Monthly Archives: January 2014

Directing, Creative Freedom, and Vandalism



Once upon a time I worked at a theatre that received two cease-and-desist orders in two seasons– one for copying dialogue from a Disney film word-for-word and performing it without permission, and one for rewriting the lyrics to Godspell. The artistic director of the company told me, “The New Testament is so boring! Stephen Schwartz would have LOVED what we did with it if he had seen it. Ours was SO MUCH BETTER.” She then proceeded to tell me that she had learned her lesson, and asked me to write a commission contract for a playwright that would give her “total artistic control” over what the playwright wrote. “It’s my idea to adapt [name of book she didn’t write nor for which she possessed the adaptation rights] into a musical, so I own it.” Instead of writing her contract, I quit.

Around this same time, Boxcar Theatre in San Francisco took an unrepentant stance regarding their contract violations and theft of material from Rocky Horror Picture Show in their production of Little Shop of Horrors. This added fuel to the fire of the longstanding national debate over what directors and producers can and cannot do with a playwright’s work, as opposed to what some believe they SHOULD be able to do with a playwright’s work.

These two things happened almost back-to-back, and I began to think long and hard about the relationships directors and producers have with playwrights.

A PR shot for Asolo Rep's Philadelphia, Here I Come. No photog credit was provided.

A PR shot for Asolo Rep’s Philadelphia, Here I Come from the press section of their website. No photographer credit was provided.

The latest controversy belongs to Asolo Rep in Sarasota, Florida. Director Frank Galati staged Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come with enormous restructuring, eliminating characters and cutting pages of dialogue, all in direct violation of contract. What’s more, it appears from the article I link to above that Asolo Rep makes a practice of this:

The theater has experimented with new approaches to older plays with some success in the past. Two years ago, for example, the theater played around with Leah Napolin’s play “Yentl,” keeping most of the script but adding in original songs by composer Jill Sobule, performed by actors doubling as musicians on stage.

Napolin had a “heads-up about what we were doing,” Edwards said. “But she didn’t know all of what we were doing. . . .  If director Gordon Greenberg had gone to Napolin with every idea for changes or additions that came up during rehearsals “it would have killed the creative process. It would have made it a two-year process,” Edwards said.

While the Yentl production differed because Napolin had a “heads-up,” and therefore had the opportunity from the start of the process to investigate and hold Asolo to the terms of their contract, the attitude is still evident. Involving a playwright in an adaptation of HER OWN WORK is something that would “kill the creative process” and drag the rehearsal period out to a “two-year process.” The playwright is seen as a hindrance; an unwelcome interloper in the director’s much more important “creative process.”

Frank Galati. Photographer: Joel Moorman.

Frank Galati. Photographer: Joel Moorman.

Friel wasn’t even given a “heads-up,” and one has to wonder if that had to do with a (well-founded) suspicion that he would have told them no. Many who have discussed this controversy have mentioned how surprised they were that a director as well-known and experienced as Galati would have willfully violated contract, but I’m not surprised at all. My guess (and it’s just a guess, as I don’t know Galati personally) is that either the producers told him he had permission, or he felt entitled to do precisely what he did.

I’m basing this latter guess on the vehement arguments of directors all over the country who are at this very moment taking to the internet to express these very thoughts. There’s an entire subset of directors and producers who see the playwright as a necessary evil; a hindrance to their more important creative process, and who see the contract as something that exists more as a formality between the producer and the playwright than a legally-binding document that applies to their work. Here’s what they say.

1. Playwrights should be open to collaboration, and participate in their work’s speedy irrelevancy by refusing to allow directors to change things. This is an argument I’ve heard repeatedly. In my many years of experience of working with playwrights, I’ve found them to be very open to collaboration. They are, however, much less open to willful contract violations. There’s an enormous difference between contacting a playwright with, “I have an idea . . .” and “Surprise! We violated the contract! If you don’t like it and agree to let us continue, you’re a jerk who refuses to collaborate and hates artistic freedom.”

It’s certainly debatable whether a director’s changes are better than the original play, just as it’s debatable whether those changes would make the play more relevant or just vandalize the narrative. The arbiter of that debate MUST BE the playwright, because the playwright OWNS the work.

2. Copyright hinders creative freedom. Directors are artists, and their creative freedom must be respected. But why would the creative freedom of the director be more important than the creative freedom of the playwright? Why is the playwright seen as a hindrance to YOUR creative process when your creative process involves interpreting THEIR work? And why would you sign a contract you have no intention of honoring?

I’d like to point out that this isn’t a discussion about whether or not we should have copyright law, or what should be changed about it. That’s an entirely different topic. This is a discussion from within existing law. If you don’t like the law, work to change it, but as it stands now, we are all bound by it.

I’m very aggressive when I direct Shakespeare, because I can be. But when I directed Cameron McNary’s Of Dice and Men, I texted him when I wanted to cut a single line. He said no. I pushed for it– and lost. That line stayed in the final production because it’s not my right– legal, ethical, or artistic– to produce work with Cameron’s name on it that I doctored without his approval.

Jonathon Brooks as Jason in Impact's production of "Of Dice and Men."

Jonathon Brooks as Jason in Impact’s production of “Of Dice and Men.”

The prevailing attitude directors and producers who violate contract to doctor work express is that they SHOULD be able to have that right, that they DO have that right as artists, that their doctoring makes the work BETTER, and that playwrights who do not approve are SPOILSPORTS who do not know what is best for their art.

One wonders how these directors would view this issue if, unbeknownst to them, the actors reblocked three scenes and the final moment, added seven costumes, and replaced all the sound cues with the Wilhelm, then continued to perform the show with the director’s name on it. One wonders how these directors would feel if their protestations were met with accusations of being against “artistic freedom” and “collaboration.” One wonders how long it would take these directors to invoke the terms of their contract with that theatre.

3. “The director’s job is interpretation, and this is my interpretation of the work.” The problem with this oft-repeated argument is that it’s only right to a point. The director’s ACTUAL job is to interpret the work within the confines of the given circumstances. If you’re not a director, you’d be amazed at how much of directing is finding artistic solutions to technical problems. Two examples from the Annals of Real Life: If your interpretation of the work includes flying something in, and the theatre has no fly space, that interpretation needs to be adjusted to the confines of the given circumstances within which you’re directing that play. If your interpretation of the play includes passing out shots of real tequila to your audience, and the producer tells you absolutely not for both legal and budgetary reasons, that interpretation needs to be adjusted to the confines of the given circumstances within which you’re directing that play.

Similarly, if your interpretation of Angels in America includes cutting five pages of dialogue and adding a scene from Titanic, and you have not obtained permission from both Tony Kushner and James Cameron, that interpretation needs to be adjusted to the confines of the given circumstances within which you’re directing that play: the terms of your contract and copyright law.

Even mediocre directors CAN and DO successfully work around various aspects of their interpretations hitting the cutting room floor almost every day. They do this willingly because they respect the reality of space contraints, budgetary constraints, and the like. What I don’t understand is why the reality of contractual restraints are so poorly respected so much of the time.

It all boils down to this: Respect the terms of the contracts you sign. Respect the enormous amount of work the playwright put into the play before you ever clapped eyes on it. Stop thinking of playwrights as unwelcome interlopers who are there to vandalize your work. You’re interpreting THEIR work. If your changes to their work violate the terms of your contract, you’re the one who’s doing the vandalizing.

If you don’t want to work with playwrights and you don’t want to honor the terms of the contracts you (or your producers) sign with them, you should not be producing or directing the work of living playwrights. There are plenty of works in the public domain from which to choose.

Jonah McClellan and Akemi Okamura in Impact's Troilus and Cressida. Photographer: Cheshire Isaacs.

Jonah McClellan and Akemi Okamura in Impact’s Troilus and Cressida. Photographer: Cheshire Isaacs.

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“I’m Not Apologizing for Voicing My Opinion”: Entitlement Goes to a Middle School Play

So someone I know recently went to his kid’s middle school play. Awwwww, adorable, right?

During the event, he posted a picture of a beautiful Black woman– surely another parent or relative (because who else goes to school plays?)– in a fit-and-flare leopard print dress with short sleeves, a modest neckline, and a hem that hits just above the knee. She was also wearing boots and a vintage-inspired updo. It was a secretly taken picture. She is smiling. She looks beautiful.


Imagine a leopard-print version of this, worn by a smiling, gorgeous Black woman with fierce boots and an adorable updo.

His comment on the picture was that her outfit is not appropriate for a “jr high play (sic),” but more appropriate for a club “or, better yet, a street corner.” He secretly took a picture of another parent at a school event, posted it online, and called her a whore. The wind was just . . . knocked out of me.

Several people called him out. The first few posts were all curious, on the order of “What? That outfit looks fine to me,” or “Why?” Mine was a little more detailed. I agreed with the other commenters that there was nothing wrong with the outfit, and that I’ve taught in similar outfits, although animal prints are not my personal style. I told him that it’s never appropriate behavior to post a secretly taken picture of a woman–a fellow parent at a school event!– that includes her face and calls her a whore, no matter what your opinion is of her outfit.

He reacted angrily. He said that my comments were “subtext crap” and refused to admit that his behavior was inappropriate in any way. He told me I needed to stop being “every females champion (sic).” He told me “If you don’t like it, that’s not my problem.” He told me, “I’m not apologizing for voicing my opinion.” He told me “I’m not going to sit here and have you ridicule me for voicing my opinion.” (Of course I wasn’t actually ridiculing him in any way, merely stating the things I’ve posted above.) He told me, “I thought you were a better friend than that.”

I received a couple of messages from people who had seen the discussion, thanking me for standing up to him. One called me her “hero for the day.” It was touching.

But the incident still nags at me, and I need to speak out. I need to speak out because this one man’s behavior reflects a pervasive cultural pattern of behavior that plagues women and people of color every single damn day in this country. Enough is enough.

This necklace is sold by the etsy shop MetalTaboo. They have a lot of great stuff, so check them out!

1. She was not dressed inappropriately. When facebookland responded with that, his response was “You weren’t there. I was,” as if being in the physical presence of her magical Black sluttiness would make her dress lower cut? Shorter? What, exactly, was he objecting to about her outfit? A brilliant friend of mine jokingly speculated a subgroup of people who get their information about sex workers from 80s cop shows and believe leopard print = prostitute. The outfit was actually quite modest. Was it her figure? She was what used to be referred to as “va-va-va-voom.” She was a busty, curvy goddess– a full-figured hourglass head-turner. Was it her weight? Her curviness? Would he have objected to her outfit had she been a skinny white girl? It’s unclear, precisely, what he was objecting to, and he refused to clarify. The truth is, he created a rule in his own mind and punished her publicly for breaking it. He targeted her for reasons of his own. He targeted her because he could.

2. He secretly took a picture that included her face. If the picture had been from the neck down, or from behind, it would at least have had some tiny, tiny speck of respect for her as a human being. But he included her face. And of course she wasn’t a complete stranger at a mall he’ll never see again. She’s a fellow parent at the school, or a relative close enough to come to a middle school play on a Thursday night after work. The chances of running into this human being again are high. The chances of having, or at one point acquiring, mutual friends is high. This woman was reasonably identifiable within his social network reach. What does he think this woman, her partner, HER CHILD would think? Would he have done this if the woman was white? Would he have done this if the woman was walking with a man? He feels well within his right to publicly point out a woman and name her a whore. Would he be OK with another man doing this to his wife or daughters? Of course not. But this woman, in his opinion, deserves it. She is not worth basic human consideration to him.

3. “I’m not apologizing for voicing my opinion.” We’ve already covered that he targeted her simply because he could, and that he felt entitled to put her face on the internet and label her a whore. Now we get to the inevitable part where he defends this behavior as his right.

When called out by multiple people, he said he’s entitled to express his “opinion.” He clearly feels that the scope of his “opinion” includes public shaming (but only for others, as we’ll get to in a moment). He does not see the difference between having an opinion and expressing that opinion publicly. He has no fucks to give about that public expression’s consequences for OTHERS. Despite our dissent, he couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that the picture he posted belied his opinion, and instead insisted that the OPINION redefined THE PICTURE– that his opinion was more REAL than the EVIDENCE. (“You were not there. I was.” “It must just be the picture. You had to be there. It was inappropriate.”) He believes he has every right to state his opinion (no matter how hurtful to others), that his opinion should be accepted as fact without question despite evidence to the contrary, and that there is no possible way the public expression of this opinion could be wrong in any way. “Voicing my opinion” is, for him, a magic formula of entitlement.

4. He believes his actions should have no consequences, and is shocked and appalled when they do. It comes as no surprise that someone who targets a woman almost at random, feels entitled to put her face on the internet and label her a whore, and defends this behavior as his right should also believe that this behavior should be completely without consequence– for HIM. One wonders what school admin would think if they discover a parent is secretly taking pictures of other parents at school events and posting them to the internet with nasty comments. One wonders what this woman’s attorney would think.

I know what I think: That all too often men think they are perfectly entitled to claim authority over women’s bodies and determine when and how we are displaying ourselves “inappropriately”; that all too often white people think they are perfectly entitled to claim authority over Black bodies and determine when and how they are displaying themselves “inappropriately.” This struggle over “appropriate display” has tentacles into every aspect of our culture, including my own world of theatre. WHO is appropriate for WHAT role– WHO determines what body is acceptable to inhabit Lady Anne or Biff Loman– and HOW those determinations are applied– are processes that many in this community are constantly fighting to open wider. Representation– and who controls the definition of “appropriate”– MATTERS.

This facebook debacle is one example out of millions, happening every day. THIS MATTERS. Am I “every females champion”? FUCK YES I AM.

One of the many Black Madonnas of medieval Europe. This one is from the 12th century and is in Barcelona.

One of the females I champion. One of the many gorgeous Black Madonnas of medieval Europe. This one is from the 12th century and is in Barcelona.

I was much less . . . fiery in the actual discussion, posting about four or five comments, most in response to his assertion of entitlement and (inevitable) accusations that I was attacking him. Of course, I never once attacked him. Instead I told him he did not have the right to attack HER. My comments were all respectful (no name-calling, no personal belittling), stating that he was not entitled to post secretly-taken pictures of other parents and call them whores, that her outfit was actually quite modest, that I have several outfits very much like it.

His reaction was unfocused rage. He accused me several times of “ridiculing” him, and twice told me, “Don’t you know when to quit?”


And THAT, I think, reveals the heart of the matter. He felt entitled to the right to ridicule a Black woman for displaying herself publicly in a manner he found unacceptable. He did not, however, believe that *I* was entitled to the right to disagree, and that my public disagreement with him was “ridicule.” Of course I wasn’t actually ridiculing him in any way. I know how, believe me. He was automatically interpreting a woman’s dissent as ridicule. I was challenging his authority. He felt entitled to claim authority over a woman’s body without consequences, and did everything he could, including deleting my comments, to silence my dissent.

His twice-repeated “Don’t you know when to quit?” came while he was still directing comments at me– comments I was expected to take silently.

5. “This is MY facebook timeline . . . I’ll remove content from my timeline I don’t wish to have there.” Apart from the obvious (there are still ToS, harassment laws, and fucking basic human decency), he’s right that it’s his timeline and he can control its contents. He has every right to remove content from his own timeline that’s critical of his actions.

When I told him I agreed that he had every right to delete my comments, and that I would, since I had quite a bit to say about this issue, blog about it instead (assuring him I would not reveal his identity), using my own venue for my own thoughts, he accused me of “throwing him under the bus.”

He believes, correctly, that he has every right to delete comments that are critical of his actions or unflattering to him from his own timeline. But he also believes he’s entitled to post whatever unflattering content he likes about other people, and– this is the real kicker– that no one else is entitled to post anything critical or unflattering about him in ANY venue.

Of course it never occurred to him that he was throwing this beautiful Black woman “under the bus.” In his mind, she DESERVES IT by daring to appear in public in an outfit of which he disapproves. He feels that he deserves sympathy, empathy, and compassion, but she does not deserve the like.

This is the very soul of entitlement. He believes he intrinsically deserves, and should automatically receive, a level of consideration and compassion he is unwilling to extend to others.

This is an attitude I see far too often about women, Black people, people in poverty, LGBT people, people who exist outside of any of the basic markers of privilege in this country. We are not entitled to the same treatment because people like this refuse to see us as fully human, as real, as entitled to compassionate treatment as THEY are. They feel entitled to mete out punishment and shame to us as they see fit, and howl with rage when met with dissent. They do everything within their power to silence or discredit dissent.

DO NOT LET THEM SILENCE YOU. Enough is enough.


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Six Things Playwrights Should Stop Doing


Because what says “HAPPY NEW YEAR” better than a judgmental listicle?

One thing I want to say right at the start is that this is a list borne out of my own personal experience. These are things I personally see early-career playwrights do over and over and over. I also expect that there will be people who disagree with me, or who say, “But [name of play] does that and it’s the BEST PLAY EVER.” Sure. A genius can take a tired trope and use it ingeniously. But these tropes, I’m telling you, are tired.

The second thing I want to say is that your play is not irrevocably in the suck pile if it uses some of these. I know you’ll iron these out in development. Brilliant writers make a lot of mistakes early in their careers, or copy what writers of the past did when these things were new or acceptable, without understanding that times have changed. A few mistakes don’t make a writer– or even that play– worthless. Rewrite and keep pushing forward.

All of that said, here’s my list. Dear Goddess of Theatre, may none of the plays I read in 2014 have these characteristics, as precisely ONE FARTILLION of the plays I read in 2013 did.


“Please, please tell me now, is there something I should know?”

1. Making a song a central trope. Emerging playwrights love to make a song THEY love into a central trope. The song is deeply meaningful to the characters; the song has a connection to their past and carries some exposition (“Mom always made us sing this song on road trips before the accident”); the song lyrics are quoted out of context; the song is played or sung at a climactic moment. Apart from the obvious– that this trope is overused– there are a few problems with this technique. Often the song that the playwright loves does not fit well within the world of the play. Sometimes the rights are not available for a certain song. But most importantly, early-career playwrights choose a song because it has a certain emotional content for THEM that other people do not necessarily share.

If you use a very well-known standard that has an undeniably certain context within American culture (Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” for example, or “God Bless America”), generally that context is understood by your audience, even if it is not shared. Personally, I hate “Born to Run,” but every time a playwright uses it, I understand what they’re trying to say. However, when you use a random song by, say, Neko Case, Leonard Cohen, or Joni Mitchell (all examples taken from real plays) most of the people in your audience will have never heard the song before. I know you don’t believe me (“EVERYONE knows that song!”) but I’m right. Everyone YOU KNOW knows that song, but imagine a theatre audience filled with strangers, many of whom are not from your social class, ethnicity, or generation. Most people do not know MOST SONGS, no matter how popular that song is within your particular social group. I’m not talking about every usage of a song in a play. I’m talking about relying on a song to carry a particular narrative function. Before you include a song in your play, ask yourself: “Can someone who has never heard this song before, or who dislikes it, still understand everything I need the audience to understand?” If the answer is YES, then by all means, include it. If the answer is, “No, but I don’t care about people outside of the subgroup who know and like this song,” then include it. Otherwise, find a clearer way to do what you need to do. And either way, you might want to consider a trope that’s less overused.

2. Spelling out accents. This one is highly controversial when it comes to “ethnic” accents, but it’s annoying whenever it happens. For one thing, I have yet to see a playwright do this accurately. No amount of mangled spelling is going to correctly convey all the complexities of ANY accent. Most importantly, you’re attempting to dictate to the actor how the lines are said. While the problems inherent in a white writer attempting this with an “ethnic” accent are clear, it’s a pain in the ass when any writer does it for any accent. It’s awkward to try to sound lines out through the mangled spelling you chose to reflect the accent, and while you may believe you’re accurately reflecting the accent even within the limitations of what spelling can do, you may not be in the context in which the line is said, or due to the position of a word creating elision, or any number of things about how an accent works in practice. Just write the lines out properly and let your actors handle the accent. (And YES, I know some great writers of the past have done this, but that doesn’t make it a good idea for you today. If these writers were writing today, would they still be spelling out accents? I will bet you a box of doughnuts and my Cherno Alpha action figure the answer is NO.) Just trust that actors and directors are skillful enough to handle the accent on their own without you having to painstakingly spell it out for them.


3. The Magical Person of Color and/or Drag Queen and/or Gay BFF and/or disabled person. Many writers will use race, sexuality, ability, or gender expression as a metaphor. You’ll often see this referred to as the “Magical Negro”— a black character with special insight or mystical knowledge who runs around helping white main characters with no narrative or objective of his/her own. I’m saying “Magical Person of Color” because writers will also use an Asian or Native American character (ANCIENT MYSTICAL KNOWLEDGE) or a Latino character (SEXUAL AWAKENING AND ALSO MINDBLOWING FOOD). And now we’re seeing the Magical Drag Queen and/or gay BFF as well (MAKEOVER! SASS! COCKTAILS! HELPING STRAIGHT PEOPLE FIND LOVE!). The Magical Drag Queen is more often than not also a person of color, so two-for-one! We’ve seen disability used this way forever. Two examples: Mystical Blind Person (HE CANNOT SEE BUT HE SEES YOUR FUTURE) and Beautiful Person With Disability That Does Not Impact Their Adherence to Beauty Standards (basically just a deaf Manic Pixie Dream Girl). All these tropes are so common that I’ve seen a number of plays engage brilliantly with them, disrupting them or interrogating them.

If you’re writing a play where the main characters are able-bodied, white, and straight, and you want to include a person of color, an LGBT person, a drag queen, or a disabled person, high five! Now your play looks more like the world most of us live in. But think for a moment: If you have a character who is an active part of the narrative with objectives of their own, excellent. If your white main character runs into a Black homeless man who Imparts Words of Wisdom, or has a drag queen neighbor who appears in one scene to give her a makeover and Impart Words of Wisdom, or goes to the blind Asian psychic who magically solves a problem with Words of Wisdom, you have a tired (and problematic) trope on your hands.


4. Writing a play like you’re writing for film. There are some things film does much, much better than theatre does, and vice versa. I don’t get my knickers in a twist like some do about the difference between “theatrical writing” and “cinematic writing” when it comes to things like realism, or certain kinds of narrative. I don’t mind if you write a play about a family that primarily takes place in their living room and has a linear narrative. A play can be all those things and deeply moving, brilliant, and transformative. I’m talking about technical or structural things that can be done easily in film but present enormous difficulties in the theatre. One thing I see quite often is the use of microscenes of a line or two (or fewer) that shift back and forth from place to place requiring a detailed set change or a massive playing space. Here’s an example inspired by every play I’ve ever read that does this, and before you think I’m exaggerating for comic effect, I assure you that I am not.

Lights up on Josh in his hospital bed, sleeping. The phone rings. He wakes up and struggles with his IV as he attempts to answer it. He is too late– the line is dead. He sinks back on his pillow. Sung, the ancient and wizened former Kung Fu master in the next bed, slowly rises and looks at Josh thoughtfully. Lights out on the hospital as lights up on Katie’s office, a drab but busy downtown cube farm. Katie is sitting in her office cubicle, staring at the phone receiver in her hand as Terrence, sitting in the cubicle next to hers, leans across the aisle between them and hands her a piece of chocolate. Janeen, sitting in the desk behind Katie, slowly appears over the wall of Katie’s cubicle, shaking her head, while through the office window we see a delivery truck arriving. Terrence sees this and jumps up, crosses to Mr. Taylor’s office door, and opens it, through which we see Mr. Taylor in a compromising position on his desk with a young woman whose face we can’t see. Blackout.

And of course this is the only time in the play we see either the hospital room or Katie’s office. The next scene takes place on the bench outside the hospital or in the office break room. I’ve seen examples like these dozens of times, and while there’s a way to do almost anything if the playwright is fine with stylization, more often than not a play with this kind of writing is filmic in many other ways as well.

If you’re requiring on onstage fire that must be set, rage out of control, and then get put out, for example, or a character who “suddenly transforms into a glorious angel of light” onstage, please at least throw in a sentence or two somewhere about how realistic you need this to look. If you’re imagining actual fire, or an actual being of light, you’re imagining a film.


5. Older characters whose sole purpose is to impede the awesome young characters from whatever the hell it is they want to do because old people JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND. I can get all I need of this trope through Scooby Doo and 80s movies.


6. Prostitutes, Porn Stars, and Strippers. Sex workers are not a marker for all women everywhere. If you’re writing a play about ACTUAL SEX WORKERS, then carry on, my wayward son. But if you’re writing a play about, oh, a young man trying to find himself, or a middle-aged man who’s vaguely dissatisfied with life, or a man whose wife just doesn’t understand him and constantly asks him to do horrible things like pay attention to her or fold his own laundry, then inserting a Magical Prostitute who swans into his life and shows him The Way to Happiness, or the Broken Flower Stripper who needs the man to save her from herself and show her that college exists, then I am looking at you with crankyface. Are you writing a play with a sex worker in it? Ask yourself: WHY is she a sex worker? Are you writing about sex workers, or do you just want a naked version of the Magical Person of Color? Does she have objectives of her own that aren’t there just for the male protagonist to correct? Does she have a character, or is she just a racktacular vector for Words of Wisdom?


I could write an entire blog post on this one.

And now . . . to end on a positive note, FOUR THINGS PLAYWRIGHTS DO THAT I LOVE.

1. Send me their own work and recommend other writers to me. I have had excellent luck with writers I know through the theatre community, social media, or other channels who know what we do, understand our aesthetic, and send me their work. But I have had even better luck with writers who send me SOMEONE ELSE’S work. I think this is because playwrights are out there marketing themselves as hard as they can, and will send their current play to a wide variety of theatres in case something sticks, even if the play may not be the best fit for that theatre, because who knows? Maybe they’re looking to branch out in some way. But when a playwright sends me someone else’s play, it’s because they believe that play is a particularly good fit for my company. They read the play and it made them think of my company. This is THE BEST. When I get an email from a playwright saying, “Have you read [title of play]? I think you’d love it” I get The Tingles.

2. Pull no punches. The highest compliment I have for actors is “fearless.” I think there’s an aspect of that in writing plays as well. I received a play last year that was so fearless, so completely full of its unique approach to story and theatricality, just SO INTENSELY WHAT IT WAS, that I had to get up and walk around the room for a bit in excitement before I could finish reading it. Is it a perfect play? Fuck no. What is? But I fell in love with it because it’s 100% what it’s meant to be. It is not “nice.” It is not concerned with soft-pedalling its world view. Its unique voice jumps off the page and sits on your face. Either I will stage this play one day or I will make someone else do it.

3. State in the character list that they are open to diversity of all types. Look, sometimes a play is about race, ethnicity, sexuality, or what have you in a way that demands a certain kind of casting. If you’re staging Frances Cowhig’s [410]GONE (AND YOU SHOULD), you really need Asian actors. But often a play isn’t about race, ethnicity, or sexuality; it’s about friends who help each other escape an abusive situation, or people who work in politics, or a family trying to get over a death. When you put on the character description page something like “Please feel free to cast these roles with diverse actors. I’m open to a mixed-race family, a disabled lead, or actors of size. We don’t live in a world full of skinny, able-bodied white people, so I have no need for my play to be filled with them,” I LOVE YOU. I would have done it anyway, but when you state that openly, I just freaking LOVE YOU.

4. Believe me when I ask for more work. Most of the plays I read, like seriously 99.999%, aren’t right for my company for the current season I’m slotting. However, many of those plays are still excellent, or intriguing, or display a style or a voice we find compelling that might potentially be a good match for us. We don’t ask everyone to send us something else, so when playwrights believe me, and then ACTUALLY SEND ME SOMETHING ELSE, I am excited. We staged a play this season that I received for just that reason. “Please continue to submit to us” is not a polite brush-off. It means we’re keeping an eye on you because we think you’re worth keeping an eye on.

And PS, you magnificent bastards, I’m in the middle of season planning, so right now this minute (like seriously in the next few days) is an excellent time to send me your plays. Our wonderful literary manager can be reached at lynda (at) impacttheatre (dot) com.

Happy New Year!


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