Why Time Isn’t Necessarily Money For Young Playwrights

I spent this past summer studying playwriting in London. At our final readings of our plays in the West End, our professor felt the need to preface with, “Normally, playwrights are given six months to write a play under the UK writer’s guilds. These women had just under eight weeks.”

I’ve been struggling with that remark since my return to the US. As we enter submission season, and I’m down to the wire finishing up my plays, I feel like something’s missing here. I have this fear that I’m tossing aside all that I learned about research and outlining and more research and further outlining in the UK for the sake of churning work that will hopefully get noticed. I can’t afford to take the time I’m trained in to develop my plays, because I’m more focused on getting any initial interest or staged readings or productions than I am on actually spending two to three months mapping out the play I want to be writing.

Is this just me?

Does anyone else feel this way?

Is this what agents are for?

But there’s the Catch-22. I can’t get those agents who can book those readings who can submit my work without spitting out pages so I can be that much quicker to “quitting my day job”.

Look, here’s the link to the UK Writers Guild, and all the ways they are trying to funnel young playwrights into these cushy commissions.

I’m reaching out to my internet comrades and screaming into the void when I say, “I don’t know what to do!” I don’t know how to bridge the gap that allows me to meticulously outline and fundamentally believe that it is not for nothing. But here’s how I’d try:

Let’s teach young playwrights the beauty of a well-developed outline. If I were a literary manager scouting for a new voices series, I would be much more interested in a strong pitch and help shape the follow-through with them. Speaking from experience, re-shaping a play with a rushed first draft is damn hard. In fact, I scrapped it and started over.

Let’s teach young playwrights not to leave research up to a dramaturg. Although I do believe the UK needs a stronger focus on dramaturgy as a staple in the theatre, I will say that I was trained to ruthlessly scour newspapers, conduct interviews, sit-in on events that all pertain to my play. That’s all before the writing even begins.

Next week I will be writing about Taylor Mac’s five-year rehearsal process for his 24-hour performance that happened last week. I’ll be looking at where the funding came from and the freedom that stems from grants and fellowships, the ultimate chicken or the egg of great American theatre. The following week I’ll outline typical reading/development processes and try to fit Taylor Mac’s method of rehearsal into other development series around the country.

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