Not long ago, I wrote an important blog post called Arrogance, Ignorance, and Playwright Respect , which got more views than anything else I’ve ever written (if you haven’t read it, I encourage you to, because it is such an important issue). Sadly, we playwrights know what an uphill battle it is to have the integrity of our work respected, and it’s worse still when we see that much of the fault lies with educators who perpetuate the idea that the director’s job is to “make the script better.” Imagine my outrage when I saw this recent call for plays. Let’s take a look…
CALL FOR PLAYS
2015 ORIGINAL SHORT PLAY FESTIVAL
WORDS PLAYERS THEATRE
Words Players Theatre, Rochester, Minnesota, is calling for one act plays for our 8th Annual Original Short Play Festival. The Festival will accept the submission of any script which has not been previously published or produced.
Why? These are student directors who no doubt have never heard of my script, nor countless others by playwrights far more recognized. It’s new to them and isn’t that what matters? Unfortunately, asking for unpublished and unproduced ten-minute plays is becoming more and more common and the sad fact is that most theaters don’t even know why they’re asking. Theaters like unpublished plays because they’re not held to a specific royalty, but there is no reason to ask for the privilege of first production unless there is grant money attached and if you’re getting money, so should the playwrights.
We intend to evaluate and select scripts by mid-September and will notify you then as to whether we have selected your script for production. Rehearsals for the plays will begin in September.
That’s quick turnaround. Cool. It’s all downhill from here.
Original, creative work is at the core of what we do here at Northland Words. Whether it’s each of our original Shakespeare in the Park productions, our annual Thornton Wilder Short Play Festival or our “Original Short Play Festival,” we celebrate the reality that all performance art is original. Merely preserving “the way it was done” is for mummies and pottery shards, not performance art. The deadline for submission to this year’s Festival is August 15. Plays may be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oh boy… words of warning. Does “the way it was done” mean “the way it was written”? I fear so…
➢ Our production of the play is our only “compensation” for its use.
Then why do you need first production rights? And why is production by your students such an honor that we should hand over first production rights?
➢ There will be two performances of most plays, October 23 & 24, 2015. It is possible that some plays will perform only once.
For only two or maybe even ONE production? Are you kidding?
➢ The plays will be produced with minimal or no costumes, props or sets.
➢ The plays will be directed by student directors (mostly high school- and college-age) under the mentorship of our Artistic Director.
Oh, and first production rights for what will clearly be a very professional operation.
➢ While authors are welcome to confer with the directors, such conference is at the discretion of each director. Student directors will develop their autonomous interpretation and will maintain independent control of each production. They will in all probability modify settings and dialogue to fit our production situation and their own visions of the shows. Directors will, in particular, strive to make each play “entertaining” to our audiences and may modify the scripts, accordingly.
WHAAAAAAAAT????? Please, I hope no self-respecting playwright—no, ANY PLAYWRIGHT—would read this and still consider sending a script. This is outrageous. Heinous. Disgusting. And worse, it underscores the very idea I put forth in my previous blog post that it is teachers who are perpetuating the idea that it is the director’s job to “make a script better,” or, in this case, “more entertaining,” without even so much as a consult with the playwright. Why? Because it is the student director’s “autonomous vision.” When did theater become autonomous? This is appalling beyond words. Please refer to the Dramatists Guild Playwrights Bill of Rights to see just how abusive this is.
I didn’t get further than this before I dashed off an email, and posted to Facebook and Twitter.
➢ Our casts are comprised of amateur community actors of all ages. A large percentage of them are quite young (high school- and college-aged).
➢ We largely ignore considerations of age, race and gender in our casting decisions. We may modify scripts, as necessary, in light of this consideration.
Oh, so you don’t just mess with dialogue and setting in your quest for the most entertaining play? So I could send you a period piece about slavery, and somehow you could turn it into a contemporary play about three clowns named Jiggedy-Boo and it’s all cool. Question: why aren’t you just writing your own damned plays?
➢ We will record each production for possible online posting (with author credit), as well as for further promotional, artistic or other uses. These recordings will be the property of Words Players / Northland Words.
This is So funny. IF—and by IF I mean never—I were to send you a play, and you mangled it beyond recognition, do you think I would want any EVIDENCE of that? But gee, thanks for the author credit.
➢ We don’t pay for the scripts.
Yeah, you’ve made that perfectly clear.
➢ Although there are no hard and fast rules for submission, by and large we will give preference to those plays which, in our judgment, appeal to the broadest audience. A lot of great art, of course, does not do so. But our emphasis is perhaps less on the artist-centered goal of producing “great art” (whatever that is) than on the more community-centered goal of producing art that communicates well with its audience. In our case, the audience invariably includes a large percentage of young people. We will prefer scripts that appeal to them as well as to old non-young people.
Sniffs a little of age discrimination, but more sounds like “We want to turn your plays into commercial pap.”
Part of this emphasis is our desire to give writers and directors first-hand experience of the vagaries of “marketability” as much as the more arcane goals of “art.” (This doesn’t mean we’re necessarily looking for Neil Simon. Although we’ll certainly consider his script, if he wants to submit one! Neil?
Yes, I’m sure Neil would love the opportunity to see how you can improve his plays. Neil? Do you have a Twitter? (Neil is not amused.)
Only that we will strive to make each play both understandable and interesting to our audiences. And again: an important consideration of marketability is an understanding of each particular audience.)
Because as writers, we have no idea how to do that. We never strive to be understanding or interesting. Could this get any more insulting? You’re essentially saying that teenagers who are learning to direct have clearer visions than the playwrights who wrote the plays.
➢ That being said, we also encourage fresh and original approaches to theatre. We prefer most of all plays that are significant and interesting, without off-putting superciliousness.
I’m just laughing now. So absurd.
➢ We will also give preference to younger and newer authors.
Read: who don’t know any better. But this doesn’t just sniff of age discrimination, it SMACKS of it.
Again, we don’t have inflexible rules about what ages constitute “youth;” this is only a general consideration.
LOL. Really. If we don’t laugh, we cry.
➢ We will also prefer, of course, those scripts which will work well with the minimal and specific production standards outlined above. A play with a cast of fifty, necessarily set in pre-Revolution Versailles, may well be a fantastic play but will probably be unworkable in our particular situation.
But why? You can just change setting, dialogue, stage directions, age, gender, etc. and voila! An entertaining play that will be understood by your audience.
➢ We have performed Festival plays as long as 30 minutes but prefer those under 15.
Plays may be sent by email to email@example.com and should include name, address and telephone number. The deadline for submission is August 15.
Suffice to say I did not send a submission, but a carefully and strongly worded email that alludes to all I’ve said above.
If you have any questions about any of this, please don’t hesitate to talk to us. We’re very excited about the prospect of presenting these original plays. –
Daved Driscoll, Director
I hope to hear from you, Daved. Change these guidelines, and I will take it all back. Publicly. In the meantime, we’re blowing up Twitter with #playwrightrespect.
UPDATE: In light of the magnitude of backlash and attention this post created in two short days, I quickly followed up with this post, which is–and always was–the real point, and considers what we need to do moving forward: ARE WE AFRAID TO DEMAND PLAYWRIGHT RESPECT? I also urge you to read the post linked in the first paragraph, which is the issue that sparked this outrage in the first place.
SECOND UPDATE: Here is the result of all the discussion, a “clarification” at Words Players, which is a far cry from the guidelines the Dramatists Guild supplied to replace the originals. And here is a very misinformed column still denouncing any attempts by playwrights or the Dramatists Guild to make ourselves understood.