Make Submissions Easy

Make Submissions Easy

‘Tis the (Submission) Season

 

Ah, the coolness of the air, the crisp sound of the leaves rustling underfoot. It’s the time of non-profit galas galore and Christmas party networking.

For playwrights and librettists, it’s also the season of submissions.

I’m sorry to say that some of the major submission opportunities have already passed (the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, the Richard Rodgers Award, the Jonathan Larson Grant, and Sundance Theatre Lab, for instance). If you didn’t apply this year, there’s always next year.

However, there is still time for some other major festivals, like NYMF (which has extended their deadline to November 18).

 

Why Submit to Theaters and Festivals?

 

If you want to get your production on its feet and onstage, there’s no better way to begin the process than by participating in an established theater company or festival’s lineup, if you’re ready for it.

What do I mean by ready?

  • Your script has had at least one table reading and seems to “work”
  • You have had a few theater professionals advise you to move forward with the piece
  • You’re through with the re-writes, and it’s time for your script to live and breathe onstage in order to learn more about it.

I believe we’re living in an Age of the Playwright, something akin to the ancient Greek Fifth Century era, where the power of the theater and its storytelling was at its peak. Never before has there been so many writers and storytelling for production (which includes film, tv, and internet storytelling in addition to live theater). Our society is primed to consume storytelling via visual dramatic action, much more so than in previous eras when vital storytelling was shared primarily through words: through oral tradition or through text (novels, newspapers, poems and radio theater).

I call this the Age of the Playwright instead of the “Age of the Director,” since the ideas come from the playwright’s vision. A director interprets the theme and makes it come alive on stage, but the original vision, intention and form – the raison d’etre of a piece – remains embedded within the meaning endowed unto it by its creator, the writer.

And unfortunately more and more, the costs associated with birthing it to life come from the writer as well.

Enter the non-profit theaters and festivals. Drum roll, please.

 

Creative Playmaking in the 21st Century

 

I’m certainly not saying anything new, but the cost of putting your precious show onstage can be daunting. This is the world that I live in too, as a producer and mentor for many writers.

How do we create opportunities to put stories on stage in the 21st century? How can we produce our work, or help others to produce our work, without needing to take out a second mortgage on our home or risking money that we really shouldn’t risk?

The secret is two-fold of course:

  1. Through constant pitching for OPM (Other People’s Money) and
  2. By consistently submitting your work to as many opportunities as you can.

In a field where it seems as if “they” hold all the power, this is a wakeup call to remind you that YOU hold all the power.

  • This is your “baby,” your creation, and no one will foster it and promote it better than you
  • You hold all the cards, because at some point it is really a “numbers game” and entirely within your power to pitch or not to pitch, to submit or not to submit.

Let me say it again: “they” don’t hold all of the power; YOU hold all of the power.

You create your own opportunities.

 

Pitching and Submitting: Make It Easy

 

There are differences, and you must do both.

By “pitching” yourself and/or your work, usually in person, you are demonstrating that you are a professional artist that believes in yourself and in your work. “Submitting” is the process where you submit your work to a person, theater or festival, and then wait to see if you are selected through their process.

Every artist should have their two minute “elevator pitch” down pat, ready to go at a moment’s notice when fate puts an opportunity smack dab in your face. How many times have you felt yourself unprepared for that moment when the universe put someone in your path who could help you professionally,? Get your elevator pitch ready now.

That’s why I now insist that I constantly have a memorized elevator pitch for the shows I’m currently working on ready to “present” when an opportunity shows itself. You can follow up by email with people you meet in person with “pitching” materials prepared ahead of time, that give information about your show, reviews, a sizzle reel, etc.

Pitching should happen in person and over email if you know someone personally. A “cold” pitch is less effective, unless introduced by a common acquaintance. I try to always remember to follow up with prepared material after meeting someone and speaking about one of my shows. I keep their business card in my pocket or in plain sight as a reminder, so I don’t forget.

That may be a good goal for you in 2020.

 

People Are Interested in You!

 

People are interested in hearing about you and your work. They may also be willing to help you produce it or connect you to others who can, because either the work sounds compelling or, more often, they just really like YOU and want to help you succeed.

It’s up to you to sound articulate and represent yourself and your work really well by being prepared beforehand.

While pitching usually happens in person, submissions are done in the privacy of your own home or office. They rely on your organization of material and the productive use of your time. You MUST set aside a regular time each week to submit. Make it part of your weekly routine to submit to at least 4-5 opportunities a week on a regular basis.

 

You Hold All the Power

 

Writers who make a routine of setting aside a regular time each week to submit create more opportunities for themselves than writers who submit in a haphazard “I’ll get to it when I get to it” manner. Ditto those writers who have their pitches memorized and follow up afterward with pitching materials.

It’s all part of being a professional playwright in the 21st century.

 

It’s my job as a dramaturg and producer to inspire you and to help you in every way I can. I’m constantly trying to think of new ways to do this.

Recently I’ve been sitting down with writers to help them figure out ways to send out submissions more easily and quickly, making it “no big deal” to submit their work. If you make it part of your routine and have the needed documents at your fingertips, it actually becomes no big deal.

And that’s how you create opportunities that come to you.

 

Upcoming Submission Deadlines

 

I always advise my writers to join the Dramatists Guild and Play Submissions Helper to keep up with their submitting goals. I also am now reminding writers of upcoming deadlines in my weekly member newsletters. It helps to have the prodding come from a few different places!

Here are some of the upcoming deadlines for approaching deadlines for November that may be of interest to you:

The Eric H. Weinberger Award for Emerging Librettists at Amas Mustical Theatre

  • Deadline Nov. 29

The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival

  • Deadline Nov. 30

Lost Nation Theater (see their Artistic Vision)

  • Deadline Nov. 30

Waterman’s Playwrights Retreats (Female Identifying Playwrights only)

  • Deadline 11/30

 

If I can help you dramaturgically with your script, help you achieve your submission goals, or if you would like a production consultation with next steps for your project, email me at cate@catecam.com   I’d love to speak with you.

 

Top 5 Reasons to Put a Dramaturg on the Creative Team

Top 5 Reasons to Put a Dramaturg on the Creative Team

What if I told you there was a way to jumpstart your NPD process at a fraction of the cost of a staged reading?

There is a way – a standard protocol that’s used by almost every serious producer and significant regional theater out there, including NYMF, Disney Theatrical Group, Davenport Theatrical Productions and many others.

So what is that “secret sauce”?

They all put a dramaturg on their creative team. 

And so should you.

 

What is a Dramaturg?

 

I am a dramaturg. I am typically that smart person on the creative team whom no one is sure exactly what I do because I seem to be everywhere and do everything. This is not unusual for a dramaturg. Maybe that’s why there’s so much confusion around the term.

A dramaturg is a senior member of the creative team who works with the writer on the script and then functions as a “resident expert” on the play. They sometimes remain on the production team to help maintain focus on the message of the text and to advocate for the intentions of the playwright during the production process.

 

How I Work as a Dramaturg

 

I work in NYC as a freelance dramaturg, director and producer with a focus on developing new plays and musicals. As the Literary Manager for a non-profit producers’ organization called Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU), as the Associate Artistic Director of the Rhymes Over Beats Hip Hop Theater Collective, as the Dramaturg for MusicalWriters.com and as an independent commercial producer for my own company, I work with writers to develop their work through writers’ groups, by leading workshops, and by working one on one with writers to create new work.

This is what I do all day, every day: engage with writers on their creative process, work with them over a period of time to help them structure their script, craft their message, make it relevant for today’s audiences and then guide them through the submission and production process.

Including a dramaturg on your creative team can save you time and money and allow you access to a dramaturg’s resources and networks. Best yet, it will give you an experienced and trusted theatre consultant as you head toward the production of your script.

So in my best David Letterman imitation, here are my top five reasons to put a dramaturg on your creative team!

 

Top 5 Reasons to Put a Dramaturg on Your Creative Team:

 

Reason #1: A Dramaturg is Objective

 

As every producer knows, a writer is often the last person to understand what his play is really saying to an audience. They’re simply too close to the work. Every script can benefit from a new set of experienced eyes.

So many writers I’ve worked with walk away from our first conversation with new “a-ha” moments: new insights, new understandings, new messages, and sometimes new plot structures to better communicate their ideas in their script.

A dramaturg should be considered as a “first audience” of a draft, and their feedback as an expert theatremaker is invaluable, especially in the beginning stages.

Just ask Disney – their dramaturg and literary manager Ken Cerniglia was the freelance dramaturg for Hadestown, and the first-ever dramaturg to receive a shout-out at the Tony Awards.

 

Reason #2: A Dramaturg Saves Money

 

Quick survey: would you rather hire a dramaturg for a script evaluation or produce a staged reading to make sure your play “works”?

Well, that was a trick question.

You’ll end up doing both, of course. After your first initial table read, or “pizza” read, many writers believe the next step is to spend between $5000 or more on a staged reading to see how an audience reacts to their work.

Hold on, there.

Hiring a dramaturg for a script evaluation costs much less than a staged reading, and by getting feedback from a trusted source you may get that all-important first audience reaction at a tremendous savings.

Talk with the dramaturg first before the staged reading.

 

Reason #3: A Dramaturg is a Resource

 

Most practicing dramaturgs have either a M.F.A. in dramaturgy, a vast amount of dramaturgical experience under their belt, or both. Utilizing them opens you to their knowledge of structure, theatre history and theatre-making experience, and may add fresh ideas to your own.

Even if you have a M.F.A. in playwriting, you can still profit from a set of objective eyes on your work (see reason #1). Theatre is the ultimate collaborative art, and being open to talking about your work privately with a dramaturg is a first step.

You never know what new exciting ideas may develop until you have these creative conversations about your work. Welcome them. Invite the dramaturg into your process.

Also, with the dramaturg as a senior member of your creative team, they will invite others in their network (usually other theater people) to your staged reading.

Win-win.

 

Reason #4: Using a Dramaturg Opens a New Network to Development

 

And that is another key reason to include a dramaturg: they’ll help you gain access to their network. You’ll meet a whole new set of experienced theatre people who will want to hear about your show.

You don’t have to sit around and wait for your local theater to “discover” you. Why not hire their dramaturg as a freelance consultant? You can get their ideas and maybe gain an “inside advocate” at your local theater at the same time.

I always advise playwrights to be proactive in their quest to get their work produced. Don’t be passive; get out there and find new ways to access the gate-keepers. It’ll do wonders for your self-esteem and your work.

 

Reason #5: A Dramaturg Can Become a Trusted Production Asset

 

In a regional theater, dramaturgs and literary managers forge a critical link between artists and institutions, and institutions and their communities. Dramaturgs often work with various aspects of the production, such as crafting educational materials, creating marketing copy, facilitating conversations amongst the artistic team, and running a post-show discussion. If it needs to be done for a production, chances are a dramaturg can do it.

And they can do it for your production as well.

Often I’ll initially be hired as the dramaturg, but as my relationship with the writer grows I might then become a director, an executive producer, or a consultant on the team. I may help to create the show’s logo and website, to identify and develop an audience engagement plan, or sit in on some marketing conversations. I may even end up producing the show Off-Broadway.

I am always the advocate of the playwright and of the playwright’s intentions for the play, and will protect the show from any overly enthusiastic director, investor, or producer that may want to “rewrite” the work. (As Bob Ost, Director and Founder of Theater Resources Unlimited often says, there are three innate human needs: food, sex, and re-writing other people’s work.)

That’s the role of the dramaturg, and the basis of my relationship with the writer.

 

If you are thinking about contacting a dramaturg I have some open availability in the Fall. Contact me at cate@createtheater.com and we’ll get together to talk about your script.

 

 

The Need for Creative Producers

The Need for Creative Producers

Why I’m a Creative Producer

 

On May 13, 2013, in a speech at the Theater Communications Group (TCG) Gala, Emily Mann, longtime Artistic Director of the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, stated that the nonprofit movement was started because the commercial theater was “destroying theater as an art form.”

What??

This was an odd statement for Ms. Mann to make, having just received an honorary Tony award for the McCarter Theatre for its contribution to the vital function in the health of American theater, and having VANYA & SONYA & MASHA & SPIKE – developed at the McCarter – nominated for best play. Many in the commercial theater were offended by her comments, feeling that regional nonprofit theaters should be grateful to Broadway for allowing them to actually make a profit on occasion.

This in essence is the ongoing debate in the American theater.

 

Commercial Producers Help Drive NPD

 

In this era of almost nonexistent support from government and private foundations, sometimes regional nonprofit theaters are financially compelled to form partnerships with commercial producers to create new work – often works of significant value that, once having appeared on Broadway, provide enough necessary monetary success to allow the nonprofit theater a financial cushion it wouldn’t otherwise have.

Yet, while grateful for the funding, nonprofits are ever cautious about accepting money from “the dark side” for fear of loss of control of the artistic product, and for fear of betraying the mission under which the organization must adhere.

Commercial producers are usually driving these partnerships, lured by the opportunity to develop new work away from New York at a reasonable cost. However, as Ms. Mann’s comments show, everyone isn’t always perfectly happy with the arrangement.

That was in 2013. Has anything changed today?

 

Regional Theater and the History of New Play Development

 

During the 1930’s and 1940’s there was a feeling that there were important stories to be told that wouldn’t and couldn’t be produced by the commercial theater, because of the economics of Broadway.

The resulting Regional Theatre Movement during the 1930’s and 1940’s, led by its three founding matriarchs of Margo Jones, Nina Vance and Zelda Fichandler, proposed a new nonprofit model supported by and created for local communities, which would have the artistic mission to create new work and produce new interpretations of the classics, to bring about a “new renaissance” to the American theatre in the twentieth century.

These participants of the Regional Theatre Movement felt that it was their mission to create “art” as opposed to the mission of the commercial theatre, which they often perceived to be merely to generate income.

Somehow, developing “art” made their plays more “noble” than the work that was developed in the commercial sector.

Even today, in the eyes of the nonprofit theatre, Broadway sometimes still is an entity not wholly to be trusted; it is the “other”, a center of crass consumerism.

Founding leader Zelda Fichandler was burned once in an attempt to bring an Arena Stage production of The Great White Hope to Broadway; forever after her response to such partnerships was “Broadway: no.” Some nonprofit artistic directors feel the same to this day.

 

Commercial Producers Can Be Artists, Too

 

Commercial producers take offense at being perceived as merely “money men” (and women) – they consider themselves to be just as creative, smart and “hands-on” as the nonprofits, investing in the life of the play for the long haul.

Here’s the deal: a commercial producer must look beyond a single production to guide the entire life of the play from conception to (hopefully) an enduring life in the regional, educational and community theaters.

A producer’s enthusiasm and belief in a production is the fuel that drives the play forward. Many new plays are driven by a commercial producer who receives permission to produce the play from the playwright, or the playwright’s agent.

The producer then spends years (typically 7-9 years) on the development end for the play, hosting readings and developmental workshops to help each play find its own signature voice. Thousands of dollars are spent gathering a committed team of professionals in preparation for rehearsals to begin.

They do this all without being paid, without drawing a salary on the project for years – all because they believe in the work, just as much as the “art-driven” nonprofits do.

 

Commercial Producers Develop Work

 

Commercial producers with a dramaturgical sensibility can creatively bridge the gap between the nonprofit and commercial theater and encourage partnerships between the two that are beneficial to both.

Producers skilled in dramaturgy can bring to life the voices and images that accurately reflect our American experience at the beginning of the twenty-first century – and secure their future in the American theatrical canon for posterity.

Jill Rafson, then Literary Manager of the Roundabout Theatre in New York City, called for 2013 graduates from The Commercial Theater Institute – an organization that trains new producers – to become “Creative Producers.” She said that “Creative Producing” was the most underdeveloped skill in the industry, and that only through the insight and leadership of Creative Producers would emerging playwrights be challenged to develop more innovative and original work.”

 

Another successful guest lecturer in the program, commercial producer Kevin McCollum, pointed to a dramaturg in the class (me) and told the rest, “You all should know what she knows.”

 

Producers breathe life into a script. Playwrights need producers to mount their plays and to project their voice into the larger culture for them.

Creative Producers, using the skills and knowledge of dramaturgy, are necessary to help develop original new plays and to contribute significant new work into the American theatre canon.

 

Make Friends with a Non-Profit

 

If you’re a writer, make friends with a regional non-profit. Make connections with directors and producers who have contacts at theaters everywhere.

Submit everywhere. In reality, it’s a numbers game.

Learn dramaturgy – it’s an essential skill set.

Are you affiliated with a regional theater, I’d love to hear your side of the debate. Email me at cate@createtheater.com, and I’ll feature you on another blog post.

How do YOU feel about commercial producers working with regional theaters to develop new work? Let me know your thoughts..

 

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