Buffalo United Artists is currently in the process of reading submissions for BUA Takes 10: GLBT Short Stories, and we’re so overwhelmed by submissions that don’t follow guidelines that I’m feeling compelled to address the issue. Because it’s not an isolated incident. Submission after submission just ignore the guidelines that we thought were very clearly set forth.
As playwrights, we’re told again and again that it’s imperative to follow the guidelines, so I’m flabbergasted as to why so many just don’t. Playwrights are intelligent folks, so it’s not stupidity. Is it ego? Willful ignorance? Laziness? And are any of those worth getting a strike against your play before it’s even read?
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, good; thankfully, you’re in the majority. True, the word guidelines does seem to indicate “suggestions,” but if they’re suggestions that improve your chances and will make readers happy, isn’t it worth following them? Guidelines can be cumbersome, but, in most cases, theaters have reasons for them. I know we did, and we also didn’t think they were unreasonable.
Before you say, “Oh, I would never…” check out the examples below. If you recognize yourself (and be honest) in any of them, it could be very well be the reason why your play wasn’t chosen for that last festival. (To be clear, these examples use BUA’s specific guidelines, and are in no way intended to represent any kind of universality among guidelines, which vary widely.)
*All plays must have an LGBT theme that is central to the play’s premise. (This means that changing pronouns on another play probably won’t work.)
Don’t have an LGBT play? Why not just change the pronouns from some other play so it’s about a same sex couple? Or put one of the characters in gratuitous drag? Better yet, just send something that’s not LGBT because it’s so brilliant that it will banish any thoughts of our mission from our minds; who cares?
We do. And none of those plays are going to make the cut. (Nor are the ones at my friend’s Latino festival where all the names have been changed to Latino names; this is rampant.) And this one is actually the most egregious, because there’s no way it happens by oversight.
It sucks when you don’t have something appropriate. American Blues is a fantastic contest, but my work doesn’t remotely match up to the kinds of plays they produce. So I don’t submit. It really is that simple.
*Please don’t resubmit plays that were submitted previous years. You think we don’t remember, but elephants got nothing on us.
We really do remember, and we suspect you do, too. If we didn’t choose it last time, we’re not going to choose it this time, and we delete it immediately. So you’ve not only wasted your time, but ours.
*All plays must be no longer than ten minutes, which may actually mean fewer than ten pages. If you’re not sure, please read it aloud. No exceptions, no matter how brilliant the extra minutes may be. We mean it.
Clearly, there are plays that are intended to be brilliant even beyond the brilliance we allude to in the guidelines because we get ’em up to fifteen pages long, even that long with dense monologues. Know your work. Know how long it is. If you still want to submit that ten-plus minute play, make another draft with cuts. We’re not going to do it for you.
*All plays must have minimal set requirements. Plays chosen will receive full productions at BUA’s black box theater, but with ten plays being performed, there is no time for elaborate set changes.
Soaking wet characters, ancient Turkish costumes that “denote” the time, multiple windows, paintings indicating good taste, shelves and shelves of books, precision sound and light cues… those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head and I don’t want to comb through hundreds of plays. The idea is clear: simple, simple, simple. I know theater is a medium of the imagination but very often, elaborate settings are described, which could very well be done minimally, if the text gave any indication where the characters are.
*Please email LGBT ten-minute plays with minimal set requirements to firstname.lastname@example.org in standard format in Word or PDF.
If someone is screwing this one up the email address, we’ll never know about it. But it’s crazy how many playwrights still don’t know what standard play format is (and we’re pretty lenient on that).
*Email subject line should have your name and title of your play, e.g. MARY BROWN/MY AWESOME GAY PLAY.
We seriously thought this one was a no-brainer, but we have actually gotten submissions that say, e.g. DONNA HOKE/MY GAY PLAY and even MARY BROWN/MY GAY PLAY. Wow. Some just say Play Submission or some creative variant thereof.
*Body of email should contain contact information (including email and phone) and the play’s production history ONLY. You don’t have to write a cover letter, so please don’t. Anything other than the requested information is only going to give us a bad first impression (i.e. you don’t follow rules).
This is where it gets fun. Lengthy cover letters. Lengthy bios. Entire resumes. Where you heard about the opportunity. Stories about the inspiration of the play. And we just shake our heads as we develop bad first impressions.
*Submissions that do not adhere to these guidelines will not be considered.
Guidelines or not, we said it right here. Don’t assume that theaters don’t mean this. Through my RIPP series, I’ve talked to enough literary managers and artistic directors to know that they really, really do.