Not Write A Play?
scripts aren't selling. People say
you write killer dialogue. So you
think to yourself, "Why not write a play?
Every little theatre from here to Galveston puts on six plays a year.
That must be about 10,000 productions!
How hard can it be to get produced?"
And everyone knows plays are like screenplays in structure.
You're definitely capable. So
why not write a play?
no one edits your play. There's no
meddling director changing the third act or destroying your best lines.
Your play is literature! Not
popcorn fodder! And playwrights
hold a certain cachet that all Hollywood producers respect.
the money keeps rolling in year after year as your play gains more and more
were my thoughts too, and three years ago, I started my first play.
I learned proper play format from the Samuel French formatting guide. I
watched a few plays on PBS, read a few, and proceeded to write a pretty good
farce. In fact, Samuel French (the king of play publishers) held onto the script
for sixteen months before finally rejecting it.
Too big. I was told that
professional theatres need to make money and a nine-character play isn't going
to fly in half of those venues. I
didn't realize that you can't pay nine equity actors in today's market and turn
French also targets community theatre, but my play failed there too. A lot more
women try out for roles in these small theatres, so you need a lot of women's
parts. My play has two women, seven
men. So two strikes and I was out,
with a very good play, just not a very marketable one.
process of writing a play wasn't as enjoyable as I had hoped.
I was accustomed to writing for the screen, and writing for the stage
made me feel as is I was wearing a straightjacket.
I could no longer "CUT TO" the next scene. I couldn't just
change locations in a blink of an eye. I
couldn't use throw-away characters with only a few lines of dialogue.
I realized that playwriting IS a different medium and required a
different approach-- kind of like learning to write left-handed.
must use invention a lot in a play-- to change time and place, to imagine
characters or props that are not there, and to involve the audience. This can be
accomplished with a change in lighting, or with sliding/moving background, using
props for different purposes.
theatre, they tell you, "Less is more." I should say those who are paying the bills say that.
So-- fewer characters, limited locales, invention rather than realism...
do you feel that straightjacket tightening? Suddenly the thought, "Why not
write a play?" doesn't fill you with as much enthusiasm, does it?
also need action-- purposeful, interesting and visual action.
Although plays are more "talky" than screenplays, you still
need to avoid the "talking heads" syndrome and keep the page-long
soliloquies to a minimum. Actors
need to argue, throw things, have swordfights, whatever.
And given the constraints above, this is a very hard juggling act.
play must hold our interest and need just as many plot twists as a screenplay.
character must have an agenda, and needs to be interactive every minute they are
on stage. Characters must enter and
exit for a reason, and can't just mill around onstage supplying witty repartee
when the spirit moves them. In a
screenplay, the lead character and the villain have a goal.
But in a play, every character must have one.
Each character also needs to have good/meaty/funny lines.
If you were in the production, would you like to play that part?
gets worse. Although there are
thousands of theatres, many do the latest Broadway fare, or Neil Simon, Edward
Albee or yet another retelling of A
Christmas Carol. There is often
one slot for a new play, 600 submissions, and one artistic director that slowly
makes his/her way through the pile. It often takes six months or more to get an
answer from a theatre regarding your
play. And many theatres set their seasons two years in advance.
spite of all this... why not write a play?
But at least know your market -- high school, professional, community
theatre, dinner theatre, interactive murder mysteries, musicals, avant-garde,
children's, educational, or political.
The Dramatist's Sourcebook or Writer's Market to find out which
theatres are interested in your type of play.
Check out the web. Target and query a few theatres.
Then wait... and wait... and wait. You
can enter contests (most are free). You
may try a play publisher. I did,
and it hasn't been too successful. Lawrence
Harbison of Samuel French told me "Don't put the cart before the
horse." Get a few productions
and then go to a publisher. You
will get a far better deal that way.
Still, nothing beats having a professionally bound play with your name on
the cover. Maybe that's the reason
write a play. Getting published is
a definite shot in the arm.
Kaye has written numerous screenplays and stage plays (published by Baker's
Plays this fall, and Brooklyn Publishers).
He has a NYC agent and has had his plays produced all over the US.
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