Giving theater back to the people


A Conversation with Rachel Hirshorn, Visionary and Host of Submit 10 Baltimore

Submit 10 is a unique event where anyone and everyone can submit a story or a play. Have it spontaneously cast and performed before a live audience in a high-energy and ego-free environment.

Created, hosted, and produced by Rachel Hirshorn, Submit 10 Baltimore seeks to unite, promote, and perform the creative gold that lies within us all.

“Your words; spontaneously cast, and read by your peers. No rehearsal. No rules. No pretension. No ego.”

Rachel began the project—which finds its home at Liam Flynn’s Ale House in Station North—a little over 5 months ago. Writers submit their work to her and then she selects and offers 10 ten-minute literary pieces for public reading and consideration.

Hirshorn wants to make Baltimore an unpretentious pot of creative juices that get stirred up at least every other Monday. An aspect I appreciate is how the format removes the fourth wall and brings people together to raise a glass, laugh and make meaning from each other’s stories. Its scale is not epic, but the form is mythological. Whether it is deliberate or not Hirshorn has stacked the deck for writers. Submit 10 is a breeding ground for new theater. It’s a training ground for artists and performers to gather, share visions, and go forth and make it happen.

My interview happened at Britt Olsen-Ecker’s place. Jessica Murphy Garrett, Rachel’s house mate, joined us. It was happy hour so we dressed up and enjoyed wine, cocktails and conversation.

Peter: What is Submit 10?

Rachel: It’s a really fun place where you can create, and express, and learn from a complete stranger as well as from a good friend.

Peter: What makes it different?

Rachel: It’s not judgmental or going to suck your pocket dry. And it’s happening in a developing area of a city that doesn’t have a whole lot of money.

Peter: What is Submit 10’s higher purpose?

Rachel: The purpose of Submit 10 is to prove that there is no such thing as superficiality and that everybody needs each other on a deep deep level.

Peter: Did the idea for Submit 10 come to you in a flash or did it develop over time?

Rachel: Over time. 3 things led to it: I saw a lot of unhealthy ambition in the major cities. Ambition that comes at the sacrifice of…your relationships to people that you care about. I did a lot of that in pursuit of something. There’s almost a desperate element to it.

I’ve seen a lot of open mics where writers obviously didn’t want to be up there. The work is good, but I could I could find 50 people drooling to read this stuff. We can share this stuff.

And then, I’ve seen a lot of casting (out of NY,Chicago,LA) that reminds me of the almighty 1%. I thought about—why can’tBaltimoregrow at some point AND keep talent here. To me, this (Submit 10) is the way to do it. You need training? Great, this is an unpretentious place, you make it open to everyone—no MFA required—you keep it Karaoke style, and from there, we’ll see. I thought it would be fun to do it twice.

Peter: How did you know when to pull the trigger on Submit10—Do it here! Now!

Rachel: I just moved to the area in January. Met some Carrots (Rachel’s roommate is Single Carrot’s Jessica Garrett) and I was like “well, this road needs some help, let’s put foot traffic in Station North.” Let’s rock & roll, let’s make it happen.

Peter: What’s in it for you?

Rachel: It’s a great way to meet people! It’s making it—I’ll be honest—it’s making it hard to consider ever living anywhere else. And I’ve lived in so many places, 30 apartments in 9 states in 5 years. I kept books, not furniture. Meeting all these people and seeing them laugh together.

Peter: What does Submit 10 offer writers?

Rachel: Perspective

Peter: From who?

Rachel: You never know. It’s a surprise.

Peter: As a writer I get an immediate response from the marketplace about my work. I write it, you cast it with decent actors, and you fill the room with people who want to be there. The writer gets feedback, perspective, and insight. People who otherwise may never go to the “theater” experience real theater at its creation moment. That’s worth a lot. It works or it doesn’t. Let the marketplace decide.

Rachel: That’s the thing. Sometimes you hear volumes in the silence, right? You feel it. You can tell if the audience is with you.

I understand a lot of writers who trained, and I also understand mothers of two who never had any formal training who write. We’ve gotta start somewhere and meet on the same plane in order forBaltimoreto become its own.Baltimorehas its own opportunity to be a trend setter, mainly in the arts. The green light is there. If we let pretention, greed or ego get in the way, then it’s just the same old.

Peter: What is Submit 10 doing for theater?

Rachel: Redefining it. New genres coming out. Two Mondays ago we had an open forum. Which was incredibly theatrical. A woman, a brand new submitter, a lawyer, never done this before, and she had these philosophical questions on a PDF thing, rather dry, and (snaps her fingers!) All right, let’s cast it with 3 people and let’s open it up. We had people responding to all of these questions. It was the audience self-inserting lines…it made an effect!

Another genre; one about female reproductive rights, a whole script that was mainly stage directions! There were maybe 3 lines of dialogue. Important lines, sure, but, it gave the audience the ability to improvise their own way through. It was very moral and constructed as if it were about a real time Submit 10 event.

Peter: Meta.

Rachel: About reproductive rights and there were no female roles. I thought that was cool. We’re breaking new ground.Baltimore can be a hub for that.

Peter: Why Liam’s?

Rachel: They seemed really unpretentious. I felt comfortable in there. They’ve been incredibly supportive.

Peter: What’s different in 2 years?

Rachel: I do think it needs to expand. I’ve never been a complacent kind of gal. Neither in my ideas nor in my actions. Funding would be nice, for things like printing scripts.

Peter: And the venue?

Rachel: Performance karaoke-style, that Max Gardner likes to calls it…I think that stays at Liam’s. It’s a fragile thingNorth Avenue. I feel like this is a point where the city needs to take a step. I’d like to take another step, too.

Peter: You use theater to do what?

Rachel: Feel closer to you.


Peter: How does that work?


Rachel: Do you write plays or stories?

Peter: I write plays.

Rachel: Why do you write plays?

Peter: You have to let dialogue create the world. You collaborate with people and then it all comes alive in front of an audience.

Rachel: I gave a dialogue workshop this morning. There’s so much about dialogue that just gets me, man.

Peter: Sometimes it’s not what they say, but how they say it. And the silences in between things.

Rachel: Always.

Peter: That’s why I do plays.

Rachel: It’s all about people. It’s about mastering some personal notions you may have about human behavior. That’s what always fascinated me, is people. Something I have a passion for.

Peter: You say it’s all about people. Is that people as characters that you get to investigate or people people?

Rachel: Hmmmm, Peter, it’s all of them. It just makes me feel less alone.

Peter: What a lovely statement. How do you curate the submissions? You have a strategy? Is it intuition?

Rachel: I like being offended. I like opinion. If it’s completely unhelpful to anybody, that’s where I draw the line. And you have to be 21.

Peter: What do you look for in submissions?

Rachel: Blow.   Me.   Away.

Honestly. I want outside the box. It’s not trying to be about earning laughs. They (writers and plays) are courageous. And that gonna putBaltimoreon the map.

I want to challenge artists and readers to make big choices. And I want to challenge the writers to do that as well.

Peter: How do you cast?

Rachel: I’ve read them (scripts) all and have an idea. Then I see who shows up. And a lot of times it’s purely intuitive. Generally, I keep myself organized with a line-up; I at least know the characters and then image something in my head about how this could be interesting. And I get to know personalities for a lot of regulars. I can also tell a lot about the way a new reader approaches me. The choices they make introducing themselves to me. People are conditioned to this sort of oh “we need a part, we need a part, and we need to create” I’ve been there myself. So, I’m looking to see, are they relating to me on a human level? Can they do that with something in (snaps her fingers) like, 10 seconds? Sometimes it’s just a look.

Britt Olsen-Ecker: What about people who you know? People like Max Gardner who’s been doing this since day one.

Rachel: People I know don’t worry about it as much. You can be a stranger and just look, give me a look and be honest about that look, and I probably will have an intuition about that.

Peter: Do you enjouy hosting?

Rachel: Love it. So much fun! I have so much energy. Love it. I was the girl who threw parties. I like bringing people together. And I like putting people in uncomfortable positions. Ha! Get over it.

Peter: If Submit 10 is the answer, what’s the problem?

Rachel: I think the problem Peter, is that theater and live performance are almost as distant to many generations, and as hard to reach to a younger generation, as the Greeks. A lot of it has to do with technology, and a lot of it has to do with this unhealthy ambition that’s rooted in desperation. And some of it, I think, is this element of loneliness that we all have, not looking at or greeting your neighbor…and I think taking care of that is our job. That’s Submit 10’s job.

Theater has offered me a lot of clarity and Submit 10 tripled it. And then humbled it for me. Because of the trust from all parties.

Peter: Submit 10 will evolve, certain things will change. What is your enduring promise?

Rachel: It will remain unpretentious.

I see a little beauty in every piece I get. I see a little bit of the writer in it. And when I see it performed. I see a little bit of the performer taking on a little bit of the writer. And I’ve never seen anything so selfless, the performer, who took the plunge and decided to make it about the story instead of about them. That’s what I hope will endure.

Peter: Thank you. I look forward to submitting to the next one.

 *          *          *

I leave the table to fix myself another cocktail. Jessica Garrett leans toward Rachel and says, “When we started Single Carrot back in Coloradowe put out a survey to most of our friends, and their buddies, and girlfriends, with about 10 questions on it. One of the questions was, Why don’t you see theater? Out of 5 choices the two most prevalent were, a movie is cheaper and theater is elitist. What you’ve done, Rachel, is make both of those things non issues. It doesn’t cost any more than going to Liam’s any night of the week. You have made part of your brand that it is ego free. It’s an integral part of your brand: ego free. To remove the (perceived) elitism from theater–that’s busting the gate wide open. It’s the most important thing, to bring theater back to where it started…back to the people.”