For those who don’t know, I am not only a playwright, but the Artistic Director (slash/Mad Woman) behind Little Black Dress INK – a female playwright producing org that produces an annual peer-reviewed short play fest. Over the years we’ve grown our fest from a small group of playwrights produced in Prescott, AZ, to a now nation-wide new play reading series with productions slated in both Prescott AND Lafayette, LA in 2016. I couldn’t be more proud of all the efforts our supporters, artist, and producers have put into this fest—and I am ecstatic that we continue to grow.
This year, we’re adding an online component to the festival—one that will allow us to produce online versions of full-length plays. It’s called the ONSTAGE: ON-AIR podcast, and our very first one is now live!
Since it’s our inaugural podcast, we chose to focus on interviews with some of our VIP artists, and included excerpts from past ONSTAGE plays. You should definitely check it out – the women we work with are all kinds of amazing! And the great thing about podcasts is that you can listen while you’re working out, driving, cooking, and pretty much anything else-ing!
It’s that time of year again: Time to crack those knuckles and get down to perfecting your submissions for the bevvy of 2016 playwriting fellowships and development conferences whose submission windows are open this month/next! I’ve been glued to my computer these past few weeks, working on creative, witty, and breath-catching artistic statements/mission statements/biographical statements/and statements about why I deserve an invitation here/there/EVERY-friggin-WHERE…
Yeah, no, actually I’m pulling my hair out like the rest of you, completely unsure if I’m coming across as a desirable candidate or just (heaven forbid)…
Immorten Joe from Mad Max:Fury Road
Well, allow me to throw another submission opportunity your way, intrepid lady playwrights… An opportunity that doesn’t require a statement – just an awesome short script and a willingness to take part in the selection process as a peer reviewer! Yes, Little Black Dress INK is accepting submissions for its 2016 festival—and here are all the nail-biting details to prepare you for total festival domination!
Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road
LBDI’s Female Playwright ONSTAGE Festival is entering its 5th year, bringing new reading and production opportunities to female playwrights! Submissions will be accepted (following the criteria outlined below) until November 15th, 2015. Participating playwrights agree to read and evaluate one another’s scripts in our unique peer-review process. Semi-finalists will receive readings in various US cities, with winning plays read in both LA and NYC before going on to production in Arizona.
Please read the following submission details before submitting—plays must fit with festival theme and adhere to festival guidelines in order to be considered.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I used to hate 10-minute plays.
I don’t know why exactly… perhaps it’s because—as a playwright—I found it a real challenge to create a satisfying story in just 10 pages. My first 10-minute play attempts always seemed to bleed into more pages, and felt unsatisfying in their rapid resolutions. But as I’ve gone on to do more and more with short plays, I realize that the thing that used to bother me about 10 minute plays was that I just wasn’t very good at them yet.
I’d like to think I’ve gotten better writing short pieces—of conserving space and creating tighter, more exciting worlds—and that by becoming more aware of the real-estate value a blank page actually represents, my longer pieces have become tighter, more exciting, and richer as well.
And as a result, I’ve become a huge fan of these tasty little 10-minute morsels of playwright excellence. So much so, that I dedicate a sizable portion of my year to supporting and producing other short pieces… and yesterday I saw 15 truly awesome short plays brought to life here in Waco and can’t believe that I have to winnow this list down to just 11 or 12 pieces for production.
I’ve written a lot about producing from a playwright’s perspective this week, and I hope it was helpful to those of you who—like myself—have felt stuck, frustrated, or fed up with the stasis of waiting. But I also hope that, even if you have no intention of ever donning a producer’s cap, that you feel like you’ve gotten a little insight how/why some of these festivals work the way they do. We’re all in theatre because we love something about it’s incredible contradictions and magic, but the true power of theatre is the unity of intention it requires on all who come together in order to make it happen.
With that, I’m wrapping up my blogging week in love of writing, writers, and all who take joy from the realization of imagination! If you want to stay in touch, you can follow me @LadyPlaywright or you can follow Little Black Dress INK @LBlackDressINK – we’ll be posting more updates on this year’s fest as it heads to LA for a reading of our winning plays at Samuel French Book Shop on July 11th, and then production in Prescott, AZ August 6-9.
And then we’ll get started on the 2016 Fest, and do it all over again!
I got started in theatre as an actress. I loved being on stage, but I hated auditioning because that very necessary internal confidence that keeps a persom from being a neurotic mess was rarely in full bloom for me. Instead, I’d pretend I felt confident at auditions and then quietly go home where I could pick apart every choice I’d made and obsess in peace.
Then I directed my first show, which meant I was casting a show for the first time, and in so doing, I had a revelation: for the first time, I understood just how much time I had wasted locked in actor anxiety about things I had very little control over. After that experience, I auditioned with a lot more boldness, confidence, and less personal worth on the line. It was freeing.
I woke up this morning reflecting on this, because we at Little Black Dress INK recently announced our ONSTAGE Finalists and I thought it might be interesting to know how I came to narrow down what was a very awesome list of 36 plays to just 15.
First, it’s important to know that we use a peer review process to select our initial semi-finalists, so all of our participating playwrights are responsible for determining the first cut. After that, I consider peer-review scores and Partner Producer nominations along with the points I’m outlining below to create what I hope will be an awesome and successful line-up.
So, in the interest of helping alleviate some writerly anxieties, I’d like to talk today about what I’ve learned—as a playwright—in the five years I’ve been producing new plays:
First, proofing your work is important, but a typo here or there won’t sink the ship! I can’t believe how many playwrights send in work that just looks like a hot mess. If you don’t take my time as a reader seriously, why should I take your play seriously? Make your plays easy to read – format it in a way that is friendly to the eye and go over it for typos and grammar! BUT, that said, if a play is truly unusual, gripping, or awesome, I’m much more likely to excuse a few formatting hiccups. That’s just the way it is. I would never not-produce a piece that I loved just because there were a few misspelled words. On the other hand, most of the time, the work that is the most compelling is usually also in top readable shape.
Contrary to popular belief, we don’t just select the “very best” pieces. If I’m creating a festival line-up, I’ve got to build a satisfying one – and that means a mix of genres and topics and tones… I may have nine FABULOUS dramas, but if I produce an entire evening of dramas, my audience is going to be exhausted. The same holds true if I have multiple pieces that tackle the same subject: even if they’re fantastic, I’m only going to put one of those in the line-up because including too many similar pieces in one night can feel redundant.
I like to use monologues in my fest, so I do. Monologues have been a really nice addition to our festivals – they are perfect curtain pieces that keep the audience engaged while we set the stage for the next piece. So, when I select my final line-up, monologues are something I put a lot of energy into. The other fabulous discovery I’ve made as a producer is how incorporating short scenelets (a 10-minute play comprised of several mini-scenes) into our fest between plays can provide a delightful through line in what is usually a fractured event. This is just my own preference – and other producers will have theirs. The reason I mention it is that if I’m selecting 5 monologues to help cover set changes, I might not be able to include that 9th totally awesome play in the line-up.
“Best” is relative. This one is a no-brainer, but I still mention it because I think even though we all know it, it helps to be reminded once in a while. Personally, I like plays that feel like they can only live on the stage. I like plays that challenge or delight me, plays that feel fresh and unique and unlike anything I’ve seen or read before… But what’s the common thread in all that? Me, myself, and I. What’s “fresh” to me isn’t guaranteed to feel fresh to she/he/you – so it’s an unpredictable factor that a playwright can’t control and shouldn’t fret over. What I like about our peer-review process is that it identifies a broad spectrum of work that is outstanding – not just from my own personal perspective, but from a variety of eyes – but as I winnow that list down to the final selection, my perspective comes back to fore. You could take our same group of 2015 semi-finalists and create a multitude of awesome festival line-ups, each uniquely reflective of what different producers were looking for… and there’s just nothing a writer can do to change that. Which is why the best thing a writer can do is write work they believe in, send that work out in the best shape they can get it into, and repeat. Meanwhile, we’ll be here sifting through the incredible amount of awesome work, trying our best to create a line-up that we feel best matches our mission, our audience, and—sometimes—our own personal aesthetic.
And there it is – my ten cents on festival selection. I hope it’s of interest and of help to you, my fellow writers!
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone respond to a playwright bemoaning a lack of productions with a tired “Why don’t you just self-produce?”
As though self-producing is the end-all, be-all to theatrical frustration.
Have a drawer full of unseen scripts? Self Produce!
Tired of slogging along agent-less? Self Produce!
Wish people were more familiar with your “brand”? Self (you got it) Produce!
But producing takes money.
Sometimes, depending on the types of plays you write, it takes a great deal of money.
And if you do manage to gather the space, creative team, marketing materials, and all-necessary-else to get your production up and running, unless you’re in a major theatrical city, the chances that the production will lead to anyone of consequence seeing it are pretty slim.
Which is why I think we need to stop telling playwrights to simply produce their own work as if it will satisfy the burning desire to speak to the world that compels them to spend countless hours crafting works that can only be realized through the efforts of many. Instead, let’s look for ways to create a stronger network that leads to continued creative evolution and more production opportunities.
And sure, that sounds lovely, but of course the question will be “But HOW?!”
I think we go back to that initial producing instinct and look at what we can do on the micro level as playwrights that satisfies, strengthens, and propels us forward.
Four years ago I was a relatively new playwright who’d been gaining accolades, but not productions. In engaging my critical self, I came to a few conclusions:
I was a new, unheard of playwright who wrote fantastical plays with big casts
“Fantastical” and “Big Cast” aren’t small-company friendly
Being a new playwright, I needed to write something that would be doable on a smaller budget, in a smaller venue, so that I could build some theatrical street cred and graduate from the Staged Reading Vortex.
So I sat down and began Ana and the Closet – a small cast, abstract (re: no huge set needed!) play that needed projections, and needed a puppet, and needed to rain ash and end on a precipice with a black river… Yeah, my “simple” piece wound up being one of the most visually demanding in my catalog.
I just don’t write “simple” plays. At their core, my work may be about simple things, but I’m too heavy into visual metaphor and this “crazy” notion that theatre should show me something I can’t see on TV or at the movies…
Ana and the Closet went on to land a number of exciting reading opps and got me within a hair’s breadth of the Jerome Fellowship (damn that hair!) but ultimately I was left feeling unsatisfied because the play, while garnering attention, still wasn’t getting produced.
The lesson, of course, was that you need to write the work you believe in – and I do that, which keeps me sane. But the challenge still remains, how do I satisfy the burning drive to create if the things I’m creating aren’t being seen through to completion? A play isn’t a play until it’s breathing on stage!
Being an impatient young artist who was terrified of the long haul, I wanted to get MORE done FASTER! But I didn’t have any money with which to produce my own work…
So I decided I would wrest control by creating a short play festival and make other playwrights happy by producing their work. Because short play fests are a lot easier and more affordable to produce. And because I wanted to know more of my peers, to learn about their work, and to satisfy my own need to see something through to completion while I wait for someone else to bring my work to fruition.
And as a result, the Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Project I began 4 years ago is blooming! We had readings in six cities this year, with two more to come before the fest culminates with a production in AZ. We’re continuing to grow, and I couldn’t be happier to see our playwrights connecting with one another on social media, cheering one another on, and supporting each other along the way!
I’m still writing my own plays, but I’m also forging ahead on this other exciting project that has legs, has a beating heart, and is creating opportunities for other writers.
So, sure, you can self-produce, but you can also invest in other writers who challenge and inspire you, who cheer you on and whom you applaud and root for. It’s lonely out here in the writing world, but it doesn’t have to be! And there are a multitude of ways in which we can be more proactive on our writer’s journey that help satisfy our urge to see things through in a business where it isn’t always possible to do so for ourselves.
Just a few thoughts as I begin this week’s LAFPI blog duty… I’m sure there will be more!
So I hopped on the blog yesterday to talk about my producerly empowerment, and what do I wind up doing? Complaining about the fight to find space in LA. Tsk, tsk, tsk!
But the tallying/writing about it brought the truth to the surface of my frustrated mind… I’m still waiting. On theatres. For space. I hate waiting. It makes me feel stuck.
And I hate being stuck.
Which is when it hit me: Who said readings have to happen inside theatres?
And that little epiphany put me right back on track and in control… because if we stop limiting ourselves to the confines of the current patriarchal/inbred theatrical hierarchy (and I mean that in the most respectful way possible), aren’t we in the drivers seat?
(And totally/terrifyingly responsible for the outcome… but that’s a different problem :-P)
It seems then, that the frustrated female playwright need only some peers, some ingenuity, and some proverbial balls to get things up and running for herself… then she needs some running shoes and some long jump practice so she can bound around and over the flaming hurdles in her way.
I don’t know if I’m in marathon shape yet, but I’ve certainly got the shoes.
Which is one of the things I actually enjoy about producing – the creative problem solving it requires. And maybe that’s what I like about playwriting too – stirring things up that require Big Answers… not knowing at the onset how I will tell the tale, only that I must tell it.
So, I don’t quite have all the answers for how I’m going to get my Female Playwrights ONSTAGE project the national wings I know it will someday flourish with, but I’m confident that if I keep fighting for it and running with it, I’ll find the festival evolving and developing those wings as we go…
Which is all to say, I figured out where the festival will be read in LA… and it feels perfect and exciting and surprisingly multi-dimensional for where its at in its development.