On Criticism and Unicorn Love

I’ve been attending Toronto Cold Reads since their last few sessions last fall. This season, fall 2014, has been particularly kind to me. I’ve had not one but two short plays read as part of their series, I’ve made new friends, and even convinced a whole crowd of my friends and acquaintances to come out and participate (I couldn’t get any of them to read, but I’m a writer so who am I to make them act when I won’t do it myself?). It helps that they’ve changed locations over to the Social Capital Theatre which is now only 20 minutes from my new home (more to come on that later).

Leia and Mike reading my play (Our) Eyes.

Leia and Mike reading my play (Our) Eyes.

Last night’s reading got me thinking about criticism. I think about it a lot as a writer in many different genres, and as a young person newly out of school and adapting herself to learning on the job. Many of the responses to my play last night sounded exactly the same as the responses I received a few weeks earlier:

Great job, Maggie . . . Loved your scene . . . Good job, tonight . . . Thanks, Maggie . . . I really liked the writing of your scene . . .

Blech. Nothing useful there. I understand that when people don’t know me it’s difficult to feel comfortable offering criticism. But these aren’t useful. I can’t decide which play to pursue off this–not that I would decide what to write purely based on other people’s opinions instead of listening to my gut–and yet, I’m still annoyed that it takes so long to get decent criticism, even in an environment filled with experienced writers, actors, directors, and producers.

Then again, I also know that if this wish were fulfilled and every person in attendance were brutally honest, I would want to hide in my room under the covers instead of bringing any of my writing out into the light of day. Part of learning to be a great playwright is learning to hear your words read aloud, the good and the bad. I need a space where I can cringe and giggle and squeal with delight or disgust at my words read aloud. A place to practice my poker face for when the directors and artistic directors producing my work are watching.

The way to get help from the Cold Reads–beyond the already amazing opportunity to have my work read by professional actors–is to build a community. And that’s where the unicorn love comes in (if you’ve been wondering how that ended up in the title).

It’s in debating whether working in the film or theater world makes you jaded or grounded. It’s in creating metaphors about how writers think: you don’t want to be a horse (aka clunky), but more like that butterfly that flaps its wings effortlessly and yet causes a hurricane on the other side of the ocean. These new people, the ones I’ve been chatting with on Twitter and email in the days in between the next series, that have me coming back to the Toronto Cold Reads more often this year. They aren’t telling me my work is good or bad, but they are listening when I am trying out my ideas and thoughts. And then they offer new scripts, prompts, films, and plays to watch for inspiration and extra motivation.

So if you want to talk about writing, honest, risky writing, this fall come hang out at the Social Capital Theatre on Sunday nights. 7 pm if you’re brave enough to read (for a small, wonderful crowd), 8 pm to listen to the amazing new scripts.

Oh yeah, and I just joined the volunteer core team that runs the Cold Reads. So you know the social media and website are going to even more stellar now!

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About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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