in essence, the story of my main character, a young ice hockey player called Matt. And perhaps that's all it should be. Another monologue. Or a dialogue between Matt and his 'ghost' - the coach who abused him, and who is now dead.
In this instance, the reader's observation was spot on.
But I wonder if - knowing who had sent it in - his response would have been the same. Well maybe it would. One hopes it would. But it does strike me that some of our better known playwrights and novelists might well benefit from the same treatment. Perhaps experience makes you lazy. Not, mind you, that I have ever found anyone reluctant to offer criticism where my own writing is concerned. Quite the opposite.
So what to do now I wonder? Is it worth my while expending the considerable effort involved in rewriting the play with a new kind of focus. Well maybe.
Or should I wait to see what, if anything, the various theatres make of it? But then this particular reader reckoned that it wasn't worth sending out to them - so perhaps that won't happen.
Or should I post it on here? But it's dark, and not altogether suitable for family reading.
And it is rather long.
And definitely poetic.
Hey ho.
At the moment, with a dozen other fish to fry, and not entirely sure myself about the play, I will probably return it to its drawer and do nothing.
But I'll let you know if I decide to do some rewrites - and how it goes!


lavenderlass said…
Crikey Catherine as an ex sufferer of sexual abuse and a social worker working with others who've been sexually abused the last thing anyone who has experienced sexual abuse has is motivation! I, like many others, wandered around in a world that felt as easy to navigate as treacle, until finally I did feel set free. Then I could act with motivation.
But it takes a special kind of emotional skill to not only portray that, but to recognise it.
I wonder if you couldn't get some comments from charities who help those who have been sexually abused. Perhaps letters of support or similar? Maybe it should start with a specialist audience?
Perhaps I'm biased but I have seen plays & other literature be so helpful to those they portray.
I'm sure sooner or later though it will find someone who understands it and can give it the birth it deserves. Lynne.
Anonymous said…
Hi Catherine. Wrote a really long comment and it didn't post. Very frustrating. Just disappeared into the ether. Unless it's just delayed or something. I'll keep this short in case it doesn't work. Just wanted to say you sound very level about that feedback and it's probably sensible - just pick out the helpful bits and forget about the bits you don't agree with. It's only one reader, after all and you can't know if you like the same types of things etc etc. This sort of thing is never objective much as people like to say it is. But you sound like you took it very well and good-heartedly to me.
Anonymous said…
ooo it worked.

I mean never TOTALLY objective - not suggesting they are just throwing wild comments at you or anything. Just that it's pretty impossible for any reading to be totally completely objective.

I did reviewing for while and, again, you try your best and you certainly are aware of trying to analyse and either admit to or expurgate personal taste, but I'd say it's always there in the mix somewhere, inevitably, no matter what you do.
Blogger seems to be having a few gremlins at the moment - I couldn't get my own post to show for ages yesterday! - but the above comments are very interesting and very much to the point. I know what you mean about reviewing - and about the impossibility of objectivity. The very best and most helpful editors and directors I have ever worked with seemed to manage it by asking all kinds of difficult but interesting questions, rather than commenting directly - and it's a technique I have tried to use myself, ever since, when asked to judge competitions, or to assess people's work - trying to get the writer to engage with the work all over again, and think about it, but on their own terms. If - as the writer - you find that you don't really know the answer to a particular question, you know that you still have work to do!
I never get really worked up about negative feedback these days - probably because of all those years I wasted rewriting to other people's ideas, and then watching the whole project fall apart before my very eyes! Nowadays, I try to take what's useful and disregard what isn't. Many years ago a 'reader' for a prestigious Scottish literary magazine sent one of my poems back with the comment that the only thing she liked about it was the 'livelihood' of the little boy in it. She clearly meant liveliness, but didn't know the difference, yet was presuming to make judgements on other people's work! Ever since then, I've been quite laid back about it all - but it's good to get honest feedback and just occasionally it is unbelievably helpful (my agent is the best editor I have ever known!)