Are you part of the play submission fee problem (or, follow the guidelines for crying out loud!)?
I don’t like submission fees. I’m not a complete fee purist, but I don’t think they’re best practice. I don’t like playwrights funding opportunities. I don’t like paying into what is likely to be a losing proposition. However, after curating and categorizing plays for a recent college festival, I’m starting to understand what I always thought was the worst possible reason for having them: to cull the herd.
Let me explain. The very first guideline in the submission call was this:
*The play must have characters in 18–25 range, no exceptions. If needed, you may include ONE (1) character not in that age range, but we are looking for plays that will resonate with the diverse young actors playing the roles, as well as the diverse college students in the audience; changing the ages on a generic play probably isn’t going to work.
As a favor to the department, I went through the plays and categorized them to make it easier for the student directors to manage the submissions. There were a total of 598! For a first-time, ten-minute play festival. Granted, the selected playwrights will receive a modest $25 royalty and the plays didn’t have to be new, which I suppose made this an attractive opp. So attractive that two-thirds submitted with little to no regard for that first guideline, the first sentence of that first guideline. (For the record, there were more questions about whether or not plays should be submitted blindly than about the age requirement.)
Here’s the kind of stuff I was reading out loud to my daughter:
CHARACTERS: SUE: Early twenties
BOB: Early twenties
followed by: At rise, Sue and Bob, both in their thirties…
I’m not kidding.
One playwright who submitted a play under the wire even had a character in their 230s; too hasty in trying to make grownups into kids, I’m guessing.
There were things like college students meeting in Internet chat rooms, or super precocious young people who were producers, doctors, lawyers, executives, old married couples, and more. Yeah, it’s funny, until you’re going through 598 scripts trying to find the ones that you actually asked for, and thinking, “Maybe a $5 fee would have prevented these playwrights from trying to game the system and creating a lot more work for volunteers.” Maybe.
This is so insulting and disrespectful to the people organizing this festival, so I just want to throw this rant out there to everyone: please don’t do this. If you don’t have a play that’s right, I know it’s frustrating, but please don’t try to shoehorn a play–especially so blatantly obviously–to fit something it doesn’t; just wait for the opp that’s right. There are tons of ten-minute play opportunities; I submitted to 166 last year, and that wasn’t even all of them.
This call was this specific for a reason: the department faculty wanted to give students the opportunity to learn from playing age appropriate roles and also did not want students to have to read 598 plays. Instead of using a fee to cull submissions, they used a very specific guideline and said very clearly: NO EXCEPTIONS. Maybe they should have added a $5 fee. Maybe.
Every time I saw a play with changed ages or just flat-out wrong ages or situations that stretched the believability of 18–25-year-old lives beyond all reasonably limits, I just got angry at that playwright. If you don’t have a play that’s right, instead of spending time badly doctoring one you have, write a new one. This was a three-month deadline; there was plenty of time.
I get it: we all want opportunity, but don’t try to take one that isn’t yours.
Don’t make playwrights look bad.
Don’t make theaters want to charge fees to stop this behavior.
Don’t do this. It’s not worth it.
(As a total aside, I get that for ten-minute play festivals, making things as open to varied casting as possible is useful, but when specificity of character is important, sometimes age is too; consider what the actual age range might be, rather than just saying “any age” because not all experiences are universal across age groups. For ten-minute festivals, I see the appeal, but I do think age comes into play with specificity, and specificity is always good
So in total: 598 submissions136: age resonant, i.e. the characters were intentionally age appropriate Another 45 had one older character, as was permitted
In other words, a total of 181 plays–about a third–that were exactly what was asked for.
208 ages irrelevant: characters that could be any age, because the story was non-specific enough; another 27 of these featured non-human characters.
I say okay on the non-humans, but that makes another third that is kinda sorta not exactly what was asked for. I’d like these playwrights to ask themselves if they’d have sent the play if there were a $5 fee.
37 featured “any age” characters or didn’t define age, but the situation was clearly not resonant to college-age people
83 with obvious age changes like the examples above.
61 that just flat out didn’t even follow the age guidelines at all
I mean, they didn’t even try to change the ages.
1 missed deadline
Take from this what you will. I know what I’m taking from it.
(don’t forget to check out my new website by clicking on the home page!)
–Playwrights, remember to explore the Real Inspiration For Playwrights Project, a 52-post series of wonderful advice from Literary Managers and Artistic Directors on getting your plays produced. Click RIPP at the upper right.
–To read #PLONY (Playwrights Living Outside New York) interviews, click here or #PLONY in the category listing at upper right.
–To read the #365gratefulplaywright series, click here or the category listing at upper right.
–For more #AHAinTheater posts, click here or the category listing at upper right.
Donna’s work has been seen in 46 states and on five continents. Plays include BRILLIANT WORKS OF ART (2016 Kilroys List), ELEVATOR GIRL (2017 O’Neill, 2018 Princess Grace finalist), SAFE (winner of the Todd McNerney, Naatak, and Great Gay Play and Musical Contests), and TEACH (Gulfshore New Works winner). She has been nominated for both the Primus and Blackburn Prizes, and is a two-time winner of the Emanuel Fried Award for Outstanding New Play (SEEDS, SONS & LOVERS). She has also received an Individual Artist Award from the New York State Council on the Arts to develop HEARTS OF STONE, and, for three consecutive years, she was named Buffalo’s Best Writer by Artvoice — the only woman to ever receive the designation.
Donna also serves on the Dramatists Guild Council and is a blogger and moderator of the 12,000+-member Official Playwrights of Facebook, as well as a New York Times-published crossword puzzle constructor; author of Neko and the Twiggets, a children’s book; and founder/co-curator of BUA Takes 10: GLBT Short Stories. Speaking engagements include Citywrights, Kenyon Playwrights Conference, the Dramatists Guild National Conference, Chicago Dramatists, the Austin Film Festival, and a live Dramatists Guild webinar. Her commentary has been seen on #2amt, howlround, The Dramatist, the Official Playwrights of Facebook, Workshopping the New Play (Applause, 2017), and at donnahoke.com.
Originally published at blog.donnahoke.com.