As I wind down the RIPP series in preparation for something different in the new year, I’m gathering together some of the shorter bits I have. Though shorter, I hope they are no less inspirational. In this group, the advice is all about how to, as one playwright friend says, reduce the clutter, i.e. making sure you’re not in a slush pile, and getting your script into a smaller group of possibilities so it might actually get read. As always, if you don’t know what RIPP: Real Inspiration for Playwrights Project is about, please click here (the original idea) and here (the evolution of that idea) to get some context before reading).
FROM RONDA SPINAK, CO-FOUNDER AND ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, JEWISH WOMEN’S THEATRE
“I read everything that comes in that is submitted to us, but I read with particular interest those submissions that are on the theme I am programming (our themes are clearly listed on our website with our deadlines). So, a writer from New York submitted monologue on the subject of beauty. The show was called Hey, Gorgeous! and explored what it means to be beautiful inside and out. The voice of this writer was unique, not self-conscious, not self-indulgent. And the piece made me identify with and feel for the main character. I knew that the piece had a point of view about the theme of beauty that was not like the others. We booked the piece. Subsequently, this writer has had two additional pieces in our Salon shows.”
My Nutshell Takeaway: Writing to specific themes often gives writers a chance to break in where they otherwise might not because there are usually fewer writers in the mix. Several writers have also told me that writing to a theme often generates unusual work that they may not have come up with on their own.
FROM KELSEY TYLER, EDUCATION AND COMMUNITY PROGRAMS DIRECTOR, PORTLAND STAGE
“Since we do not have a Literary Department here at PCS, we find most of our new plays from colleagues across the nation—literary mangers, directors, and artistic directors from other theaters. These are people we solicit directly from, and we ask them to send us new exciting work for our JAW Festival every year –www.pcs.org/jaw For an example of referrals from colleagues: Braden Abraham at Seattle Rep has a playwriting group of Seattle writers he works with. We will often ask him to send us the most exciting work coming out of that group that particular year. We ask Paula Vogel at Yale to encourage her students to send us their work for JAW. Those are a few examples. There are also a handful of agents we solicit from that know the type of work we are interested in. Also, our Artistic Director and Associate Artistic Director keep a close eye on what is being produced around the country, at new work festivals, new work coming out of New York, etc. If they see something exciting, they will go see it or solicit a script.”
AND JOHN DIAS, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, TWO RIVER THEATER COMPANY
“I’ve always imagined that it’s very hard to keep writing when you’re not sure who’s ‘listening.’ I can tell you that most of the new plays I ‘discover,’ I find from reading them. Most of those plays that come to me have come via some form of a recommendation—agent, dramaturg, director, another producer, another playwright. I’m thinking of three great plays that have most recently been in my life:
- Madeleine George’s Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England is a play I read a few years ago (and produced last year) because years before I’d become obsessed with Madeleine after reading her play Zero Hour, which another playwright, Lisa Kron, told me I had to read.
- Stefanie Zadravec’s Electric Baby, which we produced this year was a play I read last year at the recommendation of my producer friend, Katherine Kovner, who, with her theater company The Playwrights Realm, helped Stefanie to develop that play in an artist residency program.
- Andrea Thome’s Pinkolandia, which we are producing next season came to me when our associate artist, Jerry Ruiz, recommended the play as part of our Crossing Borders festival of new Latino theater.
Advice is hard, but one thing I often say—because I think it works and makes a difference—find a director collaborator/friend who understands your work and can help to advocate for it in the world.”
My Nutshell Takeaway: While at first, this might sound discouraging, I take it to mean you never know where your work will get seen or who might take a shine to it, so getting it in front of decision-makers, people with friends, writers groups, and festival audiences is paramount. All. The. Time.
FROM LILY TUNG CRYSTAL, FOUNDING CO-ARTISTC DIRECTOR, FEROCIOUS LOTUS
“We are a very specific theater company. We try to get as many Asian-American actors on stage, so we’re looking for scripts that are Asian-American themed or non-racially specific and can be cast Asian. We try to look at every script that comes in, but if someone calls or emails me and tells me specifically how the script will fit our company and actors, I’m more likely to read it sooner, as opposed to a script that just arrives via email with no tailored pitch. We also get a lot of scripts from directors whom we want to work with, as we’d rather choose a script that turns them on too. So I recommend playwrights networking with not only artistic directors but directors at large.
“We are an actor-based company. If a playwright writes a part specifically for one of our company members, which includes me and the other artistic director and three other actors, we’re, of course, more likely to look at it. Or if they have a part they think would be perfect for one or more of our actors, we’re more likely to look at it too.”
My Nutshell Takeaway: “More likely.” That’s the phrase that really stood out here. When you’re sending scripts to various theater companies, are you asking yourself, “What is going to make this company more likely to look at my script?” Anything you can do to increase the “more likely” is in your favor.
BONNIE METZGAR, FORMER ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, ABOUT FACE
“I can tell you what has been the submission story for the past five years, while I’ve been here. It is practically impossible for theater companies with small staffs to read all the plays when there is a year-round open submission policy. There are way too many playwrights, and the internet has made it way too easy to submit plays. The deluge is intense, and it’s not viable. This is my opinion as a playwright who also is an AD.
“So I encourage playwrights to PARTICIPATE. First, become a joiner. Many of the playwrights first response to joining a group like is something like, ‘I just want to write my plays. Why do I need to contribute my time to a theater to get my plays done? Writing my plays is my contribution.’ It’s a free country. You can box yourself into any studio apartment of your choice. Go for it. I think you are marginalizing your own power that way. Playwrights have an important perspective to share with the whole community on far-reaching issues that go way beyond the three-act structure.
“Second: if you choose to join an artistic community of some kind, which I hope you do, work for the right to pitch your passionate ideas. If the only ideas you pitch are to produce your own plays, you may find that again you are limiting your possibilities as an artist. Expand your passions. Cultivate wonder and curiosity about new processes of making work. Invest in the work of other artists who may spark a new collaboration. Promote the work of others, or an idea that may not have you at the center of it. This shift may change your whole world view, and suddenly shoot you off into a direction you never imagined. And that may be just what you need.”
My Nutshell Takeaway: Prior posts have touched on this, and this is just an underscore about something that is so true. Ask any playwright who is part of an ensemble, or has an artistic home, how she got there. Then ask what it takes for her to get a script read at said theater.
FROM CHLOE BRONZAN, COMPANY MEMBER, SYMMETRY THEATRE
“Unfortunately, all of the new plays we’ve produced up to this point have been playwrights we’ve been acquainted with through various connections. We get dozens of email submissions per week and it comes down to me trying to sort through them in my limited spare time. This is probably the main reason we are so much more likely to produce a play we’re already familiar with. (Either because we’ve seen a production of it somewhere else, have worked as an actor on a workshop version of the script at another company, or have performed in another show by the same playwright.)
“So for an unusually-structured company like Symmetry, here’s the best advice I can give for getting a play read: send a hard copy of the script. Seriously. I would be much more likely to read something I can carry around with me or flip through before I go to bed than something I have to spend more time sitting at the computer for. A hard copy is not going to get lost in a bunch of emails or forgotten easily. Last fall, a script arrived on my doorstep, in published book form, sent by the publishing company, perhaps at the playwright’s request. I started reading it on BART and really liked it; now I am considering producing it at some point.
“What I’m saying is: Artistic Directors are human beings with busy lives, just like everyone else. No matter how large or small the company, I would venture to bet that most of us are often overwhelmed by the job. It’s not that we don’t want to support under-represented playwrights, it’s just that it’s so much easier to go with something we already know and like. So put yourself in our shoes and make it as simple and easy as possible for us to become familiar with your work. If you can’t send a paper copy of your script (and perhaps other companies may not even want that), start by sending an outline of the play and its themes, why you felt compelled to write it, etc. Trying to absorb a new script with no frame of reference of the story or familiarity with the playwright’s voice/tone is very hard. Hearing about your play in a less formal way, in your own words, will make the script much easier to digest.”
My Nutshell Takeaway: I’m speechless. Chloe may have actually titled this bit “Reduce the Clutter.”
So on that note… there will probably only be one or two more posts before RIPP is ready to RIP (yeah, I’m not going to let that go). Until then…