By Carol White, Executive Producer of the Boca Raton Theater Guild
In my dual role as producer and playwright I see a need to share information with emerging and experienced playwrights to increase their chances of having a short play accepted for staged reading. The ten-minute or short play continues to thrive and the competition for playwrights continues to grow.
The Boca Raton Theatre Guild reading committee receives twice the number of submissions they did a few years ago. Although every play gets read, many have no chance of being accepted and not always because of poor material. A number of the entries simply do not adhere to the basic guidelines. (This information pertains to staged readings, and not “classic play readings” when actors read at music stands with no blocking, etc.)
As a producer, I know what works well on stage and what does not, and it has helped me tremendously with making my own plays as attractive as possible to the theatres where I submit my work. I don’t bog down submissions with long-winded cover letters, a huge bio unless requested, separate character sheets, overwhelmingly long synopses, etc. The play is only ten-minutes! It shouldn’t take five minutes or more to read the synopses. Telling us that your character was born in a cornfield forty years ago, and home-schooled by an eccentric uncle who taught him math every other Tuesday does not belong in your cast description. Readers prefer a simple description such as: John: 45 – 55 years old, with a southern accent, about 6 feet tall.
Most theatres do not feature a narrator to bring the audience up to snuff on the backstory of your play, nor will stage directions be read unless you are
submitting a full-length play for a classic-style reading. Put important information on a single cover sheet (unless you are asked for a separate title sheet) including the name of your play, your contact info (unless a blind cover sheet is requested), cast, set, props, time and place, and short synopsis. That way if a reader wants to give your play a second look (which often happens) he/she can glean the information from that one sheet.
The ten-minute play should be just that…ten minutes. In the Playwright Workshop that I lead, we time the plays to make sure they fit into the ten minutes allowed. It’s up to the individual production company to decide if they will accept a twelve or fifteen minute play when they’ve called for a ten-minute submission, so be on the safe side, time your work; read it aloud.
Study the submission guidelines. If they say to single-staple the play, don’t put it in an unwieldy binder. Simple sets, props, and costumes should be suggested instead of lavish pieces. Most theatres can supply tables and chairs or other very basic set pieces, but if it’s critical to have exotic scenery or furniture for your short play, you’ll be at a disadvantage. There is never a guarantee that a theatre will have a specific set or prop. Also, be aware that scene changes are done in 45 seconds to a minute so heavy pieces cannot be moved on and off stage easily. While a theatre can approximate a park bench with two or three chairs, they often cannot bring in a three-piece living room set. Plays are sometimes not selected because without the required technical elements, the play would lose its meaning.
The BRTG generally uses ten to 12 actors for our readings. Our staged readings (which include a talkback with the playwrights) usually run for three
performances. Most production companies will let you know about their cast limit, and space limitations. Don’t forget: your ten-minute play will be part of a festival with eight to ten plays. Our actors do not memorize the script, they are on stage “script in hand.” I mention this because we’ve seen submissions where the actor has to hold a coffee cup and a bouquet of thorny roses while juggling six oranges. Of course, I’m exaggerating, but playwrights must keep in mind that many short play festivals are presented as readings where the script on stage is part of the production. So, bottom line, make sure your actors have a free hand to hold the script.
Now, for some real easy stuff: Number your pages! Use a 12-point type! Sometimes we’ve received plays in 8 point, which makes it very difficult to read. You’re not fooling anyone squeezing fifteen pages into ten by using a small font; it just makes the readers’ jobs more labor intensive and frustrating.
Note what the theatre is looking for—don’t think you’re going to break the mold by sending in a violent, heavily-languaged play about a sexy-nudist colony to a theatre that doesn’t accept R- or X-rated material. Visit the production company Web site for up-to-date information. If you send a cover letter, make it brief. Many theatres are getting away from cover letters, blind cover sheets and separate title pages to reduce the amount of paper submissions generate.
You can e-mail the artistic director if you have specific questions. As a playwright, I’ve found that “theatre people” are very accommodating with their
advice and usually happy to address your issues. As a producer, I answer every e-mail that comes in from playwrights who may need more information about submissions.
TIP: Read “Insight for Playwrights” cover to cover to become familiar with the varied types of guidelines specified.
“Hidden Choices” by Carol White Click here: Amazon.com: hidden choices: Books
Also available at Murder on the Beach Bookstore – Delray Beach, FL