One way to make a theater love you: send them what they want
Here’s what Theatre Three says they want in a submission:
the cast requirement
an overview of the settings
sample dialogue scenes
and a production history (if one exists)
Who likes to write synopses?
Do you like to write synopses for your plays? I don’t. So I’m glad that The Dramatists Guild Resource Directory 2010 has a section on how to write a synopsis.
BTW, if you haven’t joined the Dramatists Guild, you probably should. The Resource Directory has lists of all kinds of opportunities for playwrights, as well as useful practical information, such as how to write a synopsis. You can also get sample standard contracts for royalties and commissions and things like that. If you ever have a problem negotiating a contract, they will help you resolve it (I haven’t had that problem yet).
One suggestion I’ll definitely take is to have people who’ve seen the play, whom I trust to give good feedback, read the synopsis and make suggestions.
Here’s the most recent synopsis I wrote for “Lessons from Moonshine.”
Imagine that crack cocaine, laced with poisons, is killing people in your neighborhood, and that you can make and sell pure crack that wouldn’t kill people. Would you do it?
In Prohibition-era small-town Washington State, people are being poisoned and dying from badly made bootleg alcohol, and the economy is suffering in the rural, post World War I slump. A small group of nuns is struggling to keep their convent running and fulfill their mission to help and serve the community. So they decide to run a still.
Of course, it’s illegal, Prohibition being the law of the land. But the Sisters are able to keep their infirmary and school open, thanks to the money they make from selling their alcohol. The good Catholic people in the area are grateful to have a good-quality alternative to the bootleggers’ poisonous product. Even the Sheriff lets the Sisters go about their business. In the rural economic slump after World War I, what alternative do they have?
But the younger Sister who suggested running the still, clashes with the older Sister who controls the convent’s finances. The convent struggles with financial success, their vow of poverty, and a growing spiritual crisis. A terrible accident with the still forces them to examine their conscience, and to reject the worldly dreams that have harmed the convent even as the still has saved it.
Reading this over now, I notice that it doesn’t focus on the main characters in the play. Also, I think putting on the characters’ names would make it more interesting, more personal. And it doesn’t tell the ending of the play, which the Dramatists Guild guidelines say you should.
In Prohibition-era, rural Washington State, Sister Joseph works hard at her job as financial overseer for the small convent she’s a member of. But when none of her ideas will save the convent from running out of money and shutting down, the youngest sister, Sister Rose, has the winning idea: to run a still. Besides generating income, they’ll provide an alternative to poisonous bootleg liquor and save men in the area from ruined health and death.
Reluctantly, Mother Catherine gives Sister Rose her permission to build the still. The convent begins to pay off its debts and make repairs they have put off for years. But success and money tempt Sister Joseph away from her vow to live in poverty. She pushes Sister Rose to make more and more alcohol.
The Sisters are troubled by sudden wealth, and distracted from their mission of serving God. Then a terrible accident with the still injures Sister Rose and nearly kills Sister Joseph. Finally, she confesses her need for the money, to build a beautiful church so she can find the inner peace she has struggled without for 20 years.
Sister Joseph and Sister Rose come to a cautious truce: to run the still just enough longer to repair the damage they have done. Mother Catherine says only that she will consider it. The nuns begin the service of Compline, with its timely warning: “Be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary the Devil as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
I’ll send this to people I trust who’ve seen the play, see what they think.
Do you have any feedback? Post a comment here.
The cast requirement
5W (2M optional)
Mother Catherine, mother superior of convent, 53
Sister Joseph, procuratrix, 47
Sister Rose, infirmarian, 24
Sister James, sacristan, 33
Sister Eucharista, 72
Well. I could be more flexible with the ages. 🙂
5W (2M optional)
Mother Catherine, mother superior of convent, early 50’s
Sister Joseph, procuratrix, late 40’s
Sister Rose, infirmarian, mid 20’s
Sister James, sacristan, early 30’s
Sister Eucharista, 60s or older
When I’ve cast readings of this play, I’ve noticed problems finding older female actors, so I was especially more flexible on the age for Sister Eucharista.
Then all of the actors play other roles, unless the theater casts the optional two men.
Sheriff Truman, 45, played by the actress who plays Sister James
Treasury Man #1, played by the actress who plays Sister Eucharista
Treasury Man #2, played by the actress who plays Sister James
Woman (Mrs. Wastradowski), 42, played by the actress who plays Sister James
Daughter (Mary), 19, played by the actress who plays Sister Eucharista
Man #1, played by the actress who plays Sister Joseph (non-speaking role)
Man #2, played by the actress who plays Sister Eucharista (non-speaking role)
Man #3, played by the actress who plays Mother Catherine (non-speaking role)
Man #4, played by the actress who plays Sister Eucharista (non-speaking role)
Woman #2 (VO)
Note: most of the characters other than the nuns are played by the actresses switching roles in mid-scene, and switching back; no costume changes are necessary. For Man #1, Man #2, Man #3, Man #4, and Woman (in scene 3), simple costume changes may be used.
An overview of the settings
“Lessons from Moonshine” uses a unit set, also sometimes called a flexible set.
Flexible set. Settings:
Mother superior’s office
New church (unfinished)
Three settings are used frequently: the mother superior’s office, the chapel, and the still; these can be set up for the entire play, depending on the size of your stage. Other settings, such as the new church and the hallway, can be just lighted areas on stage. The garden and infirmary can be set up and struck as needed.