It Takes a Lot of Rejection and Working on Something Else…and Surrendering

I figured it out: for every Yes there are 100 Nos.

If you’re trying to tour your solo show, that is.

I estimated 50 Nos per 1 Yes in an earlier post, but now I know the truth, thanks to an elaborate spreadsheet. Whenever a campus, conference, organization, festival, or theatre has booked my show (usually as a paid gig-—I can rarely afford to work for free), it has already been rejected by 100 potential bookers. (Silver lining: I count each individual as a potential booker. So if I email 15 people on a particular college campus, each one of them is part of the 100 count, even though they’re at the same “venue.”)

Usually, the rejection comes in the form of…nothing. There’s simply no response to my submission.

Once in a while, I get a cordial “We’re sorry but we have no budget for guest artists” or “There were umpteen applicants and only a handful of spaces for our season/conference/festival/etc.”

Every so often—which is to say, not often—I get a response asking for more information about the show. Out of every 15 venues that express interest, one might actually book the show. “Might” is the key word here.

So I think it’s understandable that I take breaks from pitching. Weeks will go by as I concentrate on other tasks that fill me with hope—and we all need hope as creative folk, especially in discordant times.

For the last year these have been my hope-fueled projects:

The movie has been a slog and a joy and is soooooo close to ready, I can taste it. I’m especially proud of the Tool Kit (digital study guide) that will accompany the version I’ll sell to institutions. It has clips of the show, thought-provoking questions for the viewer, definitions of certain terms, cool quotations, recommended reading and viewing lists, and more.

I’m sharing this because I never planned to make a movie of it while I was writing the show. You never know where your creative endeavor will lead or how it will evolve.

Now, it’s good to have big dreams—sometimes they’re the great motivator—but you must also surrender, with love, to the possibility that the project will not go to exciting uncharted territory. It may remain a solo show that you performed a few times at a Fringe, or in your living room for friends, and that is worthy if you did it with your whole heart.

I sincerely believe that when I surrendered to the possibility that my first show might not have a theatrical premiere and I would have to perform it at home for friends, I released a lot of stress, anxiety, and tension…and that’s what allowed greater possibilities to manifest. The ol’ catch-22: it may come if you let go.

Still, there’s no guarantee, and you have to make your peace with that.

Back to the movie: “Who is going to buy a movie of a solo show by a non-celebrity?” you may wisely ask. My hope is that it will be popular with intercultural people who are unaccustomed to seeing their stories told; counselors; folks who want to create their own shows and would like a template to follow or dissect at their leisure; institutions of higher learning with offices of diversity and inclusion, gender studies, and more; and the 8,000 English-medium international schools that exist on our globe. The “live” show has helped many people come to terms with aspects of their upbringing and identity, and I very much hope that this will be true of the movie as well.

No matter what, I’m so glad I made this movie. It was a finalist for a festival, which means it wasn’t screened, but I took its finalist status with humble gratitude! I don’t know what, if anything, will happen once I make the video available to viewers.

It’s been a great project to work on, regardless of the unpredictable outcome.

My new show is on hold for the moment, but just knowing that it’s sitting in my laptop, waiting for me to tackle it again, causes little sparks to warm my insides. It’s going to be fun workshopping it again and finally producing it, no matter what. I can feel it.

My solo show and memoir workshops take my attention off of me (phew!) and allow me to learn other people’s stories and help them to find the beating heart of the narrative. It’s flabbergasting to witness a short writing exercise evolve into a scene or chapter. It’s uplifting to watch a storyteller reach for their courage. And it’s invigorating to see them make unpredictable connections between scenes and find humor in some of the most wrenching parts.

My participants inspire me to go for broke with my own work.

Thanks to the hope-fueled projects above, each time I start pitching my first show again, I don’t feel depleted and dejected.

Granted, I have something else buoying me when I pitch the show: its trajectory from a tiny black-box theatre in Hollywood to venues all over the US and in Panama, Iceland, Spain, South Africa, and Singapore. However, I did not make any of that happen on my own, and certainly not by simply sending emails. My director gave the show its shape and theatricality and resonance. Several of my family members and friends plugged the heck out of it for me. And a few bookings only happened because hundreds of people donated to my crowdfunding campaigns, which allowed my husband and me to fly to distant lands in order to put on the show. My abject gratitude is due to every person who funded those ventures, and to every person who helped to pique a paying booker’s interest in the show. If the beginning of this paragraph seemed like a brag, I hope I’ve clarified that the show’s trajectory is due to countless people and not my pitching efforts alone—not by a long shot.

And none of it—the show, the movie, the new show, and the workshops—would have happened if my hope for astonishing results had taken precedence over my need to tell the original story. When I honored the latter, with no demands on the future, I think that that made space for a brighter future. I mentioned this concept in an earlier post but I think it’s worth repeating.

If you’ve been pitching your show to everyone and their mother-in-law to no avail, remember that it’s a numbers game. Have you pitched it to 100 individuals yet? If so, have you gotten any nibbles (even if they haven’t been bookings)? If so, take heart. If not, take another look at your proposal and marketing material to see what might need tweaking in order to grab someone’s interest on a gut level.

In either case: make time to work on something else that charges you. If it’s not challenging, exciting, frightening, and hope-inspiring, start working on something that is.

I’ll never stop saying it: we’re here to create and connect. No matter how far your show goes, the time you’ve spent on it was time superbly spent.

BONUS: Go ahead and feel those feelings. A helpful reminder that our emotions can be channeled into great storytelling:

Why Emotional Excess Is Essential to Writing and Creativity per Anaïs Nin, by Maria Popova in

[Edited 6/16/17, LL]

Thank you for reading my twenty-third post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.