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September 13th, 2021 donnahoke


Six years ago, I wrote a blog post called YOU WANT OUR UNPRODUCED TEN-MINUTE PLAYS WHY? It’s worthwhile background reading, but if you don’t feel like clicking on the link to read, here’s the TL; DR: theaters didn’t have great reasons for wanting world premieres of ten-minute plays. In the end, the answers to why this was a requirement ended up sounding a lot like “just because.”

For a while, I really advocated for writing to these companies and we did see some success in getting a couple to amend their requirements, as documented in the aforementioned blog post. But as I wrote fewer and fewer ten-minute plays, I became less fervent about trying to effect change in this arena. The writing campaign was always akin to bringing a hammer to a gunfight so, not surprisingly, theaters jumping on the unproduced bandwagon proliferated. I still thinking writing ten-minute plays is hugely important,  but the arena for them has become increasingly exploitative, particularly around wanting brand new works, often written specifically for an event, and all too frequently for little to no compensation or, worse, a “contest.” Many unabashedly charge fees for the privilege of submitting. For a ten-minute. Come on.

Into this mix is a new reason for needing unproduced work that is failing a reasonable test of logic: theaters say they want to give opportunities to as many playwrights as possible. I don’t get it.

1) Theaters aren’t in the habit of developing ten-minute plays, so that means they’re totally willing to give their audiences raw material and charge for it. This would never happen with full-length plays; when full-length opportunities ask for unproduced work, it’s because they intend to do a reading that will help develop it. When you submit a ten-minute play, you are submitting it for production, and when you submit for production, your play should be competitive enough to go up against everything, even previously produced plays. Instead, once again, it seems theaters or pop-up festivals are just asking for what everybody else is asking for with no basic understanding as to why, or even the industry, frankly. (To this end, if theaters are being less than transparent and actually taking grant money under the guise of new play development, double shame on them.)


2) Asking for unproduced work does not give opportunity to more playwrights. The same playwrights are writing produced plays and unproduced plays; the theater is not increasing the pool of playwrights by saying the work has to be unproduced. Instead, it’s saying that playwrights need to increasingly write new plays to satisfy a theaters’ vague desire for new work or to satisfy its ego for asking for work written to some prompt.


3) Including only unproduced work doesn’t suddenly make better playwrights worse. Pursuant to #2, playwrights successful in the ten-minute genre are more likely to write a good ten the first time out and thus be more likely to be selected over a playwright who isn’t as good at crafting a tight ten. Asking for unproduced work does not create an even playing field; it just forces the more produced writers of ten-minute plays to keep cranking out work for no compensation.

Is that the point? If successful writers of ten-minute plays keep running out of material, eventually everybody else will get a chance? What is this, Harrison Bergeron? Keep chasing off playwrights until we’re at the lowest common denominator? Is that how to satisfy an audience? Is that what we want for theater? Ten-minute plays already have a trouble earning respect; this isn’t helping.

As a reader for many ten-minute play festivals—even ones that allow produced work—I can tell you that it’s still hard to find an evening of really good ten-minute plays. “Produced” has become such a non-meaningful measure in the ten-minute world, where supply can barely keep with demand, especially when the demand is for unproduced.

The constant call for new work with minimal to rare compensation, development, or recognition has taken what was a useful form and diminished it for no good reason. If the point of asking for unproduced work is actually to keep the pool smaller, I’d suggest myriad other ways: make the submission window shorter, ask for plays (not NEW ones) on a particular topic, ask for something written in the past two years, ask for plays with no more than three productions… there are so many ways if theaters just use their imagination. Use it instead of presenting faulty logic about creating more opportunity for playwrights.


It just doesn’t make sense.



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

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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.

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–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.


  1. 1 Emma Goldman-Sherman said at 5:38 pm on September 13th, 2021:

    Theatre doesn’t make sense. 10 minute plays produced or unproduced are often amazing. Playwrights throwing our hats into the rings to get noticed. To meet the brick walls that are theatres and their collaborators (who usually are wonderful and not brick at all). The few 10 minute plays I’ve had produced have led to development and production. I don’t pay to get people to read them – that is absurd. To ask playwrights to pay for our work to be read is simply wrong. Theatres should find other ways to raise the funds to produce the work they want to produce. But playwrights do pay (stop!), because people want to be read and produced and heard. It’s a human need for some of us, and I understand it well, having escaped a horrific childhood. Theatres should not exploit writers to make festivals. Playwrights, and our work, should be respected. Anyone who thinks it’s easy to write a 10 minute play should be sent to a brick-walled room to do it.

  2. 2 David Beardsley said at 5:57 pm on September 13th, 2021:

    Couldn’t agree more. I have told so many theaters that if they (a) don’t require unproduced work, (b) don’t charge a submission fee, and (c) pay something, anything, to selected writers they will receive higher quality submissions and, therefore, perform higher quality theater. I guess quality isn’t their priority.

  3. 3 donnahoke said at 6:00 pm on September 13th, 2021:

    “Quality isn’t their priority.”

    Yes, that much is clear. I just wish I could figure out what is.

  4. 4 Kate Danley said at 6:02 pm on September 13th, 2021:

    The only reason I have ever heard that makes sense is sometimes these theatres are non-profits, and part of their mission statement or grant proposal is “supporting new work.” When they have to turn in their paperwork to the grantors, they have to show on paper how many “new” works they’ve produced. And an evening of ten minute plays is, like, TWELVE new plays!

    What makes me sad is that plays get better with each performance. Lines are tweaked. The junk gets cut out. I haven’t seen a single play that didn’t get better after a few performances and rewrites. If only theatres would commit to “play development” (instead of “developing new plays”) and helping those previously produced plays get to the next level, they could give their audiences a much better theatrical experience (which might bring those audiences back for future shows).

  5. 5 donnahoke said at 6:07 pm on September 13th, 2021:

    In my first blog post about this, I alluded to that–but then also called them out for lack of transparency in that regard and also for not doing the work of actually developing the new plays. As the ten-minute play festival becomes more ubiquitous, it’s become more a fundraiser than any real opportunity. Some theaters try to say they DO develop the work but I’ve been part of enough to know they’re lying. Half the time, I never got so much as an email from a director inviting me to rehearsals, let alone any opportunity to improve the play. If they’re taking grant money for producing new work, they won’t admit it because they’re double dipping.

  6. 6 George Sapio said at 6:57 pm on September 13th, 2021:

    With you on this one completely. And it bears repeating periodically. (Oh, and the Vonnegut reference was beautiful.)

  7. 7 Hank Kimmel said at 7:16 pm on September 13th, 2021:

    I wonder if the argument is better made to that theatre’s board of directors, presuming it’s not an insular group

  8. 8 donnahoke said at 7:30 pm on September 13th, 2021:

    Pretty sure the horse has left the barn on this. It’s much like the fee debate; playwrights have to decide what is meaningful to them. When I was still writing ten-minute plays, I refused to send a new one to any opportunity that wasn’t paying for it and, as a result, I got paid for every new ten I wrote. But as with fees, there will always be playwrights who pay any fee that comes along, always people who will write to a prompt, always people who will give away the first production for no compensation. Needs and tolerance change as we our careers grow and we become more and more familiar with best practice culture. But… since I can’t convince playwrights not to go along with this, maybe we can just put the word out and hope at least some will hear.

  9. 9 AMT said at 8:09 pm on September 13th, 2021:

    Also, the idea that every production is some great opportunity and a chance for the writing to improve far overestimates the producing and dramaturgical abilities of a lot of these theatres. So many of these places are not equipped to support a writer or a new play. A middling production that no one sees from a company no one has heard of does nothing for a writer, and some of the development or conversations around the plays when I’ve done these do noting but set me back. People have too much confidence in their abilities: they think they can make this outrageous demand and because so many of us have been treated so badly, we go along with it.

  10. 10 donnahoke said at 9:55 pm on September 13th, 2021:

    Right, they don’t just think it; they know it because it’s been proven time and time again.

  11. 11 Claudia Haas said at 9:54 pm on September 13th, 2021:

    Asking for unproduced checks off a criteria on a grant website. It saddens me that theatres really do not want the best plays. They are looking for a way to get a grant. I would love theatres to start saying “not produced in Twin Cities” or of that ilk. They LOVE saying, “ you are the first to see this play.”

  12. 12 donnahoke said at 9:57 pm on September 13th, 2021:

    And they’re not transparent about it, which I mentioned in the previous post. They’d rather say, “That’s just what we decided” or make up blatant lies about opportunity. Sadly, these are most often always amateur operations so it makes it looks like a cash grab.

  13. 13 Bill Arnold said at 8:06 am on September 14th, 2021:

    What kills me are these 10 minute play “festivals” that require new work that are essentially produced on the fly like a 24 Hour Play fest (without any of the immediacy that 24’s bring), but allegedly are rehearsed for an extended amount of time. Great, so my one premiere gets a shoddy production with a generic set, two stage blocks, and actors in street clothes!

  14. 14 donnahoke said at 9:55 am on September 14th, 2021:

    None of these asks are about playwrights–at all. If there’s money to be had, the theater is getting it, either from frees, grant money, or ticket sales. They don’t care about development as much as promoting some gimmick to their audiences. And by and large, they are not professional operations.

  15. 15 Rich Pauli said at 11:37 am on September 14th, 2021:

    I agree with all this (and have often ranted about it myself). As a bit of a hopeful example: My first-ever 10-minute play was produced by The Barn Players in Kansas City. Their 10-minute festival was held late in the year; as part of that festival process, they invited any local playwright who was thinking about submitting to attend one or more of the play-reading workshops they sponsored (free) in June, July, and August at the theater. In those workshops, actors and other theater personnel would do cold readings of whatever material playwrights brought, then there would be a discussion/feedback session designed to help the playwrights improve their scripts. In other words, this theater truly tried to help writers develop their work (they also expected playwrights to be fully involved in casting and rehearsals of their plays). This process was very useful for me, as a novice (at the time) writer for theater. The theater does not charge for submissions and does not require a “new” play; the sole restrictions are that playwrights have to live within a 300-mile radius of Kansas City and that their play has not had a previous KC production (I think this is reasonable). This seems to me to be a model that any theater could easily adopt, if it were truly interested in developing writers.

  16. 16 donnahoke said at 11:43 am on September 14th, 2021:

    Of course! There are so many models they could reasonably adopt if that were their goal. But in your case, they weren’t even requiring unproduced plays, so it’s not even applicable. This theater clearly has its heart in the right place because they were offering help to regional-residence playwrights who hadn’t even been chosen yet. I am a HUGE advocate of developing regional-residence playwrights!!

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