Bias – How to Manage It and Why it exists

I just finished reading over 40 scripts, submitted for the Estrogenius Festival and for my Women at Work Festival. This year, for the first time, I put all the scripts on my iPad, and did not look at any of the other submission materials until I had read all the scripts. I wanted to see if my personal bias was influencing my judgment.
I gave them all scores for writing. When the writing was superb, I read the entire script. When the writing was pretty good, I read the first ten pages, to see if the script would improve, and then decided whether to read on. When the writing was not good, I made myself read at least five pages, but then allowed myself to put it aside.
I then viewed the videos – a very easy process, since few videos were submitted. I Googled those applicants who had not provided much supporting material. And then I gave scores for performance, as best I could, given the mostly inadequate information I had at hand.
Then I reviewed the marketing information, to determine if the shows could draw an audience. I always try not to let this part of the process inform my decision very much. But we have to be honest here, if you can’t sell tickets, then you are not an asset to the festival. And as much as I and the people at Estrogenius want to nurture artists, we also have to pay the bills. And it’s a fact that local artists, with experience in selling their shows, are the best bet. So I figured in the marketing abilities, and then came up with my final score.
I think that this approach to curating is a good one. My bias–toward NYC-based artists, toward experienced performers, and toward people who have experience selling—was kept in check. I think my decisions were fair and I can support them, if anyone asks.
I think the curatorial process for festivals has been given short shrift in recent years. I strongly suspect that many festivals will accept anyone who will pay the exorbitant fees. I’m glad that this is not true for ALL festivals. I think quality control is important.
For those of you who submit your work to curated festivals, please keep in mind that curators do have bias, and much of our bias is based on our experience as curators, playwrights and theatre goers.
Here are some failings that my curatorial eye can’t ignore.
Sloppiness – A script with typos and misspellings has either been hastily put together or the person submitting it is careless.
Lack of formatting – A single-spaced script is hard to read, and shows inexperience with the medium.
Lack of polish – A rambling, journal-style script shows a lack of familiarity with theatrical form, and a lack of writing experience.
Lack of supporting materials – If the show is brand new, you won’t have a video to offer. But you can provide video from previous shows to show your stage craft. You can provide a website so that your experience can be gauged.
When you submit a show to a theatre or a festival, put yourself in the shoes of the person making the decisions. What would you want to know? And then answer those questions. It’s a comprehensive process, but it’s not difficult. And it will yield the best result.

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