Frequently Given Answers

First a short answer from Stef :

Of course playwriting can be taught. It's a skill, a technique like any other. What can't be taught is creative talent!

Now a more complete answer, contributed by Jack Shea, USA :

My answer is like everyone else's...YES and NO. You are born with an ear for the Playwright's case, DIALOGUE. What can be taught is the mechanics for a script whether it be stage or film. The Playwright has to find his/her own voice and theme. Here is a link to part of an article from The Dramatist magazine by a more successful Playwright than I... Marsha Norman.

Your play should have initiated a question which runs through the action of the play. When that question is answered - it may not be resolved, but some form of resolution will be understood - then that is the end.

Unless you want to try the expensive route of applying to self-produce for the increasingly popular, but overcrowded and gimmicky, summer International Fringe Festival, by far the most likely route is by submitting one-act plays, preferably with small casts and limited technical demands. There are plenty of non-commercial theatres in New York that accept full-length submissions (as a Google search of "New York" "play" "submissions" will show), but those outlets can be competitive - particularly for one who's not a resident of the city and may be unknown there.

It's simply expensive to produce full-length work in New York, even using the most generous guidelines (called "Showcase code" productions) from Equity, the actors' union, and that cost discourages the production of new full- length scripts. And the best theatres, naturally, never accept unsolicited scripts and only work through agents.

The city is filled with non-profit one-act festivals, however, and over the past 10-15 years these have become the most likely way for a playwright to get an early-career New York production. More and more the one-act festivals are drawing significant attention, thanks to coverage on fast-growing Web sites like and
Unknown writers may see their work share a bill (normally numbering from three to even seven pieces) with major playwrights like Craig Lucas or established writers like Edwin Sanchez or Betty Shameih, as well as other relative unknowns.

In New York, a one-act play can be as short as 10 pages, and it should probably have a running time of no more than 30 minutes. The writer shouldn't expect to be paid for the work in these off-off Broadway festivals, but many theatres take pains to protect the writer's interests and demonstrate their appreciation for the talent.

One of the city's most famous one-act festivals is the summer Marathon at Ensemble Studio Theatre (EST); it accepts unsolicited submissions, though most of its 12 or so annual productions go to playwrights well known by the theatre. Two more welcoming outlets are respected and popular off-off Broadway stages:
Vital Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Source's Estrogenius or Homogenius festivals. Both are well-known in the city, often reviewed by the leading Web sites and sometimes The New York Times, and are open to writers from outside New York (and the United States). These strengths, however, make the competition correspondingly strong.

A far, far less competitive, though far, far less prestigious, outlet is Theatre-Studio Inc.; it only works with non-union actors for very short runs and its work is never reviewed (and if so, usually not favorably), but it produces an admirable number of scripts and it does have a track record of accepting one-acts from writers outside New York and the United States.

The New York market for French-language plays is limited, and that's an understatement. An occasional such festival will pop up, but it is a very rare event. There is a market for Spanish-language plays in the city, though not at the outlets listed above. So:
An international perspective is refreshing and welcome, but the language should almost always be English.

Stef says : this is a question not asked frequently enough!

1. List all your characters on a page at the start, together with their physical attributes if required. It makes casting a lot easier when I don't have to read the script to find out what actors are required.

2. Please print on only one side of the paper. Double-sided may be cheaper to post, but it's clumsier to handle in a staged reading.

3. Spiral binders are the neatest arrangement, but if your play is more than about 60 pages long, the 1.5 cm spirals are too small, and the pages escape during the reading. Loose leaf can be dangerous in a reading, as a dropped script effectively ends the play. The best arrangement is often to bind Act I separately from Act II.

4. Double line-spacing isn't necessary for dialogue, but any monologue of more than three lines should be double-spaced to help the actor to keep his place during the reading.

5. Number the pages, and please try to ensure that all the actors get a copy with the same page numbers.

6. Minimal stage directions, please. Describe your set, by all means, but please don't put your actors in a strait-jacket by telling them where to stand or how to react, unless the effect you require really is something they'd never have thought of themselves.

7. Please use a different typeface for the stage directions. Italics is usual. And please try to put them at the start or end of a speech, not in the middle.

8. Please resist the temptation to continue making improvements to your play between the time the actors receive the script and the final reading. Most actors make notes and highlight their text, and it's a big waste of time to have to transpose notes onto a new copy.

I like to maintain a good distance. Though this is different for different writers, I find when writing a play I have a very distinct idea of how each line is supposed to be said, and so it is difficult for me to allow an actor to find their own voice. Once a play goes into a reading or production stage, it is very important to be able to let go, and allow others to breathe.

contributed by James Paul Delmont, USA :
It's a good idea. My play, "The Interrogation of Miriam of Nazareth," was workshopped at a local university theatre department with excellent acting and directing talents under the supervision of a nationally-known professor of theater.
As a result, I rewrote it extensively. It was the most important event in the evolution of the play. It was then workshopped again, informally, at a well known classics theater and again changes were made, with the director and me sitting with one other person in the first row as I took notes. Only then did I submit it to Moving Parts.
The lesson is that playwrights should be flexible, learn from workshops, and not fear extensive rewrites. My play was eventually produced in an American city and won a Theatre Arts Guild award as "best new play." Practice makes perfect.


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