A playwright’s bill of rights

I’m going to share a conversation DC playwright Gwydion Suilebhan just posted on Facebook. He heard from a UK playwright that writers in Britain came up with a playwright’s bill of rights. Gwydion took suggestions from folks here in Washington and came up with his own list. I offer it here…and ask what do you think? Needed? Or just gripes? Or do you have ideas of your own to add? Are there items the LAFPI constituency thinks are missing?

Submissions: Nuts and Bolts
1. No playwright should ever receive a rejection letter that begins with anything that resembles “Dear [INSERT NAME OF PLAYWRIGHT HERE]” or that’s addressed to the wrong person.
2. No playwright should ever receive a rejection letter that includes a significant misspelling, either of the playwright’s name or the title of the play.
3. Theaters, development programs, and contests should standardize on what constitutes a play sample: 10 pages, 15 pages, 20 pages. Playwrights prefer a longer sample, but standardization is of paramount importance.
4. Theaters, development programs, and contests should abandon any other esoteric submission requirements: demands that several different files be combined into a single PDF, or that an extra title page be created, or that bios be limited to a random number of words. Again, a standard set of requirements should be adopted.
5. No playwright should be asked for a letter of reference in support of an application or submission.
6. Theaters, development programs, and contests everywhere should immediately stop asking for paper submissions; all submissions can and should be handled electronically.
7. No theater, development program, or contest should ask for submission fees of any kind.

Submissions: Selection Criteria
1. All submissions for development programs and contests should be blind submissions; plays should be judged on their own merits, not on any other criteria.
2. All submissions for theaters should also be blind during the first round of review and selection.
3. No theater, development program, or contest should inquire as to the educational status of a playwright, nor should that status ever be used as a criterion for submissions.
4. Theaters should replace the “never before produced scripts only” criteria with a less restrictive “no more than two prior productions” criteria.
5. Playwrights should be allowed to re-submit scripts when substantial revisions have been completed.

Submissions: Transparency
1. All submissions for theaters, development programs, and contests should be as transparent as possible.
2. Theaters, development programs, and contests should publish the names and bios of judges, reviewers, and script readers prior to opening submissions.
3. Playwrights should have access to any reader’s reports.
4. To whatever extent possible, theaters, development programs, and contests should indicate why a given play has or has not been selected after it has received extensive consideration.

Submissions: Best Practices
1. Theaters, development programs, and contests should respond to every submission. It is not acceptable to let silence stand in for a courteous rejection.
2. Theaters, development programs, and contests should publish a maximum turnaround time for review of submissions and be held accountable to the dates they publish.

1. No more infantile language should be used to describe play development: no cradles, no incubators, no hatcheries.
2. The term “emerging” (as in “she’s an emerging playwright”) should be eliminated immediately.

1. More playwrights should be considered for artistic director positions.
2. A higher percentage of plays produced in any given geographic area should be written by playwrights who live in that geographic area than is currently the case.
3. More theaters nationwide should have playwrights on staff, or at least in long-tenured resident dramatist positions.
4. More theaters nationwide should add playwrights to their artistic advisory boards.

Of course, he adds, that Dramatists Guild members have their own bill of rights…

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

4 thoughts on “A playwright’s bill of rights

  1. Thanks for sharing!

    Nancy: electronic submissions are coming whether we like it or not. I think it’s best to adapt to the future rather than resist it. More and more work is being done on Kindles. Theaters need to get on board. For the sake of the planet as much as for the sake of playwrights everywhere.

    As for responding to every submission? ATL actually does a superlative job of that. But how hard is it to write a courteous form email in replay to an electronically-submitted script? Not hard at all… especially with the right submission management technology in place, versions of which more and more theaters are adopting.

    Bottom line: I think it behooves theaters of all sizes to accept no more submissions than they can handle financially, ecologically, and courteously.

  2. While some of their rights make sense… the arts don’t fit into tidy boxes with rules. For eg., to ask only for electronic submissions is to put a burden on small theatre companies who will be forced to buy more paper when they want to print out scripts. Respond to every submission? When you get 4500 scripts a year (as we used to at Actors Theatre of Louisville), you can’t respond to every submission — time and money better spent elsewhere.

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