Place The Play – by Dan Weatherer
So you have penned your theatrical debut
and it is a masterpiece, but what now? How do you get your freshly completed stage
play from your hard drive and onto the stage?
Believe it or not, this is not as daunting
or as complicated a process as it might sound. While there is no 100% sure-fire
way to ensure your piece gets to be performed on stage, I will share a few
useful tips that will save you a lot of time when it comes to submitting
material, and help manage your expectations of what you can expect to
experience during the process. Again, I must stress that this is in no way,
shape or form the ONLY way to get your work onto the stage, but I have only
been writing as a playwright for eighteen months, and I have already had
several pieces of work staged/aired in the UK/USA, and have successfully landed
representation as a playwright. What has worked for me may work for you.
OK, so let’s dive in with what I have
learned during my short stint as a playwright:
First, some truths as regards to theatre
and new writing. (Most of what I will discuss is born of my experience with the
UK theatre scene, but I imagine some of it will ring true wherever you are in
the world.) New writing is seen as a gamble, more so than with regard to traditional
book publishing. Many believe that theatre is the toughest nut to crack when
compared to film and book industries. The aim of the theatre is to make money
by filling seats. The sad truth is that new writers are not often seen as seat fillers,
and theatre companies are reluctant to take a risk on any piece, regardless of
its merit, if they feel the name of the author is not enough of a draw to cover
their overheads and make a profit.
However, don’t despair! There are many
theatres that DO encourage new writing, and they often post submission calls
detailing exactly the kind of work that they are looking for. I use the Play
Submission Helper and the London Playwrights Blog. Check them often and I
guarantee you will eventually come across a theatre/group who will be willing
to read your work. From then, it is a case of following their submission
guidelines and waiting patiently for a response. (Please bear in mind that
response times vary considerably, and as with any submission, decisions are
based a multitude of factors, and feedback is rarely provided with a
Before You Submit:
How many times have you looked over your
work, confident that it reads perfectly well, submitted it, then later found a
Proofreading a script is just as important
as proofreading a manuscript. Shabby submissions rarely get to the stage. Remember,
you are might be submitting alongside countless other playwrights; you may as
well give your work the best chance of acceptance possible by submitting a
watertight script to begin with.
Further, if you can get a group of people
together to read your script aloud before submitting, you will immediately hear
if your dialogue is in need of further work. Hearing others speak your material
will highlight any clunkiness of dialogue, or other shortfalls (such as the
flow of the piece, plot holes, etc.). I would also advise listening to what
your readers/performers have to say with regards to your characters. For example,
not everybody speaks in full sentences, and your readers may highlight lines
that feel awkward when spoken aloud. Properly written dialogue can be wooden
and unbelievable. Listen to how it is performed and amend accordingly. You will
be surprised at how different a line is heard as to read inside your head.
However, taking into account their feedback is entirely up to you (not every
piece of advice you will be given need be followed, after all: you are the
architect of the piece), but sometimes they may be able to highlight issues
that you may have overlooked. All of this effort can help fine-tune a script
and make it ‘pop’ from the page, improving your chances of success.
Leave meat on the bone for the
This tip is born of both personal
experience and preference.
When providing a character breakdown, I
find that the supplying the characters name/age is more than sufficient. Let me
explain why: Theatre scripts differ from novels etc. in that you are handing
over your work to be interpreted by others. Directors/actors like to delve into
your words and present/interpret them in their own way. The more they have to
play with, the more likely the project will appeal to them. Sometimes you can
dictate far too much; for instance, a character may have had a string of
one-night stands, a failed marriage, a drinking problem, no regular income and
once saw a Heron, but the strength of your writing SHOULD convey all of that in
the way the character acts/speaks, if it is relevant to the piece. There is no
need to explain every nuance of their personality in the character breakdown:
Less in this instance is indeed more. Think of it as you handing over a recipe;
the key ingredients are there (and will always be yours) but the way the meal
is prepared and served, that is up to the chef.
The same can be said for stage directions.
Specify any important gestures/actions that you feel are integral to the
action, but allow the directors/actors to add and amend any they see fit, as
they explore the possibilities of the scene. I can’t stress enough how (in my
experience) it is important to trust the director/actors with your work. They
will keep you in the loop and may suggest amendments (ones you can of course
refuse), but they may uncover new and exciting angles to your work that
transfer better to the medium of the stage.
Types of Performance.
In my experience, the kind of submission
calls most commonly found online involve either a rehearsed reading or a full
A rehearsed reading is just that: actors
(with script in hand) read aloud your work while in character. Usually, there
are no set/props on stage. Actors may sit, and any stage directions are usually
described using the text in the script. Occasionally, there will be audience
feedback sessions. These types of events are great for testing new writing on
both actors and audience alike. Excerpts of larger works can also be performed;
the benefit of this is that you can road test a project without needing to have
completed it first.
In this instance, your work will be
rehearsed beforehand, and a full performance by actors in full costume, and
props/sets will be involved This may be a one-off event or part of a longer
The Small Print.
A quick note on contracts: read them
thoroughly before signing. There are a myriad of ways a Playwright may attain
royalties, be sure to fully understand what you are entitled (and that you are
happy with the agreement) before signing. Remember: If there is something in
the contract you do not like or are unsure of, ask to discuss it further.
How To Maximise The Chances Of Getting Your
Work Onto The Stage:
The length of a
You may have written an epic, five-act
period drama, spanning two hours and featuring a cast of hundreds (which is
great), but bear in mind that such a bold offering is unlikely to be considered
by all but the most adventurous of theatres.
There are several reasons for this, but the
most important is cost. Such a production would require a huge budget, a budget
that (unless you are a major player on the theatre scene) you are unlikely to
secure. Competitions are sometimes receptive of longer pieces from new writers.
(More on those later.)
I have written full-length
productions but have not placed them as of yet. Theatre is it is timeless; anything
written can be stockpiled until the day theatres come knocking at your door,
begging for your work. (I have amassed quite the collection already!)
You will find that
there are plenty of theatre groups looking for short pieces. Short is cheap.
Short is good. You can still tell a story in five pages (if it is written well)
and you will find theatres much more receptive to reading short pieces for that
very reason. (I have had some of my best results with pieces no more than
fifteen minutes long.)
Remember: as a general rule of thumb: one
page of typed script equates to one and a half minutes’ performance time.
Characters and Scenery.
Again, the simpler, the better. The types
of theatres/groups that are looking to stage new writing, often have little to no
budget, and a stable numbering only a handful of dedicated actors. Often you will
see submission calls for pieces containing no more than two characters. If you
can write a tight script with only a few characters and a minimal setting, you
make your work far more appealing to would-be theatre producers. Ease of
production goes a long way to selling your work.
If you can write and be mindful that the
piece can be easily performed, you will be at a distinct advantage when it
comes to selection.
Fringe and Competitions.
I have had the
majority of my success submitting to fringe events in the UK/US. While there
has been little in the way of financial reward, seeing your piece interpreted
and brought to life by others is often reward itself. There is no greater
feeling than seeing an audience respond to your words the way you imagined they
would. Further, I have built up a network of actors/directors/producers who
work tirelessly in various theatre scenes around the world. Indeed, my agent
came by way of a recommendation from an actress who starred in one of my
pieces! (Theatre is very much a people industry. This is something to
bear in mind when speaking to actors/directors who have shown an interest in
your work. If they like you, they will usually support you to the hilt!)
You will also see
plenty of submission calls for competition writing. Some of these have entry
fees attached, but many do not. Again, if you feel you have something that
might fit the submission criteria, then consider submitting. Competition wins
(or final placings) look great on the resume.
Again, I must remind you that these tips
are all based on the journey that I have undertaken during the past year and a half,
and that they are in no way a guarantee of success. However, I have built an impressive portfolio of work, and sport a resume that
lists several international performances/final placings, all in the space of
eighteen months. Yes, the theatre is tough, but the point of this article is to
highlight that there are ways to get your work performed in front of an
audience. It worked for me (and yes, there is still a long way for me to go,
but it got me where I am today), and it can also work for you; just don’t
forget to invite me to opening night!
Dan Weatherer is the UK based
He is represented by The Cherry Weiner
Literary Agency (author) and Julie Fox Associates (Playwright).
His third collection NEVERLIGHT is now
available via Amazon in Kindle/Paperback forms.
For more information about Dan and his work
© 2016 by Dan Weatherer. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the author's written permission. Permission is granted only for posting on the World Wide Web at http://www.horror.org/, though hyperlinks to the article at this URL are encouraged.