Strap on your balls and grow some chest hair: For the next year, I will be submitting like a man—resubmitting every script I have written, but under a man’s name.
Let me explain.
From the day I graduated NYU nine years ago with a shiny new BFA in Dramatic Writing, I started submitting plays. There are many ways one can build a resume as a playwright, and submitting to calls for scripts was the one I chose. A few months in, I started keeping a list of all the submissions I was doing. Part organization, part paranoia—I wanted to have a record of where I’d sent my stuff.
I started wondering what my career would be like if I had an indiscernible name. Would I have been more successful if my gender was uncertain? Or better yet—would I have been more successful if people straight-up thought I was a dude?
Fast forward to today, and that list is 117 entries long. The majority is submissions to theatres, theatre companies, and festivals. A handful (especially recently) is submissions to TV networks’ writing programs. All of them are submissions sent in response to open calls for scripts; none of them are works I sent unsolicited, and it doesn’t count anything sent to someone I know or a friend-of-a-friend who was looking for plays.
Here are the results: About 10% of the scripts on the list have been accepted, 5% have been semi-finalists or “almosts,” and 85% were rejections. That may sound grim, but this business is a numbers game.
Or so I’ve always assumed.
Over the past few years, I have been increasingly disheartened by the statistics on women in theatre and TV. The exact number varies from study to study, but they all come in around 20%. That’s right – 51% of the population in the US is women, but only about 20% of our writers in theatre and TV are female. Wanna see the data for yourself? Read The Count from the Dramatists Guild, or American Theatre’s article that aptly likens statistics on women writers to the old “Really?!?” bit from SNL’s Weekend Update. And if those aren’t enough to convince you, Women in Arts & Media Coalition has a whole list of depressing studies, as does WomenArts.
51% of the population in the US is women, but only about 20% of our writers in theatre and TV are female.
With all these numbers reminding me that my industry sees and treats me as inferior to my male counterpart, I started wondering what my career would be like if I had an indiscernible name. What if I was a Jordan or a Morgan? Or what if I was an unfamiliar foreign name, like Sizwe or Hideyoshi? Would I have been more successful if my gender was uncertain? Or better yet—would I have been more successful if people straight-up thought I was a dude?
Enter “Submitting Like a Man”—One year in which I take all the rejected scripts on my list, and resubmit them using a man’s name.
For convenience sake, we’ll call my new male self Max Kines. That’s not the name I’m actually using (the real name, of course, will have to be kept secret), but it’s in the same vein as the name of choice, by which I mean, the name keeps me in the same demographic as my real self (white and Jewish) with the exception, of course, of gender.
The name keeps me in the same demographic as my real self…with the exception, of course, of gender.
Everything else about Max is the same as me. Max is 31 years old, and a New Yorker of 13 years. Like mine, Max’s work is presented with adjectives like smart, lively, and deliciously absurd. Max went to NYU, has a professional website akin to my own, has a Twitter handle, and has the same resume as me. For the sake of tricking Google, the titles of each script have been changed, but the content of each script—the actual words on the page—remain the same. Oh, and Max loves summer, hates grapefruit, and is definitely a Democrat.
There is more to all of this—rules and guidelines I’ve set up for how it will work—which I’ll elaborate on at greater length in a forthcoming post. Of course, despite all the structure I have given to this project, I do acknowledge this experiment is far from scientific. Although I am submitting the scripts to the same places, I can’t control for pretty much anything else at all – I will be amongst a different applicant pool, at a time when any given organization will be looking for different things than before, and in all likelihood will be evaluated by a different set of readers. There is nothing in this that will “prove” anything, it’s just a project that I am conducting out of curiosity.
I know there are many more questions that I’ve not yet addressed. What do I hope to gain? What will I do if Max is accepted? What’s in a name, anyway? Stay with me, and I promise they’ll be answered.
Originally published on Howlround.