If you don’t know what RIPP: Real Inspiration for Playwrights Project, please click here to get some context before reading. I have a feeling not everyone is doing this, as I keep getting emails from playwrights wanting to send me their plays or asking how to get produced which, again, is not the point of RIPP.
From RANDY ROLLISON, PROGRAM DIRECTOR, ARTISTIC RESOURCES, INTERSECTION FOR THE ARTS:
When I was artistic director of HOME for Contemporary Theatre and Art in New York, I focused solely on new plays by emerging and mid-career playwrights. Most of the things we produced were through personal interactions with the playwrights and time spent getting to know them. I invested in people who I believed in. I did review blind submissions and that’s how I found Lucy Wang’s Junk Bonds, which I went on to produce and direct. But I’d say this was the exception rather than the rule.
It takes a lot of resources and time to manage the enormous amount of scripts that come in. Unfortunately, the majority of plays that came in were either unsuited to the type of work we did (which means the writers didn’t do their homework) or were just plain bad (which you could tell in the first ten pages). The best energy was spent focusing on the ones by the playwrights who were on my radar.”
My nutshell takeaway: As happy as I am that Lucy got a blind hit (yay Lucy!), I’m disturbed by the second paragraph. There are two reasons why Mr. Rollison became discouraged by the open submission process: plays weren’t suitable, and they were bad. This isn’t the first time this has come up, and it won’t be the last, but as I continue to hear this from more and more ADs, it seems as though playwrights, in not carefully considering submissions, are their own worst enemies.
I’m not talking about development opportunities that encourage the sending of rough drafts, but regional theaters or theaters seeking work for full production—those theaters need polished, ready-to-go scripts. If that’s not what artistic directors are receiving, then those untested scripts are feeding a system that encourages producing the latest Broadway hit. Because if artistic directors are discouraged by what’s appearing in their inboxes, burned out from reading subpar plays, is it any wonder that they throw their hands up and produce something proven? At least they know it was a hit somewhere, one that will likely serve their theaters equally well. It takes hard work to build an audience for new plays, and each one remains a risk that, very often, loses money. It makes sense that theaters want to take only very carefully considered risks—on plays that inspire them to do so or on playwrights they know and believe in.
This, of course, is very, very subjective; you only need to reread RIPP #2 to know that any two people can have very different takes on the same play. But too many people I’ve talked to for this project have lamented that so many bad plays make the open submission process a nightmare. And by bad, they mean things from typos and misspellings, illogical plots, and wrong formatting to less concrete things like clichéd characters, lack of theatricality, and underwhelming presentation. When these ADs say they want to love the work they pick up, they mean it—but it would appear it’s just not that easy. What do we do about that?
If you have comments, I ask that you please leave them here, rather than at the point of origin, so that everybody can see and respond to them.
Until next time,