After consultation with a variety of people, I wanted to take a moment to re-cast the Playwrights Wish List so that it was, in fact, more clearly a list of wishes. Rather than indicating what “should” or shouldn’t be, I’m thinking it’s more appropriate to lay out what we “wish” were the case, in the hope that theaters around the country will perhaps be willing to grant our wishes.
I’ve made this change in the spirit of openness and dialogue that has currently pervaded the theatrical ecosystem; I feel as if theaters are actually genuinely willing to listen, and if they are, there’s no need go about demanding this or that. (If they were less open, however… all bets would be off.)
In exchange for these wishes, mind you, we’re going to need to promise or offer a few things in return. Look for a post on that subject in the coming weeks.
In the meantime: if you’re on board with this list of wishes, will you consider “signing” your name to it in the comments, in any way you like? Of course, all of them are still up for debate and consideration: all input is welcome. I may be the steward here, but this is — to be sure — everybody’s list.
Submissions: Nuts and Bolts
- We wish that no playwright would ever receive a rejection letter that begins with anything resembling “Dear [INSERT NAME OF PLAYWRIGHT HERE]” or thatâ€™s addressed to the wrong person.
- We wish no playwright would ever receive a rejection letter that includes a significant misspelling, either of the playwrightâ€™s name or the title of the play.
- We wish that theaters, development programs, and contests would standardize on what constitutes a play sample: 10 pages, 15 pages, 20 pages. We prefer a longer sample, but standardization is of paramount importance. We would also be willing to consider doing away with sample entirely and replacing them with the submission of an entire script along with an indication of which 10 or 20 pages to review.
- We wish that theaters, development programs, and contests would abandon any other esoteric submission requirements: demands that several different files be combined into a single PDF, or that an extra title page be created, or that bios be limited to a random number of words. We wish instead that a standard set of straightforward requirements would be adopted.
- We wish that no playwright would ever be asked for a letter of reference in support of an application or submission.
- We wish that theaters, development programs, and contests everywhere would stop asking for paper submissions; for the sake of reducing costs and protecting the planet, we wish that all submissions would be handled electronically.
- We wish that all theaters, development programs, or contests would eliminiate submission fees of any kind.
Submissions: Selection Criteria
- We wish that all submissions for development programs and contests would be blind; we would prefer that our work be judged on its own merits, not on any other criteria.
- We wish that all submissions for theaters should also be blind during the first round of review and selection.
- We wish that theaters, development programs, and contests would not inquire as to the educational status of a playwright nor use that status as a criterion for submissions.
- We wish that theaters would replace the “never before produced scripts only” criteria with a less restrictive “no more than two prior productions” criteria.
- We wish that playwrights would be allowed to re-submit scripts when substantial revisions have been completed.
- We wish that all submissions for theaters, development programs, and contests would be as transparent as possible.
- We wish that all theaters, development programs, and contests would publish the names and bios of judges, reviewers, and script readers prior to opening submissions.
- We wish that, to whatever extent possible, theaters, development programs, and contests would honestly indicate why a given play has or has not been selected after it has received extensive consideration.
Submissions: Best Practices
- We wish that theaters, development programs, and contests would respond to every submission — not personally, but at least with a form response. We do not consider it courteous or acceptable to let silence stand in for rejection.
- We wish that all theaters, development programs, and contests would publish a maximum turnaround time for review of submissions and hold themselves accountable to the dates they publish.
- We wish that no moreÂ infantileÂ language would be used to describe play development: no cradles, no incubators, no hatcheries.
- We wish that the term “emerging” (as in “she’s an emerging playwright”) would be eliminated from all discourse about playwrights.
- We wish that a higher percentage of plays produced in any given geographic area were written by playwrights who live in that geographic area than is currently the case.
- We wish that more theaters nationwide would have playwrights on staff (or at least in long-tenured resident dramatist positions).
- We wish that more theaters nationwide would add playwrights to their artistic advisory boards.
- We wish that there were genuine, demonstrable gender and racial parity in the authorship of work selected by theaters, development programs, and contests.
16 thoughts on “Playwrights Wish List”
I wish theatres etc. would adopt The Inkwell’s approach for the first round of readi g plays, rather than being astonished and overwhelmed at the number of submissions. More on Inkwell if you need it!
I’m familiar with their (ambitious and creative) approach, but could you elaborate for the readers who aren’t?
And also: what would happen, do you think, if every theater, development program, and contest in DC did it the same way as The Inkwell? Might that not burn out all the readers? Just curious.
Judith, thank you so much! We’re thrilled that you’re a part of The Inkwell’s reader corps, and we are truly honored by your mention here – and your positive feedback about the process.
For those who don’t know us, here’s a little about The Inkwell (www.inkwelltheatre.org) and our reading process:
We have trained and engaged over 90 readers – from all over the country – for our 2011 call for submissions. This year we received around 275 plays – and we’re absolutely thrilled to have so many playwrights interested in sharing their work with us!Â
Our reading period is fluid: our readers choose to read 1, 2, or 3 plays a week during each phase of our reading period, and we read until every play has been read by at least one reader (this year, our round one submissions will be read by up to four different readers). In the second phase of reading, we make sure that up to six different readers have responded to the text. In our third phase, we host salons where our readers meet up, discuss and advocate for the work they love.
Personally, IÂ think that our trainings empower, engage, and energize our readers in a wonderful way. Our reader trainings are hour-long conference calls. It’s a really fun process, chatting with our readers about how to read and respond to plays-in-progress in The Inkwell way. We make sure that every reader is clear about what we’re looking for in a variety of categories, defining each category and question and how each relates to The Inkwell’s aesthetic. Readers have a handbook to refer to after the training as well, where all the categories and rankings are defined in even greater detail, and where we provide examples of quality responses from years past.
Reading over our readers’ responses, it’s clear that The Inkwell’s training has a positive impact on the way that our readers think about the plays that are submitted – their thoughtful, in-depth, and generous responses to evolving texts truly reflect our “reading mantras”: cultivate patience, discover potential, and say yes!
So, Gwydion, this is how we prevent burned-out readers: a large quantity of passionate and trained people who read at a reasonable pace for as long as is necessary – in a positive and empowering process.
Oh, and while I have your attention: I have to thank publicly our amazing Managing Director, Lindsay Haynes Lowder, who is a logistical genius. SheÂ oversees and facilitates the reading process – which is no small task! Thank you, Lindsay! And of course, thanks to all of our amazing readers: we at The Inkwell are so proud of our readers corps and so grateful to you all for making our work possible!Â
I am so, so glad you wrote this out, Jessi. I think you all are absolutely heroic and creative and energized in what you’ve done. To my mind, you’ve turned the process of reading and evaluating scripts into an immense and intense community-building exercise. (I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about it, but I just haven’t had time — or enough knowledge — to do it.) You turn readers into advocates or ambassadors for The Inkwell. You give every script deep consideration, which makes the playwrights who are chosen even more clearly a good fit for your mission AND makes those of us (myself included) who in the past have NOT been chosen understand that there can be no sour grapes. At least four or so people — theater practitioners and afficionados — know our work better than they did before the process began, and have thought about it, and have talked about it. What more can a playwright ask?
My question about burn-out, though — just to be clear — has nothing to do with you. I realize that you’re energizing people, rather than depriving them of energy. But… what if EVERY theater or development program in town did the same thing? Would there be enough readers to go around? Would they perhaps end up seeing the same scripts again and again? Would their senses get dulled? Would they be able to keep the criteria for, say, The Inkwell and two or three other programs distinct in their minds? Maybe none of this is a problem — I sincerely don’t know. That’s why I’m asking.
Well, really why I’m asking is that we need a complete overhaul of the way we read and consider scripts in this country, and the first place to begin (I think) is by looking for the bright spots — and I consider The Inkwell one of those bright spots.
So… your thoughts? Is there a way to take The Inkwell’s program city-wide? Or even nationwide?
Looks solid, straightforward, and (most importantly) reasonable and fair to me. Thank you for this project, and thanks for compiling. Perhaps send it to Gary Garrison/ The Dramatists Guild for a wider reach?Â
Thank you, Brian!
I’d be surprised if it hadn’t made its way to him/them already. What would be great would be if lots of folks would send it to them, rather than just me. If the will exists, that is. This needs to be a general uprising, not one playwright agitating. Know what I mean?
In essence: I’m trying to capture what lots of people have been telling me and share it widely. I’m just trying to be a funnel or amplifier. What do you think?
I’d gladly send it to him. Perhaps we could arrange for a gradual submission (as opposed to an angry twitter mob) from people over a week — also, how many people contributed to this?
It’d be great to give him a number like 10, 50, 5 billion, however many playwrights weighed in to create this list, so that he’d know it wasn’t just one playwright ringing a very loud bell :)Â
I totally agree. I’m hoping to gather signatures slowly over a few months (?)… then we’ll see what we have!
I’m proudly signing my name to this very reasonable wish list. Thank you.
Yes. You’re the first!
Signing with my No Face self.
Awesome! And everyone, be sure to check out RVCBard’s post on the organizing principles underlying what we’re doing here:
I’ll sign my name to this, absolutely!Â
(Quick question: The Berkshire Playwrights Lab? Is this along the same line of how the Inkwell is approaching developing new plays? Or am I totally off-base?)
I don’t know, actually, having not yet participated in either!
I enjoyed reading the wishlist, but I’m having a tough time reconciling some items which seem to be contradictory.
Is this wish…
*Submissions: Selection Criteria*
1. We wish that all submissions for development programs and contests would be blind; we would prefer that our work be judged on its own merits, not on any other criteria.
…compatible with the following?
1. We wish that a higher percentage of plays produced in any given geographic area were written by playwrights who live in that geographic area than is currently the case
4. We wish that there were genuine, demonstrable gender and racial parity in the authorship of work selected by theaters, development programs, and contests.
Seems to me that we can either choose to be blind or that we can employ positive discrimination on race, gender, and geography–but not both at the same time.
On one level, Joe, I just want to say “This is a wish list. Someone else has to figure out how to grant the wishes, not us.” But I know you, and I think I know the depth from which your question is coming, as I assume you won’t be satisfied by that answer, so…
There are any number of ways in which those matters might be reconciled… as long as you believe in affirmative action. (If you don’t, at some level, there’s not much I can do to convince you that they’re reconcilable.)Â One way might be leveling the playing field, which would mean setting aside a certain number of opportunity slots for certain demographic segments, then competing blindly within those slots.Â Another would be to compete blindly except on certain criteria (race, gender).Â Another way would be addressing the systemic issues that lead to disparities in opportunity and resources. Still another would be ensuring a slate of diverse selectors for every opportunity.
Personally, I am of the sincere opinion that completely blind assessment of scripts on their own merits — without any identifiable information associated with them of any kind — by a diverse slate of assessors WILL result in greater gender- and race-balanced assignment of opportunities. That should, I think, be our first step.
The next, however, is much more difficult, if not (in the short term) impossible: fixing the social inequities by which our entire social fabric is compromised, which would (I believe) get us the rest of the way there.
Consider that my dream.
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