The Anonymous Playwright

Ten Things a Playwright Wants Theaters to Know

Recently The Anonymous Reader wrote an article giving their perspective on common mistakes playwrights make that will take their submissions out of the running. The Anonymous Playwright now returns the favor and lets theatre companies know what creates frustration for submitting playwrights.

1. In this day and age, there is simply no excuse to request hard copy submissions. Consider the environmental costs alone with the waste of paper for the script itself, the packaging and the fuel burned for delivery. Plus there is the playwright’s cost, a significant amount between printing and postal fees. A typical submission request can bring hundreds of submissions to your organization. Do you really want that many scripts piled up all over your office? 

2. If you have already transitioned to an electronic format for submissions, why only request a small sample? Request the entire script. Then if you like what you are reading, you can feel free to continue.

3. Most playwrights will have a few standard synopses prepared: a two-page, a one-page and a one-paragraph. Please do not make a specialized request such as “please prepare a one-hundred-and-fifty-word synopsis.” Playwrights need to spend their time creating theatre, not rewriting and editing synopses to fit your organization’s particular format.

4. Don’t request scripts or have an open submission policy unless you truly have an intention to develop and present new works. Playwrights already spend too much time preparing submissions. Please don’t waste our time with an opportunity that does not exist.

5. Do not ask playwrights to create an essay or artistic statement specifying why they believe their piece is a good fit for your organization if all you are offering is a reading. We are playwrights, not essayists. Don’t ask us to take that time when what we are applying for is an opportunity for a one-night staged reading and we will be one of hundreds of submitting writers. A simple, short statement as to why we feel the piece might be a “good fit” for your particular theatre should suffice. Of course, an essay or artistic statement is reasonable for a major grant or scholarship opportunity. We realize in that case it is a vital part of the conferment process.

6. You have every right to demand that scripts submitted are in a standard, readable format. But please remember that there are several accepted formats out there, with slight variations. Requiring specificity in pagination (such as stating exactly where the page numbers are located and requiring a specific font and size) is really quite unnecessary, as is specifying the exact indent of character names, the exact placement of the play’s title on the cover page or demanding that only one specific font can be used. Again, playwrights need to spend their time and energy WRITING. Please don’t ask us to spend valuable time reformatting a script.

7. An entire article could be written just on this topic – fees. Rule of thumb: If you would consider it to be unethical to require actors to pay a fee to submit their headshots and resumes, then don’t require playwrights to pay to have their script read. As I tell young playwrights all the time, “If they can’t afford to read your script, then they can’t afford to produce your play.” If the process of perusing submissions is too daunting for your organization then try fundraising, engage interns or seek grants. Don’t ask writers to pay your administrative costs.

8. Every theatre should have a website, and somewhere on that website there should be an easily discovered submission policy. This is vital especially if you are not currently seeking submissions.  This is a good way to keep from getting inundated with unwanted queries that will frequently go to the wrong person. Please let us know what types of pieces you are seeking, requirements for cast size and any pertinent technical limitations to consider.

9. Do not pull email information from a submission and put the playwright on your mailing list. In general, it is simply a bad business practice to add someone to a mailing list without permission. Odds are the submitter will not live within hundreds of miles from your theatre. It is especially galling for you to contact someone who submitted to your organization and make a donation request. This is completely unethical, unprofessional and could easily be perceived as soliciting a bribe.

10. Specific to the topic of musical submissions: be realistic in requirements for demo recordings. It is reasonable and acceptable to want to sample somewhere between five and ten songs to get a feeling for the musical score. But demo recordings are expensive and difficult to produce, particularly when a musical is still in the developmental stages where changes are constant. Writers will select certain songs to record for a variety of reasons due to the particulars of a piece. Don’t make requirements such as, “the demo must include the first and last song in the score.”   Certainly, do not require that the entire score be recorded. There are original Broadway cast recordings that do not have the entire score recorded. And please do not request a full, printed copy of the score. This can cost upwards of a hundred dollars to print.

Of course, certain theatres have requirements that are outside of the norm, and this is understandable.  But flexibility is a two-way street.  And I believe that being less rigid about things that are not truly vital to perusing a script can assure that no one misses an opportunity to create successful theatre. I hope this will give some insight into ways to streamline the process for all parties involved.

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The Anonymous Playwright