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.
From BOB FRAME, PRODUCER, HARLEQUIN PRODUCTIONS
Kerry Forrestal and John Fracchia were a writing team who wrote Club Hell right after college, did a staged reading with friends, put up a website, and then forgot about it. I had a dearth of plays, nothing that really grabbed me, so I was surfing the web looking for new works. (It is incredibly hard to find play scripts online; after Doollee, there isn’t much out there, and to find individual sites is almost impossible.) I found their website, and the play sounded fun! I contacted the playwrights (who were stunned that I found their play and wanted to do it) and asked for a script. They sent me what they had with the admonition that it had been awhile and they wanted to give it a onceover.
I read the script and enjoyed it. Something about the play spoke to me. The story fascinated me, the message struck me; it just looked like a hoot to produce! Most important was the fact that I had the students who could play the parts and I understood the characters enough that I could teach them.
I had some concerns about awkward sections that I specifically asked them to look at and went into auditions. I work quickly, so from choosing the play to performance is usually only six to eight weeks.
I cast the play and there was an ongoing dialogue between us about how the scenes were progressing and what needed to be reworked. I also expanded the chorus into something they didn’t expect but were totally in favor of; it was a very symbiotic relationship. They came up to see closing night and were wowed. A good experience all the way around.
About a year after the show closed, the playwrights again contacted me. They had reworked parts of the script and couple of characters and wanted my feedback so again we had a long exchange. I was also able to bring up a section that had always bothered me, one where they hammered the audience with their message. It was good message but strongly overstated, then stated again and oh, if you missed it, once more for good luck. We worked thought that and I hope made it better. That’s a great suggestion for playwrights: get a director you trust to read the piece and give you objective feedback. Even if you are an accomplished director/theater person, you are too close to the work. It’s just like a plant that needs pollination from another source to bloom.
I would also tell playwrights to read what the company is looking for and if your play is not right, don’t waste your or their time by submitting it! In my listings, I say I don’t do musicals or small cast shows. I prefer things that are edgy and push the envelope with content that is accessible to college aged actors. But playwrights still send me their three-character, full-length shows, infrequently a musical, a nice domestic comedy ideal for a community theater and, oh yes, the drama that takes place in a nursing home. I don’t even read them!!!
Also please include a cast list with at least a sentence describing the character. It doesn’t need a paragraph, only a quick descriptor: Amanda, a sixty-year-old divorced mother; Tom, her twenty-five-year-old working man son, etc. Of course a playwright cannot know, but if they can create characters that I can “see” and empathize with as I read the play, most of the battle is won. A play is written to be performed but the director/producer/whomever must be captivated by the written word before it will have a chance to stand on its own feet and move around. The story, the characters, the situation must be strong enough to make the reader visualize it and need to produce it.
A playwright also needs to understand the mechanics of theater. Stage is not film. Keep in mind how the scenery and action can flow from one scene to another, or have a strong concept of how to stage the piece so the producer can visualize the movement.
Also important to most of us who produce is: will it sell? Unless you are David Mamet and have his gift of language, do not submit a script with gratuitous F-bombs all through it. When appropriate, of course add them, but they must come from the character’s mouth for a reason not just because it is fun to say fuck on stage! Is the story and message something that will strongly affect a theater-going audience? Laughter is good, but is it truly funny or sophomoric? Audiences find different ways to entertain themselves, but they don’t want to be bored. Bored audiences don’t tell their friends to go see a show! Most audiences do not want to see a modern retelling of Medea.
My nutshell takeaway: I know I’m guilty of not having my Doollee up-do-date; are you? I probably would if the process weren’t such a PITA with having to send an email and have somebody else input the info, but that’s not really a great excuse. Next up is the website problem. I do have one, but maybe it’s not optimized to make it easy for directors to find my plays. I would imagine having a website for each individual play, as the Club Hell authors did, would be the way to go, but that’s an expensive and/or labor intensive proposition, I would think. Do any of you do that? Have you found it to be lucrative? I guess the bottom line is if you have a web presence, is it helping and if not, how can we make it work better? These are questions I am in no position to answer, but Mr. Frame isn’t the first to tell me he scours the web for plays. If Doollee’s the best we’ve got, we’re in trouble.
I love Mr. Frame’s advice about maintaining a relationship with a director you trust—for all kinds of reasons but mostly because directors who have chosen to produce/direct your plays believe in you. And those people are hard to find.
Finally, it continues to amaze me that when guidelines say no musicals, playwrights still send musicals. When it says for college aged students, they send plays set in nursing homes. Why is this happening?! I just had to get that off my chest.
Until next time,