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.

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Comment by M. Yichao on July 5, 2011 at 12:34am
As a new playwright, I'm still trying to learn what to do with scripts once they've been written. As I started in fiction, the query format is familiar, but I've never actually been advised by any mentors to do queries for theater companies for my plays. I've been directed to festivals, competitions and conferences, and talked directly with theaters I have relationships with. This blog I think really highlights the biggest difference that I've perceived between novel/fiction and plays, and that is the importance of a more personal, intimate relationship with theatres vs. publishers. It's an interesting one to navigate, for sure!
Comment by Wayne Paul Mattingly on June 29, 2011 at 7:55pm

I agree re:the ratio of labor to success. But I have been produced,published, won contests/competions, etc, as many of our fellow playwrights have, I assume. 

And I gotta say, similar to you with the above article, I don't necessarily feel...this is a one way missive, whether on paper or transmitted electronically, the latter of which is how a good deal of queries, etc. are sent nowadays.



Comment by Gwydion Suilebhan on June 29, 2011 at 5:52pm
A humorous response (that hits close to home!) from playwright and noted Dramatist Guild cartoonist Mark Krause, who shared it with me via email. Thanks, Mark!

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