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Why don’t we read each other’s work?

August 2nd, 2011 donnahoke

originally posted on June 27, 2011

My newest play–or at least my newest completed draft–SEEDS, is currently in development as part of The Emanuel Fried New Play Workshop through Road Less Traveled Theater. Last year, because of the production of The Couple Next Door, I was unable to participate, and I really missed it. I missed it not just because I love the camaraderie that develops among the playwrights, and the feedback I get on my play, but also because I really love reading new plays. They are the lifeblood of what we do, and they fascinate me. I’ve volunteered to read for countless theaters (though only one has taken me up on my offer) and it’s not unusual for me to ask a playwright to send me his/her play to read if they indicate they’re having trouble with a spot or just because it sounds intriguing. What surprises me is how alone I feel in this respect.

Do a quick online search and you’ll find countless readers offering their services for a fee (and be careful, because those who charge by the hour can be very slooooooow readers). I’ve exchanged plays with other playwrights only to never hear from them again. And even within the workshop, where reading is part of the required commitment, I’ve frequently heard participants say that having to read nine other plays in order to get feedback on his/her own is nothing less than a big pain in the ass.

I don’t really understand this. I know that everybody’s time is at a  premium, but as playwrights, I believe that it’s part of our community responsibility to read each other’s plays and offer thoughtful feedback. There is a Web site, Critique Circle, that allows writers to post their work for others to read. It works on a credit system, i.e. every critique you post earns you credits that allow you the privilege of posting your own work for review. There is a real community there, relationships and genuine goodwill form, and writers are willing and eager to help each other.

I have posted plays to this site and gotten some good feedback, but because it is a prose-driven site, many readers are reluctant to read plays, convinced they don’t understand them, or intimidated by the structure. The contacts I’ve made will read my work if they see it, but there are very few playwrights on the site. So why don’t playwrights have a site like this of their own? Why are there no online playreading workshop where a group of playwrights can read each other’s plays and help with development? Believe me, I have looked (and if I’ve missed one, please tell me!)

Can we make an online play workshop happen or is my attitude really so unusual? I am very interested in forming a committed group of playwrights who will willingly–and this word is critical–read each other’s works with a goal of making their drafts as submission ready as possible. If you know how to build Web sites, let’s get a site like Critique Circle off the ground. And if you’re not, just contact me, and let’s see if we can found a group of like-minded playwrights who can help each other. I’m so surprised that there is no kind of virtual playreading workshop in existence. Let’s make it happen.

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