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PLAYWRIGHTS, OWN YOUR HOMETOWN! (Getting traction in your own backyard)

September 28th, 2021 donnahoke


I know many of you who read this blog or have been to one of my submission seminars know about the Playwright Binge, an email group intended to provide support for the arduous but necessary process of marketing our work. The group has grown so large that the recent sharing of an opportunity prompted the organization in question to switch to an agent-only policy. Obviously, this isn’t something we want to become a trend.

And so yesterday, as we’re nearing the end of the September Binge, I challenged group members to do a little research and find a theater in their area that looks like it might consider new work and that isn’t getting a ton of queries and try to get in touch. That’s a first step in a key piece of advice I give to playwrights who are trying to get careers going: own your hometown.


I don’t mean by this that you have to be the biggest, best, most successful playwright where you live but that you should own it in the sense that you know every theater, every artistic director, and more than a few actors/directors/designers and—more importantly—they know you. In a business that is built primarily on relationships, your home city is where you can do the most and best work of consistently getting to know people, proving yourself, and building the relationships that lead to collaboration. And really… this is all NYC playwrights are trying to do; they just have a bigger town and more competition. If this is a business about relationships, it’s easiest to make them where you live.

The bonus is that when you ultimately do get a production in your own city, it’s where you’re likely going to have a great experience because you’ll know your collaborators, you’ll be involved at every level, be able to attend every rehearsal, and also know a lot of people who come to it so you can share and celebrate with them.

And the really good news? Cities are more interested than ever in nurturing local talent so while once up on a time, playwrights complained their home theaters wouldn’t look twice at them, that’s all been changing for the better.

Though much of the business of owning your hometown is covered in a lot of the advice in my Real Inspiration for Playwrights Project #RIPP, a compendium of more than fifty interviews with literary managers and artistic directors across the country on how to get productions (which I encourage you to go back and read!), a lot of it is just about making yourself available and meeting people in the world you want to be a part of. And while I never had a plan for any of this, I’d divide it into four important components, any of which might lead to a conversation that could lead to something else and all of which can be implemented just about anywhere.



1) Attend theater. Lots of it. Everything really. Not only will this improve your own playwriting, but you’ll start to see the same people, particularly if you attend opening night and can attend the after-parties. And if you’re always at opening night, you might even start to get offered tickets to opening night.

2) Put your name in the theater mix. Write reviews for a local blog (which can also get you free tickets so you can attend more theater), ask your local awards committee if it needs members, write theater pieces for your local magazine. Doing these things will put you in constant conversation with theater people in your town.


3) Take initiative. It’s important to be proactive on many levels. I have done all of these things–more than once. 
*Self-produce a few projects with other playwrights so that people in town can see your work; apply for local grants to help.
*Make coffee dates with people you’ve met and get to know them even better.  Focus on the people you vibe with because that won’t be everybody!
*Pitch projects to potential collaborators that you’ve come to know. If you’ve been going to theater, you now have a good idea of the aesthetic of that theater, what it produces and, more importantly, what it might need (and maybe it’s something they don’t even know they need!) that you can provide. I pitched a ten-minute festival to a theater that had never done one and that led to a full-length production down the line.
*And finally, say YES when given an opportunity!


4) Continue to make all your efforts outside your hometown. This may sound counterintuitive, but I’ve heard so many playwrights say it took getting something out of town for people in town to notice them, the whole you-can’t-be-a-prophet-in-your-land thing. Theater decisionmakers often look to other decisionmakers to back up their decisions; this is a business where vetting often matters. Continuing your out-of-town efforts not only help because it’ll keep you focused on a holistic picture and but also gives you projects to work on while you wait for things to click at home.



Every city has factors that make the exact process vary but there are two constants. One: you will never know what those factors are and exactly how the theatrical infrastructure in your city works until you become an integral part of it. And yes, that’s a daunting prospect; I get it. But it’s an inevitable truth no matter where you live and I could not move to another city and expect things to work the same as they do in Buffalo.


The second and most important thing of all, it takes time! Lots of time! Not only time in terms of hours spent at theater etc., but years of percolation and momentum building. Playwriting is most often a long game and collaborations come from a series of connections that can create momentum (just ask a playwright “How did you get that production?” and be prepared for a convoluted answer!). To that end, I’m going to share kind of an inexact timeline of a bunch of things that have happened for me in my own home city of Buffalo over the past twelve years. In looking at them year to year, you can see how early efforts of the above components ended up circling around years later, how finding ways to become immersed in the community led to relationships, and how it becomes a series of give and take over time and never a one-side shove-a-script-in-someone’s-face situation.

It’s really, really, really important to note that I never really felt like I was “networking,” just living here, writing plays, enjoying theater, and meeting people. Sometimes I asked them to become involved in my projects and sometimes they asked me. When all the lines become blurred, you know you’ve really become part of the community.

I also want to point out that I didn’t zero in on one theater. In all, there are ten that I’ve at least had some affiliation with over time, and more still who I’ve pitched plays to with no luck. But whether or not I’ve worked with the theaters, I still attend all their shows and have continued relationships with them. There’s also been a lot of rejection and theaters that just aren’t interested; that’s okay! Once you’re part of your community, you’re like an actor: sometimes you get cast and sometimes you don’t, but it’s still always a fun time!

So here’s how it went…

2008: I wrote my first play, COCKEYED TODAY, and got into THEATER A’s New Play Workshop. Had my first reading and knew NOTHING. Like I was literally giving actors line readings. Oy! But I met nine other playwrights and became part of a community.

2009: Applied again to the workshop and got in with LOST AT SEA. The leader of the workshop reamed me out and said that the characters were all mouthpieces and that this was a step down from my previous effort. I said, “Well, I’ve been working on this other play…” and I gave him THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR. Because I now knew all these playwrights, I invited the group over for dinner and asked for feedback on this second play.

2010:  Some of the new playwrights I’d met in the workshop and I produce four short plays as an evening at the Buffalo Infringement Festival. 



THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR is produced at Theater A. My first production ever. Again, a real crash course in working with a director, learning what scenes are necessary etc. It’s nominated for but does not win the Emanuel Fried Award for Best New Play, despite being the second highest grossing world premiere in Theater A’s history.

2011-2012: Submit, submit, submit! What happens if I submit THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR to a ton of places? (Not much lol!) I also start to have lots of ten-minute successes, which keeps me going because it’s going to be a while from that first full-length production before I have another.


I start attending Buffalo theater like crazy and, as I said above, keep running into and talking with the same people. That leads to me being asked to be on the Artie Committee (Buffalo Tonys) which means I’ll now be attending everything at every theater.

I pitch a ten-minute play festival to THEATER B, an LGBT theater, and I’m paired with another playwright to curate it. My play “Write This Way” is in it. I’m also asked to be part of the 24-Hour Musicals festival at THEATER C for the first of three times; the fourth time I step away to give someone else a chance.

THEATER D produces “Black and White” in its annual short play festival; I end up having a play in this evening for the next seven years.


2013: I write a letter to the Dramatists Guild that leads to be me becoming the WNY regional rep so I have even more reason to engage with my community.

I start pitching and writing theater stories to our regional magazine, Buffalo Spree.


I wrote about the Jakiel family being the “Barrymores of Buffalo.”


From the Theater A workshop that I have now been a part of every year until it disbanded in I think 2015, Theater A produces SEEDS and it wins the Emanuel Fried Award for Best New Play. But, despite a four-star review, it does not gross as well as THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR (sex sells!).

Produce another Infringement evening of tens with other playwrights and THEATER E asks to produce one of them in its annual short festival.

Theater A commissions a ten-minute play from me for its evening of homegrown Buffalo plays.

2014-2015: Submitting like crazy and starting to get productions all over. Had eight productions around the country and world in 2015. Nobody in Buffalo notices lol. But SAFE wins three prizes nationally and Theater A offers to produce it in 2016.

Theater A also deems my now most-produced play too suburban, but THEATER F, a small theater slightly out of town produces FLOWERS IN THE DESERT; nobody really goes.  

The second iteration of the Theater B ten-minute evening runs and the artistic director asks if I’d consider expanding my short play, “Best Interests” into a full-length because he likes the way my words mesh with the actress.

The full-time Buffalo Spree theater writers steps down and I take over monthly coverage.

2016: SAFE is produced but it doesn’t do even as well as SEEDS and the next new works produced at Theater A are adaptations.

2017: Theater B produces SONS & LOVERS. (NOTE: Four years from first collaboration on the ten-minute evening.)


I win an individual artists grant from New York State Council on the Arts and produce workshop version of HEARTS OF STONE during the Buffalo Infringement Festival with a director and actors I’ve come to know.


Because my name is all over Buffalo theater as a playwright, a get a call from a guy in San Jose asking to commission me to write a play in which the Buffalo Bills win the Super Bowl. I say “why not?”

2018: ONCE IN MY LIFETIME: A Buffalo Football Fantasy is produced at THEATER G and remains one of my best theatrical experiences ever.



I win my second Emanuel Fried Award for Best New Play for SONS & LOVERS at that year’s Artie Awards.

After developing several plays with Theater A that don’t seem to appeal, I ask the artistic director if I can write an adaptation for him… He says “try it.”


2018: THEATER H–a theater I’d never worked with– commissions me to write a play about Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, which has received the benefit of a tremendous amount of development at a theater in Florida.


2019: I win my third Emanuel Fried Award for Best New Play for ONCE IN MY LIFETIME.

I pitch and curate a Stonewall edition the short play festival to Theater B.

I do a home reading of LITTLE WOMEN… NOW  and invite the Theater A literary  manager who reports to the AD that he should hear the play.


2020: We read LITTLE WOMEN… NOW for Theater A and it’s scheduled for November 2020.

COVID!! But Theater A commissions me and seven other playwrights to write radio plays and Theater D–under new leadership–commissions me and fourteen others to write monologues. Both projects are produced during lockdown.

2022: LITTLE WOMEN… NOW is finally produced after another postponement.  

2022: An actor who’d done readings for me as well as the HEARTS OF STONE workshop is asked to direct in the reading series at THEATER I and pitches three of my plays. They choose BEST LAID PLAN(t)S for a staged reading that was so good, I feel like the play has been produced.

2023: A project is in the works that I can’t talk about yet, but suffice to say it’s with THEATER J, one I’ve never worked with…

Looking back on all of this at once is kind of amazing, even to me, because as it’s happening, I don’t think I realized what a cumulative effect years and years of talking, meeting, pitching and, most importantly, being there, had. Not one of these things happened in a vacuum none of this meant I stopped pitching, submitting, building relationships elsewhere. Obviously, these are the broadest brush strokes and there’s so much more detail to every one of these events; I’m happy to answer questions if you have them!

I know that we always say in this industry that we can’t replicate another’s path, but I think if the goal is to attack those four components from a place built in love of theater and writing plays, things just happen with time, tenacity, and patience.

I’d love to hear your hometown success stories!



(Click on the home page to read about my plays!)

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

–Read my plays and recommendations on the New Play Exchange!

–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.

–To read the #365gratefulplaywright series, click here or the category listing at upper right.

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

(Click on the home page to read about my plays!)

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

–Read my plays and recommendations on the New Play Exchange!

–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.

–To read the #365gratefulplaywright series, click here or the category listing at upper right.

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

One Comment on “PLAYWRIGHTS, OWN YOUR HOMETOWN! (Getting traction in your own backyard)”

  1. 1 carol hollenbeck said at 7:08 am on October 4th, 2021:

    Being a late blooming playwright i did have a reading in my hometown.. MY reading in newburgh ny, went very well, as i live in new york city, however the play was about an event that happened there fifty years ago, so my hometown gave me a wonderful tribute/
    the tribute was in june of 2017 , loads of press from the area but not much happened here in new york after,, but that is was a great event to happen in my lifetime, carol hollenbeck

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