Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Doggy detectives find a home

I've been tough on the New Play Exchange in the past. When it first launched four years ago, I complained that they were putting way too much emphasis on signing up playwrights to list their plays and not enough on recruiting theater companies to search for and produce those plays.

Well, things are getting better. Over the last year, I've heard from numerous playwrights who've gotten discovered through the site. Not by publishers (at least not yet), but it seems plenty of theater companies--both big and small--are filling the odd slots in their seasons with plays they find on the site.

I'd never gotten contacted by one, but I'd chalked that up to the fact that I primarily write plays for youth. The teachers who select plays for young actors still tend to rely on publisher's catalogs and word of mouth.

I started to think I would never get contacted. Maybe the New Play Exchange wasn't meant for my me.

And then, in the last two weeks, I received not one but two inquiries from theater companies. And that's exactly two more than I've ever received from this website.

The first was a nonprofit in Maryland that tours plays in schools. They wanted to know how much I would charge for performances of Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye.

Since that play is published by Pioneer Drama Service, I quoted them Pioneer's rate and then directed them to the play's website. I haven't seen the group pop up on my account yet so I'm thinking they went in a different direction.

The second was a children's theater group in Wellington, New Zealand, of all places. Gemma, the director, had already ordered Real Pirates Don't Wear Tiaras (as a matter of fact, she's going to give the play its world premiere next month), and she liked it so much that she went to the New Play Exchange to see what else I'd written.

As it turned out, she loved Doggone Detectives. And therein lies another whole tale (tail?).

When I first wrote the play, I thought I had a winner. The play featured three adorable leads--a German Shepherd who'd been drummed off the police force for eating the evidence in a sausage-stealing case, a bloodhound with a nose for crime (and a mouth for snacks), and a yippy little terrier who desperately wanted to be a detective. There was only one small problem. She was afraid of everything.

Other  was also easy to produce and crammed full of poochy puns. It even won the Beverly Hills Theatre Guild Play Competition for Youth Theatre. But I couldn't get it published to save my life.

Pioneer was the first to reject it. They thought the costumes would be too challenging because they  would have to be specific to the breed.

Heuer and TheatreFolk thought the play was too young. YouthPlays failed to get enthused. And Eldridge wasn't talking.

Oh, one other thing. It wasn't called Doggone Detectives then. When I first submitted it to Pioneer, it was called Big Trouble in Dogtown. But I quickly soured on that title. It sounded too close to my play Trouble in Paradise Junction. More importantly, it didn't communicate the idea that the play was a detective story.

Its next title was Bow Wow Detectives. And that's the title under which it won the Beverly Hills contest.

Then earlier this year, I received a cease and desist letter from a self-published author who'd trademarked that exact same title for her series of books about dogs that aren't detectives and detectives that aren't dogs. I politely pointed out that her own trademark registration did not include plays as a category, but she refused to back off. And by that time, I started to think that the title might be a little too young.

So I gave the play its third (and hopefully final) title: Doggone Detectives. And that's the title under which it'll receive its world premiere next month in beautiful Wellington, New Zealand.

Anyway, if you're a playwright and you're looking for a way to promote your plays, I highly recommend you include the New Play Exchange as one part of a broader marketing strategy. It only costs $10 a year, and even if you get only one production every three or four years, it'll still pay for itself.

Those slobbering sleuths have paid for mine.

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