TEN YEARS A PLAYWRIGHT: celebration and reflection
Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway. This quote is my actress daughter’s favorite quote, one that’s been adopted by her twin sister — a computer coder/YouTuber — who has it as her computer wallpaper. It’s my favorite now, too.
Never let up on the gas. My new husband and I were recently invited to speak at a Career in the Arts breakfast at my nephew’s high school, and this was the message he had for this group of teenagers, most of whom probably didn’t really understand what he was trying to convey. (But several other artists at the event approached him after to tell him how on point he was.)
I’ve got both of these on my mind as I look back on the decade since I wrote my first play, along with the other thing my husband likes to say and told those kids: do the thing that nobody has to tell you to do. He’s a musician because even as he switched majors from this to that, always attracted to the practical or romantic notions of a particular career, he found himself practicing endlessly and playing freelance gigs. A couple years of that and a light bulb went off.
Some time this month — I’m not sure exactly when, but I know it was early 2008 (if I’d realized the date would become auspicious, I may have recorded it) — I started writing my first play, COCKEYED TODAY. It’s never been produced. My next play, LOST AT SEA, has also not been produced. And yet I wrote a third, THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR, that became my first production, and has been produced three times since, including a Romanian production that’s in its fourth year running in rep. In the ensuing years, I’ve written fifteen more full-length plays, and about three dozen ten-minute plays. What a difference a decade makes.
The world premiere of THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR at Road Less Traveled Productions, 2010–my first production EVER.
I knew I wanted to write a blog post to commemorate this milestone anniversary, but I didn’t know what to write about. I can barely even say that ten years feels like it went fast, because when I think about how much has happened in that time, how many plays I’ve written, how many trips I’ve taken, how many amazing people I’ve met, I see how writing that first play was a gamechanger, a life-changer, an outlook changer, and how do you sum up all that? The only way is to point back to those two quotes above, because that’s how it all happened. And can happen for anyone.
I like making lists, but I didn’t know what to list, so I decided to go with ten things that have been pretty cool in one way or another… Here goes, in no particular order:
1) I inherited stewardship of the Official Playwrights of Facebook. Oh yes, at times it’s trying, but the friendships I’ve made from moderating it, and the ways it’s helped my own interpersonal skills can’t be measured.
2) I had a play, THE WAY IT IS, produced three times — all through cold submission, two international — without ever having had so much as a reading or lick of development on it. Sometimes I even forget I have this play because I haven’t logged the long hours of development on it. Even crazier, I couldn’t go to the London production, but my daughter was studying there, and her whole class went! This kind of thing isn’t normal, but it exemplifies how anything can happen in this business.
3) I became part of the Dramatists Guild — member, regional rep, Council member, Plays in Progress faculty member — and it’s changed my life. Not my career, but my life.
4) I accepted the irony that while I came from New York City, I didn’t become a playwright — and likely would not have become a playwright — until I moved to Buffalo. I’ve accepted that leaving here is not realistic personally and probably wouldn’t make that big a difference professionally. So I’ve embraced being “that playwright from Buffalo,” coined #PLONY (Playwrights Living Outside New York), wrote a blog series about some amazing ones, and became an advocate for all of them.
I’m so much a part of this community, I actually got married right here this past June!
5) I started this blog, and it’s been going for seven and a half years! I didn’t even realize it until I went to check on my first post, which, like many of the early ones, is mostly a diary entry about what was going on with my plays, but the seeds of the advocacy that eventually took hold are evident even in my June 2011 post that asks why don’t we read each other’s work? This was pre-#TAPT (Trade A Play Tuesday), pre-NPX, pre-#POFF (Playwrights Offering Free Feedback), and called for creation of a Critique Circle-like site for plays.
Since then, my blog has included posts about how to get your plays produced, including a 52-post series — Real Inspiration for Playwrights Project #RIPP (it’s still up; read it!) — and posts about submitting and marketing. I did a #365GratefulPlaywright series that was a whole year of why being a playwright is so awesome. Two ongoing series–#PLONY (Playwrights Living Outside New York) #AHAinTheater (Artists Helping Artists) — are full of eye-opening and inspiring interviews.
7) I helped a lot of playwrights by learning to help myself and sharing what I learned, through my blog, through my submissions info/seminar, through Official Playwrights, and from learning to stand up for myself and the rights of playwrights. From a theater that wanted a world premiere contract for six performances to writing letters to theaters that make unreasonable demands, my voice prompted both change and larger efforts from other playwrights and the Dramatists Guild, which, after the post heard round the Twitter, convened the Best Practices Committee, of which I was chair (the results of our work are available to everyone; click here). That same committee is now at work on another project of benefit to playwrights.
7) I started flying again. A lot. And being less nervous about it.
8) I have a 11-page resume representing hundreds of productions, opportunities, and readings–including some pretty cool things, like making the 2016 Kilroys List. That’s more than a page a year. When it happens bit by bit, waited-for-email after waited-for-email, it sometimes doesn’t seem to add up, but when you see it all at once…. Adam Szymkowicz likes to say it takes ten years to make a dent. My resume is a satisfying dent.
9) I made 2,833 submissions since mid-2011 when I first started, and with apologies to Patrick Gabridge, I’m not going to go do the math to see what my percentages are, but I did say in a recent Dramatists Guild webinar that my submissions file is 162 pages long, so if my resume is 11, that’s 7% of the submission size, which is about the average hit rate I get on submissions.
10) I never took my foot off the gas. I can’t think of another thing in my life — other than my family — that has held my interest, commitment, and passion for so long. Someone said to me recently they write plays because it’s something to do, and, while I understand that idea, it’s my conviction that if you’re going to spend time doing it, it’s worth always striving to do it better. And what’s amazing is that not only has the writing grown, I also have. That’s what keeps it interesting and exciting. That, and all of you. Playwrights are just the most awesome people in the world. Thank you for being here for the journey. I couldn’t have done it without you.
–Please follow me on Twitter @donnahoke or like me on Facebook at Donna Hoke, Playwright.
–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.
Dramatists Guild Council member and ensemble playwright-in-residence at Road Less Traveled Productions, Kilroys List and award-winning playwright Donna Hoke’s work has been seen in 46 states, and on five continents. Her full-length plays include ELEVATOR GIRL (2017 O’Neill finalist), THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR (Princess Grace semi-finalist, currently in its fourth year in rep in Romania), SEEDS (Artie award winner for Outstanding New Play), SAFE (winner of the Todd McNerney, Naatak, and Great Gay Play and Musical Contests), and BRILLIANT WORKS OF ART (2016 Kilroys List, Winner HRC Showcase, Firehouse Festival of New American Plays); she’s also authored more than three dozen short plays that have had hundreds of productions, and has been nominated for both the Francesca Primus and Susan Blackburn prizes. Donna is also 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. For three consecutive years, she was named Buffalo’s Best Writer by Artvoice, the only woman to ever receive the designation.
In addition, Donna is a blogger, advocate, and moderator of the 11,000+-member Official Playwrights of Facebook. Recent speaking engagements include Citywrights, Kenyon Playwrights Conference, the Dramatists Guild National Conference, Chicago Dramatists, Austin Film Festival, and a live Dramatists Guild webinar. Her commentary has been read at #2amt, howlround, the Official Playwrights of Facebook, the newly released Workshopping the New Play, and donnahoke.com.