In my work as a script doctor at ScriptProfessor.com — I meet a lot of people with varying talent — the saddest stories belong to the abandoned and the broken-hearted, those who wished upon a star and fell back to earth without touching the moon, and melted. Showbiz tends to call those burnt souls “star fuckers” because they’ll do anything and everything to be noticed — let alone produced — while the kinder among us tend to label them “fame whores.” I just choose to try to have empathy for their plight as I work with them, but there’s also a certain queasiness involved as one feels like a dancing minstrel playing a part for money that will never be seen nor heard — all in the discriminatory want to try to help make someone’s script better for a fee.
I received a call late one Sunday evening from a proper Southern gentleman who had, a year ago, paid $15,000.00USD at an online charity auction to have his play produced in New York. He had three weeks left to submit a script to a New York City theatre company for production a week later or he would lose the opportunity and forfeit his money.
These charity auctions are fascinating — they appear to give ordinary people “star whore” access, for a price, but without really any guarantee of anything but losing money — all in the name of a charitable donation and the hollow honor of saying, “I did.”
I was immediately struck by the odd sincerity and quiet innocence of that curious caller — producing a show in New York was actually super-cheap at $15k, but then, as our conversation continued, I learned it wasn’t really a production but rather a staged reading, and likely not even a staged reading, but just a reading, and none of it was guaranteed.
A reading is where actors sit on an empty stage on stools, script in hand, and “read” the play out loud in front of an audience filled with empty seats. I loathe readings. They’re soul-sucking, and they serve absolutely no real purpose for the Playwright, through directors are quick to claim an easy credit for “working hard” and “realizing the play for the first time.”
It also became clear during our phone conversation that my prospective client had no idea how to write a play — actually, a musical, that was “old timey” starring a faded, and difficult, movie legend from the 1960’s — and it seemed he had no promise of anything actually being in place in New York City for his $15k. The theatre in question is legit, and I’m sure that’s the easiest money they’ve ever not made doing nothing.
The caller also told me he won a “song written about him” by a New York City composer — a song that he would neither own, nor be able to perform, without paying an additional fee on top of the $2,000.00USD he had already spent “winning” the charity auction right to have the song written about him.
Before I could reply to the song purchase, he told me he’d spent another $3,000.00USD at the same online charity auction to have a New York City “dramaturg” look at his script — a script that he had yet to write. He’d actually lost that auction to another bidder, but the “dramaturg” was “so impressed” with the bidding that an exception was made, and the auction decided to change the rules and have a first and second place “winner” — who each had to pay what they originally bid for the service — all in the name of charity, mind you!
I asked my caller why he needed my script doctoring services if he already paid $3,000.00USD to a New York dramaturg, and he told me he had no idea what a dramaturg was, or did. He’s not alone in that wondering, I have the same confusion over that role, and I attended graduate school with a bunch of them in the same program.
I was quickly realizing my caller was either insane or desperate or lonely — or all three. He didn’t seem to have money to burn. He just wanted to be liked, and noticed, and to get there, he decided to charge $20,000.00USD at the online charity auction to fill a deep hole within him that didn’t seem to be the least bit filled with anything but simmering desperation.
We talked a bit more — I was willing to help him craft a story that could be presented in rough form at the New York City theatre — it would at least salvage most of his money and give him a “New York Credit” of some import that might look good on a starter resume, and while he seemed interested in hiring me to help him for the rush job, he seemed especially crushed when I told him that his difficult California movie starlet from the 60s would likely not be interested, and never available, to star in his musical reading in three weeks.
We ended our conversation with a good plan. I told him to email me five sentences about what happens in his story and I’ll do the rest. He agreed to send the sentences by morning light. I never heard from him again. He probably tried one last time to touch a star, and shoot the moon, and fell, once again, melted, to the earth — now unwilling, or unable, to stake another dollar in a burning and broken dream.