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December 27th, 2020 donnahoke


Oh boy, 2020. There are sooo many things to talk about when it comes to 2020, but in the interest of keeping this confined to a playwright’s life, let me just say I hope this finds you well and coping, and I hope we all see each other again in theaters soon.



2020 started out okay. I had a great trip to Miami for a kick-ass reading of LITTLE WOMEN…NOW with Zoetic Stage, and looked forward to the world premiere at Road Less Traveled Productions in November. In late February, I went to New York for Dramatists Guild business, a reading of BRILLIANT WORKS OF ART (what was supposed to be the first of three with Do No Harm; would somebody please produce this Kilroys List play with 40 National New Play Exchange recommendations??), and a ton of theater. I was in packed theaters once or twice a day, dodging bullets as I came to find out…


Image may contain: 1 person, text that says 'ZOETICSTAGE THE ADRIENNE ARSHT CENTER INVITES YOU TO ATTEND A FREE READING OF A BRAND NEW PLAY LITTLE WOMEN ...NOW Directed play by Donna Hoke Stuart Meltzer present-day March women manage with heart, humor, stage period iterations ofLITTLE WOMEN, WOMEN... NOW. classic novel, beloved disappointment 21st century sensibilities. Adrienne WHERE: Peacock Foundation Studio CarnivalStudio Theater) rsht Center for the Performing Arts WHEN: 7:30 pm Monday January 13th ADMISSION: FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC'

When I got home, I had a week before I was headed to France on a playwrights’ retreat with 20 super cool artists I was excited to hang out with. But the news was making me nervous. The numbers in France kept going up, and while I wasn’t worried I’d make it there, I worried coming home might be an issue. March 7, I went to see Road Less Traveled’s excellent production of HAND TO GOD and, at dinner beforehand, I made the decision not to go. Two days later, we went out to dinner for my birthday, and that was it.

Again, let me reiterate that the thing I have felt most over the past nine months was grateful that I had my family with me, the means to provide for them, and the privilege to prioritize our health and safety. I have respect and gratitude for those who worked under extraordinary stress throughout this crisis and compassion for the many who suffered loss. Any opportunities I lost are nothing in the face of that, so I list them as a matter of course, and not to dwell or mourn. Some things are gone for good: the production of TEACH at Guilford Technical Community College, where I’d won their inaugural New Play Initiative, was in tech when the shutdown happened, not that they’d even let me know that or invited me down for the show, which I discovered upon following up on it. Others, like the LITTLE WOMEN… NOW premiere, are postponed. And others, including many festivals, and what would have been a month-long residency to develop and stage HEARTS OF STONE, went virtual.

The virtual world proved to be vast and democratic, and yielded new opportunities almost continually. In the past nine months, I’ve had developmental or presentational readings of 15 different full-length plays and 13 reading/“productions” of short plays at various theaters, including Equity houses like Passage Theatre and American Stage. I’m not convinced these things would have happened in ordinary times. Passage was a highlight, as they did a perfectly wrought reading of CHRISTMAS 2.0, a play I love that’s gotten award attention but no productions (“Write a Christmas play,” they said. “It’s so easy to get them produced,” they said.) In short, though I didn’t travel, I probably spent just as much time in rehearsals as I would have in a normal year.


Image may contain: one or more people, text that says 'x CRM THIS YEAR'S By. MODEL DONNA HOKE'

What did I write? Lots, actually! I hit every single thing on my 2020 Playwriting Goals document, except start the new adaptation, but I did plenty of unplanned writing that made up for that. Once I got past the shell-shocked early weeks, I found that not having a travel schedule meant more time to write, even if it didn’t feel like it. Early on, I forced myself to put down three pages a week of FINDING NEIL PATRICK HARRIS, a new female buddy comedy. Each week, I posted the new pages along with some commentary on my process to my blog and, over a few months, I suddenly had a play, even though my goal had only been to write three scenes.  It’s already been read at the Bechdel Group and will have two readings coming up with Create Theatre in the new year.


Because of Zoom and also the thought that when theater started creaking back to life, solo and small cast shows might be in demand, I finally set out to finish the solo show I’d started a couple years back, a project that ultimately became ESMERANDA’S GIFT (Or How To Make A Crossword Puzzle And Solve Your Life). It has a reading with Zoetic Stage upcoming and was also chosen to be part of Redhouse’s New Works Festival, directed by Hunter Foster. I also finished an adaptation of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, slated for publication with YouthPLAYS, and it received an Honorable Mention from the New England Theatre Conference’s Aurand Harris Memorial Playwriting Award. And I finished my commission, PAST MIDNIGHT: A Visit With Larry and Viv, which is slated for September 2021 production.


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Two theaters in Buffalo commissioned me to write for digital projects: one was a Buffalo-set monologue, which Alleyway Theatre then beautifully filmed and packaged with thirteen others. The other was a for Road Less Traveled’s Buffalo Rises 2.0, which asked playwrights to write short audio plays highlighting something positive about our city. I welcomed the opportunity to go down a rabbit hole of how to make a good audio play, which I learned was more cousin to screen then stage. The result was Buffalo Baby, a short tale about the first use of demonstrative midwifery.


The audio play cracked a door wide open. I shortly afterward was commissioned to write an audio soap opera, a dream project. I’d worked at Soap Opera Digest early in my career and have made the magazine’s crossword puzzle for the past 26. Sadly, the producer canceled the project before the contracts were signed—even though I’d already completed the show bible and first one and a half episodes of an audio soap called UPPAN ARMS. If you know of anyone who might want to read it, let me know!


And still the audio stuff wasn’t done! KDC Theatre in London asked me to adapt SEEDS for audio, and the show is currently in production. And I adapted my most produced play—FLOWERS IN THE DESERT—into an eight-part serialized drama called EIGHT DATES; it’s already got some interest for 2021.

With the audio being closer to screenplay idea buzzing, I realized there was no better time than to take the down time to address my longstanding goal—it’s literally been part of my yearly goals document for the past three years—to write a television Christmas romance. Another rabbit hole, weeks of Christmas movie watching with my daughter, and several books on screenwriting later, I finished my first screenplay: ACT LIKE IT’S CHRISTMAS. Once I get it tweaked and in good structural shape, I’ll be pitching it. Fingers crossed! I also had a meeting with a former producer/director who now runs a film company, and it looks like I might be adapting some plays into screenplays as well. Exciting stuff!

I also took so many classes! Writing Comedy with Kate Ryan at Primary Stages, Writing Film and TV with Andrew Rosendorf at Local Theatre, a Marsha Norman masterclass and Writing the Web Series with the Dramatists Guild Institute, and a host of webinars and one-offs, none of which would not have been available to me in normal times. Zoom made so much possible in the virtual world, including dream casting readings with actors from across the country. The virtual HEARTS OF STONE presentation that ultimately came from my residency put together actors from San Antonio, Buffalo, and Detroit; a director in Oregon, a stage manager in Kentucky, and producers in New York and North Carolina. The opportunities for collaboration and development have never been better.

Lest it look like it was merely a year of self-improvement and writing, somehow I still managed to make money from playwriting. Since a lot of writing was happening, I had a lot of feedback clients, but royalties too. In the end, get this, I made more from playwriting and playwriting activities than I did in 2019, and this year’s total doesn’t even include royalties from productions of SONS & LOVERS and FLOWERS IN THE DESERT that were licensed through publishers. So I think I’ll start over here with my goal of earning more each successive year, since last year broke the streak I’d had since 2012.

Finally, you’d think in a year like this, when you have no idea what’s going on with theaters, that my submissions would slow down, but they really didn’t. I made 333 submission (so far), some with multiple scripts, which is only slightly down from 2019’s 354. The big change? Only 71 of those were short play opportunities, or about 22 percent, which is further down from last year’s 37 percent. I think it’s fair to say that unless I’m specifically asked or it’s for a commission, I’m not really writing new tens anymore. I will never discount the important of writing tens, but I think my time for them has passed. One other thing to note: submission opportunities continue to decrease, which means we need to be changing our marketing strategy, and part of that is making sure you’re on the New Play Exchange. A lot of my opportunities this year came from there.





When it came to results, because of Zoom, this year was actually better than last in terms of readings, and Naatak theater gave FLOWERS IN THE DESERT a stellar virtual production, featuring a married couple who fully staged it from their garage and directed by Harish Agastya; it was so beautiful, I made my husband watch it! And on the awards front, in addition to the aforementioned Aurand Harris, TEACH was a second-time O’Neill semi, BEST LAID PLAN(t)S was a semi at B Street Comedies, CHRISTMAS 2.0 was a semifinalist at Landing Theatre and a finalist at Long Beach Playhouse, THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR was a finalist at Rising Arts, and HEARTS OF STONE was a semi at Up Theatre and a finalist at Santa Barbara Playfest. TEACH, BRILLIANT WORKS OF ART, and ELEVATOR GIRL remain in the top ten recommended full-length plays on the New Play Exchange. With these notices, I feel like nearly every one of my full-length plays got some love. Not bad for a pandemic year!


Looking ahead, I’ve got my fingers crossed that the three productions I already have scheduled for next year—SONS & LOVERS, LITTLE WOMEN…NOW, and PAST MIDNIGHT: A Visit With Larry and Viv—actually happen. I’m hoping the Screenwriting for Playwrights residency that got canceled in June can get rescheduled, as well, but if they don’t, they don’t. The Women Playwrights International Conference, slated for Montreal June 2021—TEACH will be a featured play—has been postponed to 2022. Whatever happens, I’m counting myself lucky for not only for my good fortune, but also that I’ve had writing to help keep me sane.

How was your year?

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