Playwright Vittoria Cafolla writes:
Why do we need Agent 160? I'll tell you why.
A wee while ago I was at a networking event. I'm not very good at networking. The last one I was at, I think I convinced a major producer that the piece of work he'd just directed was a fluke. So I know that I don't always come across as very confident.
But this time, I was armed with my one remaining Agent 160 business card and, I convinced myself, that this wasn't just an opportunity for me, but for the company.
Who to choose?
A scan of the room and I knew I should probably approach a man from one of the best known theatres, the one with an illustrious history. There was a writer talking to him, so I waited behind him. I lent the writer a pen, and he wrote on the copy of the script he was giving the theatre producer. The writer did most of the talking.
Anyhow, a few minutes later, this producer turns to me. I introduce myself, the card concealed in my other hand.
He asks me what I do, and I tell him I write plays. And that I'm interested in sending one to him: and before I can explain that I'd also like to tell him about Agent 160, he tells me that they receive hundreds of plays a year; that if I'm serious about writing, I can't just send in the first draft. It has to be a fifth, sixth, seventh draft.
I wonder if he asked what draft number the man in front was handing him.
He continues and I bite my tongue. I am not an established writer, but I would NEVER ever send a first draft out. Even if asked for a first draft, the work I hand over has been rewritten, read by someone else. Anyhow, he's trying to be helpful, so he tells me to invite some actors round and have them read the play, so I can hear how it sounds. Good advice, but....
Eventually, I tell him thank you, he tells me his email is on the website. What, the email that you just bothered to give to the man before me in the queue?
And then I tell him about Agent 160.
I suddenly feel bad. I think he's uncomfortable, but I don't know why.
I explain that we hopefully will be showing some of the plays in Belfast, and if we get the funding, we are trying to organise a panel discussing women writers in Irish theatre. Would he be interested in taking part?
I swear he's scared. Now I feel really bad, that I'm ambushing him, and that somehow - in the course of five minutes, I've been deceitful.
Is it that he's just given me a spiel, and I now have revealed myself to be more accomplished than he assumed?
He hurries to tells me about all the female playwrights that the theatre has produced recently. It's not his thing (!), this panel, but it's a cause very close to the AD's heart. She might be interested in the panel. He takes the business card, shoves it in his top pocket and can't seem to end the conversation fast enough.
I still feel odd about the exchange, and puzzled by his response to the very simple question about women writers in theatre. It felt like I'd thrown a political gauntlet at him. Why on earth should it be a contentious question?
Anyway, I go home, play with the baby, and feel a headache coming on. I go to bed, in bad twist. At 2am, I wake up, raging.
Why would his whole attitude change from professional towards the person in front of me to what seemed like patronage in my case? Admittedly, had I never submitted anything, anywhere, all his advice would have been incredibly useful. He didn't intend to be patronising. He seemed like an amiable sort. Was it because I was wasn't confident enough? He didn't really give me a chance to explain what I'd done as a playwright before telling me how I should go about submitting a play. Was it because I'm a woman? I don't know. And to get into a whole other can of worms, was it because people (particularly men) think that when I say I've had a play on, I must be an actress?
Stop pigeonholing us. Stop assuming that I would even consider not taking playwriting seriously. Do you ask this of the others who approach you?
I worked out why I thought he felt ambushed. Because by the end of the conversation, he realised he'd read me all wrong. He'd fallen into the trap we are trying to address.
This is why I'm glad to be a part of Agent 160. This is why Agent 160 exists.