Exposing My Male Self

People who first learn about Submitting Like A Man love to ask what I’ll do if (or when??) “Max” is accepted by one of the opportunities he applies to. I think this is such a popular question because it invokes images of me showing up to rehearsal donning one of those cheesy mustache and glasses disguises. I hate to disappoint you, but I won’t be pulling a Yentl.

Max
An artistic rendering of Max.

The point of this project is not to “trick” anyone into believing I’m a man. Max is a pen name, and the reason for his existence has always been to investigate whether there would be a discrepancy in acceptances of scripts when they’re submitted under his name instead of mine. “His” work is still my work, and as such, his opportunities are still my opportunities. So the answer to what I’ll do if he’s accepted is that I’ll participate.

The next question is whether or not I’ll reveal my gender. In this age of digital communication, it’s entirely possible I could remain a Banksy-esque anonymity for the entire opportunity. However, the longer I administer this project, the more I’ve come to feel strongly that it’s my duty and my responsibility to SLAM to reveal my true gender to anyone who does accept one of Max’s scripts. To see what happens, and what kind of difference it makes (if any), needs to go hand-in-hand with the other goals of this project, and the experiences it allows me to have and to share.

The part that’s complicated is when to reveal my true gender. In lots of cases, I don’t think I’d have the option to wait very long. Many of the opportunities on my list are fellowships or mentor programs, most of which involve an interview. Since I’m not gonna do the Yentl thing, do I reveal the truth before showing up for the interview, or do I just arrive and sign in as Max? My assumption is that I’d do the latter—I’d hate for my situation to be misunderstood and my opportunity to be revoked before I can even so much as get in the door.


I’ve come to feel strongly that it’s my duty and my responsibility to SLAM to reveal my true gender to anyone who does accept one of Max’s scripts.


And this begs the question: Would I give out my real name and explain myself? Even after my gender is revealed, I could still pretend Maximilian is just the name given to me at birth. Or I could tell the opportunity about this project, which they may or may not find cool. And that raises the next issue: Even if I simply explain that Max is a pen name and my legal name is Mya, the administrators of the opportunity might know this project or otherwise Google and link it to me. I am very proud of this project, but I wouldn’t want anyone to worry that I’m out to humiliate them for picking Max when they previously didn’t pick me. (I’m not.)

This is where the “what if”-possibilities start to sound like a British farce. If I reveal my actual name is Mya, and the organization knows this projects or finds it, then the biggest problem is perhaps that the cat is out of the bag on Max’s real identity (“Max” is not the actual name I’m using to submit). I’d have to hope anyone involved in the opportunity would stay sworn to secrecy. Otherwise, I’d have to recreate my alternate male self all over again and begin submitting as Max II. 


The fact that I am a woman doesn’t change anything about the quality of the work, which was liked and selected, and it doesn’t make me any less worthy of the opportunity.


Last but not least is the technicality of legal names that are sometimes needed for legal reasons. From the get-go, my dad (hi dad!), who is not in the arts, has had one main concern about my undertaking of this project: What if someone likes Max’s work and makes out “the check” to the wrong name? How will I cash it and get all my riches? It would be nice if that were actually a concern; so few of the submission opportunities actually offer money that this is the one area where I consider the pseudonym vs. real name debate to be a non-issue.

In the end, the answer is that I’m going to have to play it by ear, weighing all these factors and figuring it out as I go. I see it as a combination of the “anticipate the other person’s move”-skills of chess (which I hate) and the “yes, and…”-skills of improv (which I love). At any given moment, what it comes down to is: am I at a “risk” of spoiling SLAM or of losing an opportunity by revealing my gender and/or real name? The former is the more difficult one to figure out, requiring strategy-slash-ad libbing. The latter is the one where my hope is that the answer will be a clear, solid no; the fact that I am a woman doesn’t change anything about the quality of the work, which was liked and selected, and it doesn’t make me any less worthy of the opportunity. And any organization that felt otherwise is probably not one I want to be involved in anyway. Booyah.

Originally published on Howlround.

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Gimme Your Ten Cents (Opinions Wanted)

On principle, I don’t submit scripts to opportunities that require a submission fee. While still a student, I was strongly (and smartly) advised to never submit to anything that requested money, and I have remained thankful for that advice ever since. A writer could go broke paying submission fees, and what’s more, it should be a theatre or organization’s pleasure to read our work. Yes, it requires time and resources on their end, but that burden should not be passed along to the writer; we’re no more suited to handle that financial strain than they are.

business-money-pink-coinsPostage and printing costs aside, I have never in nine years paid a submission fee, no matter how little the fee or how awesome the opportunity.

Here’s the dilemma:

There’s a deadline towards the end of this week for one of Max’s resubmissions. It’s for a fairly good short play festival put on annually by a prominent organization, and I have submitted to it more than once as myself. Turns out that in the years since I last applied, they now require a submission fee.

The amount they are asking is nominal, but this organization is well-known and I find it hard to believe they’re too strapped for cash to otherwise fund the application process (for reading SHORT plays, mind you). What’s more, they are one of these festivals where, if accepted, you are expected to self-produce and mount your entire production, footing all the costs for props, costumes, AEA transportation reimbursement, and rehearsal space. I’ve done these sorts of festivals before, and if I’m lucky, it costs me only $200—often more—to do even the most basic production. And in the case of this festival, there isn’t any sort of stipend, shared ticket money, or even prize money being offered. For a well-established organization to ask for a submission fee for this type of opportunity is like rubbing salt in the wound; this was already a really raw deal.

Normally, I’d run screaming in the opposite direction from this sort of submission. But…the project. I want Max to reapply to as many of my previous submission opportunities as possible. A part of me feels like the fee is nominal, and I’d be paying it for the sake of the project, and I should just suck it up and pay it. Yet at the same time, giving my money feels so wrong, and I don’t want to support the notion that it’s okay to charge writers for submissions. Plus, Max is only applying to things that I, myself, would apply toand I’d never apply to this (not under these circumstances).

So, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you think submission fees are justified? Do you hate submission fees but think I should pay it, just this one time, since it’s nominal and for the sake of SLAM? Or do you think Principles Above All, and that by charging a fee this submission op has disqualified itself from being part of the project?

Leave your ideas in the comments below, or get at me on Twitter @theSLAMblog using #MaxMustApply or #SaveYourMoneyMax.

Am I Man Enough?

In order to launch Submitting Like A Man and begin resubmitting my scripts as a dude, one of the first things I had to do was create my alternate male self, who I’m calling Max. Max isn’t the real name I’m using, but I can’t blow his cover and reveal the actual pseudonym; the only person who knows it is my partner of eight years, and that’s because he’s the one who came up with it.

As a playwright, I am basically a professional character developer, so before I could do anything, I had to get my head around who this person was. On one hand, I felt the need to make Max as realistic as possible, and for him to truly be a realistic man, there were things about him that inherently seemed like they would have to be different from me. On the other hand, I felt obligated to maintain integrity to this project’s main concept—that the only differing factor between Max and I would be the gender a person would assume based on name.

Mya Typing

In case the bold text wasn’t a giveaway, I ended up settling on the latter. As I’ve discussed before, this project is far from scientific. Since there are many factors that I can’t control, I decided I should keep steady whatever components I could, and Max should be exactly like me, with no differences except for his name and the gender it implied. Creating a personality for Max would have been too much like creating a fake person and not enough like me working under what is essentially a pen name.

Max also needed to be exactly like me because it was important for him to maintain all my same demographics, other than gender. Just like me, Max would be 31 years old, white, heterosexual, and Jewish. Submitting Like A Man is about examining what happens when the gender changes—not a free-for-all way to make myself eligible for every competition out there. Max will not suddenly become Latino or gay just so he can apply to a festival meant for Latino or LGBT writers. Max is only applying to things that I am eligible to apply to as myself.

After SLAM launched, I heard from a lot of men who admitted they had been tempted to change their names and apply as women so they could be eligible for female-only opportunities (my impression is that none had actually acted on the temptation). It’s my opinion that it would be unfair to change my name in order to gain entry to something for which I otherwise would not be eligible. In fact, Max is excluded from some of the opportunities on my list I am eligible for as a woman. So in those cases, I had a foot in the door that Max does not. (Take that, fake alternate male self!)


Even though Max may write like me, think like me, and interact with the world like me, the world’s response back to him is different than mine.


What’s been interesting to discover is that, even though I chose to make Max identical to me, being him does not feel the same as being my regular self. Take Max’s Twitter, for example. Yes, that’s right—Max has his own Twitter, which means I now administer three Twitter handles: @Mya_Mya for myself, @theSLAMblog for this project, and @HaHaYouThoughtI’dTellYou for Max. (See what I did there?) What’s been unusual about managing Max’s Twitter is that for the first time in my life, I’m on the flip side of targeted marketing. Instead of Real Simple Magazine and fashion blogs, Twitter suggests that Max should follow sports, finance, and business. So even though Max may write like me, think like me, and interact with the world like me, the world’s response back to him is different than mine. And even though it’s no secret that there are ways in which men and women are treated differently (especially in marketing), it’s bizarre and somewhat enlightening to actually experience it from the other side.

The other notable experience is that even though—or perhaps, because—Max is exactly like me, I sometimes find that I resent him. For example, if I stay up late finishing a submission he’s sending out, I grumble; it feels a little like doing someone else’s homework. What’s more, it feels like doing someone else’s homework when you expect that person to get an A even though you already turned in the same assignment and got a B. Obviously that’s a generalization that works on the assumption Max will be more successful than me, which will not necessarily be true, but considering the statistics that around 80% of shows produced in the US are written by men, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that Max will have a better shot at this than I did. Think about it: his qualifications are identical to mine—no more, no less—and yet he stands a four in five chance of being produced, whereas I had a one in five chance.


Max’s qualifications are identical to mine—no more, no less—and yet he stands a four in five chance of being produced, whereas I had a one in five chance.



Does this mean I resent all male writers for their four in five chance? Of course not. Their scripts are different than mine, so their chances are also different because of their plots and characters and word choices. But in Max’s case, his plots and characters and word choices are exactly the same and yet, at least statistically speaking, his script is four times more likely than mine to be produced. And what did Max to do increase his odds so dramatically? Nothing. Just change the name on the cover.

In moments like that, I have to remind myself that Max is on the side of gender parity. Like me, he supports efforts to create equal opportunities for men and women alike. But for now, he’ll be here, submitting like a man.

Originally published on Howlround.

Manning Up

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.

Woman at typewriter

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.