Cracking the local theatre scene – a pretty tough nut

The internet distributes my ten minute plays quite well. Shambles links to my website (which is now over ten years old) and sends a steady stream of traffic from theatre students around the world. They often request permission to use my 10 minute plays in their classes.

This week, three students asked me for scripts for their projects.

Stephan, a student in England, wants to use Panic Attack. Avery, in Georgia (USA), is using In the Waiting Room. And Diana, in Romania, is doing a school production of Responsibility.

Sometimes, the requests come from places in Asia and Africa where I’m guessing there may not be access to many short plays in English in the library.  Sometimes they translate them.  One student in Sudan told me he translated Pizza into Arabic and changed the title to “Milk.”

Often, teachers tell me they use the scripts to help their students learn English.

I know that some students probably do have access to a good library and could certainly find a better script than mine — but this website makes it easy, and these exchanges give me a tremendous amount of pleasure.

Thus, without Broadway success, critical success, or money, I’m sort of a content playwright. I make the plays free and accessible online, and get the satisfaction of knowing that the words I put on the page are getting used on a regular basis.

But, I just can’t crack the hometown. Here in Salisbury, NC, we have three theatre troupes, plus a local college with an excellent theatre department. They all have done new plays written by local folks (including some really bad ones, which is the norm for new plays) — but I can’t get them to consider mine.  They will give me the time of day, when I buy a tickets to their productions — but that’s about it.

I have done plays here. That’s how I got started, in the mid-90’s, by producing them myself. They went really well.  Got a lot of support and learned a lot.  A self-produced local production is one good way to get a play done, and it’s a lot of fun — but it’s ultimately an ego trip that doesn’t tell you a lot about the play.

This spring, Lee Street Theatre will be producing a festival of ten-minute plays. They did this last year also. Last year I didn’t enter the contest for two reasons. The theme was “city.” I didn’t have any plays that specifically talked about city life, and I didn’t have the time or inclination to write one. I love cities, but the theme is a little broad. It would be much easier to write a play about a pair of socks. I also noticed unsavory signs of politics and competition among those involved, and feared my play would be rejected.

I did go to the show. It was fun, but a fairly weak production overall. A number of people asked me why I didn’t submit one, and I said it was because I didn’t want to be rejected in my hometown (Salisbury — a small town) and thereby suffer the embarrassment.

This year, a couple of people on the committee urged me to submit — and they whispered to me (pssst…psssst) that a discussion had taken place and that it was decided a play of mine would be picked.

They call the evening “A Six Pack of Plays” and the scripts must be set in a bar.

Well, I wrote a play called A New Normal.  (You can see it here, if you like).  It’s set in a bar. It’s about a bar’s last night in business. It takes place on New Year’s Eve, 2008, during the heart of the Great Recession. It’s certainly no masterpiece, but I think it’s okay.

Problem is, I didn’t read the guidelines. When I read the guidelines, in order to get the address and mail the play — I noticed that it was limited to three characters.

My play had six (although three of them had no lines, such that those actors would really not need to rehearse more than one day).

I inquired about the strictness of these rules and learned that the cost of violating this decree was severe. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that this play would not be considered. So I didn’t send it and never showed it to anybody.

They extended the deadline a few days and I wrote a second play (well, it’s actually an adaptation of something I wrote a few years ago; it worked quite well). This one was not set in a literal bar, although it’s about a person who has spent too much time in a bar, and she invites the audience to join her at the bar. I thought it hit the “bar” theme pretty hard.

I submitted this play, but it was disqualified because it was not set in a bar. When they say bar, they mean a real bar. Symbolic, thematic, metaphorical bars will not suffice.

I understand, of course, that they want the convenience of using a single set for all six plays. But I’m certain this could have been done with a prop or two, without any set-changing fanfare — and it would have added a bit of variety to the evening.

It’s called Nice Name for a Sky and is posted here.

My ten minute plays have had a number of productions, including hundreds in classrooms around the world, with almost fifty productions in theatres, including some pretty nice ones in New York, Minneapolis, Chapel Hill, Melbourne, Charlotte, and elsewhere. Several have been published by play services and, and three of them last year in the NC Literary Review. And I’ve won two state arts grants for playwriting and filmmaking.

But I’m still trying to figure out how to play the local theatre political scene. Still looking for my first local theatre production. It’s a tough nut to crack. Maybe it’s because I take it all too seriously.

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