July 22nd, 2013 donnahoke



 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.




“Good plays are indeed hard to find. We are currently into our fourteenth year of the MetLife Nuestras Voces (Our Voces) National Playwriting Competition. As a Spanish language theatre company, part of our mission is to find those plays that speak directly and realistically to our community yet tell a story that is universal to the human condition. We want to support and encourage playwrights who have a desire to write these plays and promote them to the American theater community.


Each play submitted is looked at by two outside judges and then we get our first glimpse of the highest scoring plays. We don’t always agree with the judges, the judges don’t always agree with each other, but it is part of the process. We have found that there are many, many wonderful ideas out there that with more development and time, the play can live up to the promise of the premise.  


In 2006, a play called Nowhere on The Border by Carlos Lacamara was submitted and came back to my desk as one of the highest scoring plays that year. The play is about an American minuteman who detains a Mexican who is looking for his lost daughter in the Arizona desert. Their scenes are integrated with scenes of the daughter paying a local coyote to help her cross the border so she can be reunited with her husband who has been away for three years. What Carlos did was present a current issue, dare I say, fairly, and then clearly let the audience know what is wrong about the situation. The political elements were overshadowed by the personal and, as the two main characters find common ground, the audience does too. It was not contrived, but believable and we felt it. It was everything we want in a new play. 


My advice, then, is to keep it real; that actually helps get your point across. The why of playwriting is very important. Why are you compelled to write this play? Why is it important that audiences come to see it? These are the questions that the playwright must answer every step of the way when developing a script.”


My nutshell takeaway: Nothing crazy here; Lacamara entered a contest, and he won. But I love what Vargas says about why he won. It’s very tempting to write about something topical for many reasons, not the least of which is maybe we think that something topical might just attract a judge’s attention, as Nowhere on the Border did. But finding the human story in a topical subject is paramount to elevating it beyond a message play. And if I say anymore, I’ll be as guilty of being preachy as any of the plays we want to avoid writing.


Until next time,




Written by donnahoke


Dramatists Guild Council member and ensemble playwright-in-residence at Road Less Traveled Productions, Kilroys List and award-winning playwright Donna Hoke’s work has been seen in 46 states, and on five continents. Her full-length plays include ELEVATOR GIRL (2017 O’Neill finalist), THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR (Princess Grace semi-finalist, currently in its fourth year in rep in Romania), SAFE (winner of the Todd McNerney, Naatak, and Great Gay Play and Musical Contests), and BRILLIANT WORKS OF ART (2016 Kilroys List, Winner HRC Showcase, Firehouse Festival of New American Plays); she’s also authored more than three dozen short plays that have had hundreds of productions, and has been nominated for both the Francesca Primus and Susan Blackburn prizes. She’s also a two-time winner of the Emanuel Fried Award for Best New Play (SEEDS, SONS & LOVERS).

Donna is also a New York Times-published crossword puzzle constructor; author of Neko and the Twiggets, a children’s book; and founder/co-curator of BUA Takes 10: GLBT Short Stories. For three consecutive years, she was named Buffalo’s Best Writer by Artvoice, the only woman to ever receive the designation.

In addition, Donna is a blogger, advocate, and moderator of the 12,000+-member Official Playwrights of Facebook. Recent speaking engagements include Citywrights, Kenyon Playwrights Conference, the Dramatists Guild National Conference, Chicago Dramatists, Austin Film Festival, and a live Dramatists Guild webinar. Her commentary has been read at #2amt, howlround, the Official Playwrights of Facebook, the newly released Workshopping the New Play, and

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