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From JUNE BALLINGER, EXECUTIVE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, PASSAGE THEATRE COMPANY
“We actually just changed our submission process [Passage no longer accepts unsolicited submissions] as we get so many submissions, we simply do not have the resources—human or financial—to read them all in an acceptable amount of time. Part of the reason we changed them is that more and more often, the plays that make it onto or main stage at Passage come out of our Playwrights Lab, a group of 20 mostly NJ writers, who meet bi-weekly, have an annual retreat, and for which the theater provides resources for them to hold readings in the theater (provisional on funding ).
“The other thing is that we are members of the National New Play Network (NNPN), which shares a library of new plays that member theaters share amongst each other particularly as we all strive to partner up with two other theaters to do a “rolling world premiere.” This is when a play has three openings in three different member theaters across the country, separate productions unique to each theatre. And NNPN at times provides resources to each production.
Another way we have found ourselves selecting plays (not from NNPN or Lab) is when a director we are interested in champions a play. Directors will sometimes do pitch sessions with us on the plays they believe in that they feel fit our mission. And, of course, we go to readings at New Dramatists, Ensemble Studio Theatre, the York, the Lark, and other new play organizations and find writers there we are keen on. Or artists pass on news of what we must know about. So much is, as usual, who you know.
I am a member of Ensemble Studio theatre in NYC and they have something called Youngblood for writers under 30. That has been a terrific opportunity for young writers and I am amazed at the talent that comes from that group. The Lark and the Public have the same emphasis. Writers can submit to those places. I am sure Philadelphia has opportunities as well and a good network, and Chicago and Minneapolis certainly do. Not everyone has to move to New York City but, ultimately, it’s not a bad idea. My bias perhaps as that has been my artistic home. But those are the thoughts off the top of my head.”
My nutshell takeaway: I know, I know, lots of things playwrights don’t want to hear: “changed our submission process,” “so much is, as usual, who you know,” “[moving to New York is not a bad idea].” It’s enough to make you want to give up entirely, but even through the jaded submitter’s veil of cynicism, you must see the silver lining, the way to what fellow playwright Patrick Gabridge recently called in this fabulous blog post “smaller piles”? That’s right: the writers group.
The benefits for joining a writers group are numerous. First, if it’s a huge established group like Chicago Dramatists (which you can join even if you don’t live in Chicago), you have access not just to a community of playwrights, but a ridiculous amount of resources. And, of course, theaters in Chicago know about Chicago Dramatists, and pay attention to work that goes on there. In a smaller city or region, a theater may have its own lab-type group (and of course, NYC has a bunch, which is exactly why moving there is never a bad idea if it makes sense for your life), and while being part of one of these groups in no way guarantees production of any particular play, it does a) intimately introduce you and your work to a theater, i.e. the theater might not like this play, but would be interested in seeing more work from you 2) help you understand the preferences and styles of a particular theater 3) make you connections 4) improve your writing. It’s a no-lose proposition that I can vouch for through my own association with the Emanuel Fried New Play Workshop.
Even if your city doesn’t have such a group, starting one is still a good idea. Not only will you gain—or even create—the aforementioned community and improve your writing, but you put your group members in a position to get their writing noticed. It’s much easier for theater personnel to pay attention to the activities of a group than any one writer, i.e. what writing is coming out of that group, are there readings I can attend? If your new group becomes established as a one-stop entrée to the new writing in town, the people who matter will pay attention when you host readings or events. Suddenly, you’re making connections, and we all know where those can lead.
Speaking of connections, if you haven’t heard of Trade A Play Tuesday, which I introduced a month ago, I invite you to please click on the link, check it out, and send a play! The playwrights who’ve been involved so far have loved the opportunity to connect to another playwright, as well as get feedback on their works-in-progress. It’s free, easy, and quick—another no-lose proposition. And it’s tomorrow.
Until next time. As always, if you like RIPP and/or Trade A Play Tuesday, please spread the word.