You've Finished Writing the Play: Now What? (Part II)by Troy Hughes
The Internet Writing Journal, March 1998
Well, I know by now that all of you have taken my advice. You've written a play, you've proofread it, you've possibly had it read aloud. You have gone to see a least two plays a week, preferably three (if the theatres in your town run Sunday matinees), and you have schmoozed your way into the consciousness of the local drama scene. And, you have properly formatted your script for viewing (See, Part 1).
Now the fun begins! These valuable contacts we have discussed should be put to good use at this point. You begin the quest for production by showing your play to everyone: actors, directors, production companies, publishers and Aunt Erma. Your next goal here is to get a reading of your play. You need to draw attention to the piece, and getting someone interested in producing it requires that it be read.
There are a variety of situations through which your work can see, or at least begin to see, the light of the stage. Finding a group, or creating one, to workshop your play is a great place to start. The workshop process can be very rewarding, as it allows your work to grow in an environment that is supportive and knowledgeable. The actors and production team you work with can give you valuable insight into the stage-worthiness of the piece, and through their suggestions you can make necessary changes to improve the script. Keep in mind, however, that your word is final; directors must have any changes to your script approved by you. Ultimately, you may even hold the deciding vote on the director and the casting.
It is often the case that a playwright will have contacts willing to stage a reading with a select invited audience. However, if you have no contacts in the business, or your contacts are as aspiring as you are, there are a couple of very useful reference guides to which you can turn. Dramatists Sourcebook, published by the Theatre Communications Guild (TCG) out of New York, comes out once a year and lists literally hundreds of organizations accepting scripts. The Playwrights Companion is a similarly arranged publication from Feedback Theatrebooks in Maine. Owning a current copy of a least one these books is a must. They will help you to locate organizations accepting new works, and also list the many contests open to new works.
Every theatre, contest, producer, and agent listed in a writer's guide will have guidelines concerning submissions. Some ask for the entire script, some ask for a synopsis and a brief example (5-10 pages) of the actual play, still others want only a synopsis and a cover letter. Whatever the requirements may be for the person/organization you are submitting to, follow those guidelines to the letter. Take as much care in preparing your submission materials as you did in writing and polishing your play. Always remember to send along a self addressed and sufficiently stamped envelope (SASE) if you are requesting your script be returned.
Before submitting to anyone, it is often helpful to send out query letter requesting information on the submission of a new unproduced play. When you receive their information, look it over carefully to ensure proper submission, as well as to re-evaluate the organization's needs/wants in new plays. Typically, you will not send nearly as many submissions as you did query letters. Again, send along a self-addressed, sufficiently stamped envelope.
And let's not forget the publication of your work. The same sources listed previously will also contain those magazines or publishers that accept new plays for review. This is often a great way to have your play read by industry types, and may lead to production. In this case, there is often payment upon publication as well, so don't discount it as the easy way out, or any less substantial than having your play workshopped or produced.
Another avenue you should explore in your search for getting your play read is playwriting contests. Contests are a great way to get your work in front of the right people and to make some good contacts. A good source of lists of playwriting contests with guidelines is the Contests/Awards section of the 1998 Writers Market (Writer's Digest Books) and the contest listings in the monthly magazine, The Writer.
A brief word about copyright. Copyright is simply registering your play with the Library of Congress. It is a simple process and costs only about $20.00. For information or forms call (202) 287-9100 or visit the U.S. Copyright website. It is not necessary to formally register your work with the U.S.copyright office for copyright protections to take effect; however, registering your work does afford you certain legal benefits in the case of an infringement. In any event, you should at least mark on your manuscript the following legend: "Copyright © 1998 by Your Name Here. All Rights Reserved." to put readers on notice of the fact that you are aware of your rights and that infringement is likely to have repurcussions1.
As you can see, the business of getting your work produced or published depends on diligence and footwork. While in days of old, every playwright had an agent to help them get their scripts read by the right people, modern day agents will rarely take on an author who has no production credits. Agents will take on a new playwright only in cases of a talent they truly believe in, and only then if the writer has a good body of work. It is best to save the agent hunt for later, when your career has blossomed.
A source of help and inspiration often noted in the 'how-to' literature is The Dramatists Guild2, a professional organization for playwrights, composers, and lyricists. The Guild membership is reasonably priced, and you will receive The Dramatists Guild Quarterly, which lists agents, contests, etc. The Guild also holds events in major cities each year. It is a great way to keep up with current events and it gives you one more edge in the competitive world of playwrighting.
There are many books available to help you in writing your play, from beginning to end. The Playwright's Process by Buzz McLaughlin is a very informative and fun book which contains many quotes from famous playwrights concerning their craft. It is published by Back Stage Books. Another is Frank Pike and Thomas G. Dunn's The Playwright's Handbook, by Penguin's Plume division. This is a wonderful book which is straightforward and contains helpful exercises for the burgeoning playwright. But again, there are many publications at your local book store to browse through which may be of particular help to you.
The process of getting your play produced is often a test of virtues, namely patience. Just keep in mind that the longer the play is in your hands, the more work you can do in refining and polishing it. And while there is a time to stop writing a play, remember that part of being successful is the building of a body of work. So, when you're done writing, keep writing.
1 For a detailed discussion of basic copyright law, including how to register a copyright see "Basic Copyright Concepts for Writers", The Internet Writing JournalTM, Vol. 1, Issue No. 2 (Sept., 1997).
2 The Dramatists Guild
234 W. 44th St., 11th Floor
New York, NY 10036
**Troy M. Hughes is a theatrical director and critic residing in the Detroit metropolitan area. His credits include: A Chorus Line, Broadway Bound, The Fantastiks, Ain't Misbehavin, Lend Me a Tenor, Pump Boys and Dinettes, and Eleemosynary. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.