Can I come out already?

11.09.11 | 11 Comments

CATEGORIES advocacy, alternatives, conversation starter, directors, playwrights, theatrical ecosystem

A conversation broke out on Twitter earlier this week, in response to a blog post (is that a squirrel chasing its own tail I see before me?), which led me here, to a small beer of a rant about an excrescence of language.  I speak of the dreaded appellation ‘emerging’ as it gets affixed to one’s profession.

Emerging playwright, emerging director.

The phrase began its life, I imagine, as a way to talk about artists who are quite literally emerging from graduate school, perhaps from internships and assistantship territory into making their own work, perhaps even emerging in the sense of finding one’s voice through earnest production trial and error.

It’s all right as far as it goes, but it starts to be frustrating somewhere around the fifteenth year that one is albatrossed with this adjective.  There also comes a day — or month after month after year after year of them — when emerging becomes a polite euphemism for “I’ve never heard of you.”

Maybe you haven’t.  But the world is big, and I’ve been directing lots and lots, lo, these many years.  I have been around a few blocks, even if none of them were at 43rd & Broadway.

Brandon Moore wondered tweetingly, “@dloehr @laurazam Meaning the school teacher who retires at 55 to take up playwriting might not be considered “emerging”? #2amt”  For instance.

We don’t have emerging doctors or emerging politicians or even emerging dancers.

Now it’s only entymology.  “What’s the harm?” you might ask.  It’s only grating and a trifle diminishing to talented playwrights and directors who have found their voices, who are perhaps established, diligent and working in their own small way, but who have yet to hit the big time.  The world (and the business) is cruel enough and no one is served by even a little bit more diminishing behavior or attitude.

Would it be more accurate to talk about early career or mid-career playwrights and directors?  What do you think?

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Kate Powers

Shakespeare girl, teller of good stories, fan of social justice, prison reform, mindfulness and all that is righteous on E Street

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  • Honestly? I’d do away with as many such terms as possible. I am a playwright: end of story. Not emerging, not mid-career, not anything.

  • Anonymous

    If you write a play, you’re a playwright. It’s that simple. It’s supposed to be an artform that anyone can do, not a profession, but some people have figured out a way to make money at it.

  • Rebecca Noon

    This “emerging” word is always the most confusing when it comes to applying for things. As someone who’s been out of grad school for three years and undergrad for 10 I think of myself as too old to be emerging. A mentor whispered in my ear that it had nothing to do with age of proximity to school. After that I realized that “emerging” was a code word for “not super famous yet” and I let it go and said yes to myself potentially “emerging” for the rest of my career as a theatre maker. But that certainly begs the question, if we’re speaking in codes, what are we hiding?

  • I think the term is widely misused, and as such, serves no one. If it were used exclusively to actually describe only those artists who are just appearing on the professional scene, it might be useful as a descriptor. But as a weird synonym for “not famous”, it really doesn’t work.

    I also think that there could be some value for delineating between established artists of any kind and new-comers to the field. I’m 6 months out of grad school — I’m new here, I need different things than someone who has been in the business for a decade. But do I want to be stuck emerging for the next fifteen years? Nope, no I do no. So it’s tricky.

    • David

      I would replace “not famous” with “not yet famous”.  Otherwise I agree with you.

  • I think that most people are afraid to define for themselves how they want to be labeled. Let’s not be silly here and think that the world will ever do away with labels. That’s an oxymoron. Language is a system of labeling.

    So the important thing is for each individual to decide how they want the world to see them and then make sure they tell the world exactly how they (the artist) is to be viewed.

  • Kimberly Lew

    I agree that the term ’emerging’, or any term really, to distinguish writers is arbitrary. And especially in playwriting where “emerging” has been used to describe someone in college to someone in their 50s, someone who has written 1 play to someone who has written hundreds but has yet to have work on Broadway, I also agree that the term can be frustrating, especially for people who are not new to the trade or industry.

    That being said, as someone who has a blog named “Emerging Musical Theatre,” I think the word is more of a marketing tool than it is meant to be patronizing. While artistically, I think we would all just be “playwrights,” “emerging” implies that there is a certain momentum behind that person– less of a “I’ve never heard of you” and more of a “Maybe you haven’t heard of me yet, but you will soon.” “Emerging” is also effective in comparison to “new” because it’s not tied to time and considers where someone is in their career experience instead. In fact, because playwrights and directors in this industry seem to hit their strides/breakout later in their careers, I tend to reserve the term “emerging” to those who have garnered a good amount of experience. The term can be what you make it– and that has the potential to be powerful. We could break it down into even more specific terminology, which, as is pointed out, is a matter of semantics. But no matter what, it’s less talking in code and more marketing speak– which perhaps are one in the same, but is the nature of the beast.

    Is this to say that this is an ideal set up or is representative of one’s career? Not at all. Again, artistically, I think it would be great if we were all on the same playing field. But in an industry where we try to distinguish ourselves and our collaborators/peers who are in similar stages in their careers, trying to define who and where you are in the scope of the industry doesn’t necessarily hurt or restrict you. “Emerging” might not be the word or the only word, but playing this game is not necessarily a bad thing.

  • I completely agree with everything that you’ve written, and, after several years in the field I find the word “emerging” grating and over-used.  In its defense, though, when I first started directing, I found the term a complete savior.  “Hi, my name is Leigh and I’m an emerging director,” was a quick and professional way of saying, “Nope, you’ve never heard of me because, nope, I haven’t really done anything at all, but that’s okay because I’m *just starting out*.”  It does have its uses.

  • Marshall Garrett

    What if we allow ’emerging’ to become a challenge, or a thesis, rather than a diminutive or euphemism at best?

    We are at the beginning of a new millennium, facing an onslaught of new technologies and a world simultaneously more connected person to person and at the same time more divided by technology and space, a tough time indeed to be participants in one of the few remaining art forms that truly requires audience and artist to be in the same ACTUAL space as one another.  Not emerging from training, but emerging from the madness of the world with something to say?

  • I got an emerging artist grant in 2007. I applied for another in 2008 to be mentored in a non-profit arts service organization. Then it was said that the benefit was unclear. I applied for the same grant in 2009 with a presenting organization and then the grant committee said I was too established to be mentored and that I’d be adding more to the organization than learning. So, that was nice to be informed i had emerged and now didn’t qualify for emerging artist grants. 

  • Philip Akin

    I never use the word emerging. If I have to use something I use “young in craft” thus a 50 year old can be young in craft as opposed to emerging