Thursday, February 2, 2017

O Pioneer!

The place where it happens.
You know how people never see the sights in their own hometown? New Yorkers never go to the top of the Empire State Building, Seattleites never visit the Space Needle?

Well, I'm just as guilty as they are. Pioneer Drama Service has been publishing my plays for over 5 years, and even though they're only 50 miles from where I live, I've never stopped by.

Until today, that is. Why did I wait so long? Well, the answer to that will have to wait for a future post. Suffice it to say that the drive won't be 50 miles for me much longer.

The company occupies half of a building in a pleasant industrial park just off I-25 in south Denver (actually, Centennial). When I showed up, I was greeted by Editor-in-Chief Deb Fendrich, who quickly introduced me to a few of the employees, including Submissions Editor Lori Conary, who I'd communicated with many, many times but had never had the pleasure of meeting. I had met my editor Brian Taylor once before, at the world premiere of Kill the Critic!, but that was six years ago so it was nice to see him again. Unfortunately, CEO Steven Fendrich was unable to make it as he was volunteering at a local school.

Deb then gave me a quick tour of the facility. The place isn't large, but Deb was proud to point out that unlike most publishers, both larger and smaller, they do everything in one location. Editing, printing, shipping--it's all done right there.

And did I mention they do all this with just 15 employees?

I especially enjoyed seeing the printing room. Pioneer had recently decommissioned their last printing press and now do all their printing on a pair of massive high-tech copy machines. Nearby, in the same room, is the "warehouse"--shelves upon shelves of the over 800 scripts they sell throughout the United States and around the world.

After the tour Deb, Brian and I went out for a lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant. Over fat, chile-smothered burritos, we had a wide-ranging conversation about what kinds of plays they're looking for, editing suggestions for my next play and how to make my plays more marketable.

Okay, maybe it wasn't that wide-ranging. But it was a blast.

And I learned a ton. If it wasn't clear to me before, it is now: producibility is key. The bulk of Pioneer's customers are cash-strapped schools and community theaters, and they really need plays that won't break the bank. Yes, this means simple props and costumes. But even more importantly, this means a single set. Pioneer will publish plays with multiple sets, but if a submission only needs one, then it gets a big exclamation point in the PRO column during their acquisition meeting.

Of course, it's also important to give each play more female than male roles. You can never go wrong adding more female roles. And if you're trying to write a large cast play, don't make the parts too small. Deb likes to see each character get at least ten lines, though you should never force the lines if they don't fit. As always, story comes first.

Finally, Deb said that Pioneer would really like to see more submissions like Jonathan Rand's Check, Please. This one-act comedy is a series of short, two-person interactions in a restaurant, lending itself to flexible casting and easy staging (which may be why it's one of the most produced plays in the country). Pioneer's recent offering Complaint Department and Lemonade follows this format, but they're always looking for more.

It was a great visit. I came away understanding better why they rejected some of my plays in the past and how I can make my plays more appealing in the future.

I also came away with a new respect for the work they do. Each play they publish features the name of the playwright on the cover, but there's a whole team of smart, creative, hard-working folks behind that name.

Editor-in-Chief Deb Fendrich and Editor Brian
Taylor looking good despite my poor selfie skills.

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