I have a humble (if, on the surface, rather radical) suggestion to make to the playwrights who read my TheatreFace blog: stop submitting your work right now.

Okay: that's the attention-getting opener. What I really mean to suggest is that you consider drastically reducing the number of plays you'll submit and the number of places to which you'll submit them. Reducing them, I should say, to as close to zero as you can stomach.

There are two reasons for this: one of them practical, one of them ideological.

The practical reason is this: submission doesn't really work. The time you spend preparing submission packets (or emails) is much better spent in any manner of different ways: reading plays, seeing plays, meeting people, tweeting, networking, taking classes, meeting with people, and (perhaps more importantly) revising and improving your work. Oh, and self-producing. Never forget self-producing.

All of those endeavors are much more likely to get you out there and get your work seen by audiences than submitting to theaters and contests. All of them.

Especially (and obviously) self-production.

The rate of return on your submission investment, by contrast? Really, really low.

Let me just tell you: I've put my work where my mouth is here. I no longer submit my work to theaters unless I'm invited to. I haven't sent out a query packet with a ten-page sample and a synopsis in several years: not even one. I don't submit to contests, either. I don't miss them. And I still land productions of my plays. 

I do still submit my work to development programs... work, that is, that still needs development. I submit to about five or six different programs a year. And I write the occasional grant proposal. But that's it.

You have no idea what a relief it is to stop. I feel like I have my life back... and my soul back, too. No longer am I "submitting" myself for acceptance. I have decided to accept myself.

Which leads me to the ideological reason to stop submitting: the whole metaphor is rotten. It's built upon the idea that there are people inside institutions who control whether or not you get to have a voice and make work. Those people are there, yes, but they're as trapped by the system as you are (just in different ways). And they don't get to control whether or not you have a voice: you do.

If I could wave a wand and do away with all submissions everywhere, I would do it. I would take all the energy we all spend distributing our work that way and re-allocate it to ANYTHING ELSE. (World peace, even.) But I can't do that. I can only suggest that we start looking for alternate models. Because they are long overdue.

Submission doesn't work. Stop betting on a broken system. Let's make something new?

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Just a quick note to say that this is my final blog post for TheatreFace. Too many writing commitments (a good problem to have, I know) have forced me to prioritize and make some tough decisions. I will still be blogging on my own site at www.suilebhan.com, and reading/commenting here, so I'm not going away entirely. And I hope you'll all stay in touch! It's been a genuine honor.

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Tags: playwriting, submissions

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Comment by Gwydion Suilebhan on May 14, 2012 at 8:11am

Thank you, John!

Comment by John Patrick Bray on May 14, 2012 at 6:27am

My dissertation is entirely built on the manifesto that playwrights need to create their own development and production opportunities. I attended a Self-Production Panel hosted by The Dramatists' Guild (moderated by Roland Tec), and it is amazing how many playwrights are too nervous to self-produce.  My self-productions led to lasting relationships with directors, actors, and other playwrights, and therefore, other productions. 

When I interviewed Michael Bigelow Dixon, he suggested that playwrights are being complacent in vis-a-vis "developmental hell." Think about Outrageous Fortune, The Gates of Opportunity, or the much earlier Dream Machine: Thirty Years of New Play Development (by Douglas Anderson, 1988); if playwrights spent their energy in producing their own work, creating their own development opportunities, perhaps the mainstream theatre could take note (in a way, this is starting to happen thanks to organizations such as 13P, Playwrights 6, The Workhaus, and conferences such as The Last Frontier Theatre Conference, which is led by playwright Dawson Moore) and we, as theatre artists, could redefine notions of "success" (a much longer conversation for another time). Furthermore, playwrights who self-produce also learn valuable lessons, in terms of what makes a work "theatrical" (which has a variety of meanings), as well as practical financial limitations (which should in no way limit creativity - it is amazing what one can do in an empty room and fifty dollars).

I'm very sorry to hear you won't be posting here any longer. I have enjoyed your blogs!

Take care,

JpB

Comment by M. Yichao on May 14, 2012 at 12:33am
As a very new and green playwright, my experience with submissions has been very positive. I agree with the sentiment of this article though, and agree in the importance of self production. However, I know I'll find it challenging to not submit a play that's written if it fits with a contest or theater co...
Comment by Jonathan Norton on May 10, 2012 at 8:25am

Amen! Preach! I realized very early on that submitting to theaters was a losing battle. And I'm not much interested in contests, most of them are for one acts or 10 minute plays, and do not offer sufficient compensation for travel or housing. I DO submit to development programs.

Another issue with submitting to theaters that has always bothered me is this - THE WAITING. From an ideological standpoint, and a self esteem/self respect standpont, I refuse to put myself in a situation of having to wait six to nine months to hear back from a theater. I understand the pile is so high and the staff is so overworked, but I still refuse to allow myself to be put out like that. If there is an invitation to submit, I am fine with waiting however long it might be. Because you are now engaged in a process, and you have to be respectful of that. But not on an open submission.I get people are busy, and I appreciate what they do - but I don't have the patience. And at the end of the day - plays aren't really selected that way. I don't mind waiting for development programs because the timelines tend to be clearly drawn. Not so with theaters.

So.... that's my damage.

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