Recently, my youngest daughter was at a singing competition where she was adjudicated with five other girls. As I listened to them perform, I ranked them according to what I thought were strengths and weaknesses. When they were all done, I thought my daughter could have come in first, second or third; depending on what the adjudicator was looking for. I was wrong. Only the top three were ranked and my daughter wasn’t one of them.
But the adjudicator did comment on how the choices are subjective and that the same six girls could sing again on the following day and the rankings would be totally different. She also emphasized that it is a futile exercise to say someone is “better” than the others when they all bring something different to their performances.
The adjudicator also mentioned that the important thing is to compete against yourself, so to speak. They can all use the feedback provided to improve their own performances. And if they are really eager, they can use some of the feedback provided to the others, as well.
I also told my daughter that I think sometimes you give people what they need. I thought that my daughter was the most comfortable person up on the stage – it’s probably apparent that she’ll keep performing whether she gets ranked well or not. Some people need to be encouraged to pursue their gifts. Others know what they want and will go for it. And sometimes we need a kick in the pants more than a pat on the back.
So why enter competitions or contests if the whole process of evaluating each other is subjective? Is it all a waste of time?
I don’t enter playwriting contests to get validation for my writing. I enter them in the hopes of winning, obviously. But if I don’t win or don’t even place, I don’t think that it necessarily means my writing is bad. It just didn’t appeal to the people judging that contest. And often it does mean that my writing is weaker than the rest of the competition. I know I have lots of room to grow.
But I also submit to build credits. To place in contests is at least something you can put on your resume if you don’t have many things produced. And often, I enter contests to give myself a deadline to get some writing done.
Do I place a lot of value in “winning a contest”? Of course not. But I’m not going to complain if people want to give me money. 😉 Or give me other opportunities because they think I’ve “proven myself” by doing well in a contest.
Winning or placing in a playwriting contest doesn’t mean that I’m better than the other writers. It means that my writing appealed more to the people that were judging at that time. It could turn out very differently with different judges. But before you can get people to put on your plays, you have to find ways to get noticed. And often entering a contest is a good way to get noticed. Especially if getting your play performed is one of the prizes.