Detroit Has Snark in Spades
Earlier today I got a notion to look up someone that I used to know. Let’s call her SJ, and she was a board member to our now folded Magenta Giraffe Theatre in Detroit. When we were interviewing for new board members I immediately said I did not like her. She was arrogant, self-involved and snooty. Her ideas to progress the company were nothing but I, I, I and not WE, as most NPOs should be but my vote was overruled. Long story short, she got booted out of the board in an almost litigious fashion because she was so hell bent on not leaving a board that she knew already voted her out and admitted to not liking being near her, couldn’t trust her nor did we want to be forced to sit for two hours every month listening to her talk only about her accomplishments in the name on MGT which were unsanctioned.
Well, one of the things that she “started for MGT” was a playwright group- a weekly or monthly gathering of wine and words that she held at her own house because she did not have us backing her on it. She thought it was something that we NEEDED because we had a VERY successful staged reading festival every year that produced the best piece the following season. It would have made sense to have a sort of cold read or writing class or feedback group ahead of the festival, absolutely. But what she did was started the group on Facebook, invited people to her own home and served them alcohol (and discussed the serving of alcohol in public posts which is a no-no for a non-profit org to discuss) and THEN used the MGT name to umbrella that group without us voting on it or even agreeing to let her use our name. She basically stole the Magenta Giraffe street cred to use for her own gain. It was an unsanctioned club promoting the serving of alcohol without a license (Michigan NPO rules are pretty tough on this legality) and risked MGT losing our NPO status for breaking state law.
We were pretty pissed about this. Long ass story short, I looked SJ up today and saw that she had a play published and it’s available on Amazon. So it looks like finally, she did something after all. I have no idea what the play is about but if writing what you know is any indication, it could be about being so obnoxious that she alienated herself from Detroit’s artistic community and that’s why she finally moved. The drama!!!
So, even though she was absolutely unbearable, almost cost us our hard earned and expensive NPO status- she actually did what she wanted to do the whole time. And I suppose good for her? It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while.
Back when MGT had a yearly staged reading playwright festival I always dreamed about submitting something. Probably because a bunch of the plays that did really well I thought STUNK. Like a man writing about the secrets and lives of 5 women only he had no idea about the inner workings of a woman’s psyche when you mix booze and guilt. Anyhow, I knew that I could do it, I just never did.
It wasn’t, of course, until years later that I finally refound myself and my dream of writing for Detroit stages and beyond after a huge mental and emotional breakdown where it felt like even raising my arms over my head felt like work.
And now that I have found myself, the staged reading festival is dead. There are a few companies that do something similar but they either cost money to submit, which is stupid, or they have specific parameters like must be about life in Covid (nowadays, as if talking about covid while still in lockdown is fun at ALL). It’s apparently not the time for new works.
I’d love it if Detroit Public Theatre rekindled that festival because that’s as close to a home base as I can get. My theatre, the Berman, is an amazing theatre and a great job that I love, but it is more of a stage rental that sometimes does musicals, but it’s mostly a stage for rent to touring groups, music and book festivals and fundraisers and such. It’s not the kind of place I can submit a play about rape to since it’s too taboo for a Jewish theatre connected to a day care and high school. Love my job, bu doesn’t count as a home base for this stuff.
For those who don’t know, theatre as a whole is incestuous. You typically work with one theatre as a designer, a playwright or sometimes even as an actor and you’re branded and basically owned by that theatre. Not through the theatre, but, for example, I designed shows for MGT twice a year, and people knew that. Through no fault of MGT, though, I never really designed in any other theatre. Because every theatre (besides Abreact, with whom I also worked within) had their own chosen set of designers and even when they SAY they’ll call you, they never do. The only time I was ever called to do something with another local group it was to teach how to do facial hair makeup for Hedwig and the Angry Inch where I did a one on one tutorial for a few hours to the gal playing Hedwig. I was happy to help because I thought it meant I was getting my foot in the door at another theatre because I was working for FREE for hours, using some of my own makeup products (they didn’t know what to buy so they needed me to teach and give a shopping list) and teaching someone who never even wears mascara how to be a genderqueer German rocker through makeup. So, naturally after hours of free work, they never called. They never even came through with the comp tickets to the show that they promised. This story was to just explain that even though I think I have this really great piece, I am not a part of a theatre that would read it live, let alone produce it, because I belong to nobody. And knowing how cliquey theatre groups are, I think the hardest thing for me to do in the next few months is figuring out who and how a local theatre here in Detroit could decide to let me in. I no longer have a theatre home and my connections are years old and diffused so I have to figure out who I want my new home to be, I guess you could say.
SJ got her play published and is purchasable- which to me means she probably published it herself via a group and people can just buy it now and do it for free without paying her any royalties or licensing if they choose to put it on stage. And for a playwright that’s kind of stupid- because nobody remembers who the playwright is if it’s not a male historical figure that makes you want to kill yourself (Shakespeare, Ibsen, Baraka) so you need those royalties in order to actually make money from your work and keep it from that dreaded life of FREE BOOK boxes at used bookstores that smell like old rain, cigarettes and mold. If you sell one book on amazon for $12 you get, what, $1 per sale? You’re “just happy to get your work out there” but if it’s sold mass market like that it’s something that’s done for free in a high school and nobody’s really taking it seriously. So, she did it? Good for her? That’s one step ahead of me. (But I’d rather be optioned for stage and paid for the work because that means I can take it anywhere and people will actually take it seriously as a piece, not just done for class credit, which is kind of assholey of me to downgrade her hard work to literal sophomores but we are who we are.)
At least Detroit still likes me.