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25th Anniversary Blog

This page is a celebration of 25 years of supporting women playwrights. 

We will be posting 25 Opinions articles written by 25 members. The articles will appear at a rate of two per week starting 5 October.

All opinions expressed are personal to the writers.
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  • 02 Nov 2013 1:12 PM | Anonymous
    To be a woman is an art.  It’s that special miraculous femininity which entails just the precise amount of female essence and womanly finesse, coupled with stern determination and ardent nurturing.  The importance of women in the theatre is immeasurable.  Women, after all, have been writing for centuries disguised and camouflaged beneath a sheath of male names, as the stigma of the weaker sex hounded the accomplishments of our great female novelists and lady artists.  

    If one fights for gender parity in any sphere, one is faced with the murderous task of storming the very yolk of that battle.  It’s a brutal war, whence women playwrights and women in the shadowy web of the arts, contend with frustrated and confused fathers, jealous suspicious husbands, and most often, other competitive barracuda females not at all pleased with the sudden uprising of the other, talented members of their own sex.  

    Therefore, the fight for equality for women in male-dominated arts, and more specifically in the mystical theatrical Un-Godly world, is anything but subtle.  Battleships sink; so do our struggling female compatriots.  That’s all part of stepping into the foreground, shedding one’s inhibitions; grappling with one’s supposed limitations, bouncing back and forth against a wall upon which screams out the volatile title of one’s own femininity. That femininity which hopefully, if you are indeed a true female artist; you have come to wholeheartedly possess.  

    I have been cultivated as an uncultured pearl in the ghastly beast of the underbelly of the theatrical world.  My parents who were immigrants from the Ex-Soviet Union, at one time labeled, “The Evil Empire”, by Former US President, Ronald Reagan, came to America without a penny but with a hatful of dreams, which often churned into muffled mute rain on the hectic melting-pot cobblestoned streets of New York City.

    As Émigré’s, my folks managed an incredulous task- they toured with some of the most famous Russian icons of Moscow’s grandiose theatrical world, from the auspices of the Mayakovsky Academic Art Theatre which had celebrated its 90th anniversary last October, the heralded Moscow Art Theater, and the Russian Comedian, Arkady Raikin’s, Satirikon Theatre in Moscow, to name just a few Russian Theatres in the epicenter of the dramatic arts.  I had the pleasure and sometimes the torture of touring with these infamous actors, across America, post ex-Soviet Prime Minster Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika, or restructuring; during the heady  putsch of the early 1990’s in Moscow, or during those three fateful days which shook the world and changed Russian fate and the ebbing landscape of dramatic art, forever.  

    I was so infused with theatre, with those glowing patriots of the theatre, with those stellar actors’ techniques, and with the awe-inspiring work of masterful directors.  I was still a teenager yet I loved lounging in green-rooms, singing Russian folk songs in the back-ends of Greyhounds, traveling the world, in order to give myself entirely to the fragile magical promise of theatre and succumb to those divine talented waves beating against its boisterous shore.  That’s how I became infected with the theatrical bug.  That’s when I realized that the theatrical stage beckoned for women to fill every pore of its vital entity.  

    Women as spectators, woman set designers, women producers, directors, costume designers, actresses, scenic designers, sound designers, lighting designers, and of course, women of my profession, my calling; my chosen craft: women playwrights - those fearless pioneer artistic women who dared to tango with the sacred word - those beautiful women who used words for swords.

    Two years ago, while working in Moscow, at the Mayakovsky Academic Art Theatre, I read an article in the Moscow Times, a paper for which I often contributed reviews on International Cinema and Theatrical productions, world-wide.  The article stated that “If one person were chosen to serve as America’s prime link to every other theater tradition in the world, it would surely be Martha Coigney.” 

    This year, being a member of the League of Professional Women in Theatre and soon to be the Co-Chair of the League’s International Committee, with our motto to reach out and grab an artistic female voice and watch it dance in the limelight; I had the pleasure of meeting the Tony Award winning Ms. Coigney, and was most pleased to note that she is just as dedicated to her cause of drawing women artists to the foreground and giving them their due share of recognition, as she had ever been.

    I was also drawn to the ICWP by the dedicated Ms. Elana Gartner, with whom I had exchanged various emails, as I was enlisted in aiding her with her press release about the inaugural International Centre for Women Playwrights 50/50 Applause Awards. Ms. Gartner introduced herself as “a member of the Dramatists Guild and a lurker on the Women's Initiative listserv”. She confessed that she had been “encouraged by the work that has been done to raise the profile of women playwrights over the past several years.”  

    And so she reached out to me personally, as one of the leaders of the Women’s Initiative (made up of members of the Dramatists Guild) to see if there was a way in which we could work together, so that we could spread the good news about this monumental award out to the theater community and into the press, thus continuing to raise awareness about the under-production of women playwrights. I was already working with Gwynn Macdonald on the movement of 50/50 in 2020 at that time, so I was only too happy to collaborate with Elana, with whom I had found much in common.  

    Furthermore, Ms. Gartner convinced me that I should join the ICWP, in order to make solid connections with other female playwrights. Indeed she was right!  I believe that the ICWP not only connects women playwrights to each other but most importantly, opens up vast windows for opportunities which exist for women playwrights.  

    I had the pleasure of attending two ICWP Meetings in Chicago during the 2nd Annual Dramatists Guild Convention this August, and was literally blown away by the enormous talent at those two meetings, diverse, eclectic and international.  ICWP has provided me with the incentive to launch my own company, The O’Neill Film and Theatrical Foundation, with a soul mission to fund women in theatre and in film, dedicated to the plight of gender parity in the arts.

    Personally, succeeding as a professional playwright in America’s nomadic theatrical landscape has been an uphill battle to hell.  My experience as a female writer has had its twists and turns. I’ve been manipulated by men in theatre, by other women in the arts, led astray, neglected, rejected, tormented, fooled, and taken for granted. Yet, here I am, still standing erect, after nearly eighteen years in the theatre, and almost two decades in film, slaving as a screenwriter.  I have not been defeated. There is no white flag at my doorstep! I have not been committed to a writer’s bedlam. I am still a poet.

    I am still ruthless with my dialogue and harsh with my plots, and rash with my verse. Most importantly, however, I have pledged to fight for all women in the arts, for our due share of theatrical productions, off-off Broadway, Off-Broadway, and in the heart of Broadway.  We’ve seen years of being underserved as female authors, actors, producers, and artists in general.  But we’ve come a long way, baby! This year has been a grand year for women in theatre.

    I was very pleased to see one of my dear NYU classmates, Ann Washburn’s work presented by Playwright’s Horizons. While male winners still predominate in the Tony Award directing categories; the Broadway community has proved itself more inclusive in matters of gender than the film industry.  Besides the solo win for Katherine Bigelow, only three other women, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and Lina Wertmuller - have ever been nominated for directing films. 

    A sure indication of feminine power was portrayed this year at the Tony Awards as Cyndi Lauper became the first solo woman to win a Tony for her musical score in “Kinky Boots”, and Pam MacKinnon won her Tony for directing Edward Albee’s play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”   Finally, women are being recognized for their distinct feminine voices.  Women haven’t faded into the background along with superfluous theatrical props. Women are professionally engaging and growing ever so strong in the theatre.

    There was a time when a woman would be judged by her attentiveness to her husband, by her dedication to motherhood and the grooming of her children.  Those backward days are now particles of dust settling on a faded stereotypical horizon.  Powerful women, strong and courageous have graced us with their expertise in the workplace and in every challenging field.  Arts, humanities, and theatre, in particular, belong to the female sensibility as much as to the ever-eager male psyche.  

    No longer shackled by the burden of family; women playwrights and directors are rising to the occasion with glorious bravado, paving the road to a new theatre - to the dawning of a sexless theatre in which the rules have changed, and the players are those with a certain talent; a talent to act, to write, to direct, to create a mesmerizing stage from scratch, reaching the zenith of human intellectualism and immaculate theatrical imagination with that unique feminine touch.
    I am a child of theatre.  

    I have acquired the tools from my alma mater, New York University, where I had climbed to the pinnacle of an education and attained a proud Masters in Fine Arts from the Dramatic Writing Program and minored in Film and Television.  All of my conscious life I had wanted to write. I didn’t want to get married. I never desired to raise a family; although I am proud, despite many hardships, that I am a mother of two and that after years of havoc heaped on my soul by severed relationships; I had finally found my soul-mate, albeit that happened in my late thirties.  I have tinkered with all kinds of genre writing, all mediums and formats.  

    I’ve written articles for Lifestyle Magazine. I worked as a segment producer at Hard Copy and wrote for the Geraldo Rivera Show.  I was editor of the New World Magazine. I taught screenwriting at the New York Film Academy, and Poetry and Advanced Playwriting Workshops at the Negro Ensemble Company and at the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center.  I have penned a screenplay, entitled, Poor Liza, which had won the Grand Prix Garnet Bracelet in the Film and Literature Festival in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and which starred Academy Award Winning legendary actress, Lee Grant, and the late screen veteran and Academy Award Nominee, Ben Gazarra.  I had completed my Ph.D. in Russian Literature in Film at the prestigious Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow.

     I had written, single-handedly, a 400 page biblical catalogue entitled, “Essence of Life/ Essence of Art” exposing the spirit of Contemporary Art of Eastern Europe and Russia, with exhibitions presented at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art in Budapest, Hungary. Nonetheless, with that heaping pile of accomplishments beneath my belt, both academic and professional; I wear a badge of courage for being the “Ed Wood” of the Off-Broadway theatrical world.

    I am the most prolific female playwright and the least recognizable. That fact no longer bothers me though, simply because I have found a collective, a group of like-minded lady playwrights who wish me well in my career and who serve as my support system, almost like the blood of life.  And for all this and for the many more stupendous attributes to come in the future, I raise my vodka shot to the ICWP and to its bright glistening future! Happy 25th Anniversary, dear ICWP.


    Website: http://www.sophiaromma.net/


  • 27 Oct 2013 5:18 PM | Anonymous
    The life of a playwright can be lonely, cold and isolating.  CORRECTION: backspace.  The life of a playwright can be lonely, cold and very  isolating. Even at college, as a theatre major, you just don't fit in.  You're either considered a wannabe actor or a mediocre techie. Even though I knew the path of said calling early on, I was forbidden to take even one elementary playwriting course as an undergrad at Penn State University. 

    Finally I pestered the appropriate faculty just enough to get in a class as a junior, but it wasn't typical to attempt even a minor as an undergrad. I've always wondered why we were never welcomed in the English departments.  Even in grad school, most creative programs exclude us. Yet, literature is taught with poetry, fiction and drama.  Go figure.
     
    Yes, indeed, playwrights are a very rare breed.  Upon graduation, it was more and more evident that the world did not know what to do with me.  Thus, I wandered the professional networks in search of my kind. Surely my species was out there somewhere. Even in those prehistoric days of  printed matter- trade journals, magazines and newspapers- I knew there just had to be a way to find them. Musicians had support centers at coffeehouses and clubs.  Writers had colonies with poets and novelists flooding the mainstream. 

    It was 1980, I was fortunate enough to be working at Carnegie Mellon, one of the premiere tech savvy institutions. Early on,  I hooked into email, which suddenly put my theatre associations in high gear.  In 1982, the word “Internet” was introduced; by ’85 “America Online” was a household idea.  Suddenly, I began noticing several of my own species surfacing in cyber space. 

    For several years, I had been lurking on the ICWP site.   I had some productive interaction and made a few friends, then in 1998 -  thanks to a new connection on this very site, I had my first international breakthrough as a playwright.  I met a woman from New York who came to mentor me  and promote me as a playwright. She took my image of myself and formed it into a playwright, somehow worthy of note. Her confidence in me made a world of difference. She assured me that there was a support system in place for all of us playwrights and ICWP was certainly a place of repose.

    I had been working in isolation on a show called CANDLEDANCING, THE VOICE OF JULIAN OF NORWICH.  It was a new collaboration with London composer, Robert Hugill. On the BBoards in New York and London,  I had put out a rather daunting request -  "PLAYWRIGHT SEEKS COMPOSER for MEDIEVAL MUSIC DRAMA- Requesting music and a requiem".  I recall saying to my director friend Denny Martin as we set off to NYC with our group of gypsy thespians to do a few avant-garde one-acts, "We will need a big stage to do this play, if I return from the city and find a requiem in my mailbox."  

    To which he responded, "Yeah well, if there is a requiem in your mailbox, I'll find a space."  And to our surprise, when we returned, there was indeed a requiem in my mailbox. As the artistic director of the city’s first women’s theatre company, I had lots of support as a director and producer, yet I had put my own work as a playwright ( like most of us do ) on hold to help others.  Although I had several productions of my own pieces, I had not reached that level of professionalism to warrant the idea of publication. I was not ready for the level of engagement that was required of me as a playwright to entertain a world-class composer. My new found ICWP mentor, stepped up to bat for me, and as they say... I just let the magic happen.

    After that tremendous experience, I gained new courage and self-worth at age 40. I returned to finish my master’s degree.  Ten years later, now a college professor and thriving playwright, I realized how ICWP had helped me and I wanted to give back. Therefore I officially joined  and was officially welcomed and accepted.  I truly felt like I belonged.  It was not long before I was elected to serve on  the ICWP board , which I enjoyed doing for several years.

    Ironically, once again ICWP served me and my playwriting career  quite well.  On behalf of the ICWP board I was asked to attend a theatre conference at Princeton in 2009. From that, I made alliances and was invited to join the League of Professional Theatre Women, a sister organization that promotes opportunity and visibility for women in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors.  So once again, I found myself enriched by way of ICWP.  In 2009, Candledancing was published and I was honored by an amazing SWAN Day event in Manhattan. In 2011, I again was graced to join other members in the publication of  “Thirtysomethings”, one of the ICWP Mother-Daughter monologue anthologies, which by the way, truly helped me deal with recent loss of own beloved mom.

    And so as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of this wonderful network of women playwrights at ICWP, I again vow to lend a hand to others any way I can, to mentor the lonely and warm those frozen by the icy words of rejection. And today, I think I can do that...  Last year, I had the tremendous opportunity to partner with another strong woman and begin to build an exciting new theatrical endeavor. That undertaking, known now as The Spiral Theatre Studio,  is now up and running in New York City.

    Perhaps it is here that I can now deliver my vows to help other ICWP members.  This is only the beginning and may we welcome another 25 years.


    ©2013 by Coni Ciongoli Koepfinger

    Coni Ciongoli Koepfinger
    Associate Director  /  Playwright-In-Residence
    THE SPIRAL THEATRE STUDIO
    242 West 36th Street
    New York, NY 10018

    Cell: 412.983.1029
    The Spiral Theatre Studio

  • 23 Oct 2013 5:27 AM | Anonymous
    Do we only want what we know? Is that why women continue to be under-represented on stage? 

    Last season in Canada only 23% of plays were by female authors alone, another 16% were by a mixed collaboration but a full 61% were by male writers (data compiled by the Playwrights Guild of Canada). 

    Why don’t the women in the audience demand change? I’ve thought a lot about the reason. In fact I’m asked that question every year when we do the media rounds to promote the festival I produce dedicated to women playwrights, FemFest. 

    I think for many entrenched in the business and the subscriber audiences there is a craving for what is comfortable, what is known… Heck, I admit I hate change myself and get prickly when my routine is thrown off. 

    I used to crave a good fairy tale as a young girl. But, when it comes to theatre I have long left a desire for the same old behind and crave something that will challenge me. I go to theatre and hope for a show that will have enough impact that it reminds me why I have chosen to dedicate my life to theatre as an art form.

    Unfortunately, the shows I am excited by are often the ones I’m watching with small audiences. Several people I know say they don’t want to be challenged and they only want to go to a show they know will be good. I hear the same kind of feedback from many of my first year performance students who balk when they have to read Top Girls. 

    The non-linear structure, the overlapping dialogue, the thematic rather than plot based writing leaves many confounded. I often hear “It was painful to read” or “how could an audience understand anything if they are all talking at once” and “why are those women there in the first scene and then never show up again”…etc. 

    They want a beginning, middle and end. They want a male character who they have become accustomed to relating to in most stories. When this particular play was performed in Winnipeg a few years back, I heard the same type of response from many women in the audience who longed for a traditional play.

    I think that is one part of the larger question of why women continue to lag behind when it comes to plays on stage. Of course there is history and battling centuries of classic work all written by men. There is our modesty as women (beautifully acknowledged in Mary Jane Walsh’s post on this blog) that holds us back from networking and promoting. 

    I think though the tendency to want what is already known and understood is a factor. Whether it is a tendency to steer away from non-linear work or just avoid work by an unknown quantity. Many female playwrights write linear plays with a traditional structure and do so very well yet they also are not being produced as often as men – they are themselves an unknown.

    Personally, as a playwright, I am constantly battling with the supposed rules and my creative impulse. A couple years ago I was working on a non-linear play. It needed work. I was struggling to achieve what I knew I wanted to with the piece and as we approached production both the dramaturg and director said the play had to be rewritten in a linear fashion or it wouldn’t work. 

    I reworked it accordingly. It never felt right and I think the crux of what I was trying to communicate was lost. Working with a European dramaturg several years prior he said in Canada we are all about neat plots. They feel too neat and contrived. To a certain extent he was right, but what he missed was the fact that this is also what most of the mainstream audience wants. 

    I would love to tell a story in a different way but I don’t have the craft to do it well and I fear in a system set up on tradition I may never have the opportunity to learn this craft. 

    Plus I worry if I veer off from what is standard, not only will the work not be produced but it will be dismissed as women’s writing. A term unfortunately used to negate exciting new forms. 

    I am proud to be a woman and a playwright, but I know many others reject being classified as a woman playwright. It is true that male playwrights do not have their gender stated in the same way, again this points to the norm and we as the exception.

    This year in my home city of Winnipeg seven local women playwrights are seeing their work premiered. It is amazing but unique. I really hope it is a sign of a greater trend and represents on-going change. I am trying to avoid the voice telling me it is an anomaly.

    © Hope McIntyre 2013. This article may be reproduced only with full attribution to the copyright holder.


  • 19 Oct 2013 10:13 AM | Anonymous
    My Dad taught me to use the right tool for the job. Although I was rebellious and often didn't heed his advice, this caution stuck with me. Language is like a screwdriver. It's the primary tool we use as writers, but there are many different shapes and sizes. 

    I'm thinking about language and building stories. Yesterday I was working on a monologue to add to FOOBS AND FIPPLES - THE BREAST MONOLOGUES. 

    The young woman speaking has found herself inundated with unfamiliar words: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Sentinel Node Dissection, Stage 2a, Grade 3, Adriamycin, Tamoxifen… In order to make informed decisions she has to learn this new language. So do I to write the monologue.

    In my most recent play, LUST & LIES, the characters speak very differently: one is Cuban, one English, one American. The story unfolds in 1831 -- another language adjustment, more playwright research. It has to be just right. I don't want to be so obsessed with the words I lose track of my characters' feelings though.

    At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival I was afraid that my play set in Vermont and New York wouldn't translate well to the English-speaking but mostly European audience. 

    In Mongolia I taught playwriting using a translator. I was shocked to find that whatever I said in English took three times as long for the translator to say in Mongolian. I was teaching how to write a ten-minute play. Oops.

    Earlier this year my play ALICE IN BLACK AND WHITE was produced by Looking for Lilith in Louisville,Kentucky. Lilith uses choreographed movement in plays, so I was very excited for them to take on ALICE and "translate" emotion into movement at certain spots in the play when passion is too high for words -- when tension is too tight for speech -- when language isn't enough.

    Today I'm sitting in the hot tub at the gym and thinking about language. I'm remembering how the Mongolian students and I were amazed several times to find ourselves having animated discussions for a few minutes before remembering that we were speaking different languages. 

    I'm remembering exquisite moments in the Lilith production that were silent. And I'm remembering strangers in the audiences in Scotland who cried during LISTEN! THE RIVER; and the Scottish poet who was moved to write two poems and email them to me.
     
    The screwdriver riff has served its purpose. It's got me thinking now about the purpose of language in my plays. It needs to be well-researched and specific so that it can fulfill its ultimate purpose which is to stay the hell out out of the way of the universal language: emotion. Thanks, Dad.

    Website www.dramamama.net
  • 18 Oct 2013 7:24 PM | Anonymous

    I am at last embarking on my Winter Season .  When I tell people this they stare at me sometimes in shock.  They equate the Winter Season with Death.  Yes, unless Life is a circle, this last season involving the  reduction of light and color is an ending.  But it is also a culmination. An assessment.  An evaluation  of what is left after the three preceding Seasons have taken their toll.

    Playwrights set their plays in the fourth Season, showing the audience what remains after the nurturing, the buffeting, the recriminations, and possibly the forgiveness of characters.  As Hamlet says enigmatically “I could tell you…..”  But we already know what he has seen and lived through before being frozen before us there upon the page or stage.  Playwrights live in the Winter Season with their art form long before they come upon it in their lifetimes.

    This year I turned 70.  It is the zero at the end that marks the change.  I do not look different in the mirror, but suddenly my writing became more focused. More directed to an answer.  It was the time to stop asking questions and start answering them for myself.  It was a time to read my cast of characters and try to define how they fit into my particular drama. 

    I had done it – the growing up, the falling in love, the betrayals, the observance of others and their Winter season, the motherhood, the successes and the failures, and the acceptance that I am passing through, not stopping, in this world.  If much of my time was spent waiting for Godot, I am now done with the waiting.  

    There are many who come to their ending without having lived the four seasons. I say we have a gift given to us if we get to hear the moods and themes, and when we learn to listen to the music of the season we are in.

    © Christine Emmert 2013. This article may be reproduced only with full attribution to the copyright holder.

  • 12 Oct 2013 5:34 AM | Anonymous

    Social NetworkingThe three books my librarian selected just for me last month are on my desk.

    1. The Facebook Guide for People Over 50

    2. Facebook for DUMMIES

    3. Likeable Social Media


    I’ve just renewed all three online for another month. The librarian inserted bookmarks at the sections she thought would help me most. I haven’t opened any of the books yet.

    Upon reentry to the playwriting world just a year ago and leaving the corporate world of public relations, client relations, personnel communications, networking and seeking new clients, I was at a loss. The techies on the job always took care of posting, printing, disseminating and distributing all of the material I created.

    So, as Kris Bauske just wrote in her “Promotion, Promotion, Promotion” article, I must do for myself what I’ve been doing for the companies I worked for over the years. I must promote myself. And to do so, I must climb what I view as the very steep learning curve of social media. Soon, however, I hope I’ll be able to write a play entitled I Am My Own Techie. (Apologies to Doug Wright.)

    Another factor, not at all technical, that inhibits self-promotion is an overdose of modesty. Most women, I find, much more than most men, have trouble “bragging” about their own skills, talents and accomplishments. It’s certainly not bragging. It’s just the facts, mam. But for so many “polite” women, still under the influence of the era when I grew up, it just seems so nervy to go out there, tell everybody about the fine plays we write and, horrors, actually sell our work.

    Shout About ItNetworking among corporate prospects and colleagues in my industry was not a favorite tool of mine, but it was part of the job. Now, in the playwriting and theater production industry (that would be show business), I love networking. 

    It is the heart-pumping life blood that keeps me going. This wonderful International Centre for Women Playwrights, The Dramatists Guild and the local play reading group I’ve joined provide the human contact that is essential in this business.

    I am renewing my mission, not just to write my best play, but to help myself to success, just as I did for others in my former job.

    Thank you ICWP. Thank you, Margaret and the other ICWP volunteers for all the work you do. The information on the site has helped me TREMENDOUSLY!

    Website:  www.maryjanewalsh.com

     

    © Mary Jane Walsh 2013. This article may be reproduced only with full attribution to the copyright holder.

  • 09 Oct 2013 3:44 PM | Anonymous
    Self PromotionI’ve heard it said many times, to be a great writer, you must read.  Would you believe it’s also now necessary to promote?  Promotion has become as much a part of the writer’s life as coffee and Microsoft Word, and yet many of my closest friends struggle with this skill.

    Long ago, when I first realized the extraordinary difficulty and the immense scope of the opportunities available for playwrights, I made a commitment to make one contact, submission, or inquiry each day.  (For me, this has included weekend days as well as weekdays.  It allows me to feel comfortable with the occasional vacation where I don’t touch technology for days at a time.)  I personally know many writers who feel promotion is the job of an agent, and since they don’t currently have an agent, they don’t worry about promotion ~ as if word of your fabulous work will circulate somehow on its own.  Trust me, no matter how good the work is, it won’t.  Writers contact me regularly asking how to find an agent when the bigger question should be, “How do I get my work noticed?”

    First, in the spirit of full disclosure, I do have an agent.  He is a fabulous friend and a critic I look to again and again for input, suggestions, and ideas.  One of the reasons I have an agent is my commitment to promoting my work.  As a playwright with representation, let me assure you, signing with an agent is no guarantee of success.  Nor does it relieve you from your personal responsibility to promote your work.  My agent primarily handles contract negotiations, such as in publishing and adaptation situations, and he submits the occasional script on my behalf. 

    For the most part, I still handle most of my own submissions, as I am more in tune to which script fits best with which competition, and it saves me money.  Yes!  I pay my agent for his time!  If a script hasn’t started making me money, it isn’t making him money.  His time is valuable (beyond measure), and I pay him when he sends new scripts to new venues.  This includes the few theatres that will only accept submissions from agents.  Since I pay for his services, I use them judiciously.

    Having an agent has not magically elevated me beyond my peers.  I have won and placed in my fair share of competitions, and I have had a great deal of success getting my work published, but I still get up every day and look for that opportunity to reach out into the stratosphere and make a new contact.  If I can’t find a theatre accepting submissions, I look for venues that handle my kind of story.  Believe it or not, many theatres like certain types of scripts, and they are more likely to produce yours if it’s similar to others they have recently done. 

    You may also have more success if you get to know their preferences for cast size and gender/race composition.  Before you reach out to an artistic director, get to know the organization.  Use Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other social media to research a potential contact.  The more you know about them, the more flattered they will be, and the more they will know you are genuinely interested in their theatre and what they do.  We all like it when someone takes the time to learn about what we do.

    One friend is a writer who signed up for both Facebook and LinkedIn and has never even completed her profile on either.  Needless to say, she hasn’t maximized these tools’ abilities to reach out to those who can help her best.

    Facebook has a wonderful group called The Official Playwrights of Facebook where Dusty Wilson generously posts submission opportunities at the beginning of each month.  LinkedIn hosts groups dedicated to Playwrights, Broadway Producers and Investors, and International Theatre, just to name a few.  Do you think you could find more and better opportunities by connecting with people in these groups?  I know you can!  Why?  Because I have!

    If you are a playwright hoping to establish more opportunities for your work to be seen, you must commit to promotion.  Don’t wait, hoping one day for that elusive agent.  Don’t make excuses.  Grab the bull by the horns and use the many and varied means available to you now to build a network of people who genuinely want to and are able to help further your work today.  If you’re not familiar with technology, find a convenient teenager to explain Twitter and tweeting.  Offer to edit an English paper in return for her help.  There are too many ways of promoting your work to lose one more day!  After all, your work is wonderful!  Fabulous!  The world needs the insights in your latest play!  It’s not fair of you to keep your light under a bushel basket.  Get out there and let the world know what you have to offer!  You may be surprised when it welcomes you with open arms!

    Website: www.krisbauske.com

    © Kris Bauske 2013. This article may be reproduced only with full attribution to the copyright holder.
  • 05 Oct 2013 6:28 AM | Anonymous
    As part of my blog series where I talk to artistic directors, literary  managers, and dramaturgs about the submission process, I've heard a recurring complaint that they receive too many plays that don't fit their missions, and that we are not doing our research in determining whether or not our plays are a good fits for the particular companies we’re sending them to. I want to flip that contention to say that many theaters, when establishing their missionary positions, are not clear about what they want. Here are some real examples pulled from some random theater websites:
     
    “[X Theatre] is committed to producing both classic and contemporary works, giving full voice to a wide range of artists and visions… By dedicating itself to three guiding principles - quality, diversity and community - [X Theatre] seeks to be the premier cultural organization in [insert city here].”
     
    Do you know what kind of plays this theater is seeking? Here’s a few more:
     
    “[This company] engages, inspires, entertains, and challenges audiences with theatrical productions that range from the classics to new works; we train and support the next generation of theatre artists; we celebrate the essential power of the theatre to illuminate our common humanity.”
     
     “To create and produce professional theatre productions, programs, and services of a national standard.”
     
    “The mission of [our company] is to sustain the tradition of professional theatre and contribute to its future viability and vitality.”
     
    Is it just me, or do all of these mean “We make theater”? And this is to say nothing of all the theaters who use vague mission buzzwords like “bold” or “edgy.” And the catchall “as well as outstanding works of literary merit” basically means that many, many theaters are leaving themselves open to produce anything that suits their fancy - and any particular artistic director’s fancy is elusive at best.
     
    I actually asked one AD whose theater does a lot of experimental work how it was that a certain, very  naturalistic, playwright was listed among his favorites. Answer: “I’m a big fan of great writing, great characters, and interesting stories, whether the story is simply told or weird and wonderful.” And honestly, is there an AD out there who doesn’t feel that way? In my own town, Irish Classical Theatre last year produced Next to Normal, which is neither Irish nor classic, simply because they wanted to. And they did an astounding job.
     
    This is not to say that theaters don’t stick to their missions most of the time; the problem is that we don’t really know what they are, and they are fluid. I understand the desire for that fluidity - I really do - but then is it fair to say that we are not doing our jobs when the missions are purposely vague enough to include just about anything?
     
    Even companies with very specific missions can easily be misconstrued. Take this one:
     
    “[This company] makes theater of the imagination. Our company thrives on adventure and believes no story is worth telling without a little risk. We love our villains as much as our heroes, especially in those puzzling moments when we can’t quite tell them apart. Above all, we aim to leave you with stories that stick somewhere in your heart, your brain, or your guts.”
     
    It sounds a little vague, but the key to the kingdom is in that first sentence, theater of the imagination: this company loves made-up worlds, and if you look at the plays they produce, you can see that very clearly. But the thing is, you really have to take that look to know that. Otherwise, you might be saying “My play is very imaginative, and you can’t tell the villains from the heroes. I’m sending it.” And it will be totally wrong for this company and that will be on you.
     
    When every company - understandably - wants the ability to say “We want to produce this play,” without having to answer to either patrons or playwrights about their reasons, a solution remains out of reach. For new playwrights, it may be best to stay away from vague-mission companies, and seek out those with missions so specific that there can be no mistake that your play is perfect for them.

    Historic, Jewish, and Grand Guignol theater companies are quintessential examples. There’s even a company that only does productions of adapted novels, and one that insists on fight scenes between women. Even with my rudimentary math skills, I can figure out that these companies probably don’t get the thousands of submissions that more generically-missioned companies do. So find them. Write for them. They are probably looking for you in a way that those big companies just aren’t.

    © Donna Hoke. This article may be reproduced with full attribution to the writer and copyright holder.

    Read Donna Hoke's Blog Series
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