Full Disclosure: I do not pay submission fees. At first it was mostly because I don’t budget for it, but the more I submit to play-writing contests, the more it just doesn’t jive with me. I liken it to the nearly-only-in-LA procedure of dues-paying ensemble companies. More full disclosure: I used to work for one and was partly responsible for collecting said dues.
It makes my stomach turn.
Submission fees for playwrights isn’t as sickening to me. I understand fees are sometimes considered part of the beast. I mentioned this topic to my husband and he automatically assumed you paid for your play to be in the contest, not just considered. The wide eyes when I explained…
Many people have differing opinions, so instead of this being merely my thoughts, I want to share what I learned as I investigated across multiple social media platforms.
It all starts on Twitter: Local LA playwright Brian Polak was the first to answer my general inquiry.
I detest submission fees. Producing entities unfairly pass the burden of contests and productions on to prospective writers. I believe if you want to have a contest or do a production, fundraise for it. Don’t make writers pay to play.
Brian doesn’t agree that submission fees are equivalent to dues-paying companies however, a situation I could not resolve in 140 characters or less .
Gedaly Guberek of Coeurage Theatre Company quickly agreed, as did Louise Penburthy who added:
I don’t pay submission fees anymore, except for prestigious places with work-shopping. Otherwise it’s obnoxious, [in my humble opinion].
The idea of a play getting work-shopped or a production seemed to matter to some people. Through Linkedin I found the following comments:
Vic Cabrera in LA: I would, and have, if I get a critique back.
Donald Drake & Evan Guilford-Blake both said yes because the returns can be beneficial. Evan: Last year I paid about $900 and won $3600.
Donald has also gotten more prize money with contests that charge, and sees another benefit: One of my best experiences in the theater came from a competition I paid to enter – the O’Neill, which provided me with a wonderful month in Waterford, Ct. with incredible actors and directors and a wonderful staged reading of my play. I can understand why small theaters can’t afford to pay for running a competition and I see the submission fee as a business expense on my part.
Honestly, the Playwrights Group on Linkedin is so interesting and varied that I encourage everyone to read it.
Ian Hornby‘s perspective was especially interesting: Having run a playwriting competition on behalf of The Playwrights’ Co-operative, there are two edges to this topic. We started with a small entry fee ($10), purely to fund a decent prize at the end. But we had so many sites that would not list us because we had an entry fee that we dropped the fee and made it free entry. What a mistake we made. Although it’s not the right kind of filter and has so many undertones of not providing equal opportunities for those unable to afford the fee, at least it was a filter. We were completely snowed under with entries, and our panel of judges didn’t have time to do anything more than speed-read all entries so as to arrive at a shortlist, which could then be read in detail. Without doubt we’d have missed some gems.
Regardless, he does applaud contests without a fee.
Tony Earnshaw from the UK has an interesting perspective: …in the poetry world it’s difficult to find any contests which don’t have a fee attached and I’ve heard no grumbles. I’ve recently entered a short play for a competition run by a small theatre and am one of the winners (there are ten of us). The read through, at which I met the other writers, the directors and the casts, was worth it in itself.
Anyway, 5 on Linkedin from all over the world say YES, 9 say NO and 1/3 of the NO’s will make exceptions in rare cases.
Gregory Fletcher believes: If a theater company wants to attach their name to my play as the premiere producer, then figure out how to evaluate my play without charging me. Do painters, musicians, dancers, actors, or anybody else in the arts pay to have their work considered for production?
The answer to that, of course, is yes, in some cases.
I then took to Facebook. The results are as follows:
Prefer not to, but will if the contest interests me enough: 17 votes
I don’t mind at all; I just want my work produced: 0 votes
Here is the thing. (We’re back to my opinion now.) Regarding my more recent experiences:
Last summer, I self-produced a Fringe show I wrote
with under $500 budget. I felt shame every single time we cut corners, every time I saw how very hard these wonderful actors and director worked for nothing more than a hug and immense gratitude. We had an incredibly supportive and hard-working awareness team as well, who donated their time for some experience and the cause of the piece.
There was a chance to remount and I had to turn it down for many reasons
. I knew the team was happy and willing, but I just couldn’t look these artists in the eye and ask them to work for free again. I also have had some fights in my day with supervisors on Equity rules for actors and the worth of one designer versus others.
What’s changed? I often work freelance and negotiate my contracts. On a weekly basis I tell someone my worth and stick by it. When I began working for myself, I undercut my rate. That changed pretty quickly.
I also see way too many people pay upwards of $30/month to join an ensemble company; sometimes I’ve heard of $85/month. Actors may have their reasons – and I fully admit I have it easier as someone who can create my own work – but honestly, I’m fed up.
If you don’t have the money or means to produce a show, you shouldn’t do it. I have done it myself and will not do it again. Personally, it demeans everything in the work that has value, be it the writing, directing, performances, dramaturgy, design, right up to the viewing audience who pays money (in most cases) so that the artists involved may at least get nice thank you gifts.
This is a personal decision after years of self-producing and co-producing. As an extension, I refuse to pay a submission fee. If your readers (and Lord knows, I’ve donated my own time to reading plays) need money, raise the money. If you can’t produce without artists paying into the production in order to be considered, don’t produce.
Some excellent and imaginative pieces don’t “need” money. Artists involved should still be paid.
Yes, it’s hard. So is writing and acting and directing and designing….
Find the people who will donate to your work. They are out there. They are hard to find. They are hard to woo.
Art ain’t easy.
I do not mean any of this as a judgement on those who choose to pay fees and who choose to join ensemble companies, nor do I want to demean the artists who have worked for free on my work over the years. They hopefully got enough in return out of the investment.
They deserve better.
I also know for a fact there are plenty of playwrights out there who will happily pay fees for their own reason. No theater company is crying right now that they won’t get the chance to consider my plays for their competition.
Every even mild success I have from last June onward rests squarely on the backs and pocketbooks of the actors who braved traffic in LA, subways in NY, missed opportunities elsewhere or felt guilty for skipping rehearsal to audition for a commercial (they shouldn’t).
I don’t feel the need to go further into production teams’ sacrifices; just know I married a designer and learned everything about negotiating a contract from friend Cricket S. Myers
. By the way, she was nominated for a Tony
last year and will walk away from a job rather than accept a mediocre situation.
Often times, she is my hero.
Some may think these arguments are separate. I do not. Every time we de-value our work, an arts education program dies. After all, what value is there in it? Arts advocates are saints. Not all producers or self-producers are money-grubbing and selfish either. Many produce for the sheer joy of art, some for profit, numerous others simply because they’re good at it and theatre needs producers. It’s unfortunate that the most meager of producing codes must dictate paying actors gas money.
That is all.