Hiccups in Writing for the Theater

Susan ShaferI enjoy writing for the theater. But I hate submitting my scripts.

Every month, there are dozens of theaters and festival and contest organizers who invite playwrights to submit their plays. Usually, the calls specify the length of the play (ten-minute, one-act, full length), the submission deadline, and how the script should be sent (email or snail mail).

While this might seem straight forward, play guidelines can be complicated

  • Production History. To attract a larger audience, some theaters require that a play submission be a “world premiere.” I don’t understand why. What are the chances that a theater-goer will refuse to buy a ticket just because the play has been produced elsewhere?
  • Competition. For a while, I assumed that there are few playwrights in this country. But last year a theater announced that there were five winning plays out of 1,000 submissions. I live in Manhattan, and it’s reached the point where I now assume that everyone riding in my subway car has a play-in-progress on his iPad.
  • No Response. Sometimes, I submit a play and never receive an acknowledgment that it’s been received. To make matters more frustrating, on two occasions I found out through Google Alerts that my play was not only received, but was received well. It was scheduled for production that month.
  • Submission Info. Requirements vary. Some theaters require a blind submission (no author’s name anywhere on the script). Others want not only the author’s name but her address, phone, email, and bio, as well as the play synopsis, cast list, props needed, and production history, if any.

Despite all this, I still love to write for the theater. But it’s not just the writing. It’s a joy to see theater-goers read my name and bio on the theater’s program and talk with me after the show.

So I’ve learned that the submission process in playwriting can be exasperating and time consuming. Though certainly not enough to make me shut down my Mac.