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August 1st, 2015 donnahoke


Not long ago, I wrote an important blog post called Arrogance, Ignorance, and Playwright Respect , which got more views than anything else I’ve ever written (if you haven’t read it, I encourage you to, because it is such an important issue). Sadly, we playwrights know what an uphill battle it is to have the integrity of our work respected, and it’s worse still when we see that much of the fault lies with educators who perpetuate the idea that the director’s job is to “make the script better.” Imagine my outrage when I saw this recent call for plays. Let’s take a look…







Words Players Theatre, Rochester, Minnesota, is calling for one act plays for our 8th Annual Original Short Play Festival. The Festival will accept the submission of any script which has not been previously published or produced.


Why? These are student directors who no doubt have never heard of my script, nor countless others by playwrights far more recognized. It’s new to them and isn’t that what matters? Unfortunately, asking for unpublished and unproduced ten-minute plays is becoming more and more common and the sad fact is that most theaters don’t even know why they’re asking. Theaters like unpublished plays because they’re not held to a specific royalty, but there is no reason to ask for the privilege of first production unless there is grant money attached and if you’re getting money, so should the playwrights.


We intend to evaluate and select scripts by mid-September and will notify you then as to whether we have selected your script for production. Rehearsals for the plays will begin in September.


That’s quick turnaround. Cool. It’s all downhill from here.


Original, creative work is at the core of what we do here at Northland Words. Whether it’s each of our original Shakespeare in the Park productions, our annual Thornton Wilder Short Play Festival or our “Original Short Play Festival,” we celebrate the reality that all performance art is original. Merely preserving “the way it was done” is for mummies and pottery shards, not performance art. The deadline for submission to this year’s Festival is August 15. Plays may be sent by email to


Oh boy… words of warning. Does “the way it was done” mean “the way it was written”? I fear so…



➢ Our production of the play is our only “compensation” for its use.



Then why do you need first production rights? And why is production by your students such an honor that we should hand over first production rights?


➢ There will be two performances of most plays, October 23 & 24, 2015. It is possible that some plays will perform only once.


For only two or maybe even ONE production? Are you kidding?


➢ The plays will be produced with minimal or no costumes, props or sets.

➢ The plays will be directed by student directors (mostly high school- and college-age) under the mentorship of our Artistic Director.


Oh, and first production rights for what will clearly be a very professional operation.


➢ While authors are welcome to confer with the directors, such conference is at the discretion of each director. Student directors will develop their autonomous interpretation and will maintain independent control of each production. They will in all probability modify settings and dialogue to fit our production situation and their own visions of the shows. Directors will, in particular, strive to make each play “entertaining” to our audiences and may modify the scripts, accordingly.


WHAAAAAAAAT????? Please, I hope no self-respecting playwright—no, ANY PLAYWRIGHT—would read this and still consider sending a script. This is outrageous.  Heinous. Disgusting. And worse, it underscores the very idea I put forth in my previous blog post that it is teachers who are perpetuating the idea that it is the director’s job to “make a script better,” or, in this case, “more entertaining,” without even so much as a consult with the playwright. Why? Because it is the student director’s “autonomous vision.” When did theater become autonomous? This is appalling beyond words. Please refer to the Dramatists Guild Playwrights Bill of Rights to see just how abusive this is.



I didn’t get further than this before I dashed off an email, and posted to Facebook and Twitter.


➢ Our casts are comprised of amateur community actors of all ages. A large percentage of them are quite young (high school- and college-aged).

➢ We largely ignore considerations of age, race and gender in our casting decisions. We may modify scripts, as necessary, in light of this consideration.


Oh, so you don’t just mess with dialogue and setting in your quest for the most entertaining play? So I could send you a period piece about slavery, and somehow you could turn it into a contemporary play about three clowns named Jiggedy-Boo and it’s all cool. Question: why aren’t you just writing your own damned plays?


➢ We will record each production for possible online posting (with author credit), as well as for further promotional, artistic or other uses. These recordings will be the property of Words Players / Northland Words.


This is So funny.  IF—and by IF I mean never—I were to send you a play, and you mangled it beyond recognition, do you think I would want any EVIDENCE of that? But gee, thanks for the author credit.


➢ We don’t pay for the scripts.


Yeah, you’ve made that perfectly clear.



➢ Although there are no hard and fast rules for submission, by and large we will give preference to those plays which, in our judgment, appeal to the broadest audience. A lot of great art, of course, does not do so. But our emphasis is perhaps less on the artist-centered goal of producing “great art” (whatever that is) than on the more community-centered goal of producing art that communicates well with its audience. In our case, the audience invariably includes a large percentage of young people. We will prefer scripts that appeal to them as well as to old non-young people.


Sniffs a little of age discrimination, but more sounds like “We want to turn your plays into commercial pap.”


Part of this emphasis is our desire to give writers and directors first-hand experience of the vagaries of “marketability” as much as the more arcane goals of “art.” (This doesn’t mean we’re necessarily looking for Neil Simon. Although we’ll certainly consider his script, if he wants to submit one! Neil?


Yes, I’m sure Neil would love the opportunity to see how you can improve his plays.  Neil? Do you have a Twitter? (Neil is not amused.)



Only that we will strive to make each play both understandable and interesting to our audiences. And again: an important consideration of marketability is an understanding of each particular audience.)


Because as writers, we have no idea how to do that. We never strive to be understanding or interesting. Could this get any more insulting? You’re essentially saying that teenagers who are learning to direct have clearer visions than the playwrights who wrote the plays.


➢ That being said, we also encourage fresh and original approaches to theatre. We prefer most of all plays that are significant and interesting, without off-putting superciliousness.


I’m just laughing now. So absurd.


➢ We will also give preference to younger and newer authors.


Read: who don’t know any better. But this doesn’t just sniff of age discrimination, it SMACKS of it.



Again, we don’t have inflexible rules about what ages constitute “youth;” this is only a general consideration.


LOL. Really. If we don’t laugh, we cry.


➢ We will also prefer, of course, those scripts which will work well with the minimal and specific production standards outlined above. A play with a cast of fifty, necessarily set in pre-Revolution Versailles, may well be a fantastic play but will probably be unworkable in our particular situation.


But why? You can just change setting, dialogue, stage directions, age, gender, etc. and voila! An entertaining play that will be understood by your audience.


➢ We have performed Festival plays as long as 30 minutes but prefer those under 15.

Plays may be sent by email to and should include name, address and telephone number. The deadline for submission is August 15.


Suffice to say I did not send a submission, but a carefully and strongly worded email that alludes to all I’ve said above.


If you have any questions about any of this, please don’t hesitate to talk to us. We’re very excited about the prospect of presenting these original plays. –

Daved Driscoll, Director


I hope to hear from you, Daved. Change these guidelines, and I will take it all back. Publicly. In the meantime, we’re blowing up Twitter with #playwrightrespect.


UPDATE: In light of the magnitude of backlash and attention this post created in two short days, I quickly followed up with this post, which is–and always was–the real point, and considers what we need to do moving forward: ARE WE AFRAID TO DEMAND PLAYWRIGHT RESPECT?  I also urge you to read the post linked in the first paragraph, which is the issue that sparked this outrage in the first place.


SECOND UPDATE:  Here is the result of all the discussion, a “clarification” at Words Players, which is a far cry from the guidelines the Dramatists Guild supplied to replace the originals. And here is a very misinformed column still denouncing any attempts by playwrights or the Dramatists Guild to make ourselves understood. 


Please follow me on Twitter @donnahoke or like me on Facebook at Donna Hoke, Playwright.


  1. 1 Ron Burch said at 12:26 pm on August 1st, 2015:

    I wrote him an email last night, complaining. Glad I’m not alone here.

  2. 2 donnahoke said at 12:28 pm on August 1st, 2015:

    Oh, you are not alone. Have you been on Facebook?

  3. 3 Jonathan Dorf said at 12:55 pm on August 1st, 2015:

    This is the most appalling submission “opportunity” I’ve seen in 25+ years of writing plays. It’s arrogance and ignorance all rolled into one. The fact that a group is willing to teach a new generation of theatre artists to have this little respect for playwrights is horrifying. I will be doing a special post to members of the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights making sure they avoid this. Does the Playwrights’ Center in MN know about this?

  4. 4 donnahoke said at 12:57 pm on August 1st, 2015:

    I don’t know. There are several opportunities for retweeting and sharing via Twitter and FB, so we can tag them.

  5. 5 Michael G Wilmot said at 1:27 pm on August 1st, 2015:

    I also sent him an email basically asking him what he thought he was doing. I cc’d the Dramatists Guild.

  6. 6 donnahoke said at 1:55 pm on August 1st, 2015:

    Excellent. #playwrightrespect

  7. 7 W. Squier said at 2:27 pm on August 1st, 2015:

    Oy! Sound like Daved is prepping his young charges for a career in Hollywood! Good catch, Donn! Warning heeded!

  8. 8 Tess Light said at 3:56 pm on August 1st, 2015:

    I saw this posting last night and it’s *so* far over the edge that I thought surely I was missing something. It was one of those crazy-making moments where everyone starts speaking in tongues and you figure if they’re not totally whacked, then you must be, and you can’t tell what’s true anymore. (Like dating a narcissist.) Thank you for posting — I felt like somehow I was suddenly playing a game I’d never even heard of.

  9. 9 Richard Toscan said at 6:13 pm on August 1st, 2015:

    Donna, a great post on an unbelievable call for submissions. This is one of the reasons why a lot of academic theatre programs have awful reputations among pros in this business.

  10. 10 Thomas Korn said at 12:32 am on August 2nd, 2015:

    Read your blog via a Last Frontier Theater conference post. (which is AMAZING btw) After reading your blog, I decided to check out their websites short plays submissions guide to see if it was real… it is. How and why would anyone attempt to start a show like this?

  11. 11 donnahoke said at 8:19 am on August 2nd, 2015:

    So sorry I missed Last Frontier this year!

  12. 12 Everett Robert said at 12:34 am on August 2nd, 2015:

    Thanks for sharing this Donna. I recently finished co-directing a MTI musical with a group of actors the same age as this theater is looking for (with a few actors older too, but mostly high school and college age). I spent the beginning of one rehearsal reading to them the front page of their MTI issued scripts that lays out how it’s not okay for them to change anything in it. It was an eye opening experience for many of them, but as I said “author’s rights is a hot topic to me.”

    Reshared it on my blog, off to tweet about it.

  13. 13 Midge Guerrera said at 1:41 am on August 2nd, 2015:

    Well said. Sadly, there are teachers all over the country who feel they have artistic control of the playwrights work – including producing works with their students without contacting the writer. Whoever David Driscoll is, he needs a whopping better education in theater. Thanks for leading the charge to change .

  14. 14 donnahoke said at 8:18 am on August 2nd, 2015:

    That is my biggest issue; if it starts at the educational level, what chance do we have of changing it?

  15. 15 Chas Belov said at 4:46 pm on August 2nd, 2015:

    Yeah, this is disgusting and I’ve retweeted your post. I have a 10-minute limit on unpaid opps, which I consider like a business card, and technically it’s not a world premiere, it’s a workshop. However, a lot of theatres would still consider it produced. As for age discrimination or commercial plays, theatres are welcome to do whatever plays they want. But if you won’t do a play as written, then don’t choose that play.

  16. 16 Chas Belov said at 4:46 pm on August 2nd, 2015:

    Yeah, this is disgusting and I’ve retweeted your post. I have a 10-minute limit on unpaid opps, which I consider like a business card, and technically it’s not a world premiere, it’s a workshop. However, a lot of theatres would still consider it produced. As for age discrimination or commercial plays, theatres are welcome to do whatever plays they want. But if you won’t do a play as written, then don’t choose that play.

  17. 17 Lynn-Steven Johanson said at 4:10 pm on August 3rd, 2015:

    Wow! Ignorance with an attitude. It is so freakin’ annoying it is almost funny. Postable words fail me!

  18. 18 Don Monaco said at 4:23 pm on August 4th, 2015:

    Come on, you silly critics. This is a marvelous opportunity for a new play. And suppose one of you submits and writes it up. Fabulous.

  19. 19 Ernie Joselovitz said at 5:10 pm on August 4th, 2015:

    It is, indeed,a very uninformed, irresponsible and stupid submission request. The core obscenity is the presumed right to change the words of dialogue without the writer’s permission, which should be held sacrosanct. Broadening that is, of course, inexcusable.

  20. 20 Michele said at 12:39 pm on August 5th, 2015:

    First, I completely understand what you’re all fighting for, and I love that you’re standing up for artists around the world. Hurrah!

    However, publicly shaming a youth theatre isn’t the most positive way to get results. Having been personally involved in Words Players for the last ten years, I know that the organization holds authors and their works in high esteem. Daved Driscoll is a man of extreme integrity, and I assure you he would never intentionally do anything to offend anyone.

    I know it’s hard to imagine, since most of you are far away, but this tiny little youth theatre is not out to get you (you being the collective “you”). We support you. We are behind you. Truly.

    A better way to have handled this might be simply to send the emails privately rather than picking a public fight. People make mistakes, as I’m certain you all understand. These are human beings you’re talking about, not monsters. The adults and children in this theatre are smart, kind, humble people. I urge you to give them a chance to respond rather than continue to publicly assault them.

    Kindness goes a long way.

  21. 21 donnahoke said at 12:47 pm on August 5th, 2015:

    Michele — I assure you that MULTIPLE, kind, and reasonable emails were sent and ignored. That’s first. Second, the whole point is that Mr. Driscoll is not doing anything intentionally. I address this in this post: But he is passing his own not-knowing onto children who will then think what he’s doing is correct. Third, I have acknowledged that Words Players is the unfortunate target of this campaign, but that doesn’t make what’s being done there any less wrong: We were not shaming the theater or the children, but the attitude with which the guidelines were put forth. And, if Mr. Driscoll had chosen to respond before it got to the national level and the Dramatists Guild, this never would have escalated to the degree it did. No, you are certainly not out to “get” us, but, left to perpetuate and propagate, the practices you’ve established there would.

  22. 22 Michele said at 12:42 pm on August 5th, 2015:

    This (below)….. is completely unnecessary. Our kids (anywhere from ages 4-18) that are reading this blog and comments will be so thrilled to find out that another human wants to beat their director’s head against a curb.

    >>>> Catherine Castellani said at 9:22 pm on August 1st, 2015:
    “Rather than beat my head against the wall, I will fantasize about beating “Daved”s” against the curb. What is that? The past tense of Dave? Or did he misspell his own name?”

  23. 23 Chas Belov said at 12:57 pm on August 5th, 2015:

    Short & Sweet, a fairly popular contest, has a much milder form of this.

    “If my script is selected, I give Short+Sweet the right to film/record/photograph it for marketing and publicity purposes. This also includes archival, marketing or publicity purposes in an unpaid public forum such as YouTube.”

    No mention of a maximum time. For a 10-minute play, one minute might be appropriate, but the terms seem to allow posting the whole thing.

    “Although Short+Sweet aims to honour the writer/creator’s intentions in staging their script, I understand that in order to have my script produced at Short+Sweet my script may need to be altered by the actors and director producing my script, due to staging restrictions or the work running over 10 minutes. Short+Sweet Directors will be asked to consult with me on these changes.”

    It doesn’t say the director must consult, only that they will be asked to consult. It still says they make the changes, not the playwright.

    I’ll admit I entered S&S last year. Next year I’ll think about it.

  24. 24 donnahoke said at 1:07 pm on August 5th, 2015:

    I’ve had two plays in Short + Sweet festivals and all I can say is that I was contacted by the director both times.

  25. 25 Michele said at 1:11 pm on August 5th, 2015:

    Donna, thank you for responding to me – I appreciate it. I still urge kindness and patience. It is easy to read emotion or “attitude” in something that truly isn’t there. Anyone who has ever sent or received an email or even a text message knows that.

    I’m guessing the majority of you are far away, so I know it’s hard to imagine life over here.

    Daved is a human, with human responsibilities, and family responsibilities, and work responsibilities, and meeting after meeting after meeting after meeting after meeting. I venture to say that you hardly gave him time to put out a thoughtful, considerate response before you launched a public attack.

    I assure you, Daved and the rest of us in Words Players are watching carefully and learning through this situation. It’s just too bad it has to cause such heartache for everyone involved.

    On a side note, while we’re talking about correcting the wrong of the world, addressing a flat out bullying statement about bashing someone’s head against a curb might be just as, if not more important.

  26. 26 donnahoke said at 1:15 pm on August 5th, 2015:

    I think the haste was due, in part, to reports that letters from last year were given a curt “Then don’t submit,” which conveyed the attitude with which we were dealing. It really all comes down to not knowing any better, and while this may not have been the best way to get people to know better (as I tried to put across in my follow-up), it did accomplish its purpose, though it took the intervention of the Dramatists Guild to make that happen.

    I do hope that people are learning in Minnesota and beyond.

    As to your other issue, you are right; I’ve removed the comment.

  27. 27 Mark Milo Kessler said at 2:55 pm on August 5th, 2015:

    The auteur theory has some validity in film, but none in theatre. Forgive the vulgarity, but my usual response to directors (or actors or designers or producers) who “create their own vision” rather than “interpret” is, Write your own fucking play.

    Honor your art: be a GREAT interpretive artist. If you don’t like the play, don’t do it. Or work cooperatively with the playwright; everybody might learn something in the process.

    At root, it’s technical and intellectual laziness. Interpretive artists with pride have to work very, very hard to transmit an author or composer’s work to an audience with truth and beauty.

    If I’m too lazy to practice or to study, should I just rewrite a Beethoven sonata into something that fits my limited technique and my own idea of good sound? “Oh – that Bb sounds weird. And I can’t reach it anyway. I’ll just change it to a G. And I’ll make it a quarter note. That sixteenth note run is too hard, and doesn’t make any sense to me anyways.”

    Arrogance and laziness.

    Okay, enough rant for today.

  28. 28 donnahoke said at 2:59 pm on August 5th, 2015:

    And ignorance. I think largely ignorance.

  29. 29 Gary Earl Ross said at 4:17 pm on August 5th, 2015:

    Donna, you are on the job, as usual. Thank you for looking out not only for the playwright but for all creative artists who have to put up with such crap. Does it hurt to ask permission for a change? Does it hurt to collaborate? Of course not. Eords Players is now on my no-way-in-hell list.

  30. 30 James Kent Genovese said at 4:29 pm on August 5th, 2015:

    This is skits for kids. And it’s August madness. Taking no responsibility for authors’ words translates: “It’s hot! We don’t have to memorize this, do we?” “Adult” roles to be played by group captains and camp counselors. Much riffing and stand up comedy to be expected — probably skewed to inside jokes. Some good news about no sets means Versailles will not be a pup tent. Serious issues especially surrounding plays

  31. 31 John Wayne Shafer said at 5:12 pm on August 5th, 2015:

    I am glad I read this. It clarified my ‘gut’ reactions to some postings that had not percolated to my consciousness.

    We are all so set on pursuit of the submission that we often over look the mission:

    … to gain an honest attempt to have the vision of our plays realized.

    As to the complete disdain expressed toward the skills and contributions of playwrights? I have met artists who can’t seem to see beyond their own specialty and extend value to others’ contributions in production.

    It is a pity… and always a missed opportunity to truly collaborate.

    Thanks again for a helpful read.

    John Wayne Shafer

  32. 32 Suse Sternkopf said at 6:52 pm on August 5th, 2015:

    I may one of the very few who took the time and effort to submit a play; specifically, I sent them three blank pages. Well, blank, except for the cat whoops. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as I’m selected. 😉

  33. 33 Chas Belov said at 2:52 am on August 8th, 2015:

    Calling them out is one thing, but, um, please, no cat whoops. Harassment is not funny or productive and makes both sides look bad.

  34. 34 Donna Hoke said at 7:20 am on August 8th, 2015:

    Which is the point of this post?

  35. 35 Taurie Kinoshita said at 5:17 pm on August 8th, 2015:

    As usual, you are completely right Donna. This submission call was so horrific and disgusting, my brain exploded with rage and stopped functioning for 11 minutes…

  36. 36 C. M. Cogliati said at 3:45 am on August 9th, 2015:

    Mark Milo Kessler nailed it.

  37. 37 Freddy said at 4:35 pm on August 10th, 2015:

    As a director who often is forced to change/adapt scripts due to their poor quality from hack playwrights I’m disgusted by this holier than thou attitude from the talentless collective of “artists” who can do nothing but complain about their “works” being ruined.

    You’re all nobodies who will never achieve any real sort of success… So to complain in such childish tones is not only embarrassing to watch, but it’s yet another reason so many people are repulsed by theatre and “theatre people.”

    You should be ashamed of yourself, earn some #playwrightrespect when you learn to write a piece that’s actually worth watching.

  38. 38 donnahoke said at 4:58 pm on August 10th, 2015:

    Why are you attempting to produce works by talentless hacks? Or are you just referring to every playwright on the planet? If every play on earth isn’t worth watching, why on earth are you in this business? But since you are, would you mind sharing the name of theater(s) you work with?

  39. 39 TheTex1900 said at 1:29 pm on August 18th, 2015:

    Before you got all worked up over someone posting a call for voluntary submissions, maybe you should have considered a few things:
    1. No one is forcing anyone to submit their scripts. They clearly laid out the conditions of their use of scripts, and if anyone doesn’t like that, they are free to ignore.
    2. If you are currently getting paid for your plays, that’s great, but maybe that means you aren’t this call for submission’s target audience. For a young playwright who is just starting out and can’t get her first play published or produced, this offer could be a godsend. It could be the first ever opportunity for her to to get one of her works produced, and get some reviews of her play in the local papers, which could be used in getting an agent to represent her, or a publisher to publish her play, or a paying producer to produce her play. In short, the potential upsides to this opportunity could have way more value to someone trying to break into being a playwright than a royalties check could. Usually young actors have to do some unpaid community theatre to get some acting credits on their resumes before they can get Equity gigs, young authors have to submit short stories to literary journals before they can get paid for their first manuscript, even outside the Arts, a lot of young college students and even recent graduates have to take unpaid internships to get some experience on their resumes before they can get a paying job in their field, so why should young playwrights’ work be considered so much more precious? A young unpublished, unproduced playwright’s work has no recognition, no audience draw, so the theatre company, which has to pay for sets, costumes, overhead, etc. is taking the lion’s share of the risk in producing the unpublished play, so it makes sense that they would not pay royalties like they would for a play written by a playwright with a proven track record for drawing audiences and box office receipts.

  40. 40 donnahoke said at 4:18 pm on August 18th, 2015:

    The Tex — To your second, longer, response, I say that you are missing the point entirely. I’ve had many short plays produced for no royalty and by amateur groups; that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t make every effort to do it ethically and within the Dramatists Guild Bill of Rights.

  41. 41 Chas Belov said at 6:48 pm on June 24th, 2020:

    Just so you know, the two UPDATE links no longer work. The clarification from Words Players Theatre can be found on the Internet Archive:

    The column post was apparently never archived.

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