ANOTHER UPDATE: As of 1/17/17, Outvisible has amended its most egregious paragraph, but still bars playwrights from doing more than observing in reading rehearsal, can’t fund the playwright’s attendance and rehearsal, and isn’t offering Skype, and still insists on world premiere language in future publications. I believe the company is trying to do the right thing and make this a good festival, but it seems both funding and knowledge of standards are lacking. At this point, know the terms, enter at your own risk.
UPDATE: On December 29, 2016, Outvisible responded that they are willing to talk to the Dramatists Guild to revise their guidelines; however, there’s been no response to subsequent emails, and nothing about the guidelines has changed. Please watch the company website, linked in the second paragraph, for changes, and think carefully about submitting if the guidelines don’t actually change. The Outvisible rep indicated that they’d already received more than 100 entries, which has them assuming that’s because their guidelines were created based on research from other companies. That may be true, but I have never seen any of the issues addressed below.
In August 2015, I wrote a blog post about Words Players in Minnesota called Dissecting the Most Disgusting Call for Plays I’ve Ever Seen. It went a little viral, caused a little stir for #playwrightrespect, and maybe helped prompt the Dramatists Guild’s upcoming Best Practices Guidelines for Festivals, which am I hopeful will give us all the same tool for evaluating opportunities and the same ammunition to use when asking for changes.
In the meantime, the best we can do is continue to call attention to frightening guidelines when we see them, and Outvisible Theatre’s Detroit New Works guidelines have some serious problems for playwrights. To be fair, the company has been contacted—via email and through its Facebook page—by several playwrights asking for clarification and revision of the guidelines, and Outvisible has not responded. I assume this means their guidelines will stand, which means a warning is called for. (Scott Mullen, on an Official Playwrights of Facebook thread on this call, delivered my favorite line: “True story – Usain Bolt was a playwright who became an Olympic track and field medalist by fleeing from opportunities like this.” That about sums is up, but let’s have a look.
All is well through round one, which culminates with the selection of five finalists. But in round two, which organizes readings of the five finalists, we see the first red flag:
At least one rehearsal will be scheduled with the cast reading your script, which you are welcome and encouraged to attend in an observational capacity only.
What? This is a development opportunity. Why would the playwright be prohibited from contributing to that development, which begins with a reading? This sets the tone for the rest of the guidelines, which make it clear that the playwright is at risk of being, at best, ancillary to the development of his/her own play. The playwright is also required to attend the reading festival, but as no mention is made of a travel stipend, this is presumably at his/her own expense.
In Round Three, a winner is chosen, and one to two years of development commences, culminating in a production. Again, there is no mention of how or where this development happens. Though the guidelines stipulate unproduced work, they do not stipulate unpublished, and only say that if work is published, the theater must be able to produce without paying licensing or royalties (that’s in the fine print, more on that below); the guidelines don’t ask for world premiere billing, so there seems to be some confusion. In any event, the winner receives a mere $250 for what is essentially the world premiere of his/her play (though I suppose another production could come up before this development period ends; again, this part is muddy). There are likely playwrights who would find that agreeable if not for what is buried in the fine print, beyond the Round 3 explanation. The vagueness about rights, money, and expenses nothwithstanding, this is the quadruple whammy that demands breaking down:
1) If chosen as a semi-finalist, playwright/creative team will have no input in casting, direction, or outcome of staged reading of their work.
Uh-oh. It wasn’t just about being shut out of rehearsal. This doesn’t bode well.
2) If chosen as a finalist and playwright/creative team accepts the prize package of their work being developed and produced with Outvisible, they will have no input in casting, direction, or outcome of production unless the production’s Director and Outvisible’s Artistic Director agree to including them.
See number 1. You may be granted artistic approval. May. If you’re deemed worthy. That’s not good enough. It is not up to them to decide this. This is a direction violation of the Dramatists Bill of Rights, and a standard line in any contract, which states:
- APPROVAL OF PRODUCTION ELEMENTS.
You have the right to approve the cast, director, and designers (and, for a musical, the choreographer, orchestrator, arranger, and musical director, as well), including their replacements. This is called “artistic approval.”
From the getgo, Outvisible gives itself authority to strip you of artistic approval for the world premiere of your play.
3) If chosen as a finalist and playwright/creative team accepts the prize package of their work being developed and produced with Outvisible, working relationship between both parties must remain amiable and open to feedback; if any time, either playwright/creative team or Outvisible/Outvisible’s production staff feel as though the working relationship is unsatisfactory to the point of irreparably stagnating or halting the creative process, one or both parties may dissolve working relationship and cease further production development.
I can posit that this theater is gunshy after a bad experience, but there are other ways to protect against difficult playwrights than categorically denying entrants participation in their own process. I can’t help but read this as “Be a good playwright and listen to our suggestions; we know better than you do.” The problem? This theater has no track record. From their website, it appears that it’s got one season of not-new plays under its belt, so this mandate seems more like a power grab than self-protection. Where did this irrational fear of playwrights come from, and why are they unilaterally deciding that a playwright is not automatically part this collaboration? But here’s the kicker:
4) Playwright/creative team retain creative license and all copyrights to their work, however, should their work be chosen as a finalist and they choose to accept the prize package of their work being developed and produced with Outvisible, any future publication of play must publish script development credits to Outvisible Theatre Company, its cast, and production team.
For the development and outcome you are not guaranteed to be a part of, Outvisible wants full credit in all future productions!
Again, to be fair, this Festival is trying to do a lot of things right, in terms of transparency, both financial and in terms of its timeline for notification, etc. There is no fee. They have a nice website. They’re interested in new work. They throw a party. I love the subject matter they address and have several plays I would love to submit. But unless these guidelines change–and I am hopeful that further discourse will prompt them to rethink–I won’t.
Playwrights, remember to explore the Real Inspiration For Playwrights Project, a 52-post series of wonderful advice from Literary Managers and Artistic Directors on getting your plays produced. Click RIPP at the upper right.
To read #PLONY interviews, click here or #PLONY in the category listing at upper right.
To read the #365gratefulplaywright series, click here or the category listing at upper right.