Friday, January 16, 2015

The New Play Exchange - Boon or Bust?

After three years of development, Gwydion Suilebhan and the National New Play Network yesterday launched the New Play Exchange, an online database that allows playwrights to upload synopses and samples from their plays while allowing theatre companies to search for those plays by genre, cast size and keyword.

Already, the site appears to be a big hit. From Facebook to HowlRound, eager playwrights are breathlessly describing the benefits it will bring, how it will break down those walls which have so far prevented their plays from getting produced, or even read. Some of those playwrights are even boasting about the dozens--yes, dozens!--of plays they've already posted to the site.

But so far an important part of the equation has been missing: the theatre companies.

Let's face it. The site's entire success depends on whether theatre companies will actually use it, and so far I've heard nothing from them, no breathless posts from artistic directors expressing their relief that finally they have an easy-to use website where they can search for new plays.

Don't get me wrong. I'm as hopeful as any other playwright that the New Play Exchange will succeed, that it will lead to productions that wouldn't have happened otherwise. And I'm grateful to Mr. Suleibhan for all the effort he's put into this project.. That's why I ponied up the $10 annual fee to post my own full-length farce, Kill the Critic!

But I'm not holding my breath.

After all, most artistic directors select their seasons based on plays they've seen elsewhere or scripts that came recommended by someone they know and respect. Relationships matter as much as the scripts themselves. And I don't think that's going to change.

Despite the enthusiasm in the playwriting community, there are a lot of questions remaining to be answered about the New Play Exchange. Will literary managers actually take time out from their busy days to search it? If they do, will they find what they're looking for? Or has the New Play Exchange merely transferred the slush pile from their desks to their laptops, forcing those literary managers to slog through mountains of dreck to find one nugget of gold? And suppose they do find that nugget, will they actually produce it?

Until we know these answers, I'm going to keep submitting my plays the old-fashioned way: by personal query to the literary manager of artistic director of each theatre company that is open to plays like mine.

One by one by one.

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