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May 9th, 2013 donnahoke



 “Finding a great play is difficult. A great play for me can mean several things. The first thing I look for is a compelling story that is told with 100% commitment to its arc and purpose. The next is character development. What is a great story without characters whom we can empathize with? I MUST care about even the most despicable character or the point of the play is lost. The next element is creativity. When a playwright is breaking the mold through any number of ways in her/his writing, I am usually intrigued. Lastly, I look for writers who take BIG risks. I want to see vulnerability, edge, fearlessness, and soul in a play. I am constantly reading but always imagining the words as they would translate to an aural/visual experience on the stage. This is of course, the fundamental problem with the submission process: plays are meant to be heard, not read. So this is one of the myriad challenges for the playwright, to write a play that is capable of so captivating the imagination of the reader, that we (as the readers) are able to see its eventual potential. A daunting and gargantuan task to be sure.


Playwrights often think that we sit around writing rejections without ever having even read the scripts we unceremoniously throw out. I can only speak for myself when I say that this is quite the opposite of my process. We want to LOVE your work. I think that is a huge misconception on the part of playwrights. They think we have favorites and that if someone isn’t inside the inner sanctum, they have no way in. This is just not true. I begin every play, hoping that it will be the best thing I have ever read and will shake me to my core. Sometimes this happens, usually it doesn’t, but I read every single play start to finish, even when I know it won’t be right for us. That is my small way of acknowledging the artist and the art form, the effort and the time; it is my way of appreciating every writer I come across whether I reject the work or we decide to workshop or produce it. Every play that comes to my desk, gets the same fair shake no matter who wrote it, who championed it, where it came from or why. And if we are interested in ANY element of the writing (style, tone, structure, voice etc.), I invite the writer to send us more work in the future, thus creating an open door policy for that writer with our theater.


My first season, we were lucky enough to get a submission from a Scottish playwright who is represented by one of our agents. This writer, a night school teacher from Glasgow, had no formal training, few connections, and was completely unknown here in the states. We read the play and were floored by the sheer ingenuity of the writing style and the power of her unusual way with language. We were also shocked by her complete lack of stage directions and her use of font size to indicate volume, depth, and pace on the page. It was like nothing any of us had ever seen before. Not to mention the fact that her play was raw and utterly relentless in its intensity. Some of us found it disturbing, others absolutely enlightening, but none of us could stop talking about it from the moment it came. It went up the pipeline and we decided to workshop the play, unable to anticipate its power when read aloud. After the overwhelming audience response at the reading, it was decided that the play would indeed become part of our following season. The production was a resounding critical and public success and what is more significant is the fact that we have now embraced this writer into our family of playwrights.  We are currently in the process of workshopping her next play that we will produce in our 2013-2014 season.


True, this is a story of a writer with representation; however, it is a solid example of how an unknown artist finds a home with a company that truly appreciates her artistic vision and because of this symbiosis, a long-term relationship is forged.


We happen to have an open policy for all local writers, which means that they don’t need to have representation to send us their work. Many other companies share our open policy for local writers so this is great place for a playwright without an agent to start. Getting involved by volunteering or participating on literary committees is another fantastic way to get inside a theatre, understand the aesthetic, and gain access to opportunities unavailable to those outside i.e. in-house readings or things of that nature. We have three playwrights on our literary committee and they are given the opportunity to host in-house staged readings throughout the season, which allows them to get constructive criticism on their work and to simply hear their plays read out loud.


Too many writers send out their work in bulk to as many companies as possible, not paying attention to each theater’s mission or submission requirements. Nothing makes me less inclined to read a play than a writer who clearly did not read or actually disregarded our submission instructions. This is a huge blunder and one that is easily avoided. A writer should be reading about the companies she/he submits to because it serves him/her to do so. It is a relationship that needs to fit on both sides so the extra time it takes to do that research will pay off when a writer is submitting to a company that produces the kind of work he/she creates.”


My nutshell takeaway: Couldn’t agree more about starting with local theaters, but what really caught me is then line: “Nothing makes me less inclined to read a play…” Anything that comes after those words should be carved into your desk so you don’t ever forget it.


I’d also like to make a little plea here for City Lights Theatre, which was broken into last week. The burglars stole—along with cash boxes, a credit card reader, and two smart phones—the iMac they use for light and sound, which, as you know, is a big deal in this non-profit world. If you want to help them out, please go to and donate a few dollars; when you do, you can designate that you want the money to go toward a new iMac. I don’t know about you, but hearing about this made me feel like the theater I’m affiliated with was broken into.


My next post won’t be until Tuesday, as I’ll be spending the weekend at the Shaw Festival covering the openings of Guys and Dolls, Our Betters, and Major Barbara for Buffalo Spree. And, as always, if you have a theater to suggest or a story to share, please email me at




  1. 1 “This is of course, the fundamental problem with the submission process: plays are meant to be heard, not read.” | mise en théâtre said at 2:47 pm on May 9th, 2013:

    […] only one of the many valuable things Dori Jacob has to say in Donna Hoke‘s blog post. Share this:Like this:Like Loading… Posted in Links, Opinion / Review | Tagged composer, […]

  2. 2 Mark Cornell said at 4:06 pm on May 9th, 2013:

    Great post. Thanks so much for sharing, Donna. You and Ms. Jacob.

  3. 3 donnahoke said at 4:11 pm on May 9th, 2013:

    Thanks, Mark. Feedback has been great, which makes the effort worthwhile.

  4. 4 isabella russell-ides said at 4:42 pm on May 9th, 2013:

    Informative and hopeful. We want to love you back, says the playwright to the lit manager.

  5. 5 Mary B Phillips said at 3:08 pm on May 10th, 2013:

    Having read the above article, I went to the Magic Theatre website to see what their real submission policy is which is below:

    “Please note: we will respond to and read only work adhering to these guidelines.

    * We encourage local writers to submit their work to us.
    * Writers from outside the Bay Area may submit their work through agents only.
    * Sorry, we no longer accept query packages.
    * Sorry, we no longer accept musicals.”

    This is hardly the open receptive theatre Ms. Jacob describes in her article. Also I note that the work of the unknown Scottish playwright which the Magic produced was submitted by “one of our agents”. In short, someone the theatre had a previous relationship with. Makes one also wonder how receptive she is to agents who are unknown to her.

  6. 6 donnahoke said at 3:15 pm on May 10th, 2013:

    The policy you posted is exactly in keeping with what Ms. Jacob described: submissions through agents only, and open submissions for local playwrights. She says nothing to indicate otherwise, and uses the example of the Scottish playwright only to show that they were receptive to the work of someone they had never heard of. I’m not sure what your complaint is; Ms. Jacob is not the first–nor will she be the last–to suggest that having a relationship with a theater is often paramount in securing a production.

    Also, as I said in the initial explanation of RIPP, I am not presenting these stories to assist playwrights in finding theaters to submit work to, but to provide success stories as encouragement and motivation. I think your vitriol is unwarranted.

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