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 BRIDGET O’LEARY, ASSOCIATE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, NEW REPERTORY THEATRE
“I remember in an audition technique class I took in undergrad, a professor telling us all that we needed to walk into the door knowing that everyone in the audition room wanted us to succeed. Nobody wants to sit through hours of bad auditions; they want everyone who comes to audition for them to be great. The same is true for literary submissions. We want the play to be strong; we’re rooting for it from the minute we turn the first page.
“So often, I feel like playwrights send me a first or second draft and I’m not always sure what to do with that. I wish in their cover letters, they said “this is an early draft and I’m looking for a home to further develop it” or “this play has gone through xx amount of readings and development and I’m looking for a production.” I also receive a lot of plays that have nothing to do with my company’s mission or my audience base. I wish agents and playwrights would research the companies they are sending their work to and not just blindly send scripts to any company with a submission policy.
“All of the plays I receive are read and responded to in the order they are received. That means I am reading a lot of plays every month. I’m looking for a great play, and am so very excited when I discover one. But it does get discouraging when so many of the plays I receive are not ready to be sent out or not right for our company. Better communication would help everyone in this industry; theaters need to be honest about what they are looking for and playwrights need to be honest about where they are in their own process.
“I also know from experience that for better or worse, this industry is about relationships. I have discovered a lot of playwrights just because they asked me out for coffee to introduce themselves and pick my brain about who New Rep is and what we’re looking for. Putting a face to a voice is invaluable sometimes. Dropping a script into an envelope and pushing it out into the world is not a risk. Take risks. Get to know the theaters in your area. Go see shows there and put yourself out there. There are more of you then there are of us and building relationships is the first way to get ahead of the rest.
“I was receiving scripts from playwright Kelly Younger through his agent for a little over a year. I loved his writing, but it wasn’t a good fit for the theater. But because I enjoyed the writer’s voice, I kept sending the same letter “Thank you for sending your work to us. While I really enjoyed this play, it doesn’t fit our needs at this time. I would love to read more of your work.” And his agent would send me another play. After two years of this, [Younger] finally picked up the phone and called me. He asked me directly what kind of plays were we looking for because it was obvious that I appreciated his writing, but the content wasn’t fitting our mission. So after a conversation, he wrote a new play that was a great fit for us and ended up working with us on it. Unfortunately, the end of this story is that we didn’t get our act together fast enough and another company in town ended up producing the play before we did. But it’s still a good example of how communication works.”
My nutshell takeaway: Paragraph two—enough said. What kills me is that I keep hearing how even agents are guilty of sending plays that are bad fits for a company. I’m not fortunate enough to have an agent, but it does seem to me that part of their JOB and part of the advantage of having one should be that they know theaters, their aesthetics, and that they have relationships/reputations precisely because they know what those theaters are looking for. It’s disconcerting to learn that this is, in many cases, untrue. What is true is that a good play can only look better if it’s coming from someone with whom the theater has an association. The better news is that associations can be built through communication about the plays you’ve sent. The promising thing I’m hearing time and time again is that if the writing is good, a relationship is encouraged. So when you get those rejections that say please send us more work, don’t be a dolt—do it and remind the theater about your previously enjoyed play. Follow-up to every connection is critical because an artistic director will have read several hundred plays by the time you send your next one; don’t be shy about reminding them of who you are.
Until next time,