Don’t pay to submit your plays

The other day, I got involved in an argument on a LinkedIn group about fees for playwrights to submit their plays.

I think that playwrights should not have to pay fees to submit their plays. Yes, I know that festivals cost money to put on. Yes, I know the money has to come from somewhere. But no, playwrights should not have to finance festivals.

Some festivals defend it by saying that requiring a fee means that only people who are serious will submit. That’s not true. All it means is that people who are willing to pay the fee will submit.

Some festivals defend it by saying that they have to pay their readers, so they have to require fees. They may have to pay their readers, but it’s not true that playwrights have to supply the money.

Some festivals defend it by saying that the playwrights benefit, so they should pay the fees. That’s not true. The playwrights whose plays are chosen may benefit, but the rest don’t.

The only festivals I submit to that require submission fees are those that offer significant work-shopping, or that are really prestigious. I don’t care if the fee is just $3, if the festival doesn’t offer work-shopping, or isn’t prestigious, I don’t submit.

Playwrights – don’t submit to festivals that require fees. There are plenty of opportunities that don’t charge fees. Make your exceptions if you want to, but let them be few.

And theaters that charge submission fees – yes, I’ve found a few – don’t submit to them.

Don’t think you have to pay to play. It takes away your power.

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How to find theaters who will love your plays

Do you want to get more productions, with less heartache and less money wasted on postage and printing? Target your submissions carefully. Here’s how to do it.

I’ve posted a bunch of ideas about this in the category How to find Theaters who will Love your Plays. This is a summary.

Figure out who would like your play.

This can be kinds of people, i.e., Wall Street bankers, environmentalists, Catholics. It can also be theaters, i.e., theaters who produce plays that provoke discussion about social issues, or theaters who produce farces.

When you have readings of your plays, ask the audience who they think would like your plays. Let your theater friends read the play, and ask them the same question.

Search for those theaters.

Be a detective – Google is your friend. Wall Street bankers live in the New York area, environmentalists in Washington and Oregon, Catholics in the Southwest and the Northeast.

Or, you can search for theaters who have produced plays that are similar to yours.

Make sure they take submissions.

Look around for information about whether they take submissions. My advice, if they don’t say outright that they accept submissions, don’t submit to them. If they don’t say outright that they do, they probably don’t.

Also, submitting your plays is a lot of work, so don’t waste your time, postage, and printing costs on theaters who will just put your submission in the trash.

Investigate the theaters that take submissions.

Double check that your play is right for them. Look at the theater’s production history; see if they do plays similar to yours.

Go to their page for purchasing tickets, see if you can find information about what kind of stage they have and what size house. If your play needs to be produced in the round, a theater with a proscenium isn’t the best place for your play.

You can even look for reviews of their productions, for more clues about what they like.

Format your script in some version of standard format.

The way you present yourself will tell a theater whether or not they want to work with you. So use a format that looks like you know what you’re doing.

Does standard format seem like an unnecessary pain in the ass?  It doesn’t have to be.  It can be easy with some Helpful Software.

Submit what they ask for.

Submit what they ask for, and only what they ask for.

They might ask for the entire script, or they might ask for an excerpt.

They might ask for a synopsis. Here’s some information on How to write a Synopsis.

They might ask for a cover letter. Here’s How to write Cover Letters.

Make it easy for them to let you know they received your submission.

If you’re submitting by mail, include a self-addressed postcard. If the theater is in the same country as you, put a stamp on the postcard. If the theater is not in the same country as you, you could include some money to cover the cost of the stamp. The US doesn’t sell international reply coupons anymore, but maybe your country does.

On the postcard, write some note to yourself so you know which theater is sending it back to you. I usually write something like “Play X received by Theater Y.”

Wish your submission bon voyage, and move on.

Move on to investigating another place to submit your play. Or return to a play you’re working on.

Don’t contact the theater to see if they received your script. Literary managers and artistic directors are swamped with submissions; don’t make their life harder by bugging them. They’ll get back to you when they can.

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Welcome to our newest follower!

Roxana Arama, thank you for following Playwright’s Muse!

Everyone, you should look at Roxana’s blog, at She writes about history, using history in your writing, and growing up in Romania.

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It worked! — a better scene from reading each character’s dialog

So, maybe you remember that I’ve been posting about a dialogue-editing technique I learned about at the Dramatists Guild conference back in August.

I read through my play “How to Kill a Cactus,” and read only one character’s lines. Even after doing this for just two minor characters, I saw where their dialogue and their “voice” were inconsistent.

What’s more important, I saw how to fix the problems in the second act. Because in reading just one character’s lines, I didn’t get distracted by everything else in the script. And I could see where the characters weren’t pursuing their wants strongly.

I’m going to attach files with one scene, before rewriting and after. This is about midway through Act II.

Some background info:

Paula is a successful mystery writer who’s been having serious writers block, who’s missed several deadlines, and whose publisher is about to cancel her contract. Richard is her old high school flame, who’s renewed his attentions after she moved back to their small hometown in Mississippi. Thing is, Paula is married to Cathy, whom she met in Chicago. But Richard just can’t fathom her not being straight, and the word “bisexual” is barely in his vocabulary.

By this point in the play, a mystical old oak tree, that is the source of all of the town’s prosperity and happiness, has mysteriously died. Along with it, the entire town is dying.

In the “before” version of this scene, Paula is still her sweet, genteel, passive self. And Richard is trying the same old tactics to win Paula back. And mostly they’re just standing there! Not only do they not have any strong wants, they don’t have any strong action!

The “before” version.

In the “after” version, Paula is – for a Mississippi woman – unbelievably rude and coarse. Richard is trying the most drastic tactic he can think of to fix what’s gone wrong and to get Paula back.

The “after” version.

What’s more, in the “after” version, Richard finally accepts that Paula loves Cathy and is committed to her, and that he will never get Paula back. That’s been missing in all previous drafts, which explains why audience members had so many different suggestions about what should happen with Richard at the end. He didn’t definitively either get, or not get, what he wanted; in this version, he definitively does not get what he wants.

Let me know what you think.

Posted in 1. Get Inspiration, 2. Dealing with Writer's Block, How to work on Dialog | Leave a comment

Why waste time? Start out strong!

I went to a play reading the other night. The playwright has a lot of experience, has gotten awards, has gotten work produced around the country. So I was surprised at how weak the play was, given the playwright’s experience etc. Even though it was just the second draft, I think that after a while, you can skip some of the steps that have you writing weak, low-stakes stories.

Of course, maybe that playwright usually writes stronger second drafts. Maybe he was sick, or was swamped in his day job, or something like that. There could be a reason.

But why not start out strong?

Here’s what I think you can do to get to strong, high-stakes stories quickly.

  1. Start with high-stakes characters.

Choose characters with high stakes. Find those characters who have the most to gain or lose.

  1. Find a high-stakes situation.

Decide on the circumstances, find a time and or a place where something is happening that the characters care deeply about.

  1. Know what the characters want.

Know what each character wants from every other character, what they absolutely must have, what’s life-or-death important to them.

  1. Write the highest-stakes scenes.

Figure out what the highest-stakes points of the story are. Set your characters loose, in the situation, and have them pursue their wants in the most important ways, at the most important times of the story.

You’ll avoid problems and get straight to what you’re passionate about

If you do this, you’ll avoid a whole bunch of problems without even thinking about them. You won’t have scenes that don’t go anywhere. You won’t have characters that seem unimportant. You won’t have boring scenes.

Of course, you’ll refine your characters, the situation, their wants, and the highest-stakes scenes as you go along. And you can always write whatever you feel like an any given day, if you have an impulse, or want to explore something.

But start out making strong, bold choices. You’ll get to what you’re passionate about, why you’re telling this story, much quicker. Given how busy our lives are, why waste what time we have to write?

Posted in 1. Get Inspiration, 2. Dealing with Writer's Block, How to Create Plots | Leave a comment

Damn! I’ve become a better playwright

I have this play, “How to Kill Cactus,” that I thought was the crown jewel of my plays. It’s the most complete, the most ready-for-production play I’ve written.

I was heartbroken when I suddenly saw the problems in it, and realized how much work I have to do to fix them.

See, at the reading it had on the 21st (of October), I got restless and irritated during the middle of the second act. My notes are full of “cut that!” “get rid of all of this exposition!” “up the stakes!”

The audience didn’t act as restless as I felt. So I thought maybe, just maybe, everything was okay. After all, I hadn’t changed the play that much from the reading back in January, because it didn’t seem to need it. So maybe I was restless because I know the script so well.

Then I used the dialogue-checking technique I wrote about last time. (Reading one character’s lines — it works!!!)

I read through the play, reading just the lines of one of the minor characters. Then I did it again, with another minor character.

Just that was enough to make it glaringly obvious that, in the second act, most of the characters were not working towards their objectives. There wasn’t enough action, enough momentum towards the climax of the play.

Oh, damn. Now I have to refresh my memory of the voice of this play, and how to write it. And rewrite four scenes in the second act.

But it will be a better play.

Has this ever happened to you? Please tell me I’m not alone.

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Reading one character’s lines — it works!!!

Do you remember that I posted, a while back, some great tips for working on dialogue that I learned at the Dramatists Guild conference in August?

Here’s the link, if you want to refresh your memory: Problems with dialogue in your plays, and how to fix them, part 1. I’ve been using one of the techniques on a play of mine, “How to Kill a Cactus,” that had a reading on the 21st of October.

I’m reading through the play, and reading only one character’s lines. So far, I’ve done this for all but the main character.

I have learned a lot.

I found some places where characters aren’t speaking consistently, and I’ve made corrections.

I can see where some of the characters aren’t pursuing their wants strongly enough. I have some ideas for rewriting the scenes to make their wants stronger, and to have them use different tactics.

It’s like a fucking miracle. I knew there were problems in the second act, and I thought I knew what they were and how to fix them.

But now I really know.

Posted in Dramatists Guild Conference 2013, How to work on Dialog, My play "How to Kill a Cactus" | Tagged | 1 Comment