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ARE YOU PART OF THE SUBMISSION FEE PROBLEM (or, follow the guidelines for crying out loud!)?

January 4th, 2019 donnahoke


I don’t like submission fees. I’m not a complete fee purist, but I don’t think they’re best practice. I don’t like playwrights funding opportunities. I don’t like paying into what is likely to be a losing proposition. However, after curating and categorizing plays for a recent college festival, I’m starting to understand what I always thought was the worst possible reason for having them: to cull the herd.



Let me explain. The very first guideline in the submission call was this:
*The play must have characters in 18-25 range, no exceptions. If needed, you may include ONE (1) character not in that age range, but we are looking for plays that will resonate with the diverse young actors playing the roles, as well as the diverse college students in the audience; changing the ages on a generic play probably isn’t going to work.



As a favor to the department, I went through the plays and categorized them to make it easier for the student directors to manage the submissions. There were a total of 598! For a first-time, ten-minute play festival. Granted, the selected playwrights will receive a modest $25 royalty and the plays didn’t have to be new, which I suppose made this an attractive opp. So attractive that two-thirds submitted with little to no regard for that first guideline, the first sentence of that first guideline. (For the record, there were more questions about whether or not plays should be submitted blindly than about the age requirement.)


Here’s the kind of stuff I was reading out loud to my daughter:


SUE: Early twenties
BOB: Early twenties

followed by: At rise, Sue and Bob, both in their thirties…

I’m not kidding.


One playwright who submitted a play under the wire even had a character in their 230s; too hasty in trying to make grownups into kids, I’m guessing.



There were things like college students meeting in Internet chat rooms, or super precocious young people who were producers, doctors, lawyers, executives, old married couples, and more. Yeah, it’s funny, until you’re going through 598 scripts trying to find the ones that you actually asked for, and thinking, “Maybe a $5 fee would have prevented these playwrights from trying to game the system and creating a lot more work for volunteers.” Maybe.


This is so insulting and disrespectful to the people organizing this festival, so I just want to throw this rant out there to everyone: please don’t do this. If you don’t have a play that’s right, I know it’s frustrating, but please don’t try to shoehorn a play–especially so blatantly obviously–to fit something it doesn’t; just wait for the opp that’s right. There are tons of ten-minute play opportunities; I pass them by all the time when I don’t have something–and I still submitted to 166 last year.




This call was this specific for a reason: the department faculty wanted to give students the opportunity to learn from playing age appropriate roles and also did not want students to have to read 598 plays. Instead of using a fee to cull submissions, they used a very specific guideline and said very clearly: NO EXCEPTIONS. Maybe they should have added a $5 fee. Maybe.


Every time I saw a play with changed ages or just flat-out wrong ages or situations that stretched the believability of 18-25-year-old lives beyond all reasonably limits, I just got angry at that playwright. If you don’t have a play that’s right, instead of spending time badly doctoring one you have, write a new one. This was a three-month deadline; there was plenty of time.


I get it: we all want opportunity, but don’t try to take one that isn’t yours.

Don’t make playwrights look bad.

Don’t make theaters want to charge fees to stop this behavior.


Don’t do this. It’s not worth it.


(As a total aside, I get that for ten-minute play festivals, making things as open to varied casting as possible is useful, but when specificity of character is important, sometimes age is too; consider what the actual age range might be, rather than just saying “any age” because not all experiences are universal across age groups. For ten-minute festivals, I see the appeal, but I do think age comes into play with specificity, and specificity is always good 🙂.


Image result for be more specific


So in total: 598 submissions136: age resonant, i.e. the characters were intentionally age appropriate
Another 45 had one older character, as was permitted.
In other words, a total of 181 plays–about a third–that were exactly what was asked for


208 ages irrelevant: characters that could be any age, because the story was non-specific enough; another 27 of these featured non-human characters.
I say okay on the non-humans, but that makes another third that is kinda sorta not exactly what was asked for. I’d like these playwrights to ask themselves if they’d have sent the play if there were a $5 fee.


37 featured “any age” characters or didn’t define age, but the situation was clearly not resonant to college-age people


83 with obvious age changes like the examples above.


61 that just flat out didn’t even follow the age guidelines at all
I mean, they didn’t even try to change the ages.


1 missed deadline


Take from this what you will. I know what I’m taking from it.



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2 Comments on “ARE YOU PART OF THE SUBMISSION FEE PROBLEM (or, follow the guidelines for crying out loud!)?”

  1. 1 James Hutchison said at 3:07 pm on January 8th, 2019:

    Wow! I can’t believe two-thirds of submissions wouldn’t follow the submission requirements. I had looked at submitting to this opportunity, but I didn’t have any scripts that fit the age range. So, the plan was to write something new, but I didn’t get anything written I liked so I didn’t submit. I just don’t understand why you would submit something that you know is going to be disqualified based on the submission criteria. Thanks for the insight from the other side.

  2. 2 donnahoke said at 3:15 pm on January 8th, 2019:

    I think in these cases, the hope is always that readers will find the play so brilliant, they’ll be willing to bed. But in this case, I went through and culled and sorted without even reading, because the faculty was stringent about what they wanted.

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