Everyday Terrors

For some reason, the notion of ghosts has followed me from early childhood. I blame my mother. For a good, wholesome Nebraska girl, she sure delighted in telling spooky stories. She’d begin a story told by such-and-such, way-back-when, and subtly shift into an untrustworthy narrator. Just like that. Therapy has helped.

I wrote my first story at age six. An underwater adventure, it could best be called derivative. Perhaps I had a gift for writing, or maybe it was self-defense.

Two to three years later came a stunning development in my supernatural education: some television network broadcast Robert Wise’s 1963 film The Haunting, an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s astounding novel, The Haunting of Hill House. If you’ve never seen the film, it can scare you sideways. Double that for book. (Personally, I find the resemblance between Shirley Jackson and my mother unsettling.)
Though I’m sure that, at some point, I’d been far more frightened by life than by that film, let’s put it this way: I don’t remember those instances. Not to spoil anything, but, during the scene where the door begins breathing, I was in that room, no other reality within reach. The shock and terror and unstoppable, flowing imagery followed me straight to bed, where I was expected to sleep.

Sometime during that long night (which probably involved 15 minutes of waking consciousness), I began to realize that a relatively clever and devious individual could simply make up a story and scare people silly. (I don’t remember if I shared this realization with my mother.) I do, however, recall that the next time that The Haunting came on television, I asked if could tape it with the family tape recorder. I’m not sure how this happened, but my parents said yes. To be perfectly frank, they probably had started worrying about me long before that.
Time passed, and, at a second-hand, paperback bookstore that my family often frequented, I found a book full of true ghost stories. They had to be true—it said so right on the cover. It might have been a Frank Edwards collection. I liked his books quite a lot, and the story of the Romanian girl attacked by an invisible vampire (while the police watched the bite marks appear) truly freaked me the hell out. Hey, it says it’s all true. Right on the cover.

Those books probably provided much inspiration when I finally connected the dots and realized that I could tell ghost stories, and people would completely lose their minds, particularly when those people were my cousins, clustered together in my aunt’s stone fruit cellar. With the door shut. Atmosphere makes such a difference.

Life rudely drew my attention from ghost stories, but something—a mysterious presence, let us say—remained. I’m not much on horror movies. It’s just not my thing. But a new ghost film, hmm, I might give it a chance. (As with most ghost hunters, I almost always come away disheartened.) I grew up and I calmed down, and, though I tried not to work for the clampdown, I favored blue and brown. By chance, I found one of those true ghost story collections in a favorite bookstore and, on impulse, bought it. I didn’t even know why. Perhaps I was beginning to feel the weight of responsibility and needed a vacation I couldn’t afford to take.

I learned an amazing thing, though. True ghost stories, read right before bed, relaxed me. Maybe they echoed from childhood; maybe they blunted the future. No matter how it worked, reading true ghost stories became my go-to when I wanted to loosen up before sleep. (Not insomnia. That usually required turning to Being and Nothingness.)

So I’ve been reading these damned things for years. It’s gratifying to read the good ones, but I’m not sure that it matters. What matters is the story. I can hold aside hyperbole, credulity, and even grammar for a solid ghost story that brings the chills and fills the shadows with unease. Maybe it feels like home.

Which is a long way to say I’ve written a new, full-length play, and it’s a ghost story. Somehow, I feel like I’ve been writing it for years.

Playwrights West Presents a World Premiere: Claire Willett’s “Dear Galileo”

Dear Galileo thumbnail

On a beautiful August night, come explore the stars with….

Playwrights West—Portland’s professional theatre company composed of nine distinguished local playwrights—in association with CoHo Productions, proudly presents the World Premiere of Dear Galileo, written by Playwrights West’s Claire Willett and directed by Stephanie Mulligan. Dear Galileo opens Saturday, August 8, with a special VIP preview performance on Friday, August 7.

As Claire says, Dear Galileo is “a play about science, religion, fathers and daughters, sex, creationism, and the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope.”

What’s It All About?

Dear Galileo opens with a young girl asking big questions about the universe as she writes letters in her diary to one of history’s greatest scientists, Galileo Galilei. So begins a dialogue that bridges faith and science, wonder and doubt, and present and past, as three very different women in three different eras grapple with the legacies of their famous fathers:

  • In a small town in Texas, creationist author and TV pundit Robert Snow is at a loss when ten-year-old Haley’s newfound passion for science begins to pull her from the Biblical teachings of her upbringing.
  • In Swift Trail Junction, Arizona, home of the Vatican Observatory’s U.S. outpost, pregnant New York sculptor Cassie Willows arrives to find her estranged father, world-renowned astrophysicist Jasper Willows, is missing.
  • And in Renaissance Italy, Celeste Galilei lives under house arrest with her elderly father Galileo—the disgraced astronomer imprisoned for defying the Pope…and facing down the Inquisition by publishing one last book.

As the three stories weave towards convergence, each family’s destiny becomes inextricably bound with the others, linked across time by love, loss, faith, the search for identity, and the mysteries of the stars.

How Do We Get There?

Dear Galileo opens Saturday, August 8, at CoHo Theatre (2257 NW Raleigh St), and plays Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 7:30, and Sunday afternoons at 2:00, through August 29. Friday through Sunday tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students/educators/seniors. All tickets on “Thrifty Thursdays” are $15, and Thursday performances include post-show talkbacks, featuring some of Portland’s most innovative theatre artists.

When Do We Really Begin?

Playwrights West invites you to join us on Friday, August 7, for Dear Galileo’s VIP Preview Performance/Gala, where a $40 ticket offers a you-are-there seat to Portland theatre history and includes a post-show talkback, a gracious reception, and some terrific company.

Where Do We Find the Answers?

For more information and tickets, go to Playwrights West or contact CoHo Productions Box Office: 503-220-2646).

You Have More Questions? Keep Reading

Who Are We?

Dear Galileo features actors Nathan Dunkin, Kate Mura, Agatha Olson, Walter Petryk, Chris Porter, Gary Powell, and Nena Salazar. The production team includes Sarah Kindler (Scenic & Properties Designer), JD Sandifer (Lighting Designer), Ashton Grace Hull (Costume Designer), Annalise Albright Woods (Sound Designer), and Nicole Gladwin (Stage Manager).

Who Are The Creators?

Claire Willett is a proud member of Playwrights West and a founding artist of the Fertile Ground Festival. She was a finalist for the 2015 Jerome Fellowship at The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis and was the 2011 Oregon Literary Fellow for Drama. Her other works include: Carter Hall (in development with Nashville songwriter Sarah Hart, thanks to a grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council); Upon Waking; How the Light Gets In; That Was the River, This Is the Sea (co-written with Gilberto Martin del Campo); The Witch of the Iron Wood (co-written with local composer Evan Lewis); an original adaptation of W.H. Auden’s 1942 poetic oratorio For the Time Being; and The Demons Down Under the Sea, an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee,” produced in October 2014 as part of Shaking the Tree’s production of The Masque of the Red Death (a collection of Poe shorts by the writers of Playwrights West).

Ms. Willett her first novel, The Rewind Files—a time-travel, science fiction adventure about Watergate, has just been released by Retrofit Publishing in Los Angeles. Ms. Willett is also a popular, widely read blogger at: It’s Kind of a Long Story. Like Dear Galileo, her blog is the voice of a fiercely intelligent, compassionate, and spiritually attuned writer, unafraid to take on big ideas.

Stephanie Mulligan is a stage director in both the professional and educational arenas. Her favorite recent shows include The Seven Wonders of Ballyknock, Almost Home, The Outgoing Tide, Jesus Saves, The Guys, Little Women: the Broadway Musical, The Music Man, Nickel and Dimed, The Wizard of Oz, Murder Is My Business, Love’s Labor’s Lost, The Laramie Project, and The Comedy of Errors. Stephanie has worked with (and learned from) such notable American directors as James Edmondson, Penny Metropulos, John Dillon, Aaron Posner, and Nancy Keystone. She has participated in international programming, collaborating with India’s Mahesh Dattani and Lillette Dubey, Vietnam’s Do Doan Chau and Dang Tu Mai, and Australia’s Cate Blanchette, Robyn Nevin, and Andrew Upton. Ms. Mulligan’s work with many fine local companies includes Portland Center Stage, Lakewood Theatre, triangle productions!, Coho Productions, Artists Rep, Broadway Rose, and Portland Civic Theatre Guild.

Playwrights West, a professional theatre company founded in 2009 and composed of nine Portland playwrights known for the high quality of their work, focuses on presenting top-level productions of its members’ plays and supports the development of original work in Portland. The nine member playwrights are: Karin Magaldi, Ellen Margolis, Aleks Merilo, Steve Patterson, Andrea Stolowitz, Andrew Wardenaar, Claire Willett, Patrick Wohlmut, and Matthew B. Zrebski. Drawing upon a growing national movement of playwrights taking the reins for productions of their work, Playwrights West introduces Portland audiences to compelling, innovative theatrical experiences, presenting vital new plays by gifted local authors.

Why Are We Here?

  • In 2011, Dear Galileo was a finalist for the Fox Valley Collider Project, a Chicago-area initiative to support original works of theatre about math and science, and was developed with the support of a 2011 Career Opportunity Grant from the Oregon Arts Commission, a 2011 Oregon Literary Fellowship from Literary Arts, and a month-long artists residency at I-Park Artists’ Colony in East Haddam, CT.
  • In 2012, the play was produced as a staged reading in the Fertile Ground Festival by Artists Repertory Theatre, directed by Stephanie Mulligan, where the cast included Chris Porter (who returns in the role of Galileo).
  • In March 2013, Dear Galileo received a staged reading at Pasadena Playhouse in California as part of the Hothouse New Play Development Workshop Series, directed by Literary Manager Courtney Harper, with a cast that featured noted actors Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager) as Jasper Willows and Lawrence Pressman (Doogie Howser M.D., American Pie, Transparent) as Galileo.
  • In Summer 2014, Willamette University in Salem—launching its new on-campus company, Theatre 33, with a summer of readings by Portland playwrights—selected Dear Galileo as their inaugural project.

Has Anything Like This Ever Happened Before?

Dear Galileo marks Playwrights West fourth full production in association with CoHo Productions, a premier supporter of new plays and original work.

Can Any One Person Explain It All?

No. But if you have questions, contact Steve Patterson.





An Open Letter on Playwrights West’s “The Sweatermakers”

Sweathermakers - BenA number of years ago, I banded together with other professional playwrights in Portland to launch a theatre company: Playwrights West. We operate using a unique model—over a ten-year period, we fully produce a play by each playwright member, one play per year. And we feature some of Portland’s best talent, striving to create plays that rise to the playwright’s expectations—basically, giving that writer a chance to fully realize their vision. (We also do some cool group projects that incorporate all the writers’ work…watch for some stuff coming up Fall 2014.) Staging all world premieres, we present original work that Portlanders will see first and can’t see elsewhere (that is, until other theatre company snap up the plays…because they will).

We’ve produced fine plays by Patrick Wohlmut (“Continuum”) and Ellen Margolis (“Licking Batteries”), and this year we embark on our third production: “The Sweatermakers” by Andrew Wardenaar (opening Friday, August 8, 2014).

And here’s where that “original” part comes in. You can’t call “The Sweatermakers” a comedy—though parts of it are very funny—and you can’t call it a straight, typical drama, given its slightly skewed, absurdist feel that’s both grounded and somewhat…magical. It plays its own individual tune.

In brief, the story goes: a brother and sister make beautiful sweaters that mysteriously arrive to comfort the recently bereaved. The two live in their own, sheltered world, and though it’s comforting, it can also be confining. When especially beautiful material arrives for an obviously special sweater, Brin—the sister—can’t help herself and ventures out to find its recipient. And things…get…weird.

It’s a thoughtful, beautifully calibrated story, with a fine cast, designers, and director (Matthew B. Zrebski), and it feels like one of those shows that haunt you for years. The ones that you suddenly find yourself thinking of, out of nowhere. Plays that won’t leave you alone.

Obviously, I urge you to check it out (formal show information follows below). All of Playwrights West’s shows have been excellent (and all entirely different from one another). But this one feels like it’s got a little bit of special…mojo. It’s quirky, but it has gravitas. In Portland, we know quirky. And memorable.

With Playwrights West, Portland Center Stage’s JAW Festival, the Fertile Ground Festival, and the many gifted (and adventuresome) writers in town, along with a highly literate audience and a great talent pool that loves working on new shows, Portland feels more and more like a home for developing new plays. Sure, we’ve become famous for gourmet roasted coffee, microbrews, farm-to-table food, and great independent stores, like Powell’s Books, Music Millennium, and Portland Nursery. But what could be more unique and artisanal that cooking new original plays? In our own little laboratory. One of these days, we’re going to open up the Sunday New York Times to see an article on Portland’s original theatre scene. It’s happened with our indie music. It’s coming with new theatre work.

I invite you to be there first and check out “The Sweatermakers.” Plus it’ll be Andrew’s first full production, and, man, there’s nothing as wild as that. If you’re not from Portland, keep an eye on this guy. He’s got chops.

(And, yes, I have a show coming up. On Saturday, September 6, Willamette University will present a reading of my play “Immaterial Matters,” which won a new play contest at CoHo Theatre a couple of years ago and was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. It’s damned quirky. http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/life/2014/06/14/new-theater-enters-summer-three-free-staged-readings/10455975/)




The Sweatermakers

A World Premiere Production Written by Playwrights West’s Andrew Wardenaar

Playwrights West in association with CoHo Productions presents The Sweatermakers, a world premiere drama by Andrew Wardenaar. The Sweatermakers marks the third year in Playwrights West’s ten-year mission to present quality, professional productions of its members’ works.

The Play

It’s one of the worst days of your life. A package arrives. It contains a beautiful, handmade sweater, perfect for you. And maybe, for a moment, you find solace. But where did it come from? Who made it? Confined to their own secluded world, Brin and Henry—a remarkably close sister and brother—craft beautiful sweaters, designed to comfort those in need. One day, exquisite material arrives. It’s so striking that Brin can’t help but wonder whom it’s destined for. The question haunts her until she breaks the rules and ventures out to find its recipient. And the siblings’ perfect, self-contained but restrictive world, begins to unravel….

Part mystery, part coming-of-age story, The Sweatermakers—woven with humor, psychological insight, and magic realism—affectionately explores our need for human connections, the change those connections bring, and their sometimes painful consequences.

The world premiere of The Sweatermakers marks Mr. Wardenaar’s first full-length production. In 2012, the play won the Portland Civic Theatre Guild’s playwriting contest, and they subsequently presented it as a staged reading during the 2013 Fertile Ground Festival.

The Details

The Sweatermakers opens August 8, 2014, and runs through August 30 at CoHo Theatre (2257 NW Raleigh St, Portland, Oregon). It plays 7:30 PM on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday tickets are $25, or $20 for students and seniors. All seats on Thrifty Thursdays are $15. Tickets can be purchased through CoHo Productions, at www.cohoproductions.org (503-220-2646). For more information see Playwrights West: http://www.playwrightswest.org/sweatermakers/

The Artists

Playwright Andrew Wardenaar has been a member of Playwrights West since 2011. His play Live, From Douglas was featured in Portland Theatre Works’ 2009 LabWorks workshop. Another of his plays, Spokes, premiered in 2008 as part of a compilation of short works entitled Me, Me, Me and Ewe. His other works include The Next Smith, Anachronous, The Attendant and Good One, God. Mr. Wardenaar is also a director and recently graduated with an MFA at the University of Portland.

Director Matthew B. Zrebski is a multi-award winning playwright, composer, script consultant, teaching artist, and producer-director whose career has been defined by new play development. He has served as the Artistic Director for Youth Could Know Theatre, Theatre Atlantis, and Stark Raving Theatre—all companies specializing in new work—and, since 1995, has mounted over 40 world premieres. He holds a BFA in Theatre from the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University and is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild of America.

The Sweatermakers’ cast includes: Jen Rowe, JR Wickman, Ben Buckley, and Sharon Mann. Designers include: scenic design by Tal Sanders, lighting design by J.D. Sandifer, sound design by Em Gustason, and costume design by Ashton Grace Hull.

Why Write for the Stage?

photoFor a change, money is not the answer.

Oh, one can make a buck or two writing plays, and there’s a refreshing point in one’s career where the contracts rise to the four- or five-digit level. And, if you write a hot play that does well at the Humana Festival and becomes a favorite among the regional theatres and you get a write-up in American Theatre magazine and make a dozen other perfect bank shots…you could see a pretty good year or two. Until the next flavor comes along. Winning a Pulitzer helps. Maybe.

But even the folks ostensibly making it usually have to supplant their incomes, often through teaching or, lately, writing for television…which is one reason why the writing quality for non-broadcast programs has increased so…well, dramatically.

What do you have left if you take money out of the picture? Control. And love.

Continue reading

Setting Off Sparks

This really is a post for Portlanders, but, as it’s about a cool, artistically oriented event, other folks with like minds might find it interesting (and you might try it in your burg).
Monday night (May 20th), Playwrights West, a group of professional playwrights (of which I’m a member) based in Portland, is throwing a party. Yes, it’s a fundraiser for a full production of one of our playwright’s works (Licking Batteries by the wonderful Ellen Margolis), but it’s kind of turned into a celebration–a celebration of the joy of creating new work.
Dubbed Sparks, the evening features short pieces–either standalone short works or excerpts from longer works–from eight remarkable writers (and one bozo…me). It’s what we have to offer…our words, and some terrific actors have signed on to breathe those words to into being. And since we’re all getting together, there’ll be food and drink and a silent auction and good vibes: what could best be described as a party.
Here’s the fascinating thing to me, though. All of us in Playwrights West share a common purpose: to stage the new works of our members and to raise awaeness of the power and delight inherent in presenting premieres (and we’re just lucky to have access to some killer scripts). All of us are professionals who have had our works staged in many forms and venues, and, frankly, we all can write. (Present company excepted…or at least tolerated.)
But, man, what a lot of different voices. All really original, and all coming at the work from different angles, bringing unique voices and sensibilities into play.
So what the folks who attend Sparks will be able to experience is a terrific mosaic of ideas, images, power, and, well, light from these eight writers (and the bozo). In one place, at one time (and only at this one time under the same tent). The works range from new projects, still in progress, to new works about to be born as fully realized productions, such as an excerpt from Andrea Stolowitz’s Ithaka, which is about to open at Artists Repretory Theatre (where it won a commission), and, of course, Ellen’s Licking Batteries–the play we’re fully staging in August. And, if you drop by, you get to embrace these works–to celebrate their originality and diversity–with like-minded people…those who love new theatre. (You know who you are.)
Really, Sparks is a way to say: yes, new work counts. It keeps theatre alive, vibrant, surprising, ever changing. It’s vital. It matters. And we can do it really, really well, right here in Portland. Oh yes, we can.
So drive, walk, take the streetcar, and come on down to CoHo Theatre on Monday night. Have some food and drink and laughs. Maybe try out a cool new outfit. And take what promises to be an unforgettable ride with eight splendid, absolutely kick-ass writers (and one bozo).
Details follow. See you there….
Sparks: A Benefit Performance

By the writers of Playwrights West
Directed by Playwrights West Company Member Andrew Wardenaar
Date: Monday, May 20th
Time: Cocktail Hour & Silent Auction at 6 pm. Performance at 7 pm. Postshow reception at 8:30 pm.
Venue: CoHo Theatre (2257 NW Raleigh St)
Cost: $40; tickets online or at door (cash/check only) subject to availability. Seating is limited.
Purchase Tickets from: sparks.brownpapertickets.com
Playwrights West, a professional theatre company composed of nine acclaimed local playwrights, announces Sparks, its first-ever gala benefit performance. This performance will feature short excerpts of works by all nine member playwrights, culminating in a world premiere excerpt of Playwrights West’s upcoming 2013 season performance, Licking Batteries by Ellen Margolis. In addition to the performance, the evening will feature delicious food and wine and a silent auction.
Featuring excerpts from: Eating in the Dark by Debbie Lamedman; Consider the Ant by Karin Magaldi; Licking Batteries by Ellen Margolis; Bus Stop by Steve Patterson; Ithaka by Andrea Stolowitz (opening May 28th at Artists Repertory Theatre); Jeepers by Andrew Wardenaar; Where There Is Darkness, Light by Claire Willett; The Chain and the Gear by Patrick Wohlmut; and Forky by Matthew B. Zrebski.

At the risk of whining…

…these are the kinds of attitudes playwrights are up against:

‘Outrageous Fortune’: Playwright book full of whine and din

Please say this with me, in your best Neil Young impression: “All we want is to be paid enough to able to write at least part-time. We don’t even care about health insurance or retirement.”

I know. It’s disgusting of us to say such things. I hereby apologize for all playwrights everywhere and for all time.

P.S.: No insult intended to Mr. Young, whose work I very much enjoy.

P.P.S: No insult intended, either, to all critics, some of whose work I very much enjoy.

Rule Number One…

…be not stupid.

Yes, the life of a playwright is largely one of glamour, filled with expensive drinks, adoring fans, tremendous checks, beautiful actresses/actors, and, of course, huge vats of the finest uncut Peruvian cocaine. It’s okay. You get used to it after awhile.

But…there’s also the part where you have to look for submission opportunities, and sometimes theatres can get a little particular in that regard. It’s their theatre..what the heck. That said, the following text is from a theatre in Virginia, and it sounds like their literary manager…well…he has issues, all right? There’s actually some decent advice here, but the fact that anyone would post the following epic regarding submissions–AND THEN POINT OUT THAT PLAYWRIGHTS WHO WON’T READ THE ENTIRE THING SHOULDN’T CONSIDER SUBMITTING–is just, well…amusing. Painfully so. Printing this on my blog probably won’t endear me to Theatre Roanoke, but at least it’s not mentioned as a disqualification.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned. AND MAKE THAT ENVELOPE EASY TO OPEN, DAMN IT!



Studio Roanoke, a small 50-75 seat storefront theatre dedicated to building a home for new plays and the people who create them, takes submissions year round for consideration in our regular season of new works, and readings. We proudly abide by the Dramatists Guild of America’s Bill of Rights (http://www.dramatistsguild.com/files/DGBillofRights.pdf)

GENERAL SUBMISSIONS: While the primary mission of Studio Roanoke is to support the MFA Playwriting Program at Hollins University by providing production opportunities to students in the Playwright’s Lab, we do accept and sometimes produce outside submissions. Unpublished full-length and one-act plays of any style or genre except adaptations. Previous productions acceptable. Preference given to small casts with minimal production requirements. Writer paid $220 for an 8 performance run (if selected for production). While the writer is welcome in rehearsals and performance, no promise to provide accommodations or to reimburse travel expenses is extended. If the playwright is unable to be in attendance, we will work with the writer by email and phone to the extent practicable to allow the writer to have approval of production elements, regular rehearsal reports and creative communication with director and design teams. All productions are minimally produced developmental productions, not premieres. Productions are intentionally limited to a $500 budget for props, lights, set, and costume. This is so that emphasis is on storytelling rather than spectacle and so that problems in the writing are not solved by production elements. The entire purpose of these productions is to help prepare the script for a premiere at a later stage.

LUNCHBOX SUBMISSIONS: Short, unpublished plays (25-35 minutes in length) with an emphasis on family friendly material that is appropriate for a general audience at lunchtime. While your gripping drama about assisted suicide might be great writing, if people won’t feel like going back to work after hearing it, it isn’t right for this series. Small cast, minimal production requirements preferred. Plays should be complete works, no cuttings of longer material. No adaptations or musicals, please. Writer paid $25 and provided with DVD of the reading and moderated talk back. No provision for travel to attend rehearsals or the reading.

PRESENTATION PROPOSALS: If you have a suitcase piece which is self contained and currently touring that might fit both our mission and space, let us know! Send a complete project description with supporting materials, press kit, and other useful information (accommodations requirements, dates available, minimal compensation, etc) and if we’re interested in hosting your show, we’ll see what we can work out in order to make that happen.

For example, we’re hoping to bring Sean Lewis’ KILLADELPHIA and at least one of Mike Daisey’s monologues.

OUR MISSION: Dedicated to new, exciting, and innovative theatrical works of the highest quality, we provide a space where writers, performers and audience can come together in a spirit of community and collaboration to expand our understanding of what is possible in the theatre. We also offer educational programs and support for artist development for Southwestern Virginia. By working in concert with other arts organizations, we will strive to make Roanoke a nationally recognized ignition point for new play development.

A paper copy of your submission is preferred, because we hate reading plays from a computer screen but can’t afford to absorb the printing costs of electronic submissions. Please include your resume with the production history of the play. Also, include a letter of inquiry which mentions why you think you as a playwright would benefit from production at Studio Roanoke, and how you see your play fitting into our mission.

Send your script to:
Literary Associate
Studio Roanoke
PO Box 1749
Roanoke, VA 24008

We don’t return scripts (they usually have coffee stains and scribbled notes anyway) so send only a business sized reply SASE with the submission. We recycle scripts we don’t hang onto or refer to other theatres.

There is no reader’s fee, but remember that the only way to ensure that we have the very best people reading your work with the limited resources we have available without charging a fee to cover compensating those readers is to encourage you to send us only your very best work.

Submission tips:

Put your correct contact information on the front page of the script. This seems obvious, doesn’t it? But, right here I have a script with no envelope and no cover letter. Don’t count on the hands of many readers passing your script around to keep the envelope it came in and the cover letter attached to it. If the script doesn’t have the contact information on the cover, I have to assume the playwright isn’t that interested in hearing back from us because I don’t have time to track them down.

Number your pages. Try to figure out how to not make the cover page, character description page, dedication page, and/or production history page included in your page count. Very often theatres use the rule of thumb that one page of dialogue is one minute of stage time in order to make an educated guess about running times. If your page count of actual text isn’t accurate you might be putting yourself at a disadvantage. And pretty much I want to be reading your play, not subtracting numbers to get an accurate page count.

Be selective in your submissions. If you asked every person you saw out on a date, eventually you’d get a date—but it’s unlikely either you or your date would find the experience satisfying, and everyone who turned you down would remember you for all the wrong reasons. Before you submit your play, look at the kinds of plays your target theatre produces. If they mostly do plays like Big River and your play is a lot like Bat Boy…chances are they won’t find a spot for your play in their season because it won’t reflect the needs and interests of their audience. It has nothing to do with whether or not your play is good. Read the theatre’s mission statement. If doing new plays isn’t part of their core mission, find a theatre that is passionate about new plays and consider submitting there. Find a theatre that you’d like to go to as an audience member, that is doing plays you’d like to see, and reflects your personal philosophy and you’re going to have a much better shot at building a creative relationship that is mutually rewarding. Never treat submitting your play like a lottery or gambling. Put at least as much thought into where you submit it as you did into writing it.

Read and follow submission guidelines. I can’t tell you how important this is, and how few playwrights bother to do it. For my part, if you can’t be bothered to read our submission guidelines, I don’t see why I should be bothered to read your play. Most theatres who do new plays post their submission policies. If you can’t find them, write the theatre and ask what they are. If they don’t accept unsolicited scripts, don’t send them one.

Use a standard format. One of my biggest irritations as a reader in a literary department is people who don’t use a standard format. This either indicates that you don’t care about conventions or that you are inexperienced enough not to know they exist. Either is a signal that no matter how good your play is, you might be difficult to work with. What good does it do if you make your play difficult to read? Most literary offices are staffed with underpaid or unpaid readers who are months behind in the piles of plays they have to get through. Under those conditions, anything that makes it hard to read means that it is less likely to get read. Probably the worst offender is someone who center justifies not just the character names but everything else, so that the whole play looks like a poem. Strange fonts, illustrations, peculiar paper are not the best way to get noticed as a writer. The best way to get noticed is to have the first 10 pages of your play be really exciting examples of excellent writing. If you are using Final Draft script writing software, DO NOT format as a screenplay. When you create a new document, use the pull down menu and select one of the three stage play formats. They put them in there for a reason. If you are unfamiliar with standard stage play formatting, I recommend Writing Your First Play, by Stephen Sossaman. I wish everyone who submitted a play to me had read that book first.

Never submit electronically unless the submission guidelines specifically request that you do. Most literary offices get a large amount of scripts and stack the envelopes so that they can be read in the order in which they are received. This can often take months if they have a small number of readers. It isn’t fair to try to jump to the head of the line with an emailed script. It also isn’t fair to ask the theatre to absorb the cost of printing your script, especially if they aren’t charging you a submission fee.

Don’t make the envelope you send difficult to open. We know your script is precious cargo, but it isn’t likely anyone will steal it or that it will fall out in transit if you use a new envelope. Excessive tape only makes the person who will read your play cranky before they get to the first page. That doesn’t help anyone.

Don’t submit anything but your play, a resume, and a cover letter. If you have reviews or production stills, or other supporting materials mention that they are available upon request in your cover letter. The theatre doesn’t want to know how the play was done by someone else, they want to imagine how they will produce it themselves. A resume will tell them a lot about you and your experience, and that is useful information for a theatre to have, but it won’t persuade them to do a play they don’t like no matter how many credentials you have on your resume. I’ve gotten all sorts of strange things in submission packets—including an inexplicable full color Xerox of a peacock. Just send me your play. Don’t send me a 5 page check list of plays you’ve written asking me to pick the ones I’d like to read. I have enough plays on my desk without filling out your questionnaire.

Include an SASE for response, not return of the play. Theatres have incredibly tight budgets and saving us the cost of a stamp is a good way to show you understand that. You’ve probably always heard that you should include an SASE for return of the manuscript, but don’t bother. You can’t really use the script for anything after it’s been read once because it will be dog-eared, have coffee stains on it, and maybe even scribbled notes. Just include a note saying that if the play does not suit the needs of the theatre, kindly recycle the script. A business sized envelope with a stamp is sufficient for a rejection or notice that they are considering your script for production.

Do not submit multiple scripts. Pick your best play and submit it on its own, each of your plays should be submitted separately and not as part of a bulk offering. Wait until you have gotten a response from the first play before sending the next. I have had playwrights send as many as 8 plays in a single package. That package is routinely shifted to the back of the stack because just looking at it feels like too much work. If, for whatever reason the reader doesn’t like the first play in that package, reading the next one will be harder, and the one after that even harder. If only for your own mental health, why risk having your entire body of work rejected all at once?

Do Not Send Your Headshot. Even if you are also an actor, nothing will mystify a reader more than pulling out a headshot with an acting resume when they expect to pull out a play. Let us concentrate on imagining what the characters might look like, as nobody really reads a play and wonders what the playwright looks like.

Be prepared to wait. Most literary departments are woefully understaffed and have a minimum of 6 months response time. Usually it takes them longer than that. >If the submission guidelines say a 6 month response time, don’t contact the theatre about your script until after that time has passed. If they reply saying they have your script but haven’t gotten to it yet, wait until they get back to you. Contacting the theatre by email or by phone more often than that to ask about your script is only going to get you flagged as impatient and difficult to work with. Many writers include a postcard to acknowledge receipt by the theatre. This works fine if the theatre opens the envelope as soon as they get it, but most theatres don’t open the envelope until they are ready to read the play. This means I send out a lot of postcards and response envelopes on the same day. If you’re really concerned about knowing if the theatre got your script, send it first class with a delivery confirmation number that you can check online.

Be prepared to be rejected. It does not reflect on the quality of your work. Rejection is horrible, everyone hates it, and most of us hate doing it. Consider the math, though. I get, on average, 7-12 scripts a week, 52 weeks a year. Most theatres have a very small number of reading and production slots for new plays. Within that limited number of slots a great many factors go into play selection beyond whether or not the play being considered is good. I have had to pass on a lot of very good plays for reasons that had nothing to do with the text, but everything to do with the balance of the season planning, the available resources, actors, directors, etc.

Keep track of what you sent, when you sent it, and to whom you sent it. Keep a submission log, and file your response letters. Sending the same play to the same theatre over and over again is bad form.

Have a professional online presence. A lot of young people are scratching their heads about why their very professional resume isn’t getting them jobs after college. A big part of the problem is that employers are perfectly able to do a google of the prospective employee and don’t always like what they find on that person’s personal web page, FaceBook or MySpace pages. Have your fun, but remember that theatres will google a playwright they are interested in working with to find reviews, production history, credits, and so forth. If they find a webpage where you’ve got a lot of blog posts complaining about theatres you’ve worked with or a bunch of photos of you the theatre would rather not be associated with…well, your play better darn good to take the risk you represent.
Frequently Asked Questions:

What are you looking for?
Glad you asked. Here are the reader guidelines we give to our volunteer readers and the evaluation form they fill out. Read through the evaluation materials and then try to objectively evaluate your script the way that one of our readers might. It could help you to create a better draft BEFORE you actually submit it to us.
Title: Is the title appropriate to the play? Is it intriguing?

Writing: What is the overall quality of the writing? Is it plodding and hackneyed or fresh and inventive? Is it poetic, prose, or a combination? Does the author seem knowledgeable about the subject matter? When there is heightened language used, is it appropriate and justified? Cite examples of representative lines as support.

The Characters: Are all characters, both main and supporting, drawn fairly? Does each act, react, and speak individually? Does each have a clear voice? Do they change? Are those changes understandable in context or merely convenient for the sake of plot? Are their changes in mood, belief, or objective plausible? Are their voices consistent throughout? Is each character interesting and unique in some way or stereotypes? Does each have an important objective? Does the Protagonist have interesting and relevant flaws or weaknesses? Is the antagonist fairly drawn with some redeeming qualities? Are there any characters which are unnecessary or which an actor would not wish to play?

The Story: Is the situation interesting rather than trite? Does the situation involve universal human experiences? Is the interest rooted in emotion rather than physical action? Does the play investigate the character’s internal/secret lives or remain on the surface? Are there enough complications to raise the dramatic action? Is there rising action all the way to the climax or are there long periods without forward progress? Are the complications relevant and interesting? Is the pace fast enough to maintain interest yet restrained enough to generate suspense?

The Subplot: Is there a subplot? Is it relevant to the main plot?

The Dramatic Question: Is the plot clear? Do we know what the main character wants, why he or she wants it, and what is keeping them from getting it? Does the Protagonist’s need drive the play? Is the protagonist’s need emotionally important? Does the protagonist largely determine the outcome?

The Resolution: Is it clear at the end if the protagonist has succeeded or failed? Are the big questions answered? Was the outcome in doubt or was it predictable? The Central Question: Is there a deeper question being asked by the play than whether or not the hero will succeed? Is this question made clear early in the play? Is it significant and relevant enough to hold audience interest? Is it also resolved with the climax?

The Theme: Is there a moral lesson being taught by the play? Does the theme arise naturally from the action? Is it clear from the text or does a character announce the theme in a speech at the end of the play? Are the ideas behind the play treated with new insight or as slogans for familiar positions? Is this play about issues or characters confronting issues? Does the writer preach or explore? Is there a balance between thought and emotion? Are opposing viewpoints treated fairly and given sufficient weight?

Structure: Do the divisions between scenes and acts fall naturally? Is there a logic to the progression? Is each scene worth including? Is there action which might be better handled as exposition, or vice versa? Do the scenes have a late point of attack or does each “ramp up” to the important action? Does each scene have its own rising action and climax? Is the length appropriate to the piece? Is it too long or too short? (One acts are typically 15 to 60 minutes, full length are 90+ minutes.) Does the opening immediately engage an audience? Is the conflict introduced early enough? Is the denouement brief enough to maintain interest? Is the ending clear? Does the piece end with a period, question mark, or an ellipse?

Dialogue: Does every line move the play forward? Is there unnecessary repetition? Is there a rich subtext or is it all on the surface? Does the play use dramatic irony for character revelation? Are there actions which contradict the dialogue for dramatic juxtaposition? Does each character have a distinct voice?

Theatricality: Is there spectacle? Does the play (in addition to being a good story) come across as potentially good theatre? Will it be interesting to look at as well as listen to? Is music integral to the play? What are the degrees of artificiality? How do they support the story and characters? Is the production meant to recognize the presence of the audience (Presentational) or ignore them (Representational)? How are the Five Elements of Production (Set, Props, Costumes, Makeup, Lights, and Sound) addressed in the script? Are there any potential production problems in any of these areas?

Style: What is the primary performance mode? Is it realistic or fantastic? What are the distinctive features of the play that define its style? Could it be directed in a variety of styles or is it rooted in something specific? (Naturalism, Realism, Expressionism, Epic?)

Aesthetics: Does the play have a specific or universal appeal? If specific, what are the benefits of approving production? Does the play give us new insight into the chaos of daily life or strengthen our ability to face those struggles? Does it create an empathy or sympathy which might not have existed otherwise?

Sources and Production History: What is the production history of this piece? Has it been work shopped or produced before? If so, in what capacity? When? By whom?

Gore-Tex Dreams

Traditionally—and who knows if tradition applies to weather anymore—the Northwest rainy season begins on Halloween night and ends April 15th. Oregon children trick-or-treat in Gore-Tex. That doesn’t mean it rains every single day, but…well, yes, it does.

And though it’s said true Oregonians don’t squint in the rain, the rainy season is really not all that much fun, and consecutive gray skies lend themselves to a certain introspection. Maybe that’s why so many Oregonians write. I knew a handsome old gent in Oregon logging country who said it was too risky to go to town because “there’s a widder behind every stump.” Much the same can be said of Northwest writers.

So it’s not surprising that we’re home to Powell’s Books, possibly the best independently owned bookstore in the U.S. (unlike The Strand, you can find things) or that winners of the Oregon Book Awards consistently produce work of such quality. But it may be surprising to know Portland is increasingly known as a home for new stage works. There are some very fine playwrights here—many of them are friends of mine—and artistic directors around the country are looking to Portland Center Stage’s JAW Playwrights Festival as a source for hot new plays and playwrights, with JAW plays and authors being picked up by the regional theatre circuit. My suspicion is that trend will not only continue but grow.

Another notable Portland characteristic, which I think fuels new work development, is that there’s a very strong DIY spirit here. Toss any three people together at a Portland coffeehouse—and we are rotten with coffeehouses—and you’ll end up with either a band, a restaurant, or, possibly, a theatre company. You can produce a play here for a fraction of what it costs elsewhere, and, if the local critics slaughter you, you don’t have to throw yourself in front of the MAX train—you just mope for awhile, listen to too much Elliott Smith, then begin writing again.

Oregon’s mountains, particularly the Coast Range, are unbelievably verdant, overflowing with life and pocketed with thickets rich with mood and mystery. If there’s a relationship between environment and psychology, perhaps it’s no surprise that Northwesterners inhabit equally complex inner worlds that sprout ideas the way fall rains breed mushrooms: overnight, whole landscapes change.