Fertile Ground Portland

A Festival of New Works Blog

The Best Advice for Playwrights I’ve Read In a While October 15, 2009


You think the hard part about creating a new play is sitting down in front of the typewriter (well, probably computer screen but typewriter is the more romantic image, isn’t it?) and trying to create compelling characters, a fresh approach, a truly theatrical way to bring the story to life.

But in reality, the hardest work comes after the play is in hand, particularly if you have ambitions for it beyond a reading in your living room with your closest friends. And this element of playwriting, the “GETTING YOUR WORK SEEN” part, is mysterious, complicated, and can feel very random…particularly if you are building your playwriting career outside the confines of the two or three MFA playwriting programs that have established relationships with regional theaters on the hunt for new voices.

This is one of the gaping holes that the Fertile Ground festival is designed to help solve. A platform, not mediated by one literary manager’s taste in plays, where writers at various stages in their careers can move their work to the next stage, solicit feedback and expose their work to artists and leaders who can help move it forward.

Right now we have over 30 individual world premiere projects registered for the 2009 festival, many of them from writers who are producing their own work. Which is why I was super excited to run across this blog post from Adam Szymkowicz with some brief but extraordinarily valuable pieces of advice for playwrights about both the on and off-the-page logistics of building a playwrighting career.

Here’s a sample:

9. Once the play is in really really good shape, send the play to lots of places. Like at least 100. Pay attention to people’s guidelines and follow them. Buy a Dramatists Sourcebook or join the Dramatists Guild and use their guide. Also find the small theatres wherever you are and see if they take submissions. Get to know the people, maybe help them build sets or something or act in shows if you can. You can learn a lot about playwriting by actually being in plays. When you see a director you like, ask them if you can send them your play. Another thing you should do is find the places not in the sourcebooks who are doing plays like your plays—especially small theatres. Google the people whose work is like yours and try to send your plays to the places doing their work. Sometimes theatres will only do established playwrights work even if they have a lit office whose job it is to read through the submissions. (See #1) The odd thing is sometimes even if your play isn’t right for a theatre, you might want to send it just in case the lit asst who is probably young, is into it. Ten years from now, they could be at a different theatre and have more power. Lit people tend to jump from theatre to theatre. This is why you should apply to everything you can. If people like your stuff but it isn’t right, they may ask you for something else later or may recommend your work to another theatre. Lit people can be very generous like that.

10. Join the yahoo group the playwrightbinge. Also take a look at En Avant for upcoming deadlines and places to send plays. The internet is great.

11. Some people write lots of 10 minute plays, especially early on. These are easier to get people to produce. It might take years to get your full length up but you might get a bunch of 10 min plays produced. This will make you feel better, or it might when the rejection letters start coming in. It also might be a way to get your foot in the door of theatres who could someday produce your longer plays. Or it might just distract you from writing full length plays. This is okay if your goal is to write 10 min plays. Look at David Ives. Although don’t look too hard. He’s writing full lengths now and musicals and it’s harder than ever to gain his sort of notoriety by writing exclusively short plays. If you can’t write a 10 min play, don’t worry about that either. At some point, someone will ask you for a short play. You can just tell them no.”

Check out the rest of his post right here.

How about you? What have you found to be helpful in helping a play (and a playwright) become more visible?


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