The TBNT letter- or, the ugly part of literary managing

In Playwriting, The Daily Drool on October 6, 2009 at 9:13 am

So one of my many gigs that don’t pay is as literary manager for an awesome theater company in LA.  Awesome because they produce exciting new works for the stage.  And as lit. manager I get to read all the submissions that get sent in… which are (let’s face it) not always awesome.

Now, that’s not to say that they can’t be… but there are a few things that eager playwrights should take into consideration.

1- SPELLCHECK!   And don’t just use the computer’s spellcheck, use your eyeballs too.  Commonly confused but CORRECTLY SPELLED words like  to/too, they’re/their/there, you’re/your, etc. won’t get noticed by your cyber-buddy.  You need to go back over your work and see if you’ve been using the correct form of the word you want.

2- DO include a character breakdown.  It can be maddening to open up a submission envelope to find  a play with twenty-some characters without definition or doubling scheme.  You may remember every detail about the MacKenzie’s but unless you’ve got handy sheet for me to reference, I very probably am going to end up getting confused and get pulled out of the world of your play by that resultant confusion.

3- Send your best work!  I know that it gets exciting to finish your first draft- but if you haven’t gotten that script into the best shape you can can before I get a hold of it, chances are it’s not ready for me to read it.  I’m presuming that you are sending me a script that you believe is ready for stage development… that is to say, I wouldn’t hand somebody a half finished sweater and tell them “Well, imagine it with arms and a softer collar.”   There is a big difference between something that needs a little polish and a script that is still under construction.  You are shaking literary hands with me, make sure those hands are in the best shape!

3a- If you didn’t send your best work, don’t be surprised when I reply to your email-reply-to-my-“Thanks But No Thanks”- letter, that no, I will not read a revised draft of the play I just read.  This is why you want to send your polished draft the first time.

4- Remember that theater is meant to be seen, heard, experienced.  You, as a playwright, are drafting blueprints for directors, actors, designers, etc. to follow, color in, and build.  Ask yourself if your play idea is going to incite enthusiasm from fellow artists.  I call it the “Who gives a shit” test.  I have read a lot of plays by very talented authors that are full of lovely language and skill, yet they lack some fundamental theatrical flame.  Not every play is going to get produced- there are just too many of them.  But you can cut the odds by always striving to highlight the elements that make your story unique.

5- Lastly, let me also say that you should see and read other plays!  I cannot tell you just how much I have learned as a writer myself in the past two years as literary manager.  It’s a wild ride, and we are always learning.  Part of that process is participating in the world you want so passionately to write for.  Act, stage manage, even direct if you can, and your understanding of theater, playwriting, and the way it all works will be deepened.


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