“No One Is Alone”: The 5 Stages of Rejection as a Musical Theatre Writer
So we're in a business filled with rejection. Shocker, right? I know, I told you something you absolutely didn’t know. You're welcome. Look, nobody likes rejection. Especially in theatre. Despite that we're semi-prepared for the harsh realities of our industry (teachers have warned us that it's not going to be easy), we initially refuse to believe that we will experience a thousand doors slamming in our faces.
However, the real world does eventually appear and it kicks the living daylights out of us. We submit our musicals, ourselves, our beautifully constructed lyrics and innovative ideas, and then we are politely told usually via email, thanks but no thanks. It's pretty much a Tinder swipe. Just not that into you, sorry bae.
Having encountered this a number of times myself, I am happy to walk you through the 5 Stages of Rejection you will experience as a young MT writer. Now, these stages are relatively well-known, because a myriad of professionals endure them, but for the purpose of this post, I've tailored them specifically to us scrappy MT writing warriors.
1. Denial – This rejection email clearly wasn't meant for me. It's a mistake. They'll email back shortly with a follow-up apologizing for their oversight, and I'll receive my rightful admission into this festival. So while I wait for them to realize their error, because I'm so marvelous at time management, I'll begin crafting my social media announcements. What is life?! So beyond grateful to share…
2. Anger – ARE THEY SERIOUS?! HOW DARE THEY NOT ACCEPT ME! MY MUSICAL IS FAR BETTER THAN ANYTHING ELSE THEY'VE ACCEPTED! THEY WILL REGRET THIS! I WILL BE SO FAMOUS AND RICH. I WILL WIN ALL THE TONYS AND THEY WILL BEG FOR MY NEXT PIECE. BEG! I KNOW THIS BECAUSE MY MOM SAID SO.
3. Bargaining – Maybe they've rejected me for their festival because they're going to give me a huge grant instead. Or a fellowship, probably a fellowship. Or better yet, they want my show for a full production! Duh! It'll just take a few weeks to pull it all together. Geez, I shouldn't have gotten so angry. It'll all work out the way it's supposed to.
4. Depression – So this is my fate. Failure. I have no talent. My musicals are crap. I can't write. Why bother? Why keep trying? Why did everybody lie and say I could do this? What am I going to do if all this hard work doesn't pan out? I don't think there's a place for me here. Maybe I should leave New York, and open a bakery in one of the Dakotas, because do I want to be this miserable?
5. Acceptance – Okay, okay. I've had a few days (or months) of crippling self-pity. Rejection and I have since had a nice little chat, and we've decided that I should keep writing. However, Rejection has repeatedly insisted that he can't make any guarantees he won't keep showing up, but he promises that his visits are meant to give me a thick skin, to appreciate my strengths, and to help me not take my future success for granted. I told him to go to hell, but that I understood, so now I'll open my laptop and write like he doesn't exist.
Yup. There they are. The 5 Stages. Sound familiar? I think all of us attempting to break into the MT scene can certainly relate. After all, we are in this together. Even in our darkest and most doubtful moments, we are all pursuing this magical art form. We are all chasing the damn unicorn.
We are trying to keep Rejection at bay, and we must. We must not let it break our spirits, and we must not rest in Stages 1-4 for too long, because then we will lose the battle. Then we will truly be alone. So when you're cycling through these stages, try to remember that this too shall pass – this too happens to everyone, and this too will one day be a distant memory, because one day, you will be accepted into that festival, or better yet, you will get that Tony.
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