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September 24th, 2019 donnahoke


Coming up on October 1, I have made a full 100 submissions fewer than last year and even of those I’ve made, a whole slew of them were isolated cold queries about specific plays for specific reasons, i.e. not responses to general calls for plays. Without those targeted queries, I’m guessing I’m at about 160 fewer. With three months still to go.


That’s a lot.


I noticed a decrease last year, but it’s significantly higher this year. It’s not an illusion; general submission opportunities are diminishing. It’s possible that there are just as many as previously, but many, many more are targeting smaller and smaller populations in order to support their region’s playwrights and/or specific voices while simultaneously reducing the number of submissions. The New Play Exchange may also be reducing the number slightly though, over time, expect NPX to be a bigger factor as theaters go shopping for the plays they want without even issuing a general call. What does this mean for playwrights and your marketing efforts?


A few things, I think:


1) You gotta be on NPX. The NPX team is only going to be subscribing more theaters, more colleges, more everyone to join as time goes on. To not be part of this is to miss huge opportunities for passive submission, the way easier counterpart to the cold submission pile discovery that used to happen in the days of snail mail. Though people offer a bunch of arguments against starting an NPX profile, I’ve yet to hear one worth considering; you don’t join at your own peril. I’ve gotten at least one all-expenses paid workshop, three full-length productions, and a couple of tens from it.



2) You have to network get out there. As theater access to scripts has gotten too easy, it’s also gotten to be too much. Once upon a time, theaters seeking unpublished/new scripts had to rely on hard copies that came across the transom or were handed off to them—usually in person—by an agent or playwright. Now, with a literal world of scripts to choose from, relationships are becoming more and more important in culling the herd. Social media makes online networking a new and fruitful frontier, but in-person meetings still make the best impression. Get out there. See shows. Meet people. Make friends. Make collaborators. Show everyone you’re not crazy and that you’re easy to work with.


3) Find ways to make work that has built-in interest. I had a newspaper boss once upon a time tell me that as newspapers diminish, the two that will never die will be the truly national, e.g. USA Today, and the truly local, e.g. your local Bee or Gazette. In some ways, this seems increasingly true of theater. The aforementioned tendency toward regionalizing opps is one point of evidence. Another is regional theaters commissioning plays that mine local history and stories. I had a play go up in Buffalo called Once In My Lifetime: A Buffalo Football Fantasy (if you know anything about Buffalo Bills history, you know what the fantasy is), and it was a smash hit because it tapped into the emotional zeitgeist of the region in a way no play out of New York could do.

Outside of the regions, talk to directors and theaters; find people who are going to be interested in the play you’re writing so you have somewhere to send it immediately. Big theaters have long worked on commission models; how can you get a theater–big or small–to commission you?


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ONCE IN MY LIFETIME: A Buffalo Football Fantasy drew new theatergoers to a story written especially for them.


There will always be the hits out of New York that travel the regions (and even these have much shorter lives than new plays once did; playwrights I’ve interviewed talk about the constant pressure for the next play), but it’s the local and specific markets that are most easily cracked. These types of plays are never going to be a submission opp; they’re opps you need to create.


4) Own your hometown. Topher Payne is a stellar example of this, and how it led to greater success. And really, this is all NYC playwrights are trying to do, except their town is way bigger, albeit with greater rewards if they can break through. For those of us in smaller towns, I’ve said this before in different context but now, it’s even more important to know the theaters in your region, know the stories they want, and make the relationships that allow you to be the person who can deliver them. With roughly 10,000 playwrights at any theater’s fingertips, it’s increasingly on playwrights to create opportunities, because while the great success stories still happen, they’re dependent at least as much on luck as talent.


5) Unpopular opinion: consider setting a playwright expense budget. Some of the best opps carry costs, either to get apply—O’Neill, Great Plains, Seven Devils—or to get there, or both. Fees will never be best practice, but there are a lot of doors that don’t open without them. Despite the anger that often marches into discussions about them, there are lots of playwrights who pay reasonable fees on a case-by-case basis each year. And even more who spend money to travel to places where their plays have been accepted. Even NPX carries a fee.


6) Keep submitting. None of this is to discourage you from continuing to submit work as I’ve always championed. Particularly if you’re new to marketing, it’s still the best way to gain momentum and learn the lay of the theater/playwright relationship landscape. Plus, new opps come up all the time, and you should always be submitting to all them because opportunity begets opportunity. But submitting is just one piece of a multi-pronged approach to marketing—and one that may not be always be the most effective way forward.


All industries evolve, and playwriting and how to place work is in the midst of an evolution. Be ready to evolve with it.


(don’t forget to check out my new website by clicking on the home page!)

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–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 #PLONY (Playwrights Living Outside New York) interviews, click here or #PLONY in the category listing at upper right.

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–For more #AHAinTheater posts, click here or the category listing at upper right.


  1. 1 Bill Lattanzi said at 11:46 am on September 24th, 2019:

    One option you did not mention is self-production. I’m involved in trying to get a play of mine off the ground here in Boston. Loads of obstacles to be overcome, but it seems the best way to a) realize the work and b) establish or re-establish a voice in the community.

  2. 2 donnahoke said at 11:41 am on September 25th, 2019:

    Self-production has always been an option, so I didn’t feel like it necessarily fit within the realm of what I was trying to say. I also feel like it’s a little simplistic to just say “self-produce” because there are so many facets to it and where and how you do it are also so important, particularly if you have certain expectations that might come from it; it’s really a whole other post. But also, I feel like I was largely speaking to people who don’t really have any interest in being producers. Never discounting it though.

  3. 3 Nick said at 2:59 pm on September 24th, 2019:

    Do you have any recommendations as to maximizing the value of the NPX membership? Are there ways to seek out opportunities using the database, or must I wait for opportunities to come to me? I do have a membership, but thus far I haven’t had anyone find me through the service (whom I didn’t already know/ask to look for me there)—and I’m a little leery of subscription-based services like this anyway.

    Thanks for your insight!

  4. 4 donnahoke said at 11:37 am on September 25th, 2019:

    Are you on Official Playwrights of Facebook? If you go to the Announcements section, there is some great stuff, including a compendium from Asher Wyndham with suggestions.

  5. 5 Arnie Johnston said at 9:51 pm on September 24th, 2019:

    Dear Donna,

    Thanks for this excellent summation of the current state of affairs as regards submissions by playwrights and market realities. Debby and I have been fortunate to have lots of productions and publications though never enough and never at the levels to which we aspire. But we all need to be aware of the challenges we face, and we need to value the accomplishments we manage.

    Arnie Johnston & Debby Percy (Johnston)

  6. 6 Vince Melocchi said at 11:34 am on September 25th, 2019:

    Great advice! Thanks for sharing your insights! By the way, your Bills are looking good this season!

  7. 7 donnahoke said at 11:52 am on September 25th, 2019:

    So I hear lol! Good thing the show ran when it did; the timing was perfect (though they made one playoff game and I had to change dialogue because of that was sweating it out that they might make it further!)!

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