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.
I debated whether or not to include posts like these, ones that are more reality check than inspiration, but decided I would, because, once again, I think they help us to reshape our ideas about submissions. Would you rather not hear them?
From JOHN PIETROWSKI, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, PLAYWRIGHTS THEATER NEW JERSEY
“I don’t have any dramatic stories of how I came across a ‘great’ play, probably because I am not interested in that, and probably because I am just a fool. I’m more interested in building long-term relationships with writers, and it seems to me, if a transaction with someone is on a property-by-property basis, that will take precedence over anything else, so I avoid it. And the word ‘great’ is way too subjective. I work with writers whose plays are ‘great’ to me, but who can barely get productions (I do them, to my peril at the box office, but we do take our hits when we do). Mostly, I try to build a very loose community of writers, people who get value out of their work with us, who like to be here when they are here, and want to come back. While production these days is a very difficult thing, and has contingencies all its own, I tend to want to support the writer, not just the play. That may mean doing a reading of something that may not be ‘great,’ but is a departure from the author’s comfort zone. I will put up some very messy readings sometimes in support of a writer’s growth or stretching attempts. I like messy readings.
“I find plays everywhere, but mostly it is through connections to other playwrights with whom I currently work, writers I have met when I have gone to their readings at other theaters, and as a reader for new play contests and workshops, something I try to do a lot. I also try to direct readings at places other than my own theater, so I can get a sense of how other artistic directors think. This helps me grow and see writers from a larger perspective, I hope. It also gets me away from my own musty opinions. And while I think I do read plays well, I have made enough mistakes with writers to know that I can miss someone reading a script. One writer in particular (who I will not name) came across as very sophomoric to me on the page, but when the play was read, it wasn’t the case at all, and that writer has become a regular participant in our process. If a friend hadn’t insisted on spending my theater’s money on the reading and had unusual leverage with me, I would have never known. So now I try to be more careful and open. And I guess, have friends with unusual leverage.
“There is something about reading a play from an open submission process that dulls the edge of a piece for me. I think it has something to do with the daunting task of going through a lot of plays (either myself or with readers), the administrative stress of that, and that the play is demanding my attention directly. I haven’t figured out how to keep readers from being (oh so subtly) judgmental, the process of writing a play report seems to have inherent assumptions that are hard to shake. I like to be hijacked by something, surprised by its existence. I especially like it when other writers hand me something that isn’t their own.”
My nutshell takeaway: Connections, connections, connections—it’s a constant refrain. Early on my playwriting life, someone told me, “Theaters don’t produce plays; they produce playwrights.” And for many theaters, this is absolutely true, particularly if producing a given play is going to be, financially, a losing proposition. I do, however, hear a little bit more here. I hear “Put your work in as many hands as possible, because you never know who might be at a reading, or who might say ‘Take another look.’ I also hear—more importantly—“Support your fellow playwrights.” It’s a tough business, I know, and recommending the work of a fellow writer might seem tantamount to cutting off your foot, but Mr. Pietrowski is not the first to say that he takes writer recommendations seriously. And really, doesn’t a rising tide lift all ships?
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Until next time,