My head hurts.
OK, so if you’ve been paying attention (you have, right? You totally have, gold stars RIGHT at the top of your papers) you know I’m a theater person. More specifically, I work at one of our amazing community theaters. I’m on the board, actually. I’m the Artistic Director. I KNOW RIGHT. Totally fancy.
This means a number of things. I get to help pick the season of plays we’re going to produce each season; I get to make sure that, from an acting and directing standpoint, the shows go forth as smoothly as possible; I get to send out email with “Artistic Director” after my name (I know! Exciting! I mean, you could do the same thing, but it would be LIES); I get to make reports in front of the board of directors on a monthly basis; and I get to coordinate the two showcases we have in the summer – the Director’s Showcase (we ask a director who’s new to us to direct a one-act play, so we can see how they do, and, if they do well, we consider them for a full-length play the following season and seasons thereafter) and the Playwright’s Showcase.
The Playwright’s Showcase is where we solicit one-act plays from local playwrights, the Artistic Director (paying attention? THAT’S ME SLAPPY) reads them, chooses the right fit, then we put on a staged reading of the one that is the best written and fits best.
There are rules:
It needs to be a one-act. A one-act play, usually, runs between ten and ninety minutes.
It needs to be by a local playwright. The actual borders of the Capital District are a little fuzzy, but if you live, say, four hours away, probably that’s not as much “local” as it is “long-distance.”
It needs to be something that can fit a staged-reading format. A staged reading, for those of you who aren’t stage rats, is when the actors don’t memorize the lines – they have the script in their hands – but they do move around the stage in a general approximation of blocking (i.e. what they’d do if it were a real production of the piece.) There aren’t real full-on costumes, but the actors do attempt to wear what they think the character would wear, to the best of their abilities. There aren’t full props/furniture/set/etc., but there are basic pieces, as needed, to approximate what would happen, were the piece fully produced. Lights and sound are very basic.
It can’t be a children’s play, a monologue, or a musical. (These are rules that have been in place for years, long before I was at the theater. I didn’t put them there. I don’t know who did. I assume there is a reason for them. Probably because children’s plays are annoying, monologues are simpler to write and therefore wouldn’t give the other plays a fair shake, and musicals are difficult to produce? Just guesses. They’re not my rules, I’m just following them, and they seem fine to me.)
It can’t have been produced or published elsewhere, ever, in any way, shape, or form. Why would we want to do something that’s been done elsewhere? There are a lot of plays that haven’t been done yet, let’s give them a shot.
We don’t hide these rules. These rules are very well-publicized. Website, Facebook, submission guidelines posted hither and yon. I mean, why would we hide the rules? That wouldn’t help us. We WANT you to follow the rules. We WANT everything submitted to be correct.
We got about thirty scripts submitted this year. Now, on the off chance that one of the playwrights happens to read this (highly doubtful, honestly, I think I can count on one hand the local people who read this, but you never know, it is the internet, stranger things have happened) I will not name names, because that’s rude, and that’s wrong, and listen, I know how much work goes into writing something. No, seriously, I do. I know it looks like probably I just eff around on here but I actually kind of work at this shit. Also, I’ve written plays, and poetry, and short stories (but those were horrible, I’m not going to lie) so I’ve been there. If you are reading this, you might recognize yourself. And this might hurt your feelings. And I am sorry, but maybe a truth bomb is what you need? I don’t know. You need something. SOMETHING IS NEEDED.
Playwrights: WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU.
I’ve read about half of the submissions so far. Two are possibilities, which, listen, WHOO THANK YOU MOMMA, because last year, I didn’t get to the one we ended up going with until it was the last one I read, and I was PETRIFIED I wasn’t going to find anything, and then it was amazing and I was so happy. A number of them have been produced elsewhere, which I suppose you could have hidden from me, but you admitted it in your cover letter? So I can’t consider them. One of them would have run about three minutes, because it was three pages long, and there were about four lines on each page, and each line had about six words in it. So, not a lot was accomplished in that play. A number of you live in New York City, and I know we like to think that New York is one big happy, but the Capital District of New York and New York City are not local to one another, and listen, New York City-ites, don’t EVEN tell me you’d call me your “neighbor” if the shoe was on the other foot. You totally wouldn’t. I’ve seen your faces when I say I’m from Albany. The word for what you do is called “sneering.”
Just to be clear: I am not looking for the next Neil LaBute (although, *swoon* if I found him.) I’m just looking for the next thing that isn’t like rubbing sandpaper over my eyeballs while my feet are roasted in a George Foreman grill and someone pulls my fingernails out with needlenose pliers. And, before you’re all “wah, wah, Amy’s so BITCHY about this” – listen, I actually very much enjoy this part of the job, for the most part. I’m just really, really confused, sometimes.
So listen! I have learned some really valuable tips, in reading all of these plays for the last couple of years, and also watching the ones we’ve selected for the past five years, which I’m going to pass along to you. And then YOU, TOO, can write a play! And, if you are local, SUBMIT IT TO ME so I CAN READ IT! Are you totally the most excited? I thought you might be. I mean, I know there have to be some burgeoning playwrights out there who are looking for tips, and I have tips. MAN DO I HAVE TIPS. And, as you all know if you’ve been paying attention (I told you they would come in handy, your paying-attention skillzzzzz, why aren’t you listening to me?) there’s nothing I like more than being the most helpful.
HOW TO WRITE A PLAY FOR SUBMISSION FOR YOUR LOCAL PLAYWRIGHT’S SHOWCASE
(based on the plays submitted to my theater over the years)
Ignore grammatical conventions. You’re an ARTIST. What need have you for using the word “they’re” correctly? You’re a free bird, baby! And this bird you cannot change! So you just go ahead, love child, and say, in your stage directions, “She looks over they’re as he walks away” and DAMN THE MAN for trying to keep you down! Also, go ahead and don’t run a spell check before final submission. ARTISTS DON’T SPELL CHECK.
Ignore the rules clearly stated in the call for submissions. They’re just guidelines, clearly. Once they read YOUR brilliant masterpiece, they will LAUGH. LAUGH at the FOLLY of RULEMAKING. They clearly did not mean YOU when they said “local” playwrights, Jenna from Juneau; they clearly did not mean you when they said no musicals, guy-who-writes-JUST-LIKE-SONDHEIM; the deadline they posted was just a silly joke, Six-Weeks-Late Sammy. Send it anyway. They’ll be glad you did. Baby, you’re a firework, ridin’ on the back of a special freakin’ snowflake.
Demand Broadway-level production values. I mean, sure, they SAY it’s just a staged reading, but the fact that you need someone to fly in on Spiderman-Turn-Off-the-Dark-quality wires won’t stop them, right? I mean, not once they read YOUR masterpiece. Or the fact that they need full darkness with only a strobe light for most of the show to make sense. Or the fact that most of the play takes place on a fully-functional spaceship, hovering four feet above the audience. They’ll read it, and be so blown away by the play, they’ll throw a year’s worth of budget into their pay-what-you-will show for you. I mean, I can’t imagine any other possible other outcome, can you?
Use jargon. Nothing endears an Artistic Director to you like having to puzzle through the following sentence: “I’sa allus gwanna be wondrin’ bouchu, Elsabetta, iffin youse be uppa heada me, or iffin youse be off yonder. I’sa allus gwanna be wondrin’ bouchu, becuz you be my whole worl’.” I take it back – you know what the Artistic Director likes better than this? Reading a whole one-act written in this style. And the AUDIENCE will love it, too. No question. DO IT DO IT DO IT. It is not at ALL offensive.
Use affected phraseology out of nowhere. For example, if your character is American, OF COURSE he would say “I’d like a right spot of supper, Mumsy,” when he’s shown no sign of pretending to be British in the past and then never shows it again. Or have someone’s sister call him “brother wuther bubsy boo” for no reason but then have no one call attention to it and never explain why it happened or have her either be the victim of a traumatic brain injury or involved in an incestuous relationship with him. Also, it’s not at all jarring to have a character who you’ve spent twenty pages setting up as very, very stupid throw in the words “stellar denouement” and then move onto something else as if he hadn’t just Rainmanned out. So yeah, do this. It’s what’s done.
Write rude, demanding cover letters/emails to the Artistic Director. In your cover letter, please be sure to do the following: explain how good of a writer you are, EVERYONE SAYS SO NO THEY DO; explain that theaters of this size/type are “usually” beneath you, but you’ll make an exception, just this once, because you’ve heard slumming can sometimes be good times; explain that you KNOW this is just a staged reading, but when YOUR play is chosen, you’ll expect a full production of it, because, you see, it DESERVES it; and, by all means, please try to find the email address of the theater online somewhere, then send odd emails to the theater, sort of threatening them if they don’t choose your work. It’s just polite. And you want to be polite, right? RIGHT.
Be vague. Don’t explain. It’s up to the reader or viewer to figure out the following: who the character who just walked in is; what his or her relationship is to the other characters in the play; why they’re there, what their motivation is, why they’re talking in this totally cool jargon patois-y slang, and why they’re flying in on guy wires. MAKE THEM WORK FOR IT.
Don’t read any other plays, ever. Why know what else is out there? It’s all garbage, anyway. Yours is the only work that matters. You’d just clutter up your head with other nonsense. Keep your EYES on the PRIZE. And the PRIZE is your own work, not the crap that other playwrights are putting out. I mean, seriously, do you really have time to keep up on the field you want to break into? No. No, you don’t. Get to writing, Scribbly Pete.
Make sure it’s as boring as possible. I mean, life is exciting, right? There are SO MANY SHINY THINGS. Television! Zap! Movies! Bam! The interwebs! Zowie! When people go to the theater, they want SLOW. They want DULL. They want TALKING without ANYTHING HAPPENING. They want NO MOTION. They want BLAH. I mean, what if someone were to have a heart attack in the theater? You could never live with yourself. Best to keep it sloooooow. Safer for all involved, really.
Don’t let there be any stakes for anyone ever, why do that, LAME. You know what’s the worst? When characters in a play have stakes. I mean, like, let’s take a play you all know. Hamlet. You all know Hamlet, right? (Oh, please tell me you do. If you don’t, please just go out and get a film version, if Shakespeare makes you twitchy. Hamlet is lovely. LOVELY. Ignore people that tell you otherwise; they are out of their minds.) Hamlet’s characters have stakes. Hamlet wants revenge on the man who killed his father and married his mother; Ophelia wants Hamlet to love and marry and cherish her, and not be such a freakin’ loon; Claudius wants Hamlet out of the way, because Hamlet’s getting way too suspicious; Gertrude wants to go on schtupping her husband/brother in law; Polonius wants everyone to be true to thine own selves; Laertes wants to be stabby and revengey. EVERYONE HAS A WANT. EVERYONE HAS STAKES. Well, I say nay! I say, DOWN WITH STAKES. Why’s everyone need to be all stakey? Let’s all get placards and go march on the town square: NO MORE STAKES. NO MORE STAKES. Who needs ‘em? Let’s just have our characters wander, aimlessly and stakelessly, sniffing flowers, peering at clouds, petting the occasional puppy. It’s all good, yo. Your audience will APPRECIATE the STAKELESSNESS.
Copy something that’s already been done, I mean, that’s tried and tested, right? I mean, someone already did the legwork. It would be completely reckless of you to GO OUT ON YOUR OWN and COME UP WITH AN ORIGINAL IDEA. You already know, say, vampires are hot. So probably write a script about a teenager who falls in love with a vampire. IT’S NOT LIKE THAT OTHER ONE THOUGH. This vampire doesn’t SPARKLE in the sun. He…GLIMMERS. Yeah, that’s it. Or! Or, you know what’s also tried and true, is having, at the last minute, someone drop out of the sky and save the day. It even has a name! Deus ex machina. Isn’t that pretty? I mean, how can you NOT use it?
Don’t include your contact information anywhere on the script/envelope. I mean, I know I shouldn’t have to tell you this one – you already KNOW this, right? But don’t let anyone know who you are. A., they should ALREADY know, you’re JUST THAT WELL-KNOWN, just from your writing style alone, and B., why make it easy for them to contact you? They should WORK for it. Also, if you foolishly DO include contact info, you know what’s awesome? Don’t include email. It’s just a passing fad, this internet thingy. Don’t give in to it. Everyone likes the telephone, and has plenty of free time to talk to you on it. Everyone should call you on it and talk to you. They’ll want to, I mean, you’re the next big thing, and who WOULDN’T want to talk to you? For hours on end? And hours? And HOURS?
There. This should totally get you all on your way. Now, when you’ve written your amazing script, and you’re getting your awards, PLEASE don’t feel like you HAVE to thank me in your speeches; I mean, it’s only POLITE, but it’s not MANDATORY, or anything. I can’t FORCE you to. Of course, karma’s a bitch, and if you don’t, you’ll probably lose a limb in an industrial accident of some sort, but don’t let that influence your decision! No no no! NOT ONE LITTLE BIT!
Write, my little Shakespeares and Shakespearesettes! May your characters be lifeless, your exposition dry as dust, and your plot so full of holes the whole cheese industry of Switzerland will shudder with envy! YOU CAN TOTALLY DO THIS!