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October 15th, 2014 donnahoke



Buffalo United Artists is currently in the process of reading submissions for BUA Takes 10: GLBT Short Stories, and we’re so overwhelmed by submissions that don’t follow guidelines that I’m feeling compelled to address the issue. Because it’s not an isolated incident. Submission after submission just ignore the guidelines that we thought were very clearly set forth.


As playwrights, we’re told again and again that it’s imperative to follow the guidelines, so I’m flabbergasted as to why so many just don’t. Playwrights are intelligent folks, so it’s not stupidity. Is it ego? Willful ignorance? Laziness?  And are any of those worth getting a strike against your play before it’s even read?


If you have no idea what I’m talking about, good; thankfully, you’re in the majority. True, the word guidelines does seem to indicate “suggestions,” but if they’re suggestions that improve your chances and will make readers happy, isn’t it worth following them? Guidelines can be cumbersome, but, in most cases, theaters have reasons for them. I know we did, and we also didn’t think they were unreasonable.


Before you say, “Oh, I would never…” check out the examples below. If you recognize yourself (and be honest) in any of them, it could be very well be the reason why your play wasn’t chosen for that last festival. (To be clear, these examples use BUA’s specific guidelines, and are in no way intended to represent any kind of universality among guidelines, which vary widely.)


Submission Guidelines: 

*All plays must have an LGBT theme that is central to the play’s premise. (This means that changing pronouns on another play probably won’t work.)

Don’t have an LGBT play? Why not just change the pronouns from some other play so it’s about a same sex couple? Or put one of the characters in gratuitous drag? Better yet, just send something that’s not LGBT because it’s so brilliant that it will banish any thoughts of our mission from our minds; who cares?


We do. And none of those plays are going to make the cut. (Nor are the ones at my friend’s Latino festival where all the names have been changed to Latino names; this is rampant.) And this one is actually the most egregious, because there’s no way it happens by oversight.


It sucks when you don’t have something appropriate. American Blues is a fantastic contest, but my work doesn’t remotely match up to the kinds of plays they produce. So I don’t submit. It really is that simple.


*Please don’t resubmit plays that were submitted previous years.  You think we don’t remember, but elephants got nothing on us.

We really do remember, and we suspect you do, too. If we didn’t choose it last time, we’re not going to choose it this time, and we delete it immediately. So you’ve not only wasted your time, but ours.


*All plays must be no longer than ten minutes, which may actually mean fewer than ten pages. If you’re not sure, please read it aloud.  No exceptions, no matter how brilliant the extra minutes may be. We mean it.

Clearly, there are plays that are intended to be brilliant even beyond the brilliance we allude to in the guidelines because we get ’em up to fifteen pages long, even that long with dense monologues. Know your work. Know how long it is. If you still want to submit that ten-plus minute play, make another draft with cuts. We’re not going to do it for you.


*All plays must have minimal set requirements. Plays chosen will receive full productions at BUA’s black box theater, but with ten plays being performed, there is no time for elaborate set changes. 

Soaking wet characters, ancient Turkish costumes that “denote” the time, multiple windows, paintings indicating good taste, shelves and shelves of books, precision sound and light cues… those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head and I don’t want to comb through hundreds of plays. The idea is clear: simple, simple, simple. I know theater is a medium of the imagination but very often, elaborate settings are described, which could very well be done minimally, if the text gave any indication where the characters are.


*Please email LGBT ten-minute plays with minimal set requirements to in standard format in Word or PDF. 

If someone is screwing this one up the email address, we’ll never know about it. But it’s crazy how many playwrights still don’t know what standard play format is (and we’re pretty lenient on that).


*Email subject line should have your name and title of your play, e.g. MARY BROWN/MY AWESOME GAY PLAY. 

We seriously thought this one was a no-brainer, but we have actually gotten submissions that say, e.g. DONNA HOKE/MY GAY PLAY and even MARY BROWN/MY GAY PLAY. Wow. Some just say Play Submission or some creative variant thereof.


*Body of email should contain contact information (including email and phone) and the play’s production history ONLY. You don’t have to write a cover letter, so please don’t. Anything other than the requested information is only going to give us a bad first impression (i.e. you don’t follow rules).

This is where it gets fun. Lengthy cover letters. Lengthy bios. Entire resumes. Where you heard about the opportunity. Stories about the inspiration of the play. And we just shake our heads as we develop bad first impressions.


*Submissions that do not adhere to these guidelines will not be considered.

Guidelines or not, we said it right here. Don’t assume that theaters don’t mean this. Through my RIPP series, I’ve talked to enough literary managers and artistic directors to know that they really, really do.




  1. 1 Susan Westfall said at 3:05 pm on October 16th, 2014:

    Thank you, Donna. Well stated. Well read. Much appreciated from another theatre with very specific guidelines the majority of playwrights follow, but some… just…will…not.

  2. 2 Michele said at 3:28 pm on October 16th, 2014:

    Hi, I thought I was doing okay until I reached your point about not having a cover letter in the body of the email. I am abashed, as I thought the short email letter in which I typically give over some information asked for was just polite. Thanks for setting me straight; I am abashed.

  3. 3 donnahoke said at 3:51 pm on October 16th, 2014:

    Michele — To be clear, these are BUA’s specific guidelines, in which we asked please that no cover letters be included; our guidelines are by no means universal. I included them only to show specifically how they were ignored. Many opps specifically DO request cover letters; we are by no means speaking for everyone. I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear.


  4. 4 aubrey mellor said at 11:48 pm on October 16th, 2014:

    I understand well the costs to read plays submitted for production an applaud any reminders that will help the writers’ chances.
    But acronyms are a very bad habit and i would dissuade all writers from using them. They smack of exclusivity and laziness. But worse of all, they are bad communication – and we are in the communication business. Can you please tell me that LGBT does not mean Long Gone Bullet Train?


  5. 5 donnahoke said at 6:23 am on October 17th, 2014:

    I can only respond that if a playwright doesn’t know that LGBT is a very common and standard acronym that means Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender and gets more than 9.5 million hits on Google, it logically stands to reason said playwright does not have a play of that nature in his/her arsenal.

  6. 6 jai said at 12:17 am on October 17th, 2014:

    I’m sure this will generate a ton of criticism, but as a playwright not world famous or anything, but with dozens of productions, awards and winning scripts, I feel compelled to say that your contest, is competing also.
    There are so many contests. With email and the internet, the number of contests and the awareness of them seem to row almost daily. Theaters are increasingly aggressive in competing for a contribution of a playwright’s time and art since they generally do not pay and some even propose to charge an entry fee.
    I get almost as many solicitations for scripts as solicitations for charitable contributions which is quite similar except charities do not compel me to follow creativity destroying rules.
    For some reason there seems to be a preponderance of solicitations for LGBT scripts of late so your program must compete, not only for scripts, but for the few LGBT scripts.
    I would suggest that what appears to be a large number of very oppressive rules might be the reason many of the works submitted do not follow rules and based on your post are of inferior quality (if quality is a factor beyond the quality of following the rules. The best playwrights do not enter contests and almost no produced playwright enters contests in which compliance is the sole criteria for selection.
    You certainly have the right to create rules for your entrants, but maybe you should reconsider using the rules as your only criteria for quality.
    I hope you will bear in mind the degree of effort involved in entering a contest, and respect the playwright enough to eliminate all but the most critical and the most relative to the quality of the work.
    Playwrights are creative people and generally speaking we do not deal well with oppressive rules.
    The most creative people break the those rules so the best plays may have been eliminated from your show.
    For a show including the best of play writing talent and skills, eliminate the cage and give your artists wings.

  7. 7 donnahoke said at 6:33 am on October 17th, 2014:

    I have nothing to criticize, but I do disagree. As a playwright who has made 473 submissions so far this year, I understand the current state of submission opps. I don’t feel our rules are oppressive in the least–we ask for one email, no cover letter, no blind copies, no special cover page considerations etc. What we do ask for is about standardization to make the plays easy to read and organize and, more importantly, to fit our mission and our production capabilities, which is no small thing. But more salient to your contention is that we’re limiting submissions by having any guidelines at all, and that doesn’t seem to be the case. Last year, we got more than 300; we had no trouble choosing ten after eliminating those that didn’t comply with guidelines. Contrary to what you seem to be saying, theaters (as confirmed by interviews with literary managers and artistic directors through my RIPP series) use guidelines to help pare down submissions, because they get so many; I don’t think any theater is complaining that they aren’t getting enough submissions, even those who insist on unproduced work–which we don’t. We don’t care how many productions a play has seen, as long as it hasn’t been seen in Buffalo.

  8. 8 TELL said at 11:16 pm on October 17th, 2014:

    I have a comment that might come off as argumentative or snarky — I’m being sincere. This idea that a given play is or is not about “the experience of the X community” has always bothered me. For example: I’m a white female. When I write a play about a scientist, it may be a male or female scientist, but does it follow that because I am white and straight, the play cannot be about a gay or lesbian or black or latino scientist? And this is a pretty powerful point, I think — if we say that a character, whose race and identity are unspecified and not central to the plot, *must* reflect the author, then that shows a limitation in our cultural thinking — not in my script. I say — take “white” or “mainstream” or “straight” plays and cast them with a rainbow of talent. I don’t mean change the script. If the characters are a married man/woman — let them be heterosexual. But why white? If the character is a guy going about his day and his sexual identity isn’t part of the explicit script, why can’t he be played as if gay, as if that’s his backstory — actors create backstory all the time. We limit the exposure and opportunities of minorities when we insist that they only be highlighted in explicitly minority roles. If we want to live in a world where a gay, black, female scientist is not considered odd, then we have to show, somewhere, that such a character exists and experiences the same human life we all do. Far more transformative than explicitly minority-themed plays are the bold casting and portrayal choices that theater companies can make. So. I’m a white, heterosexual, female scientist, and if my roles are gender neutral I say so, and I also always specify that orientation and ethnicity are arbitrary. (Except, for example, in a play where a woman is unexpectedly pregnant — she’s clearly heterosexual in that case. But her race? You tell me.) And I feel theater should boldly choose to *add* some diversity to a HUMAN story — in that script about scientists, if a black theater company rejects it because it isn’t “explicitly black” then they have a limited imagination of what black is or is not, and what black can or cannot be. Just to be clear — I get it, that many plays are explicit. A coming out story, a discrimination story — sure. But there’s a bigger thing at stake here; there’s a chance to normalize all colors and types of people in everyday situations, and yet movies, theater and TV won’t do it. This saddens me, and I think it diminishes us all.

  9. 9 donnahoke said at 7:29 am on October 18th, 2014:

    TELL: I don’t find your comment snarky at all, and I disagree with you in big-picture, mainstream theater theory. But it also has to be acknowledged that cultures have specific experiences that others don’t share and those won’t be highlighted by a story about a scientist who just happens to be gay (because how would we even know; not every gay person is susceptible to being “played as gay”). It’s these experiences that people from these cultures want to see on stage, and that’s what this festival is about. I’m all for color-blind, gender-bilnd casting in the big picture; but if we’re trying to celebrate a culture and an experience, we need to go for some more specificity.

  10. 10 Donna Hoke said at 12:45 pm on October 18th, 2014:

    Read many more comments at:

  11. 11 TELL said at 7:11 pm on October 19th, 2014:

    Thanks for your response! Actually, I should have been clearer — I completely understand the aspect of a festival celebrating experiences unique to a certain group of people. But whenever I see a theater that exclusively asks for scripts relating to the experience of a single group, I strongly feel that such exclusion is imposing a limitation — artificially — on the very group they seek to represent. Although, yes, I was a bit boneheaded above, because I do agree with your point that this is more germane to race or gender, since orientation isn’t externally obvious without some dialogue to bring it out, whereas a black or latino cast as a scientist is a bold move without a single line addressing it.

    Just one other comment – I appreciate your blog, and I liked this one on guidelines; I do my best to follow them because I’m incredibly type-a, but I know I’ve screwed up a couple times. (Last year I simply missed one comment that they wanted 30 pages or less. Oops. Completely didn’t see it, sent them a full length. Could’ve kicked myself.) I suspect that the chronic and conscious violators-of-guidelines do it out of a fatalistic sense that there’s really no point anyway. How often does one submit and not even get the courtesy of their SASP being returned? How often is email submission required, but no response made to let us know the submission was received? The Silence is so draining, it’s easy to get lulled into thinking that it’s all pretend anyway — a lottery. So the rules just don’t seem important from within that mindset. I’m not justifying, I’m just supposing that it’s a symptom of the brutal nature of this endeavor.

  12. 12 Stephen Sossaman said at 6:13 pm on December 31st, 2014:

    Unlike Jai, I do not consider most theaters’ submission rules to be creativity-destroying (after all, the script has already been written). But I have often wondered if some of the very specific demands are not a way to quickly weed out those shotgun-approach playwrights who disregard conditions (and theaters’ interests) and thus send scripts that are not worth the theaters’ time). I have in mind for example specificity about headers and footers, and non-standard content to be included on the front pages, etc. Some conditions might mostly be filters, like website capchas. My guess is that most script readers, like readers of job applications, are consciously or otherwise hoping to quickly find a reason to reject the applicant, given the workload.

  13. 13 donnahoke said at 8:22 pm on December 31st, 2014:

    There are usually very specific reasons for guidelines. Perhaps it’s a way to sort plays, or the way they’re being divided among readers, or length issues. For the Dramatists Guild Roving Readings series, it’s geography. Whatever the reasons, if the playwright decides that they don’t apply to his/her play, he/she does so at his/her own risk.

  14. 14 Stephen Sossaman said at 8:16 pm on February 8th, 2015:

    Donna, you wrote:” I’m all for color-blind, gender-blind casting in the big picture. . .” I agree, and I was pleased (for example) years ago when TV producers finally cast women and African-Americans as judges, scientists, and business executives. I would really like to get your take on one related issue. Given that gender, racial and ethnic identities matter, are there risks in “color-blind, gender blind” casting of classic plays (i.e. plays in which the playwright was not writing about gender or race)? If, say, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”were cast with a George and Martha of obviously different colors, would audiences see the play as about color rather than human nature? Since Albee did not have color in mind, I see a risk that the play might seem to say something about one color or the other without the playwright having intended it or shaped it. That said, two of the most wonderfully dazzling Shakespeare performances I have seen were by all-women troupes, and that, purposeful and brilliantly done, really renewed Hamlet and Lear for me. But I fear that we are not yet at the point at which gender, sexual identity and color casting can be done at random without distorting the play: if Iago were played by an Arab or Chinese actor, would the audience go home with more prejudice and less sense of human nature?

  15. 15 donnahoke said at 8:26 pm on February 8th, 2015:

    I wonder about this myself. And you raise very good questions.

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