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“WE’VE ADDED A FEE” Grrrrrr…..

January 25th, 2019 donnahoke



I am swamped right now but so vexed by this latest bit of what–duplicity? disingenuousness? BS?–that I have to post. My apologies that there won’t even be photos. In return, I’ll keep it short.


Organizers of ten-minute play festivals are using “growth” as an excuse to add a fee. This makes ZERO sense. If you’ve grown, but your coffers haven’t grown, then you haven’t grown. What you really mean is you’re getting more submissions than you can handle, and you need a way to winnow them down, and you’ve decided to do that in a way that punishes the very playwrights who have helped your festival “grow”!


The latest previously free theaters to do this are Kauai ShortsDriftwood Players and Silver Spring Stage, which are now charging $10, $5, and $10 ($15 if you miss the early bird deadline) respectively. Driftwood and Kauai Shorts’ new fee is particularly egregious because it demands unproduced work (Driftwood even promises to do a search to see if you’re being honest) for which the playwright gets a chance at exactly nothing. (Here’s why I think asking for unproduced ten-minute plays and not compensating them is the worst.)


Silver Spring at least allows produced work and also offers prize money– a grand total of $250 (FYI: informal surveys show that playwrights would rather be paid equally than compete for prize money)! Women in Theatre’s Kauai Shorts also now offers two $100 prizes (and don’t get me started about how they simultaneously want to “support” unpublished playwrights but only believe that published playwrights deserve royalties). But when you’re paying $10 for a slim chance to win $100 or $150, that still doesn’t seem like good math. And worse math is that if you send a play to all three, you’re out $25-$30! For short non-professional play productions that you most likely won’t attend, participate in, or see; without compensation, experience of some kind is the only real value that comes from any production at this level. Playwrights would go broke if all theaters supported us the way Women in Theatre claims to.


Listen, I’m not a fee purist, but there are three times I absolutely will not pay them, and they all apply to ten-minute play festivals:


1) when a theater wants me to pay them for the “privilege” of considering my brand new ten-minute play, but will give me nothing if they decide to produce it (this gets a little trickier with full-lengths because readings and other development opportunity could be worth the risk, depending on the details). Actually, even without a fee, I won’t give away my brand new work for production without compensation.


2)  when the fee is outsized to the opportunity being offered, which applies to nearly all short play opportunities that charge a fee.


3) when the fee is being used as a way to reduce submissions, because that’s either a lie to cover the desire for income, or flat out lazy. There are so many other ways to reduce submissions–geographic limitations, a short submission window, a theme, etc.–but if theaters want to use a fee to do it, they should at least do what’s right and provide playwrights a modest royalty. You can bet these theaters aren’t producing other work in their theaters without paying royalties–and if they are, you don’t want to work with them anyway. Theaters need to start treating royalties for all playwrights like utilities and budget for them.


Edited to add: I’ve been hearing some feedback about how community theaters–the ones mostly likely to charge fees–can’t survive without charging playwrights fees. I have no doubt all this is true and I empathize with any theater’s financial struggles. But as long as every other play in the season is earning a playwright royalties, it’s unfair and unethical in this case to do the exact opposite. I know financial struggles are real and I have never blasted a theater for asking for donated short plays (as long as they don’t want brand new work), but asking them to pay seems wrong. That doesn’t discount the financial issues, but playwrights shouldn’t be asked to solve them. For these theaters, here are some possible alternatives that many theaters in similar circumstances are adopting:


1) Require attendance and volunteer service during the run. This encourages locals, the very people who want to support your theater. You might even eliminate the call for plays, and just solicit and commission. If that is still too costly,


2 ) Move to a DIY festival. If a script is accepted, the playwright pays a participation fee for use of your facilities, talent, etc. This has the added benefit of encouraging more local playwrights, who are likely to want to support your theater.


3) Charge a flat fee and call it a workshop. Then the argument that it’s like an acting class actually makes sense.



If you’re new to playwriting or you’re ever in doubt about what constitutes a good opportunity, use the Dramatists Guild Best Practices guidelines to help you marry what’s best with what works for you. It’s a great resource to help you figure out who’s on the playwright’s side (which can be possible even with a fee) and who’s not.


I lied. Here’s one photo in honor of NETWORK on Broadway:


As promised, this has been a short Playwright Service Announcement. Back to work.



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3 Comments on ““WE’VE ADDED A FEE” Grrrrrr…..”

  1. 1 Carol M. Rice said at 3:41 pm on January 25th, 2019:

    As someone who runs at least one play contest a year (sometimes up to three), I completely agree with you, Donna! There are other, better ways to make sure you don’t get 700 submissions for a contest. It’s just really disappointing, as it seems like theatre for adults is trying to keep up with pay-to-pay theatre “classes” for kids, which also piss me off. (And why my theatre started doing tuition-free youth shows a few years back.) Yeah, you may make a ton of money giving little Johnny a tiny role that is split with 4 other eager young actors in your cast of 80 kids for The Little Mermaid (plus charging him a costume fee and requiring his parents to sell a certain number of tickets or buy them themselves), but what is this teaching these kids and their parents? That they should have to pay to get onstage? It’s the exact same thing with playwrights. What are fees teaching new playwrights, especially when that’s all that’s out there?

    Grrrrr is right. In case you can’t tell, this is one of my biggest pet peeves, too. Paying to do theatre, no matter what your age or specialty, is just WRONG.

  2. 2 donnahoke said at 9:52 am on January 26th, 2019:

    If you are a member of Official Playwrights of Facebook, there is a lengthy and worthwhile discussion of this post happening here:

  3. 3 scot walker said at 11:57 am on January 26th, 2019:

    When I received these emails asking me to submit a play that must be written within a specific time lime with a specific theme with a specific number of characters (and ages and genders) that no one has ever seen or read or produced before, when I am further threatened that if the company finds my play elsewhere I shall forever be disqualified and sent into the nethermost parts of Hades, when I read the list of prohibited items: on set/ costumes/ sparklers in actors hair / props/ light/ sound, etc. when I am further required to set up a PAY PAL account to send them $5, $10 or $20 to read my 10-minute play, and when I’m not to allowed to put my name ANYWHERE on the manuscript because that is shall automatically disqualify me (and shall they keep the reading fee) when I am told how I must precisely and exactly format my manuscript by using their jargon-laden style, I send them an email asking how much they charge volunteers to usher, how much they charge actors to audition, and how much they charge directors to direct. Most do respond and their answers are generally: “Dear Scot, we are a very poor theatre and are struggling to pay our water bill, electric bill and the rent on our basement here at the Oakville Valley Mission Municipal Waste-Water Facility and Home for the Incurables’ Church and we do spend our valuable time reading each entry (we have day jobs so we have to cut into our personal family hours to perform this valuable service for you and it hurts our eyes when we do this. . . ” Or “Dear Scot Walker, we dont charge our LOCAL people (they are our friends and relatives and they live here: YOU DONT) to participate but we are doing YOU a magnificent favor because WE SHALL develop your 10-minute.”

    Discrimination is illegal in most workplaces, it’s time we as playwrights trade in our doormats for tools and nail our thesis to the doors of all those Oakville Valley Mission Municipal Water Works Facility and Home for Incurables Church basements with Martin Luther’s famous words: Hier stehe Ich.

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