If you don’t know what RIPP: Real Inspiration for Playwrights Project, is about, please click here to get some context before reading.
From STEPHEN FOGLIA, LITERARY MANAGER, UNDERMAIN THEATRE
“As a Literary Manager and playwright, I constantly wonder how exactly I, or any other artist, is meant to recognize exceptional work. I read submissions in a near-constant state of anxiety, fearing I will miss something valuable, pass on the work of an artist who deserves greater attention.
“Unfortunately, it has not yet been my pleasure to ‘discover’ a great play—at least not in my professional capacity. The truth is that though I have been fortunate enough to read a great many wonderful plays, they have so far been, to a significant extent, selected for me. What I mean is that the best plays I’ve read as a Literary Manager have been those that I have either sought out deliberately or that have been passed to me, knowingly, by friends and colleagues. The plays have not landed on my desk by surprise; I have not gone in blind.
“That seems discouraging. In truth, I am disturbed by it from time to time. If the only plays that bowl me over are plays that have already bowled another reader over, then maybe I’m participating in a closed system, where success only goes to the already-successful. But, often as that seems to be the case, it’s not quite true, is it? Obviously somebody has to be the first person to read a great new work and recognize it for what it is. So there’s a more positive way of looking at this.
“If great plays are principally ‘discovered’ by recommendations from other readers, then playwrights really just need that one heroic advocate who will start the ball rolling. History bears this out. We all know stories of now-classic works ignored or misunderstood by the majority of initial readers until one person, for whatever reason, apprehends its brilliance and sets about evangelizing on its behalf. It seems to me this reinforces what playwrights already know to do: make contact with other artists, and give the plays to whoever will read. You don’t have to win with all of them. Just the right one.
Another point I would make, borrowing from Anne Cattaneo, who is fond of saying that great artists do not penetrate existing organizations but make their own, is that it seems many writers, understandably, place their hopes in catching the attention of an established Artistic Director or Literary Manager at a major organization. They want to hurl their script onto the penthouse balcony so that if it finds purchase, they will be pulled up after. In practice, the likelier path is horizontal: the young artists to your left and right, who currently have little more power than you do, might one day ascend. In fact, some of them must, if only because humans die, and empty spaces must be filled. And the artists who grow up alongside you will bring you with them when they do make career advances. So while you’re busy submitting to national contests and querying well-known organizations all around the country, don’t forget to share your scripts with young artists (especially directors) in your neighborhood. They are not only more likely to engage with your work at an early stage, they may actually go for a beer with you.”
My nutshell takeaway: Dude is preaching to the choir, right? But Mr. Foglia’s one particularly salient point is that sharing your work with local artists can move it along. Recently, a playwright friend and I exchanged scripts, and she said she knew a theater in her town that might be interested, and passed it along. Actors get very attached to roles they like, and will champion for the opportunity to play them, or play them again. For this reason, always carefully select the actors you use for your readings. The right actor in the right part might make the difference for any given play.
Even in smaller cities, actors have come from acting programs where they met a lot of people, many of whom they still keep in touch with. I just had an actor the other night come up to me and say she was discussing my play with some old friends who live in DC, and after talking to them, she just wanted to thank me again for letting her be a part of it. And I said, “Thank you. Do you think any of them know somebody down there who might want to take a look at it…?” Just sayin’.
Until next time,