Posts tagged: playwrights

Report from the Colorado New Play Summit

By Kitty Felde

The delicious set for THE BOOK OF WILL by Lauren Gunderson. Set design by Sandra Goldmark.

This is the third year I’ve flown to Denver for the annual festival of new play readings. In the past, I’ve attended Humana, CATF and the National New Play Festival, but the Colorado New Play Summit at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts is my favorite. Seven new plays in three days! It’s like a combination of cramming for midterms, eating everything in sight at a buffet table, and using all your season subscription tickets in a single weekend.

As a playwright, I find it extremely helpful to see that much new work all at once. It allows you to see trends and fall in love with new playwrights and come away with 101 ideas for your own plays.

Here’s a few trends spotted at this year’s Summit:

STRONG WORK

It was a particularly good year for new plays in Denver. Strong writing, big thoughts.

MOST LIKELY TO BE PRODUCED A LOT:

THE BOOK OF WILL by Lauren Gunderson is a love letter for every Shakespeare theatre in America. The late Will’s friends race against time and lawsuits to publish as many of his scripts as possible. It’s a big cast show, a perfect complement to a season of TEMPESTs and HENRY IVs. Round House Theatre in Maryland has already announced it will be part of its 2017-2018 season.

TWO WORD TITLES:

Don’t ask me why, but I’m fascinated with titles. Maybe because I’m so bad at writing them myself. This year, the trend seemed to be plays with two word titles. HUMAN ERROR and BLIND DATE were two of the new plays featured in readings. THE CHRISTIANS and TWO DEGREES were onstage for full performances.

POLITICAL PLAYS

I predicted that we’d get a flood of anti-Trump plays NEXT year, but they were already popping out of printers by the time I got to Denver. Political plays were everywhere.

The cleverest of the bunch was Rogelio Martinez’ play about Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the battle to come up with a nuclear treaty in BLIND DATE. Call it ALL THE WAY for the Reagan years. Very well researched, very funny. Martinez carries off an interesting balancing act, portraying a much more savvy and sympathetic Reagan than you’d expect, perhaps looking back at him with different eyes now that there’s a very different sort of president in the White House. Bravo. (I’d vote for a better title, but that’s my only complaint.)

The politics of Nazi Germany were the focus of a play by the man who wrote ALL THE WAY. Robert Schenkkan’s piece HANUSSEN is the tale of a mesmerist who dabbles in Nazi party politics. It has a highly theatrical beginning, and ends with a pretty blatant rant against Donald Trump.

Schenkkan pulled off a very difficult trick: bringing Adolph Hitler onstage and allowing him to come off as a rather likeable character. Perhaps it’s because he followed the Hollywood solution to making villains less unlikeable by giving them a dog. Hitler’s relationship with his annoying dog was quite delightful. (One wag of a fellow playwright at the conference observed that our new standard for unlikeable characters is now to ask: is he/she more or less likeable than Hitler?)

TWO DEGREES by Tira Palmquist is a climate change play. It received a fully staged production this year, after its debut as a staged reading at last year’s festival. It featured a set with panes of ice that actually melted as the play progressed.

There was also a nod to the protestors in pink hats (I actually spotted one or two of those in Denver) with Lauren Yee’s play MANFORD AT THE LINE OR THE GREAT LEAP. It’s a lovely piece about a young man’s search for an absent lost father, basketball, and Tiannamen Square. How can someone that young write that well? MANFORD is terrific and should get productions everywhere.

WHERE ARE THE LADIES?

Two of the five new play readings were by female playwrights, as were two of the three fully staged productions. (Thanks to Artistic Director Kent Thompson who established a Women’s Voices Fund in 2005 to commission, develop, and produce new plays by women.)

Yet, despite the healthy representation of female playwrights, there was a decided lack of roles for the ladies. Of the 34 named characters, fewer than a third were female. And with the exception of the terrific family drama LAST NIGHT AND THE NIGHT BEFORE by Donnetta Lavinia Grays, few plays featured roles of any substance for actresses. Nearly every one flunked the Bechdel test. The sole female in one particular play will likely be best remembered for her oral sex scene. Sigh.

PLAYING WITH TIME AND PLACE

I always come away from new plays with new ideas about what I want to steal for myself. In this case, the overlapping of scenes in different times and places happening at the same time on stage. Lauren Gunderson’s BOOK OF WILL very cleverly juxtaposed two scenes on the same set piece at the same time and it moved like lightening. Look something similar in the play I’m working on.

CHANGE IN THE AIR

The man who made the New Play Summit possible – Kent Thompson – is leaving. Kent’s gift – besides putting together a rocking new play festival – was making playwrights like me – those of us not invited to bring a new play to his stage – feel welcome. At the opening luncheon, all playwrights – not just the Lauren Yees and Robert Schenkkans – are invited to stand and be recognized by the theatrical community with applause from the attendees. That may sound like a small gesture, but it’s symbolic of the open and kind community Kent created. He made every one of us who pound away at our keyboards feel that we are indeed a vital part of the new play community. Thank you, Kent.

PS

In the interest of full disclosure, I will share that I had my agent send my LA Riots play WESTERN & 96th to the New Play Summit this year. It was not selected. I never received an acknowledgment that it was even received or read. But the non-rejection does not diminish my affection and admiration for the Colorado New Play Summit.

A Little #FringeFemmes Instagram Action…

Thanks so much to Gina Young. Are you following us? https://instagram.com/thelafpi/

  More great shows by women at the @hollywoodfringe — what are YOU going to see tonight?? #fringefemmes #LAthtr #hff #hff15   A photo posted by LA Female Playwrights (@thelafpi) on

SWAN Day Action Fest (Saturday, March 28th 2015): a Festival of Women Playwrights & Directors

 

SWANDayLogo2

Action Fest line up:

 

BOX by Robin Byrd, directed by Julianne Homokay

Synopsis: Elpis and Pandora are sisters.  There has been a death in the family.  What if they could have one last chance before they have to seal the box?

Elpis: Shanel Moore
Pandora: Gayla Johnson
Mother: Marlynne F. Cooley

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THE PROPOSAL by Carolina Rojas Moretti, directed by Laura Steinroeder

Synopsis: Benny was lost before finding his True North, but can he stop himself from destroying the compass?

Benny: Andrew Loviska
North/Lily: Renee Ulloa-McDonald
South/Mother:  Melanie Alexander
East/Employee:  Daniel Coronel
West/Niki: Megan Kim

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THE MIXING BOWL by Leslie Hardy, directed by Gloria Iseli

Synopsis: Stephanie thinks her partner Alicia’s parents are simply coming for a visit.  She’s in for a surprise.  Sometimes the ingredients of our lives do not make for a great recipe.

ALICIA: Trace Taylor
STEPHANIE: Amy Stoch

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MANKIND by Beverly Andrews, directed by Alexandra Meda

Synopsis: New parents have a serious discussion by the river’s edge and reaffirm the people they really are.

Elizabeth: Kat Johnston
Mitchell: Eric Toms

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THE MISSING STAIRCASE by Morna Murphy Martell, directed by Lane Allison

Synopsis: The Staten Island Ferry passes Ellis Island. A strange man tells about a staircase there that changed his life. One woman knows the secret of the missing staircase.

Woman: Constance Ball
Girl: Nili Segal
Man: Dean Farell Bruggeman

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ILL INFORMED by Raegan Payne, directed by Courtney Anne Buchan

Synopsis: Owen is bad at stalking. Olivia is bad at living. It’s fortunate they are meeting.

Owen: Tim Stafford
Olivia: Kristina Drager  

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Micro-Reads Actors:  Dylan Quercia, Pauline Schantzer, Anna Simone Scott, Tippi Thomas, Harriet Fisher and Tinks Lovelace

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 Come join us this Saturday, 28 March 2015 from 12 – 6 pm at City Garage Theatre located in the Bergamot Station Arts Center
2525 Michigan Ave., Building T1, Santa Monica, CA 90404

For more info: http://lafpi.com/events
FB Event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/898010020244015/
If you tweet we’re @TheLAFPI; we’re also on Instagram @thelafpi.  #SWANDay #LAFPI.
Also connect with our hosts, @CityGarage (Neil LaBute’s Break of Noon opens April 3 http://www.citygarage.org/). 

Do We Really Need This?

GLO 2014 Casting

Jen Bloom, Allie Costa, Liz Hinlein, Alex Dilks Pandola & Katherine James casting for GLO 2014

Guest blog post

by Alexandria Dilks Pandola

I started Green Light Productions in 2003 to create new opportunities for women in theatre. As of 2008, Green Light has exclusively produced plays written and directed by women.

This year, Green Light completed The Shubert Report to examine the 349 theatres that received $16.4 million in grants last year from the nation’s largest private funder of the performing arts. We found that only 26% of the plays being produced were written by women and that 125 of those 349 theatres weren’t producing ANY plays written by women.   Foundations, especially those as large as The Shubert Foundation, play a huge role in sustaining American Theatre – most of which is classified as nonprofit. Imagine the impact it’d have if they required applicants to produce seasons that had 50% female writers and directors?   Imagine the impact if just one major theatre a year decided to do a season of plays by women.   Just that one step…

In 2005, I took that step. Heather Jones sent me her one-act play “Last Rites” about a life-long friendship between two women.   It’s a beautiful play and I walked around with Heather’s script in my bag for month thinking about how it could be produced. I had the idea to create a festival of one-act plays all written and directed by women: GLO,  Green Light One-Acts.   And since the first GLO in, we’ve given world premieres to 15 one-act plays with productions in Philadelphia, New York and now Los Angeles.

In GLO 2014 we introduce to the world 4 new plays written by female playwrights based in Los Angeles – Allie Costa, Jennie Webb, Julianne Homokay and myself – with directors Liz Hinlein, Jen Bloom, Ricka Fisher and Katherine James. I have met the most incredible women just working on this first Green Light show here and I am so excited to plan our next steps here in LA.

Alex with artists at first GLO 2014 Read Thru

Alex with GLO 2014 Artists at First Read Thru

Getting here wasn’t easy. While I’ve had the absolute pleasure to work with hundreds of women who support our mission, over the years I heard a surprising amount of negative feedback – much of it from women who felt that the theatre didn’t need companies like Green Light. A female journalist actually responded to one of my press releases with “Do we really need this?”

Yes, we do. And we need YOU!

I hope that by forming new collaborations, asking lots questions, challenging those who need to be challenged and producing work by women, Green Light will continue to have a valuable impact on artists and audiences. And I hope you’ll be part of it.

Mark Your Calendars: November 6-9, GLO 2014, 4 plays written and directed by LA women artists at Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica. www.greenlightproductions.org.

Be part of Green Light Productions first foray into the LA theater scene (after mixing it up in NY and Philly).  Join the FB Invite here (LA FPI tix for only $10!). This femme-fest is Green Light Production’s annual event, but the company is looking for more women artists moving forward. If you’re interested in getting involved, contact alex@greenlightproductions.org.

 

HAPPY 3-YEAR ANNIVERSARY LA FPI BLOG!

The Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative Blog has been going strong for 3 years.  The blog started April 19, 2010 with our first blog post of Being a Playwright, Being Female“.  The purpose of the blog is to give the Los Angeles theater community a place to come to get to know the playwrights.  We thought it would be nice to ask them all a few questions about their lives as playwrights and this week we will post the responses.

The authentic voice of a playwright is worth its weight in gold yet it is hard to measure when it is not given a place in the miner’s pan… 

Enjoy. Thanks for reading.

 

Mary Steelsmith Goes To Sweden

When: August 15 – 20, 2012
Where: Riksteatern, Stockholm, Sweden
What: The 9th Women Playwrights International Conference
Why:  From the WPIC website: “The conference will be an opportunity to meet and to create genuine, lasting contacts between women playwrights and other theatre professionals. The conference’s aim is to have a supporting impact on collaboration and to build bridges between people from different parts of the world.”
Who: Women playwrights from around the world, including LA FPI’s own Mary Steelsmith.
Mary’s play Isaac, I am will be featured at WPIC 2012 on Saturday afternoon, August 18, 2012.

Award-winning dramatist Mary Steelsmith and her highly-lauded play Isaac, I am will be featured at the upcoming 2012 Women Playwrights International Conference in Stockholm, Sweden.  It’s a six-day conference with international focus, filled with lectures, workshops, and most of all, performances of works by women. This year’s theme is “The Democratic Stage.” The WPI Conference moves around the world: it’s held every three years in a different city. In 2015, it will be held in Cape Town, South Africa. For more on Women Playwrights International, and to join, visit their website.

107 plays from around the world will be featured at WPIC 2012, and Mary is thrilled: “What an honor it is to have Isaac, I am chosen to be presented at this conference! The opportunity to meet with and learn from so many female dramatists from other countries and cultures is a rare and wonderful one. While it will be an expensive journey, the experience of this conference in beautiful Stockholm will be priceless.” Only fourteen women playwrights from the U.S. were selected to attend. (To see the complete list of selected plays and playwrights, click here.)

Steelsmith’s Isaac, I am is a story of love, life, death and AOL. A winner of the Helford Prize (and she’s only female playwright to win it), Steelsmith also lists productions of Isaac, I am at the Racounteur Theatre in Columbus, Ohio, and most recently, here in Los Angeles at the Women’s Theatre Organization at the University of Southern California.

Steelsmith has won other playwriting awards, including the Eileen Heckart Drama for Seniors Competition and the Hewlett-Packard Action Theatre Prize (Singapore).

Would you like to help Mary Steelsmith get to Sweden? On Saturday, July 14, 2012, 2 p.m., there’s a benefit performance of 5 short plays by Steelsmith  at Vidiots Video, 302 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA, 90402. She’s also selling copies of her work on Amazon.

For more info, go to marysteelsmith.com.

Taking Stock

(Guest Blogger This Week – Laura A. Shamas, LA FPI Co-Founder and National Outreach Agent)

The Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative, as a grassroots movement dedicated to the cause of achieving gender parity for women playwrights (and all female theatre artists), has been around for awhile now. Inspired by the advocacy efforts by women playwrights in New York, Jennie Webb and I had our first conversation about it in September 2009 over lunch at the Marmalade Café on Ventura Blvd. In November 2009, we put up a temporary website, begged Ella Martin to head a study of L.A. female playwrights’ activities in the first decade of the 21st century, and tried to figure out how to organize a community-wide outreach to the hundreds of female dramatists here (and those who love them)—not an easy feat when you consider SoCal’s 500 square miles.  But we knew lots of people here cared about this issue and wanted to do something about it. We had our first official meeting in March 2010 at Theatricum Botanicum during a major storm; it seems like a metaphor, looking back. Still, many talented women and men trekked to Topanga Canyon during the torrential rain, and spoke from the heart about how and why this cause—and theatre as an art form—matters.

That initial wet chilly meeting seems like ancient history now; so much good work has happened in the past 2+ years. There’s a long list of artist-volunteers who have contributed to the LA FPI mission. Some highlights include: the creation of this website by Jennie Webb, sponsored by Katherine James; the award-winning staff of playwright-bloggers (Tiffany Antone, Erica Bennett, Nancy Beverly, Robin Byrd, Kitty Felde, Diane Grant, Jen Huszcza, Sara Israel, Cindy Marie Jenkins, Analyn Revilla, and Cynthia Wands) who are featured daily in this space, expertly managed by editor Robin Byrd; Ella Martin’s historic 2011 study results; Alyson Mead’s podcasts with inspiring women playwrights; the Women at Work Onstage page (still the only weekly list of female-authored shows in L.A.), created/maintained by Laurel Moje Wetzork; the bi-monthly e-mail blasts that include member news and submission opportunities, curated by Erica Bennett, then Helen Hill (we’re now looking for communication help!); the support from Larry Dean Harris, who wrote about us for The Dramatist—and gave us a spotlight, featuring Janice Kennedy, at a 2010 regional Dramatists Guild meeting (followed by a panel slot for us at 2011 National DG Conference); the new venture with Tactical Reads launching this week, connecting women playwrights to female directors, originated/helmed by Sabina Ptasznik; the spread of our badges on the Web and in person (a branding scheme with an important meme); an annual look at LORT seasons and stats in SoCal as related to gender parity and playwriting; the enthusiastic LA FPI support for female artists in the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2011 & 2012 (lead by Cindy Marie Jenkins, Jennie Webb, Jan O’Connor, Alyson Mead, Kat Primeau, and Jessica Abrams); sharing scenes via social media in order to increase accessibility and visibility; approaching theaters to ask how we can build relationships, fostered by Debbie Bolsky and Tami Tirgrath; meet-ups to see plays by women, coordinated by Task Force leader Diane Grant; online discussions, such as the fascinating one just hosted by Cindy Marie Jenkins with guests Etta Devine and Carolyn Sharp, about applying the Bechdel Test to the stage—a streamed broadcast that may (fingers crossed!) evolve into an ongoing monthly LA FPI/TV theatre conversation; etc. We have more people following us on Twitter, domestically and worldwide, than ever before. Lots of folks “Like” us on Facebook. And it’s all been created and executed by volunteers of professional theatre artists, for free!

Whew!

But has anything really changed? “Has LA FPI made any difference at all?” It’s a question I’m frequently asked and asking. When we compiled the SoCal LORT stats in May/June this year, for a while it looked as if there might be small gains of +1.5% or even +3.5%, in terms of female-authored shows for the 2012-2013 professional seasons. But then, in the end, it was pretty much the same as it ever was: still around 22% (or slightly less). Discouraging! “Is consciousness-raising effective anymore?” we wonder. Why doesn’t the excellent LA FPI blog have more commenters, at the very least?

In these moments, I have to remind myself: Statistics don’t tell the whole story—only part of it. Things have changed in this way: we are not sitting around and ignoring “the problem” any more. We were cautioned in the early days of LA FPI not to confuse “Activity” with “Progress.” Maybe not, but when you have this much ongoing work towards a goal (see above), there’s a shift of some sort—of attitude, of creativity, of focus, of opportunity, of spirit. It may take many more years before we achieve true gender parity for female theatre artists in the English-speaking theatre (or for women in the world at large). But we’re pretty sure that more Angelenos are aware of the issue and are working towards the goal of parity now. Solved? No. Better? Definitely.

Female theatre artists in New York continue to advocate for gender parity; the 2012 Lilly Awards held on June 4, 2012, at Playwrights Horizons, and the upcoming “We Are Theatre” protest on September 24, 2012, at the Cherry Lane Theater (organized by the Guerrilla Girls On Tour!, 50/50 by 2020, Occupy Broadway, and the Women’s Initiative members of the Dramatists Guild) are two timely examples.

Recent reports from the U.K. and Australia also mirror our struggles. Lyn Gardner, writing from London in The Guardian in February 2012, wonders if a universal blind submission policy is a possible remedy. A new report, “Women in Theatre,” released April 2012 by the Australian Council for the Arts, details the status of Australian women playwrights and female theatre artists. Those who authored the report found “no progress over the decade since 2001 and there is evidence that the situation for women in creative leadership deteriorated over that time” (pps 4-5). It’s a thorough, well-crafted study, and on page 49, there’s a “cross-sectoral approach” that suggests three pathways towards improvement in the professional theatre arena:

1) Information
2) Accountability
3) Vigilance

These points really resonated with us because they align with so much of our LA FPI work thus far. And it’s reassuring to know that others in the arts, including the Australian Council, recognize that the problem of gender parity in theatre is a grave one and must be remedied.

Here’s our promise. We will continue to spread the word; we are taking stock. And of this you can be certain: we won’t give up.


What are your ideas about how to create equal opportunities for women playwrights and female theatre artists? Join us on Wednesday, June 27, 7 p.m., for our next LA FPI gathering to share ideas and network, followed by an 8 p.m. reading of Paula Cizmar’s new play Strawberry, directed by Sabina Ptasznik in the new Tactical Reads program
. And please share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

 

Finding a Hollywood Fringe Festival Show through the LA FPI website

Short video on navigating our website to find a Hollywood Fringe Festival show to attend and support Women on Stage, and more specifically, Women on the Fringe! Also some helpful tips once you’re on the Hollywood Fringe Festival site to share and support!

Questions? Comments?

Want to post or say you’re with the LA FPI?

Comment below!

Ask a Literary Manager 2

We received great feedback from the first Ask A Literary Manager, and based on Staci’s comment I asked her to elaborate. Here is the original comment: 

By Staci Swedeen, September 14, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

Excellent feedback for playwrights! I’ve been the Literary Manager of Penguin Repetory Theatre, 30 miles north of New York City, for seven years and found myself nodding in agreement on your comments. Penguin is a small theatre that looks for small cast scripts. It was overwhelming and frustrating at how many writers would send in large cast play, apparently never bothering to read the submission guidelines or look at the kinds of plays we produced. After years of wading through scripts I finally took the Artistic Director’s advice and went to Agent Submission only.

And now my follow-up questions:

CMJ: Has moving to agent submissions only improved the quality of work or simply cut through those playwrights who didn’t pay attention to your guidelines?

 
SS: Seven years ago when I started as Literary Manager at Penguin Rep, a 108 seat theatre north of New York City, my goal was to begin a reading series called “Play With Your Food.”   I was looking to find four or five good plays that might be ready for production for the following season and test drive them before our audience. As a playwright myself, I advocated for open submissions because, damn it, how about giving us regular people a chance?
 
Within the six week submission window I received 758 scripts.  I’d asked for full length small casts and plays that “illuminated the human spirit.”  Over half of the plays sent were wildly inappropriate.  A small number of submissions were quite good and several were, to my ear, simply wonderful.  Imaginative, well told, surprising stories where something happens, where characters want something, strive for it, encounter obstacles and engage me.
 
It was because of the simply wonderful plays that I continued to have open submissions for the next five years. I thought that if I tweaked the guidelines and narrowed the chute, more of the wonderful would rain down.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.  Scripts continued to line my walls.  Finally Joe Brancato, Penguin’s Artistic Director, said “Stop torturing yourself.”
 
Moving to agent submissions did eliminate receiving large boxes of completely inappropriate scripts.  It also set the bar at “acceptable” in terms of spelling, listing a cast of characters and other basic formatting issues.   However, every agent submission isn’t wonderful. I know that there are excellent writers who don’t have agents and I feel for them, I really do.  The wall they have to scale is a high one.

CMJ: Do you ever make an exception to agent submissions?
 
SS: Penguin Rep has been in existence 34 years, so we have a large theatrical network.  Scripts still come over the transom with personal recommendations or through personal connections.  We have a preference for working with writers from New York or the surrounding area.

CMJ: What is the ratio of new plays to known plays at Penguin Rep?
 
SS: Penguin produces four main stage shows per season (May-October) and presents readings of five plays for the “Play With Your Food.”  Although it can vary from year to year, the majority of these are new plays. 

CMJ: Are there any other red flags you would like to add to Mr. Epperson’s comments?
 
SS: Mr.  Epperson really ran the bases in his thorough and thoughtful comments.  I would add one thing – also at the risk of being labeled a prude (and with due respect to Mr. Mamet.) Gratuitous vulgar language is simply that – gratuitous, and often unintentionally comic. The more vulgar language is used, the less its impact.  Even in the most angry or offensive characters it’s rarely the foul language that heighten the situation, it’s the dramatic support and situation supplied by the writer and tapped into by the actor that cause the fur to fly.
 
Unlike Mr. Epperson, I can’t claim to have responded to every script that has been submitted.  Due to sheer volume I simply wasn’t able to keep up. I have passed scripts along to other theatres where I think they might find a home.  I still have a box of scripts that I’ve kept thinking – gee, maybe someday or someplace this might work.  And I have become acquainted with some dedicated, talented and inspiring writers.
 
One last note. As someone who has received a rejection and an acceptance for the same play on the same day, I acknowledge that the world of playwriting is very subjective. Just because your play isn’t a perfect fit for Penguin doesn’t mean another theatre won’t find your work compelling and worth producing.  Research theatres, read the guidelines, keep submitting.  There are no guarantees. But you can certainly increase your odds.
CMJ: Many thanks for such a fast turnaround, Staci!
 
Staci Swedeen
read our new Knoxville theatre blog at

Find me at about.me/staciswedeen

Ask A Literary Manager

Ever wanted to know what Literary Managers’ pet peeves are? Steven Epperson took up our interview request. It’s lengthy and very helpful. Please comment on any of the below. He may be open to more.
All italicizing is mine for ease in reading. – CMJ

Impact Theatre buttons

SE: First off, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to ask these questions. I’ve been the Literary Manager for Impact Theatre for over 5 years, and Literary Manager for The Asylum Theatre for over 7 years, and in my time reading scripts I’ve always wanted to have an opportunity to express to playwrights how they can better submit their work. This is a great idea, and I look forward to reading your blog post.

CMJ: Are there any red flags to submissions, obvious or subtle?

SE:  Yes.
Misspellings/wrong word usage in the cover letter and/or synopsis. I’ve never seen a
play that was any good when those problems happen.
Rambling cover letter/synopsis. Keep cover letters to one paragraph, keep synopsis to one page. Max. Less is more.
No cast list = a not very good play. Every single time.
Resubmitting a script that I’ve sent a rejection letter on, and sending that resubmission to the Artistic Director directly. Anything she gets, goes straight to me, and I keep records of what I’ve read and what I have/haven’t rejected. Don’t try to get around or go over the head of the person who rejected your play.
Submitting a script after a playwright has received a rejection letter from me, and
demonstrating attitude or anger in the cover letter for their new submission. There are two acceptable responses to a rejection notice: 1) “Thank you for considering my play.” 2) Nothing. I know that it stinks to get rejected. Be professional. Being difficult might feel good the moment a playwright hits that ‘Send’ button, but it will not do anybody any good at all in the long term.

 

Jonathan Brooks, Maria Giere Marquis, and Jai Sahai in the regional premiere of Cameron McNary's Of Dice and Men at Impact Theatre Credit: Cheshire Isaacs

CMJ: Please give an idea of the sorts of plays that immediately grab your attention, and how a submission package can accomplish that without bending the guidelines?

SE: I’m chuckling as I write my answer to your first question, because, for me, this is the
most difficult question to answer. Impact Theatre produces a huge variety of work: comedies, dramas, adaptations of classics, to name a few. We’ve never done a musical, but we’re not opposed to doing one either. (Over the past several years I’ve started reading several musicals and thought, “This might be the first Impact musical!” Then, I get to the end and I think, “Um. No.” ….  the core writing elements (story, dialogue, character development) simply weren’t up to par.  In a musical, of course there need to be good songs.  However, no matter how good the songs are, if the core elements of the writing aren’t there, the script just doesn’t work theatrically.  Again, neither I nor either of the theatre companies that I work with would be absolutely opposed to producing a musical.  However, one has not yet been submitted to us that, in my opinion, would work.)

What grabs more attention, always, is quality writing. An interesting story with well crafted characters and compelling dialogue. I realize that sounds like a cheap answer, but that is the primary thing that I look for. I don’t look for specific genres, I don’t look for comedies over dramas or vice-versa. While we try to schedule variety, Impact wouldn’t be opposed to doing a season composed entirely of comedies or dramas. Impact Theatre produces four plays a year, one of which is an adaptation of a ‘classic’ that is adapted and directed by our Artistic Director, Melissa Hillman. So, we have three production slots open each season. What do I want to go into those three slots? The three best damn scripts we have that are available to us.

Impact Theatre only produces full-length works. It’s just too difficult to find individual one-acts that can be paired together to present a cohesive night of theatre. IF a playwright wanted to submit two one-acts that they felt would work together in a single evening, I’m more than happy to take a look. However, otherwise one-acts almost always get a pass from me. IF I like the writing well enough, in the rejection letter that I send out, (and every play that I don’t pass on does get a rejection letter), I will make a point to ask if the playwright has any full-length material that they wish to submit.

Here’s the submission package that makes me happiest: an e-mail (Impact Theatre ONLY accepts submissions that are e-mailed.) that includes: the script (you would be surprised how many playwrights forget to attach their play) in a format that my computer can work with (Microsoft Word of PDF ONLY. I’ve been receiving a lot of submissions in Word Perfect, and my computer just doesn’t know what to do with those.), a cover letter, and, if the playwright wishes to include one, a resume. For Impact Theatre submissions, that’s pretty much all one needs. One thing that I would strongly advise is that playwrights should NOT adopt a One-Size-Fits-All philosophy. Find out from each theatre company they submit to what THAT theatre company wants in their submission packages. Some of the things that I don’t care whether they’re included or not: resumes, reviews, letters of recommendation, etc., might mean an automatic rejection from other

If you don’t mind, I’ll break down each of the elements that I mentioned above. As I said, e-mail the script in a format that most computers can work with, i. e. Microsoft Word or PDF. (PDF works on pretty much every computer, so it’s a good default choice.) Submit the ENTIRE script, unless otherwise specified to only send the first 10 pages or to only submit a dialogue sample. When I say that playwrights should include a ‘cover letter’, what I really want is for them to include a ‘cover note’. That means: keep it short. I’d say one paragraph (short paragraph) max. If a playwright thinks that they need more than one paragraph in their cover letter, they really don’t. Introduce themselves, tell me the title and any recent productions of the play. A brief (BRIEF) synopsis is fine, but, keep it brief. Playwrights should keep in mind that I’m more interested in reading their play, than I am in reading their cover letters.

CMJ:  What are some immediate turn-offs in submissions?
SE: I once sat down and wrote a diatribe (it had been a long week) about the different things that playwrights do that can, and do, turn me off to their work. I won’t bore you with the whole thing, but here are the high (low) lights:

Misspelling my name in the cover letter. This happened this past week. Now, some people will say, “Why does that matter?” It matters because if a playwright can’t be bothered to spell my name right, that demonstrates a lack of interest, and a lack of attention to detail. It may also be the sign of an attitude that Impact Theatre isn’t interested in dealing with. To be blunt, it’s the best way to make a bad first impression.

Misspellings, bad grammar, wrong word usage: yes, playwrights are writing speech, and the way people, especially Americans, speak does not always follow the rules of writing. (Cause instead of because, for example.) I understand that, and I’m not trying to be the grammar/spelling police. However, having sloppy writing mechanics is unprofessional, and I’ve never, ever, read a script where the playwright had bad writing mechanics where the story and the characters themselves were well crafted. I’m not talking about the occasional typo. I’m talking about consistent, repeated errors that a professional writer should know to not do. Bottom line, it just looks bad, and I’m going to pass on a play that looks bad.

Non-standard fonts or formatting: make your writing as easy to read as possible. If I have to struggle in any way with your play, including the style in which it is presented/ written, I’m going to pass. In addition, when you e-mail a script, don’t send each scene as a separate document. Don’t have the title page and/or the cast list as a separate document. In other words: send your script as a SINGLE attachment, please. This may sound trivial, but having to constantly stop and open a new document interferes with the flow of the story, and can be aggravating.

Submissions that don’t follow stated guidelines: Read the guidelines for submissions and follow them. One of the theatre companies that I work with periodically produces a 10-minute comedy play series. When we put out a request for submissions for this 10-minute comedy play series, the avalanche of stuff that we get that is neither 10-minute nor comedy is extremely exasperating. I’ve actually seen submissions of 50 page scripts. No matter who you are, guidelines apply to you, they apply to me, they apply to anybody submitting material for anything for which guidelines are out there.

Not including a cast list, unless it’s a one-person show: I see this all the time, and I cannot understand why playwrights would not include a cast list with their scripts. As a Literary Manager, I want to focus on the story, and not have to waste time trying to figure who all these random characters are who keep on wandering in and out of the scenes.

Unnecessary/gratuitous nudity: I’m not a prude. I have no problem with nudity. (Some of my best friends have been naked.) If there’s a reason for people to be naked in your play, that’s cool. HOWEVER, if the naked person doesn’t have anything to do with the story, don’t do it. IF it is necessary to the story, and there’s a way to stage it legally, that’s one thing. Gratuitous is entirely another, and we’re not interested.

An overabundance of stage directions: If pressed, I’d say that this is my #1 most frustrating thing. Having line after line after line after line of stage directions interrupts the flow and rhythm that I’m trying to discern from a playwright’s writing. Trying to get into a playwright’s story, trying to find out if the playwright is creating characters with individual voices, trying to see if there is something about the writing that would be compelling on a stage all get ground to a halt when I have to constantly stop reading the dialogue and read stage directions. I think that for some people, getting the action as they see it in their mind onto the paper or the computer screen is important because those writers need to have it written out in order for them to keep what’s going on organized. I understand that, and that’s fine. For writers who need that, I would strongly suggest removing those stage directions before sending their scripts out. Having massive amounts of stage directions in one’s script does nothing to help me decipher the quality of the story that the playwright is trying to tell. If no other information gets out from this blog post, I hope this does: have as few stage directions as is possible.

Impossible or difficult to manage set designs: Most small theatre companies have neither the budget, nor the space, nor the ability to reconstruct Notre Dame Cathedral.
Most small theatre companies would struggle to reconstruct your living room. Also, recently I’ve seen a number of script in which the author wants a real automobile of whatever make/model/sort onstage. Again, most small theatre companies could not get a car into their building, much less onto their performing area. I think that the biggest failing I see from a number of playwrights is that their writing makes it appear that they don’t understand other aspects of theatre, especially when it comes to sets, props and sometimes costumes.

Writing plays set in places you’ve never been to: This is less of a problem now, but a couple of years ago its seemed like everybody and their grandmother were writing plays set in a hotel or motel or trailer park in the Mojave/Arizona/New Mexico/Texas/Mexican/California/Nevada desert. I don’t know how this happened, and I don’t know why this happened. When one is not familiar with the environment they’re writing about, it shows. That being said, ENOUGH with plays being set in New York City. Feel free to set your play in the other 99% of the country.

CMJ: Does it matter to you if playwrights have a website, Facebook, Twitter presence? How much do you want to know about the playwright themselves if you’re interested in their work?

SE: Honestly, for me, it doesn’t really matter at all. If Impact Theatre decides to produce a play, then, yes, we want to know everything we can about the playwright that we’re going to be working with. Until we’re at the point where we’re ready to begin that process, and I’m being completely honest here, it just doesn’t matter all that much to us.

Along those lines, it used to bother me when playwrights didn’t have their resumes in an easily readable format. It used to, until one day I realized that a playwright’s resume wasn’t going to be the deciding factor as to whether or not Impact Theatre produced their play, or whether or not I passed their play on up the ladder. Once I realized that, I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at playwright’s resumes. If a resume is included in a submission I’ll still LOOK at it, but it’s really more of a glance than anything else: “Let’s see, any names or places that I recognize? Yes? No? All right, time to read this play.”

CMJ: What is the process for choosing a season at your theaters, and is there any way that
playwrights can aid you in that process?

SE: The process for choosing a season at Impact Theatre is as follows: every script that is submitted, whether sent directly to me by the playwright or not, goes to me. I read every script that comes in. My job is NOT to say, “Yes.”. My job is to say, “No.”, and I say, “No.”, a lot. If I don’t say, “No.” to a script, that script is passed on to Melissa Hillman, the Artistic Director for Impact Theatre. She reviews the scripts I send her, and she will either say, “No.”, or she will put the script to the side for consideration by the entire company. Once or twice a year, more if necessary, the company will gather to read plays out loud and discuss them. The group as a whole decides what plays are being produced each season, with the exception of the one classic that we do each year. The classics are the purview of Melissa, and she selects those herself.

In terms of the selection process described above, there’s not anything playwrights can do to influence that in and of itself. What playwrights CAN do is: be patient. Be patient because the one area where I’m lacking is in figuring out a way to communicate with playwrights when their play gets moved up the ladder instead of being rejected. I’ve tried multiple times, but I have a hard time composing a letter that says, “We like your play, but we’re NOT promising to produce it, and we might not, but we might, so . . . thanks!”, in 1-2 paragraphs. Part of the problem may be that I’m overthinking it, and that’s my issue. Anyway, be patient. If a playwright doesn’t hear back from Impact Theatre regarding their play, it’s a case of no news is not necessarily bad news.

CMJ: Steven added this after I asked a follow-up question:

SE: If you don’t mind, one thing that I forgot to mention was the environments that theatre companies produce in.  I think the space(s) that theatre companies stage their productions in is not often considered by playwrights when they are writing scripts.  The majority of plays that I see are written for proscenium style theatres, while most small theatre companies (I don’t have statistics at hand to verify this, but Melissa Hillman, the Artistic Director for Impact has talked about this a number of times, and I take her at her word.), produce plays in some variation of ‘black box’ spaces.  For example, Impact Theatre currently stages our shows in the basement of a pizza parlor.  With an 8′ high ceiling.  This means that no matter how hard we tried it would simply be impossible to stage a play in which having a two or more level set was required.  (Unless we cast the show entirely with Ewoks, and that would bring up a whole other set of issues.)  Impact has passed on at least three scripts that we really, REALLY wanted to produce, but couldn’t due to the particular restrictions of our theatre.  Now, I am NOT expecting all playwrights to have, or request, floor plans or scale drawings of the the theatres they’re going to submit plays to before they begin writing.  What I am suggesting is that playwrights be more open to creating plays that can be staged in ways that are more flexible than only in a proscenium theatre.  Doing so give both sides what they want:  it gives theatre companies more plays to select from, and it gives playwrights more potential venues in which to have their plays produced.

CMJ: Many thanks to Steven for his time, and please do comment with questions below. I’m working on some other Literary Managers and hope to give all playwrights a larger perspective on the people reading and accepting/rejecting their work.

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