Putting a Face on Theatre
I’m pretty sure I'm done writing query letters to theaters.
I haven’t actually written one in quite some time. Like most playwrights, I think, I started out gung ho, reading my Dramatists Sourcebook and marking it up rather heavily with annotations about which theaters might be interested in which of my plays, preparing carefully-assembled packets, fretting over my synopses, addressing carefully-packaged envelopes. I waited and waited and waited for responses, which in many cases never came, and which were often pro forma rejections when they did come. When a theater did request a full script from a query, I got disproportionately excited, descending into daydreams of… well, I’m sure you know how that was.
In time, I realized that very, very little came from what amounted to a painfully huge effort. None of what I was doing resulted in actual productions of my work. Sure, people were interested… but that wasn’t how the system really worked, despite what I’d been led to believe. What worked, for me, was building relationships: getting to know other artists, making friendships, establishing creative partnerships. Sure, I still sent out query letters from time to time, but more and more rarely, until some years ago, when I just couldn’t muster the energy any more.
I don’t really know if I’m alone in this; I suspect most of my fellow playwrights would tell me they don’t send them out any more, either… though I also wouldn’t be surprised if my artistic director friends told me they still get them in huge quantities. Honestly, what I really imagine (or fear?) is that only amateurs still send them, which means that if I were to send someone a query letter at this point, that’s what they’d suspect I was.
This change, if it is in fact real, would not surprise me. In the past fifteen or so years we all picked up and moved to a new world that’s centered around social networking and digital engagement; things get done in Twitter and via email now. This is the space I occupy: where I fervently (though hopefully not over-much) attempt to interest others in my work in the course of talking about theater. It’s a real conversation, not a one-way missive printed on an arcane technology like paper, folded into an envelope, and whisked through the air to be opened in secret (or lost) by a stranger many miles away. I like it this way much better.
Still, I presume that there are those of you who are still writing queries: cover letters, ten-page script samples, synopses, character breakdowns, and a bio or resume as a kind of a fleur-de-lis. What I want to know, simply, is this: why? Does the effort bear fruit for you? Do you do it out of habit? Does it give you any pleasure in any way? Do tell.