Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Writers Poll: Would You Submit to This?

Putzing around on Theatre Bay Area's website today, I noticed this:

"The Playwrights Showcase seeks to expand opportunities for Bay Area playwrights by introducing local theatre companies to writers and work that represent both the high quality and unique diversity of playwriting in the area."

Sounds great right? I mean, this is what the community needs is it not? A way for young writers to get in front of the big shots who make the decisions about what audiences will be seeing.

Unfortunately, there are some problems, big ones:

"Two showcases will take place this year ..."

Two. Really? Two? That's it? Ok, well, these showcases will probably be a pretty big deal where lots of new plays (or excerpts of new plays) are performed right? Nope:

"Each playwright will be part of a seven-minute presentation: a two-minute discussion lead by an M.C. with each writer about his or her work, followed by the playwright reading a five-minute excerpt from a play he or she wishes to introduce to invited artistic directors and literary managers"

So if I understand this correctly, playwrights will describe their work to an MC, then have to read an excerpt from it? Note to all participating playwrights: I would recommend reading a 5 minute monologue from your play - if you read an argument, you'll just look like you're talking to yourself. Also, if stage fright is why you write as opposed to act, tough shit.

"(The event will be open to the General Public)."

How sweet of them.

"Applications for the Showcase will be screened by a panel of five theatre professionals, who will select a slate of participants that represent the work and diversity of playwriting in the Bay Area."

The decision about which plays will even be discussed in this oh so important gathering of grand theater poobahs is left five unnamed people at TBA. Also, if you don't get chosen, they're not going to give you feedback as to why.

However, it appears that TBA's "Playwrights Showcase" at least gets one thing correct, it's free right?

Nope. To be eligible to apply, you mast have a personal membership to TBA, which, if I remember correctly, costs about $70.

Way to reach out to the community TBA.

So, back to the ultimate question, writers, would you submit to this?


nina said...

this is utterly pointless. what, possibly, could one accomplish in five minutes to an MC? and, writers, why would you submit to this when you could submit to shortlived 2.0?

as somewhat of a writer myself i am going to vote. and my vote is no.

Marisela said...

I actually participated in this last year and was in really good company: Eugenie Chan, Lauren Yee, Christopher Chen, Julia Jarcho, Molly Rhodes, and Jonathan Lushkin (among others).

The concept is that it's like General Auditions for playwrights. The interview was brief and to give the audience an idea of what your work is like stylistically.

And you don't have to do a monologue, lots of theatre professionals are used to hearing playwrights read their work when there are multiple characters.

For an emerging playwright this is an opportunity to network with other playwrights and with the theatre professionals who make decisions about production--I've found that opportunities are a mixture of talent and personal relationships because if you're a theatre director and you meet someone you really want to work with, you create opportunities.

I know at least one playwright who got a commission as a result of the evening. (But I didn't take a poll of all those who participated.)

And if you're interested in getting to know your peers I say here's your chance to hear their work in their own voice, how they hear it in their own heads. The Bay Area has a wonderful theatre community, very supportive, and I would recommend this event to other emerging playwrights.

Carl Benson said...


Thanks for the thoughtful response.

While I have no doubt that the playwrights involved in the event are top notch, and that it can provide great opportunities to those who are selected to participate, I am still not sold.

The "individual" membership thing is crazy. If I read it correctly, what it means to me is that even if my company has a membership (which PianoFight does), or I write frequently for a company which has a membership, I would not be able to submit because I personally don't have an individual membership. It feels like a money grab.

I'm not saying that this event doesn't have positive aspects - clearly, it does. It spotlights emerging playwrights and connects them with people who could provide opportunities for their work. My beef with the whole affair is that I think it's poorly conceived and it's too little, too late. Why not stage the pieces? If it's a short play, stage the whole thing. If it's full length, stage a scene. Why force writers to read their own work? What about writers who do get stage fright? Is their work of any less quality because they personally don't want to read it aloud?

And I think what really gets me about it, is that it's considered this great opportunity for local playwrights. Theater companies should be going after local playwrights at all times. Companies hold auditions for new actors every few months, so why aren't there calls for scripts every few months also? Why is the hunt for new excellent work limited to two nights in a month? Why isn't TBA highlighting up and coming writers every week on its blog? Furthermore, why does a company whose supposed goal is to "better the community," really only focus on the big players within that community? (ACT, Berk Rep, Cal Shakes, Cutting Ball etc.)

In my opinion, a group like Playground does far more for local writers than TBA, and it's a shame. With the reach and resources of TBA, the Playwrights Showcase is a pretty paltry offering to the community.

Again, Marisela, thanks for the response. I have not been part of the event in anyway, nor do I plan to be, so your first hand comments are much appreciated and informative. And, there's nothing I enjoy more than a good old fashioned debate on theater - except maybe a philly cheese steak from Busters.


Marisela said...

Hi Carl,

All I can say about having to have an individual membership is that before the event I had been meaning to join TBA in order to get the publication, so I did see a return for that money and since I claimed it on my taxes, it’s a business expense. I do see your point about having a company membership—perhaps asking TBA to amend this guideline to consider this might be a way to go.

As for whether the event is conceived well, it should be noted that it’s only in its second year. I’m sure TBA could use constructive criticism in order to improve the event. Again, I think engaging in a dialogue with them would at least give them an idea of what might be working, what might not be. I have to disagree with the idea that it’s “too little, too late.” The Bay Area definitely needs to highlight the local talent pool and even if it feels “late,” by all means I encourage it and hope it’ll continue and grow.

As for why ask the writers to read and why not stage it. I think that’s a matter of economics (my opinion). Staging, even a staged reading, requires actors and actors should be compensated for their work (not to mention directors). I suspect that by having playwrights read their work you take that budget line out of the equation and also cut down on the time to change/redress the stage. Producing a short play would be great, but then again there’s money for actors and time. If TBA produces a few plays then they would most likely drastically reduce the number of playwrights they could feature. I think having the playwrights read their work is the way they keep expenses down and also the time factor—that is trying to include as many playwrights as possible in an evening (I think there were 20 of us that night).

And I had stage fright that night. Some of my peers having acting backgrounds and “performed their work,” while I sat in a chair and read it. I don’t think it was to my detriment, to be honest. I still had A.D.s approach me afterward, they know not all of us are actors.

I agree with you that our local theatre companies should be going after local talent. Absolutely. But that’s a question bigger than TBA, if you get my meaning. And perhaps it’s tied to the larger question of theatre in general (i.e. Mike Daisey’s arguments on theatre), that is when money is the driving force, how are decisions made.

As for your last points about TBA focusing on up and coming writers, I will say that last year at the beginning of the year they did a feature on just that topic. Also, I have seen many emerging playwrights (local) plays featured in the Editor’s pick section. As for the blogs, again, I think writing to both the bloggers to pose that question is an excellent idea.

One last thing I’d like to mention. The Dramatist Guild visited the Bay Area at the beginning of this year and according to a fellow playwright who attended the local meetings, the Dramatist Guild was very excited by the various support groups/organizations for playwrights here in the Bay Area. You mentioned Playground. There’s also the Playwrights Center, and the Playwrights Foundation. I think each offer something slightly different depending on your needs as a playwright. And hopefully the new A.D. at the Magic will make that place a home for local playwrights again.

Thanks for the dialogue.

Carl Benson said...


As much as I want to go line by line and keep debating, I think it's kind of pointless. You're pleased with the Playwrights Showcase, and I'm not.

However, one specific spot I thoroughly agree with you on, is that it's all part of a much larger discussion on the current state of the industry.

Ultimately, I think there is a huge problem with the status quo, and as someone who loves theater, it pisses me off.

That said, I think it's great that you commented and are up for a back and forth. I really hope it continues.