Thursday, February 27, 2014

On the road in Oz

They sure are busy Down Under. Talkwalker alerted me to another article in the Cowra Guardian about the Cowra Musical & Dramatic Society's March 28-29 production of The Butler Did It! Turns out they're taking the show on the road, with two more performances the following week in Billimari, New South Wales.

Break legs, all!

Dinner and a show

After an absence of ten years, dinner theatre returns to Grantsville, UT tonight as the Old Grantsville Church performs my comedy/mystery The Butler Did It!

The stalwart group took some great promotional photos, which you can see on their Facebook page. The photos must be working, as three of the four performances have already sold out.

Broken legs to all! Wish I could be there.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

To pay or not to pay

The other daym I spoke with a youngish playwright who's had two local productions and now wants to get produced in larger markets. He wanted to know how I broke in, and I told him I 'd entered and won a couple of contests.

"But what about entry fees?" he asked. "Isn't there an ethical concern?"

That question goes right to the heart of a controversy that's been bubbing on various playwright forums for years. The vast majority of playwrights say that these fees are completely unethical and that contests that charge them should be boycotted.

In fact, the opposition to fees is so strong that fee-charging contests will often have their inboxes deluged with hostile emails from playwrights attacking them for their policy.

I think this is misguided. And it's a great disservice to beginning playwrights who should be more concerned about building their careers than saving a few measly bucks.

Here are five reasons why you should not be afraid to enter fee-charging contests:

1) If you're any good, you'll come out ahead.--The main argument against paying fees is that actors and directors don't have to pay to participate. Why should the playwright?

Well, for the very simple reason that the playwright is the only one who can earn royalties on the play. After a show closes, the director isn't going to get any money. The design team isn't going to get any money. And the actors really aren't going to get any money. But getting a production can open many lucrative doors for the playwright.

My first play, The _urloined Letter, was named a semifinalist in the Nantucket Short Play Contest. I paid $10 to enter and won exactly nothing. No production, no prize money, nada. A lot of playwrights would say I got ripped off. But entering that contest got my play read by several judges, one of whom decided to produce it at his school 3 years later. He covered the entire cost of a trip for me to see the production (in Fort Lauderdale, no less!) and to talk to his students about playwriting. And that production got me my first publication. The first year it was in print, The _urloined Letter received 9 productions for a total royalty of $200. Yeah, I'd say that $10 was money well spent.

2) It's really not that much money.--The standard fee is $10 for a 10-minute play, $25-$30 for a full-length play. If you're not willing to invest that much in your career, then maybe you're not that serious about it to begin with. Also realize that a lot of the so-called "free" contests require you to send in one or more hardcopies, and the cost for paper, ink, binder, envelope and postage can easily equal or exceed that entry fee. Not to mention the gas you burn up driving to the post office. Why doesn't anyone take a stand against that?

3) Fees don't bother screenwriters.--Screenwriting contests often charge $50 or more to enter, and nobody in the screenwriting community complains. Of course, that may be because the prizes are significantly higher, often $10,000 to $30,000. But playwrights never argue against fees based on the paltriness of the prizes. They argue against them on principle. That's something that just doesn't bother screenwriters.

4) The competition is less.--This may seem cynical, but it's true. There are so many playwrights who refuse to enter fee-charging contests that if you do enter one, your odds of winning are dramatically higher. No-fee contests often attract 300 or more entries while fee-charging contests typically get around 50. Does that make those contests less prestigious? Maybe. But I think the fee-charging contests get the cream of the crop while the free contests get a lot of dreck (trust me, I've been a contest judge). After all, if it costs nothing to enter, there's nothing to lose in submitting that wildly inappropriate or amateurish play. Paying a fee, on the other hand, focuses your attention amazingly, and there aren't many playwrights who would waste that money on a play that's not any good.

5) You get a better read.--Let's face it. Charging a fee carries with it an obligation to give each script a full read. While I don't mean to suggest that skimming is a widespread problem, I know for a fact that judges are much more likely to toss a script aside if the playwright didn't pay to enter.

In the end, the decision whether to pay a fee is a personal one, and it depends on your own circumstances. If you're an experienced playwright and have already made a name for yourself, then great. You can afford to take a stand against fee-charging contests.

But don't bully younger, more junior playwrights into following your lead. They should be allowed to seize every opportunity they get.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Whose class is it anyway?

Yesterday, the Pikes Peak Writers Conference gave a free preview of their April conference at the Marriott Hotel in Colorado Springs, and I was honored to be one of the instructors selected to teach a class.

My class was titled, "Whose Story Is It Anyway?", a take-off on the popular TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? with writers take the place of the experienced improv stars. In leading the class, I may have sounded more like Harvey Fierstein than my usual self (I was still fighting a cold I picked up in Chicago), but I thought it went well. The writers who volunteered to help me performed at the top of their game, and the sellout crowd ate it all up.

The most popular activity? A version of The Dating Game in which each of the guys played a character from one of their books.

It was a big experiment on my part, and I think it worked. There may not have been any breakthroughs. The participants may not have gained any new insights about their characters. But if it challenged the audience members to think less and write more, if it inspired even one writer to get off their butt and act out their character the next time they have writer's block, then it was worth it.

Here's hoping the full class in April goes even better.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Northern exposure

I was thrilled to see that the talented thespians of Osakis High School in Osakis, MN (Go Silverstreaks!) tied for third place at an area competition with my western comedy Long Tall Lester. Congrats!

And a big kudos to the Osakis Review for mentioning it in print.

Which provides me the perfect opening to plug my play once more. Need something to take to competition? Long Tall Lester is the play you're looking for.

With its small cast and single set, Long Tall Lester is easy to produce, but it packs a ton of action and laughs into that svelte frame. In fact, it's so much fun, the audience (and your cast) won't even know they're getting a lesson on the power of words over weapons.

Want to learn more? Just visit my publisher's website.