I didn't know where to actually post this, so here it goes:
Report from a Dramatists Guild meeting held in Chicago at Victory Gardens Theatre.
It was a very good evening that lasted an hour and a half, hosted by Doug Post who is the Midwest Chicago rep for The DGA. He is, as always, most excellent in his questions and in managing the discussion. We in Chicago are grateful to have him.
It was attended by about 70 people of all age groups. I think having it on the night of the NCAA basketball finals kept more younger people from attending. I, myself was torn! There usually are many more people in their 20’s. But there were students from the MFA program at Northwestern, several faculty from Universities. Some people in their 70’s and a good mix of every age in between.
Names are withheld to protect the innocent.
Three Literary Managers and two Artistic Director were on the panel. The topic was the commitment to producing new plays and musicals.
It was agreed musicals are tough as they cost so much to produce. Nuff said. Not that they are against them and all have done them, however. As one panelist said, “They cost more, but they also can be a great source of revenue.”
Well, as we have discussed on the Forum, much of their interest is going toward MFA graduates and programs. This was confirmed as true. Some theatres are directly involved with MFA programs.
One theatre has ended their Synopsis/10 page writing sample query format. They have dropped them altogether. They took a look at how many plays were produced through this format over 15 years of submissions and found the answer was ZERO. That is correct: ZERO. So they dropped it.
Another doesn’t have a Literary Manager, just the Artistic Director. He said the chances of his reading a new play that was submitted “over the transom” was “None.” It just isn’t going to happen.” Knowing that theatre and how it works, I can understand it. It is more interested in Classical plays and 2nd productions or plays done elsewhere. As talented as he is, he most likely should not have been on the panel because of his particular theatre’s lack of needs for new work. But he was informative.
It was suggested to look on each theatre's website and srtictly adhere to their submission standards.
What was ironic to me, however, one of them said, “Academics don’t make good writers.” The panel and some of the audience sort of shared a smirky little laugh, but I said to myself, “Then why are you all relying on and engaging MFA programs?”
But all this said, playwrights, don’t lose hope! They genuinely are looking for new plays.
They attend Festivals. They do make a point of attending play productions and readings at smaller theatres. They refer plays to theatres who they think might be interested in them, even if they themselves are not. And I can assure you, they are committed to it to a person, even if the system itself is not to anyone's liking.
They reason is that the selection process at events like readings and Festivals has already winnowed out the selection process for them. They also talk to people who attend festivals that they do not not attend, and look for recommendations. As mentioned: referrals.
Some have a reading series they themselves sponsor.
Agent submitted scripts get moved to the top, especially from a “reminder call” from the agent.
Turnaround times for theatres who do take submissions are sometimes 6 months to a year. Some are less. (We already knew that.) To get to a full production if chosen could be 3 years. All genuinely wish they had more staff, but the dollars do not allow it.
One very nice writer in her seventies and very vibrant said, “I have been writing plays for 35 years. At may age, waiting 3 years for a production, my heirs would be the ones to see it or make money off it.” She mentioned she is going to Melbourne, Australia where a theatre is going to produce her play. One artistic director said, “I’ll tell you what, send me one of your plays.” So, that was sweet.
They emphasized how important “establishing relationships” is. If they work with you once, they will try to work with you again. However, you may have a wonderful play, but if they don’t want to work with you for whatever reason, you will not get a production. They have to “hit it off” with you. Some made it seem as if it was a dominant/submissive relationship they desired with the playwright. Others were genuinely interested in a mutual relationship.
No one addressed “Development Hell.”
When asked who reads the scripts. The reply was interns, people on the staff, other people they pay to read scripts, directors. There was a variety. One had a Literary Circle who reads scripts and one other theatre liked the idea so much, she said she was going to try to institute one at her theatre.
One comment frosted me a bit: “Actors are not good readers of scripts. They are always only looking for a part.” How can a 30 year old actor be looking for a part when a play is about 45 year olds, and a 45 year old actor do the same for a play about teenagers. One thing good actors know when they read a script is “ Will this play?” I kept my mouth shut.
All in all, it was a terrific discussion.
One note on body language, most had their bodies in defensive positions, or looked up or around or down when they talked. Only one leaned in toward us with an open body position. One other's body was half and half on the that scale. All gave good info. All were open and honest. The numbers are definitely against the playwright. But we all know that, too. It was nice to hear them confirm that in a straightforward manner.
My suggestion from hearing all this: keep writing and keep submitting. And if you can forge any relationships, start to do so. if you are young, start getting involved with young actors/directors who want to do your plays. You will grow along with them as they mature. Show up to young theatre companies and help them with publicity and building and tearing down sets. House managing. Anything so they know your face and personality.
Afterward the DGA popped for some wine/beer in the lobby of the Victory Gardens Theatre. People hung around to talk for about an hour.
If DGA meetings are held in your area, I highly suggest you attend. You do not have to be a member, you can come if you are interested in becoming a member or a just curious or know someone who is...so you can bring a friend.
In media res
P.S. I got home to just in time to watch Duke defeat Butler 61-59 in the NCAA tournament. I was pulling for Butler.
The aspect of being seen or noticed in a festival intrigues me, and reminds me of a statement I've heard several times from Paula Vogel, "Our theater must be something that we can carry on our backs," meaning that we often have to make it happen ourselves.
It is vital that playwrights support each other in their community and help showcase each others work. This is the new model. 13 P (the group of playwrights who banded together to produce each others work in NYC - http://www.13p.org/ ) is just one example of this new model, but there are others. The storefront pop-up theater movement is very important to this shift as well.
I know that I receive letters from literary managers asking to be informed of any readings or workshops. Being able to see something in action, or at least hear about a successful or impressive workshop through channels - is essential to becoming known.
Playwrights have been the primary force behind play production and innovation since the Greeks and the Sanskritists -- it has only been in the past century that the model of playwright/producer/director eroded and was replaced. But it looks like that ancient model is reemerging as the "new" mode of success.
Also -- I guess that this increases the relevance of the short play. Having your work stand out in a 10-minute play festival could be a very important event in a budding career - and get your work noticed in a "production" context, albeit a short production.