Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Play Development

Mariah MacCarthy asks some questions about the utility of play development. As both a Playwright and an Artistic Director, I answer them here.

1. Playwrights: have you ever had a play produced as a result of submitting it to a theater with an “open submission” policy? (And if you submitted it to Theater A, and Theater A did a reading of it, to which a rep from Theater B came, and Theater B produced the play, that doesn’t count.)

Sort of. I was a member of CAPPIES, a program that enlists high school students to review each other's plays. They had a playwriting contest, I submitted, and I won, which meant I got a production at the Kennedy Center in D.C. that I did not get to see. This is, of course, in the world of student-written theater, through an educational organization, so I don't know if you'd call it a "real" production.

As to my post-graduation professional work, no. There were a few years that I tried submitting -- got a subscription to Writer's Market and things like that -- but pretty soon I realized I was putting plenty of time into something that had little chance of succeeding, so I devoted my full time to self-producing.

2. Theaters: has your theater ever produced a play that was sent to you unsolicited? How often does that happen?

We've had plays submitted to us without request by people we know, although over time they're becoming less and less direct acquaintances. We'll see going forward in the future how it goes.

3. Theaters: if you cut your literary department today, completely, what would happen to your theater and the way it functions? What would change? How would you decide what plays to do, and how is that different than how you decide what plays to do now?

As a small, new company, we don't have a literary department. I read everything. That means when I read it, I read it simultaneously as someone trying to develop the company's artistic vision, someone trying to figure out how we're going to raise money for a play, someone trying to imagine it in the venue logistically, and someone who is interested in finding good plays.

4. Are there any theaters out there that have a purely blind submission policy – not just for one contest, but for all your season, all the time? If so, what are the pros/cons of that policy for you?

Definitely don't solicit blind submissions. When I take on a playwright, I am not taking a play out of their hands: I am hiring someone to work with. Therefore, I'm as much interviewing the creator as I am examining the creation. Even if I read an amazing play, if it was in the hands of someone onerous, I would probably pass, unless it was so completely done that we would not deal with them in any way. And they'd sign away all control.

5. Playwrights: how vital do you consider readings and workshops to your process? Do you feel it actually improves your play? When it works, why does it work? When it doesn’t, why doesn’t it?

Reading is good. Workshop is better. Performance is best. You need to see what sounds good aloud, but also visually how it works in the space. In a Reading you can hear it, in a Workshop you can visualize it, and in Performance you can actually see it.

6. Theaters: of the plays of which you’ve done readings and workshops, how many of them have you ended up giving a full production? (Rough percentage.)

When we develop a play, we always develop it into production. That being said, two of our plays over the last year began as being read/developed through other organizations.

7. Playwrights: do you agree with Itamar Moses that it’s more productive to get artistic directors, rather than literary managers, to see your work? Or have literary managers/departments actually been responsible for your work getting produced? Or have both been the case at different times?

I've never gotten to the point that either a literary department or an artistic director has ever gotten into contact with me regarding my submitted play.

8. Theaters: does your literary manager/department contribute significantly toward deciding what plays get produced? Or do those decisions mostly come from the artistic director?

See above. It's all me.

9. Theaters: do you rely on grants that go specifically toward play development, rather than production? Do you receive funding that you can use for readings and workshops but CANNOT use for a fully mounted production?

Nope. If there was such a grant, I doubt we'd accept it.

10. Playwrights: do you find that doing rewrites in rehearsal/preparation for a reading or workshop is preferable/more productive to doing rewrites in rehearsal for a production?

No. I prefer rehearsals for a production. Everyone is more invested in it, treating it more real, and they have a specific audience/venue in mind.

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