‘Tis the (Submission) Season
Ah, the coolness of the air, the crisp sound of the leaves rustling underfoot. It’s the time of non-profit galas galore and Christmas party networking.
For playwrights and librettists, it’s also the season of submissions.
I’m sorry to say that some of the major submission opportunities have already passed (the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, the Richard Rodgers Award, the Jonathan Larson Grant, and Sundance Theatre Lab, for instance). If you didn’t apply this year, there’s always next year.
However, there is still time for some other major festivals, like NYMF (which has extended their deadline to November 18).
Why Submit to Theaters and Festivals?
If you want to get your production on its feet and onstage, there’s no better way to begin the process than by participating in an established theater company or festival’s lineup, if you’re ready for it.
What do I mean by ready?
- Your script has had at least one table reading and seems to “work”
- You have had a few theater professionals advise you to move forward with the piece
- You’re through with the re-writes, and it’s time for your script to live and breathe onstage in order to learn more about it.
I believe we’re living in an Age of the Playwright, something akin to the ancient Greek Fifth Century era, where the power of the theater and its storytelling was at its peak. Never before has there been so many writers and storytelling for production (which includes film, tv, and internet storytelling in addition to live theater). Our society is primed to consume storytelling via visual dramatic action, much more so than in previous eras when vital storytelling was shared primarily through words: through oral tradition or through text (novels, newspapers, poems and radio theater).
I call this the Age of the Playwright instead of the “Age of the Director,” since the ideas come from the playwright’s vision. A director interprets the theme and makes it come alive on stage, but the original vision, intention and form – the raison d’etre of a piece – remains embedded within the meaning endowed unto it by its creator, the writer.
And unfortunately more and more, the costs associated with birthing it to life come from the writer as well.
Enter the non-profit theaters and festivals. Drum roll, please.
Creative Playmaking in the 21st Century
I’m certainly not saying anything new, but the cost of putting your precious show onstage can be daunting. This is the world that I live in too, as a producer and mentor for many writers.
How do we create opportunities to put stories on stage in the 21st century? How can we produce our work, or help others to produce our work, without needing to take out a second mortgage on our home or risking money that we really shouldn’t risk?
The secret is two-fold of course:
- Through constant pitching for OPM (Other People’s Money) and
- By consistently submitting your work to as many opportunities as you can.
In a field where it seems as if “they” hold all the power, this is a wakeup call to remind you that YOU hold all the power.
- This is your “baby,” your creation, and no one will foster it and promote it better than you
- You hold all the cards, because at some point it is really a “numbers game” and entirely within your power to pitch or not to pitch, to submit or not to submit.
Let me say it again: “they” don’t hold all of the power; YOU hold all of the power.
You create your own opportunities.
Pitching and Submitting: Make It Easy
There are differences, and you must do both.
By “pitching” yourself and/or your work, usually in person, you are demonstrating that you are a professional artist that believes in yourself and in your work. “Submitting” is the process where you submit your work to a person, theater or festival, and then wait to see if you are selected through their process.
Every artist should have their two minute “elevator pitch” down pat, ready to go at a moment’s notice when fate puts an opportunity smack dab in your face. How many times have you felt yourself unprepared for that moment when the universe put someone in your path who could help you professionally,? Get your elevator pitch ready now.
That’s why I now insist that I constantly have a memorized elevator pitch for the shows I’m currently working on ready to “present” when an opportunity shows itself. You can follow up by email with people you meet in person with “pitching” materials prepared ahead of time, that give information about your show, reviews, a sizzle reel, etc.
Pitching should happen in person and over email if you know someone personally. A “cold” pitch is less effective, unless introduced by a common acquaintance. I try to always remember to follow up with prepared material after meeting someone and speaking about one of my shows. I keep their business card in my pocket or in plain sight as a reminder, so I don’t forget.
That may be a good goal for you in 2020.
People Are Interested in You!
People are interested in hearing about you and your work. They may also be willing to help you produce it or connect you to others who can, because either the work sounds compelling or, more often, they just really like YOU and want to help you succeed.
It’s up to you to sound articulate and represent yourself and your work really well by being prepared beforehand.
While pitching usually happens in person, submissions are done in the privacy of your own home or office. They rely on your organization of material and the productive use of your time. You MUST set aside a regular time each week to submit. Make it part of your weekly routine to submit to at least 4-5 opportunities a week on a regular basis.
You Hold All the Power
Writers who make a routine of setting aside a regular time each week to submit create more opportunities for themselves than writers who submit in a haphazard “I’ll get to it when I get to it” manner. Ditto those writers who have their pitches memorized and follow up afterward with pitching materials.
It’s all part of being a professional playwright in the 21st century.
It’s my job as a dramaturg and producer to inspire you and to help you in every way I can. I’m constantly trying to think of new ways to do this.
Recently I’ve been sitting down with writers to help them figure out ways to send out submissions more easily and quickly, making it “no big deal” to submit their work. If you make it part of your routine and have the needed documents at your fingertips, it actually becomes no big deal.
And that’s how you create opportunities that come to you.
Upcoming Submission Deadlines
I always advise my writers to join the Dramatists Guild and Play Submissions Helper to keep up with their submitting goals. I also am now reminding writers of upcoming deadlines in my weekly member newsletters. It helps to have the prodding come from a few different places!
Here are some of the upcoming deadlines for approaching deadlines for November that may be of interest to you:
- Deadline Nov. 29
- Deadline Nov. 30
- Deadline Nov. 30
Waterman’s Playwrights Retreats (Female Identifying Playwrights only)
- Deadline 11/30
If I can help you dramaturgically with your script, help you achieve your submission goals, or if you would like a production consultation with next steps for your project, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to speak with you.