Thursday, February 28, 2013

To Binge or Not to Binge (or to Submit or not to Submit)?

Tomorrow, March 1st, we start the 22nd Playwright Submission Binge challenge, where a group of playwrights take up the challenge of submitting a play, every day, for 30 days.  I started this group 11 years ago, with the intention of making my marketing chores a little more fun (and effective).  What resulted was the creation of an extremely supportive and energetic online community of playwrights (almost 750 from around the world) who focus on the marketing and business side of playwriting.

Each day, after we submit our work, we report back to the group about what we submitted, where, and why.  The "what" helps tell other writers a bit about what we're writing.  The "where" is an act of great generosity--most people are able to share the submission guidelines and contact info.  The "why" is a tool that helps each writer focus on making smart submissions, targeting the right play to the right theatre, rather than indiscriminately scattering their scripts across rocky theatrical ground.

There is, justifiably, a question that's brought up about our endeavor:  Is submitting scripts actually worth it?  Don't most productions come about due to direct personal contacts?  Aren't you a hundred times more likely to get a script produced by someone you know, than by someone you've never met?

The answer is yes and no.  I think.  Let's find out.

I can say that the members of the Binge get a LOT of productions.  We did a member survey in 2011 that showed that almost 75% of our members got a reading, production, or publication directly as a result of their Binge submissions (the respondents to that survey were responsible for more than 2,700 submissions to theatres around the world over the course of those 30 days).

That being said, I think most professional, full-length productions are the result of relationships with theatres.  But each of us only has a limited number of contacts, whether we're newbies or if we've been at this for a while.  And sometimes (most of the time, actually), those contacts don't lead to a production, especially for full-length plays.  At that point, the writer has the option of either putting her script in a drawer, or doing some research and sending the script out to the right places (sending it to the wrong places is a complete waste of time, and, yes, there are mostly wrong places for each script).

I thought I'd look over my own readings and productions over the course of the past 12 months and see which happened as a result of non-invited submissions or from direct, personal contact.

Here's the list:  (it's not as impressive as it might seem--most of these are ten-minute plays)
  • reading of Flight in NYC, from the id Theatre.  Well, this one's tricky.  They asked to do the reading, but only after the play was selected from a submission to the Seven Devils Playwriting Conference.  So this was an unconnected submission, originally.
  • Production of Curse the Darkness by the EBE Ensemble in NYC.  Blind submission--I saw a listing somewhere, probably in the Binge.
  • Production of Newton's Call in American Globe NYC-15-Minute Play Festival.  I'd worked with them before, but it was still a standard blind submission.
  • Production of Organic Seed by Boston Actors Theatre. I'd submitted another play to them, in response to a call for scripts.  They did a reading, and later mentioned they were looking for plays for a summer play festival.  So it was kind of invited, but really it started due to a submission to a call for scripts.
  • Curse the Darkness at Flathead Valley Community College and the Blue Slipper Festival in Montanta, and Seoul Players in South Korea.  All submissions to calls for scripts.
  • Christmas Breaks produced by Playing on Air, a new radio program.  They approached me, after reading the script in an anthology produced by Playscripts.
  • Second Look produced in the Boston Theater Marathon.  Blind submission process.
  • will/did/is produced as part of the T Plays.  I was invited to participate (for my 3rd time in this festival).
  • Fire on Earth, developed and produced by Fresh Ink.  I submitted to their call for scripts.  I think I'd met Jessie Baxter, the literary manager, once, but otherwise I didn't know them.
  • Measuring Matthew produced as a film.  The director found me by stumbling across my web site.
  • Pumpkin Patch produced outdoors in London by Liminal Space.  The director/producer happened to remember seeing the play in a festival in 2007, where she'd directed a different piece.
  • Escape to Wonderland, read by City Theatre in Miami.  Blind submission.
  • Flight workshopped by the Huntington Theatre Company.  Well, I submitted to compete with a very limited pool of other playwriting fellows.  But my initial HPF application was just a normal submission to a call for scripts--I went in not knowing the literary staff at all.  I got lucky.  I'm going to count this as a connected submission, but also keeping in mind that the initial contact was not.
  • One-Minute Play Festival.  I was invited.
  • Curse the Darkness and Second Look, produced at the Firehouse Center for the Arts.  Submission to a call for scripts.
So,  in the past year, submissions with no particular contacts yielded me 12 readings and productions.  And my connections/relationships/past work got me 6.  (For the record, in 2012, I submitted 87 scripts and 10 queries to various different theatre opportunities, both through contacts and blind.)

Which means, as much as I'd like to be able to count on a few choice e-mails and cups of coffee to keep getting my work onstage, I will be participating in Binge #22, trying to meet the challenge of getting my work out there.  (You can sign up here.)

I'm curious, though.  Do my results match up with yours?  I hope you'll leave a comment below and let me know how you find productions for your scripts.


Maureen Brady Johnson said...

I am not a statistical kind of person but more of my plays get produced through personal contact AFTER I've sent my plays out and we discover that this theatre is a good match for my plays. ie. The Knutsford Little Theatre in England has produced several of my plays. A children's play will be produced there this summer. They "get" me. But I never would have found them if I hadn't taken the leap and risked sending my plays to them and developed a lovely relationship with them.

Alexa said...

Over the past year, I've had ten productions of my work (all short plays). Two were with theatres I'd worked with before; the rest were blind submissions to theatres completely new to me.

deirdre said...

I don't have enough productions in a year to show a trend but over the last few years, all of my 10 minute plays that have been produced have been via blind submission. However, my sole full length play produced and the majority of my full length readings have come through a competitive process, but that process was only open to me because of connections.

Donna Hoke said...

I had 16 productions and/or readings in 2012. Two readings of the same play at different Buffalo theaters were a result of connections, as were productions of three short plays at three Buffalo theaters different from the two above (I have maxed out my Buffalo networking, I'm afraid... I need a bigger city). The rest, including three full-length readings, one in NYC, and nine short play productions were all a result of submissions. So far this year, I've got one full-length production (connection), and seven short play productions, all the result of submissions. So submit submit submit!!

Unknown said...

In the past year I've had three full-length productions and two short productions related to contacts. I've had nine short plays produced and one full-length reading courtesy of blind submissions through the Binge. So, in a nutshell, I have found the Binge to be an excellent resource.

Mark Harvey Levine said...

This is incredibly interesting! I would say my productions from connections are increasing -- but almost all of those connections originally started with a blind submission. The Binges have been a huge help for me.

Monica Bauer said...

The Binge was enormously important to me in my first few years out of grad school, 2005-2008. Got a bunch of ten minute and one acts out.I love you guys. But I never got a full length produced while Binge-ing.I now get one or two full length plays produced every year, because I've made some personal connection, or someone I know has passed me on. So, short plays will get produced through the Binge and blind opps, which is great, if that's what you're doing.And getting a short play produced can, I've heard it said, lead to interest in a full production from a theater, but that's never happened to me.

Donna Hoke said...

I would love to hear how binge connections eventually parlay into something else...

Maureen Brady Johnson said...

I have been asked to write special pieces for a few theatres who have chosen to do my plays because I submitted them during the binge. It's really wonderful when relationships like this are developed because of the BINGE...Also the relationships with other playwrights leads to more writing opps and to some wonderful in person meetings. I believe that this is an unusually generous group.

Martha P. said...

ALL my productions and readings for the past 18 years came from scattershot submissions. A couple of times I have been forwarded a message from a Binger recommending me for a specific opp, but no luck with those - yet. I have to admit I don't rely on connections. Everyone has their own career to look out for, and maybe connections will pay off for me some day - just not yet.

Claudia said...

I may steal this idea for your blog. Except for my Fringe production, all my productions (not from publishers) were from submissions I saw. I do get invited here and there to submit - and interestingly - I didn't get in to any of those. Submitting works - granted it's a lot of submitting but in the end - if you're a good fit - sometimes it clicks. My acting teacher (back in the day) used to say, "They want the next Meryl Streep to walk in the room." And some theatres want the next great play to land in their lap.