I would like to offer one really good bit of advice to everyone everywhere running any kind of 24-hour playwriting thing, or anything even remotely resembling a 24-hour playwriting thing, like a weekend playwriting thing or a week-long playwriting thing or even (as I recently experienced) a month-and-a-half-long playwriting thing.
You know that thing you do where you give us writing prompts? You tell playwrights they have to use a certain line, or a certain character name, or a certain prop, or all three of those things, or (as I recently experienced) a list of about a dozen completely different things? On top of having a demanding deadline? And often not knowing who’ll be available to play the roles you write?
That hurts. Please stop that. Thank you.
Let me elaborate.
I see you when you give out these prompts. You often have a barely-concealed giggle on your faces, like you take no small joy in making playwrights sing for their supper. You have many nice qualities; this is not your best quality.
When you don’t have that look, you often have a slightly different look, which resembles an apologetic grin: “Sorry to have to do this, but this is what everybody does, so… I have to do it, too.” But please, let me tell you: it doesn’t have to be like this.
Ask yourself what those prompts are for. Typically, they’re to ensure that we don’t give you something we already wrote when we’re supposed to be writing something new. But seriously: isn’t the honor system enough? Can’t you just, you know… trust us? The people you’ve decided to take on as creative collaborators? Who you’re already trusting to do good work for you? Call me crazy, but it just might work.
Some argue prompts like the ones I’ve described are meant to be inspiring… but (sorry) that’s just not how they work. If they were meant to be inspiring, you’d offer them to us as gifts: to be accepted or not, incorporated into our work or not, as we see fit. In my most recent experience with this sort of project, that’s how they were presented to me. Well, some of them were, and some weren’t… but I decided to be cavalier and treat them all as if they were gifts, and in the end, though I rejected most of them, the ones I did keep became the foundation of the work I created. That worked much more effectively than anything similar I’ve ever experienced before.
So… give us actual prompts — material to inspire us — not constraints. Set us free, please, and trust us. We’ll make you beautiful things, I promise.