Giving Your Script Legs

October 7, 2009

Decades ago, well before my long happy marriage, I was crazy in love with a beautiful young lady who worked purchasing clothing and chic bric a brac for a high class hotel store.  This was during the part of my career when a group of us aspiring authors and actors were squatting in a condemned Harlem tenement.

The walls of my hovel were covered with rejection letters.  I pasted them up to hide the holes in the plaster and to stoke the anger that drove me to fill page after page in search of the play that would earn for me hot water and a chance to say a big, “told you so,” to this army of nay sayers.

One quiet spring day, while riding in a borrowed car with my gorgeous (and unattainable) fashion industry friend, she innocently asked, “Is theatre a buyer or a seller’s market?”

She explained that one side of the other always held power in any industry.  Knowing where one fits into the chain of industry is essential information before forging a path toward success.

My professors at
Columbia University
had provided me with a sound historical perspective on playwriting.  Several experiments on the boards at any space large enough to hold two actors had indoctrinated me into an appreciation of the practical responses of audiences.  Neither, however, had addressed the realities of the theatre as a market place.

At that early career juncture, my efforts to sell a play were confronting a distinctly buyer centered market.  Theatre had two thousand years of dead writers whose names appeared in text books to draw upon.  These corpses never complained about directors or chatted with actors.  Authors like Shakespeare, Shaw and Sheridan did not demand royalties, and so the buyers had no strong incentive to consider my work.

The challenge facing an undernourished young author was and is, “How do I make my work become coveted?”  The authors at Frank Silvera Writers Workshop called it, “Giving the script legs."

Continually I search for ways to create the competitive interest in a script that improves my position as a “seller,” but far more often throughout most of my career I have expended the largest portion of my time laboring to make each script attractive to producers and artistic directors (buyers) who have near complete power over my livelihood.

Things that have helped me negotiate a successful path through this maze of disadvantage are:

A.     Never burn a bridge in front of you.

B.     “No“ is only the first answer.

C.     Focus on an individual rather than an institution.

D.     Enter newer contests since they often receive fewer entrants.

E.     Conform religiously to the guidelines of each contest.

F.     Research a venue before approaching it.

G.     “Feed the tiger what it eats."

H.     Offer well written query letters.

I.       Position yourself as a potential income earner for the buyer.

J.      Be nice.

K.     Make yourself easy to find.

L.      Never lose hope.

M.    Make certain that each play represents your ability.

N.    Court talented directors and actors to present your work to their  contacts.

O.    Choose subjects that have inherent appeal. (My adaptation of Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry enjoyed the built-in marketing of a Newbery Award winning novel.

P.     Make a clear business plan by reverse engineering from your career goals.

Q.    Write plays that you believe in.

R.    Find the timeless quality in your idea so that it still has relevance even if it takes quite a while to reach a stage.

S.    Avail yourself of the available resources (play readings, writing circles, playwriting website and resource sites etc.)

T.     Never sign a contract that you don’t understand.

U.    Be sure that you have the rights to any materials that you use.

V.     Follow standard playwriting format.

W.   Create an email queue and periodically notify patrons of your career progress.

X.    Suggest the possibility of creating a specific play for theatres or producers who have rejected your work with encouragement.

Y.     Write better plays.

Z.     Remember that no one ever asked you to do this. 


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