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May 7th, 2017 donnahoke


Playwrights active online know the names Adam Szymkowicz and Aurin Squire. Not only are they both prolific, productive, and produced playwrights, they’re also the kind who give back. Adam writes the popular I Interview Playwrights blog, and Aurin contributes a monthly Get What You Want list of opportunities on his long-running Six Perfections blog. Both have impressive careers, which are due, in no small part, to tenacity and participation in their own marketing. And because they’re those kinds of artists, they also both agreed to share what they do and what they know with fellow playwrights.


For months, I’d been planning to introduce a new series—Artists Helping Artists (#AHAinTheater), and these two are perfect first subjects. Originally, I thought I might interview them together, but I had no efficient way to do that, and, also, Aurin is busy writing television in Los Angeles, so his marketing has taken on a bit of a different flavor lately. To that end, I’m making them installments one and two of #AHAinTheater. So, here’s Adam, in another #AHA moment, and watch for Aurin’s interview soon.


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Thank you for agreeing to share your marketing tools and tips. I created the How to Submit So Your Plays Get Produced seminar with Central New York Dramatists Guild rep Aoise Stratford, but I feel like what you’re doing is the sequel to that—going beyond just answering publicized calls for plays. But before we get into that, can you just share a thumbnail trajectory of your career?

I started writing plays in undergrad at UMass Dartmouth, and I went to grad school at Columbia. A couple years later, I got into Juilliard, so I’ve had two grad schools: Columbia is an MFA, and Juilliard is an Artist Diploma. I now work for Juilliard as literary manager.


And when/how did you get your agent?

I was interning for her as part of the Columbia program. We got along well, and I had a fancy reading that year and I think that didn’t hurt. There’s no reason why I should have had an agent at that point. Nothing was happening, but she helped me get my first publication—DEFLOWERING WALDO—with Dramatists Play Service. [Adam has since changed agents.]


What do you see as the turning point in your career?

I had a couple productions in 2006—NERVE and FOOD FOR FISH—and the Times came, and those plays were published, too, and that’s mostly what’s been my career, is having off-off Broadway productions in New York, and getting good reviews and then getting them published, and then those plays getting done in the world. They were both independent small companies; one was a couple people I knew for a long time, and the other was I reading I had at Juilliard that the producers came to.


What do you consider your biggest break and how instrumental were you in making it happen?

HEARTS LIKE FISTS and CLOWN BAR—in 2012 and 2013—were equally kind of a big deal. They were both New York Times’ Critic’s Picks and both went really well. CLOWN BAR ran longer, and, a year later, they remounted it for an equally long amount of time, so it was just in the ether for a while, and the photographs are much more memorable, even though HEARTS LIKE FISTS was published first, and it’s had ten more productions.


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I wanted to ask these questions to give readers an idea of your career, because there seems to be this sense that playwrights who have agents and are published don’t need to do a lot of submitting—and yet you’re always posting about the submitting you do. Have you always been a prolific submitter?

It comes and goes. If I haven’t had a lot happening, I need to submit. I have ten new plays at any given time that I want to get produced in New York or somewhere else, so I have to get these out there. I write two or three plays a year, so the unproduced ones stack up, and, after a while, maybe that one I don’t need to push anymore; it can stay on the shelf, and that’s okay.


But all of those plays [above] were things I submitted. The Pipeline production of CLOWN BAR was actually a blind submission [Read about it The Real Inspiration for Playwrights Project, #RIPP, here], and not technically a world premiere.  CLOWN BAR was actually a commission for rising Phoenix’s Cino nights; We rehearsed it for a week and put it up for two performances.


Given that you had an agent, had publications, what made your start your own marketing?

Adam Bock, years ago, just offhandedly said to me that people really need to send to a hundred places. I took it to mean per play; any play you want done, you have to send to at least 100 places, and I found that to be true.  It’s hard if you have ten plays you’re trying to send out, because if you want to do 100 each, that’s 1,000 submissions. That’s a little untenable, so I send out as many as I can, but, in theory, that’s my goal. I do about three or four a week.


All the same play?

No, because when I’m looking at theaters, this one might like this one, this one might like this one. Some people write basically the same play over and over and again, that’s not a criticism—Tennessee Williams did that really well—and they can find the theaters that will support them and like each new play. I have to find as many theaters as possible, because they won’t all like the same play. The dream is to be like Nicky Silver, where you have a home and they do all your plays. I have a couple places who have done more than one, but I haven’t really found one that would keep doing my plays over and over.


Can you speak to the difference between what your agent does and what you do?

I don’t think my agent has ever gotten me a production. My agent is incredibly helpful negotiating the contracts, and got me a fancy reading, sends it to directors I want to work with, introduces me to people, but almost all of those premieres are from me sending directly, and the ones that happen after that are from publications.


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And how many is that a year, roughly?

In 2015, I had 29 productions, five were at high schools, ten at colleges; of these, seven came about through a previous relationship with theater or theater artists, and the rest through word of mouth or publications. That’s my best year by far, by the way. But most started with a cold submission.


Do you keep track of success rates?

It’s hard, because do we count the first time I sent a theater a play or do we count the fifth or sixth, which is the one they want to do? And people move from theater to theater, and leave and come back; someone I know from ten years ago is now running a theater, and how many of my plays have they read before this? Part of my process is continuing to be around, and part of my way to do that is to continue to send plays. Some are completely cold, some are ‘here’s a director I’ve known for ten years, and I’m sending them my newest play.’ I have to remember do that, and if I don’t, it doesn’t get done.


Do you still submit to open calls for plays?

I almost never do that, because that’s what everybody is doing. I’m chasing productions; I’m not chasing readings or awards usually. Part of the reason for that is I don’t write the kinds of plays that win awards these days; I’ve won very few awards. I used to chase those more, but mostly what I do is approach theaters who I think might do one of my plays.


How do you find those theaters?

First, you should send it to the people you know, the theaters where you know people, the directors you know, the actors you know who might be great in it. Send it to those people, and, then second, send it to theaters you think might want to do that kind of play.


To find them, I Google plays that I think are like my play, or you can also search playwrights who you think are like your plays. It doesn’t work if they’re super famous, because, if they are, the reason they’re being done is because they were a hit off-Broadway. Theaters interested in new plays don’t want plays that are already super famous. This involves doing a lot of research and reading a lot of plays and knowing what things are like your things. Anyone can do it, because anyone has their own thing and can find theaters looking for the thing they have.


How many do you hear back from?

A third, I’m guessing, people who respond to my initial email. But I keep terrible records, so it’s just about trying to do it as much as possible; it makes me feel better if I forget about it. But I would say if you send 100 out, and you get a couple of things happen, or even one production from a hundred things, that’s the goal.  Most people just aren’t willing to put in that much work for little.


A lot of people might read your thing and like it and never tell you. As time goes and I’m becoming more well known, it happens less than it used to happen, but it also depends, if I’m approaching an off-off- Broadway theater than if I’m approaching a big theater somewhere.




Do you mostly seek off-off-Broadway theaters?

It depends on the play. I have had some premieres that weren’t in New York and it’s been harder for me to get those plays published. Sometimes, they premiere outside New York, and there’s a New York production lined up, and it falls through and I’m left high and dry trying to figure out how to get the second production, so my method has been to get an off-off production, and, then, using the publication, it’s easier for theaters to do something published than something brand new. I do still push plays that are published.


Are there some theaters that are more receptive than others?

For me, it’s younger and people who are wanting to do new work, which is usually younger. Most smaller or midsize cities have at least one young theater company that’s doing new work that isn’t whatever was off-Broadway last year. And if you can find them, and they’re the company interested in the kind of play you write, it might be a good match. In theory, they want to get that email from you, because they’re looking for it.


Do you find differences in response to your published and unpublished plays?

I’m sending published plays to different places than I send unpublished plays. I don’t want the world premiere to be somewhere where there isn’t enough media, because I need the reviews to help get it published. In general, can I get it published after this? and that depends on how much press I can get. It helps to get something done in New York, even though if people came to the production, they’d see it was in a tiny, tiny theater and be much less impressed. And the Times didn’t come to my last two plays, even though in 2012 and 2013, I had Critic’s Picks.


You hear a lot that you shouldn’t have a play published until it’s gotten several productions and reviews; indeed, many publishers will say that themselves.

I’ve never been of that thought. Once you get it published, people will know about it who otherwise wouldn’t have known about it. But I’m also someone who writes a lot of plays, so I want to get going on the next premiere, instead of having to continue to worry about that play that only had one production; I want all the help I can get, to get the next production after that.


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Of course, then, it matters who publishes it.

The bigger publishers have reach. They send out an email and who knows how many people read that email; once it’s published, I don’t worry so much about it. The publishers contact me if someone wants to do it in New York and in LA, and the reason is those are where the media are, so if it goes badly, it could potentially hurt my career, but otherwise, live and let live. Do my plays, have a good time, contact me if you have questions. I don’t try to prevent anybody from doing my plays. There’s no way of telling if somebody’s going to do a good production; you can try to guess, but I’m not going to look at all the reviews before I send a play.


At the moment, I’m mostly sending unpublished plays. When HEARTS LIKE FISTS was first published, I sent that to a lot of people, but I don’t have something that’s newly published that I’m sending. Around the time I’m having a first production, I usually send to a lot of places: “I’m having this happen; you might like it.” There’s creating a story about it, and suddenly people are excited to read it.


When you have a new play that you feel is ready, what do you do with it?

If it’s large cast, I send it to smaller theaters because bigger theaters won’t be interested. Only someone who has no money is going to do it, so I’m trying to find off-off-Broadway theaters to figure out how I’m going to get it done. Right now, I have a play that has a cast of 12 or more, and I’m sending it to small off-off Broadway theaters, and also theaters I know in LA. None of the off-off-Broadway theaters that I’ve worked with would care if they have the premiere; in LA, for some reason, they care, so it’s weirdly harder to get a second production in LA.


I also have a two-person play, and I’m trying to send that play to the bigger theaters because they’re going to do a new play that has a small cast. I start with places where I’ve made a connection myself; if I know the lit people, they’ll be happy to get a play from me. Then the next level is smaller big theaters that have a small stage; I go to their website and if it’s someone I know, I send an email, or send a blind email. If there’s no email, I’ll move on.


I wrote a couple two-character plays recently, but one is high school kids, and I don’t know here to send it. I’ve never had luck approaching colleges; it’s not clear who the decision maker is. The way to get done at colleges is to get the plays published.


How much and what kind of other networking are you able to do?

Like as part of my job I end up having lunch and meeting with playwrights. Years ago, I used to see sixty plays a year and if I was crazy about the director, I’d contact them the next day and ask if I can send something, but I don’t do that a lot anymore, mostly because I already know them, how to get in touch with them, and am already sending them stuff.


My method is heavy on emailing and Googling. If I really want a play in Cleveland, I’ll Google all the Cleveland theaters, and pick which might be interested based on plays they’ve done before. That’s one way to do it, and the other is what play is like your play [explained above]. You do that for theaters all over the country, and they’re always disappearing and popping up, so you keep doing it year after year after year.


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Adam is about to have his tenth play published.


Do you send to theaters that don’t have submissions on their website?

If they’re doing new plays but not asking for new work, either they don’t respond, or will say yes or no, especially if you’re a good fit for their theater.  If they’re not doing new work, they’re not going to do your play anyway. If I’m trying to send a play that was published in the past five or ten years, the question is are they doing whatever was off-Broadway last year, or something you may never heard of? Are they only doing people within their organization, or is it a play you’ve heard of, but it’s not the most famous play in the world?


Anything else you’d like to add?

There are ups and downs. On any given day, I can up or I can be down. Even when things are going well, you can also have a rejection on the same day something great happens. This year, I had a lot of ups and downs happen at the same time, which sort of makes it easier not to get too far down or too far up.


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

Playwrights, remember to explore the Real Inspiration For Playwrights Project, a 52-post series of wonderful advice from Literary Managers and Artistic Directors on getting your plays produced. Click RIPP at the upper right.

To read entries in the popular #PLONY (Playwrights Living Outside New York) series,  click here or #PLONY in the category listing at upper right.

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  1. 1 Patrick Gabridge said at 12:35 pm on June 20th, 2017:

    Great interview! I think this should be required reading for all playwrights who are trying to figure out how to get their work out there!

  2. 2 Susan Middaugh said at 4:58 pm on October 4th, 2021:

    Very insightful and helpful, Donna, thank you.

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