Thursday, October 27, 2011

Playwright Submission Binge #19 Survey Results (2,270 submissions out)

In September, the Playwright Submission Binge conducted its 19th "Binge." The Binge group is an online community focusing on marketing for playwrights. Twice a year, in March and September, we take up the challenge of submitting a play every day for 30 days. After each submission, members are encouraged to post to the group with where they sent (including contact info, if appropriate), what they sent, and why.

Since I started the Binge in 2001, the group has grown from a dozen writers exchanging e-mails to more than 600 writers around the world. The generosity and positive spirit of the group continues to amaze me. In any given Binge month, dozens of people actively post to the list, but certainly not all 640 members. I was curious to get a sense of who actually does participate, so I set up a SurveyMonkey survey, asking people who had taken part in Binge #19, to tell us about themselves and what they'd submitted. I've posted the results below.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear back from 74 playwrights who had actively taken part in Binge #19. Together, in the month of September, they submitted 2,270 scripts and query letters. Most of the writers participating (94%) have had their work produced, and 67% percent have received productions as a direct result of their participation in the Binge. The group is making a serious impact, on its members and on theaters.  And it's a fairly experienced group of writers, who have gathered together to share info and offer support.

There's lots of interesting data here.  I'd love to hear your comments.  One thing that interested me is that we have more women than men actively participating.  There's been a lot of conversation about how male playwrights are over-represented on American stages, and I've wondered if that's because women make fewer submissions than men.  In our group, that's certainly not the case.

Here's a snapshot of Binge #19 and a cross-section of our membership:

Response Summary
Total Completed Survey: 74 (100%)
Total number of scripts and queries submitted during Binge #19 (by these 74 writers): 2,270 

How many years have you Binged? 
This is my first time.   15.1%
1-2 years    26.0%
3-4 years    24.7%
5-6 years    19.2%
7-8 years     4.1%
9-10 years   6.8%
Who can remember that far back? 4.1%

Has your work ever been produced? 
Yes   94.4%
No      5.6%

Has your work ever been published? 
Yes    69.9%
No    30.1%

Has your work ever received a reading? 
Yes 97.3%
No 2.7%

Have you ever been paid for any of the readings/productions/publications of your work? 
Yes   87.8%
No    12.2% 

Have you ever received a reading, production, or publication as a result of a Binge submission?
Reading        54.1% 
Production    67.6%
Publication   21.6% 
Not yet         27.0% 

How often do you post to the Binge list?
Often   23.0%
A couple times each Binge    27.0%
A couple times a year    14.9%
Rarely   23.0%
Never   12.2% 

Are you male or female? 

Male  39.2%
Female  60.8%

Monday, October 24, 2011

Elements of a Useful Reading

Back on September 17, as part of the Rhombus Readings, I put together a reading of my play, Flight, at Boston Playwrights Theatre.  It ended up being a very useful experience for me, as a way to see how much progress I'd made on changes and to get ideas for what to do with it next.  I got to thinking about what make up the essential elements of a useful reading.  Here are some of what I needed on that day:

A good chariot.  Here's my bike and bike cart loaded full of all the stuff I needed for the event--a big pile of scripts and binders, snacks, donation jar, and more.  (Really, I just wanted to put up a photo of my bike and cart.)

A space.  We are incredibly fortunate here in Boston to have the Boston Playwrights' Theatre.  They put on all new work (by writers with links to Boston University) in their two theatres, and they also provide cheap and free space to other organizations putting on readings or productions of new plays.  Rhombus has its regular meetings at BPT, and this was our second reading series held in the space.  I don't know what we'd do without the folks at BPT.

Actors.  I was extremely fortunate to have a cast of Luis Negron, Elise Manning, Brenny Rabine, and Michael Buckley.  They spent a whole afternoon with me, reading and discussing the script.  Even though our time was limited, they gave me important insights into the characters and the play as a whole.  Working with actors of such high caliber is critical for a new play.  Though it's possible for a strong performance to cover over weaknesses in a play, I really want the script tested by people of the highest skill level.  (And these four were also terrifically nice people.)

A hardworking director, and a friend to read stage directions.  Here is my director, M. Bevin O'Gara, going over notes with Alexa Mavromatis, who is a fellow Rhombus playwrights and who read stage directions.  I've had the good fortune of working with Bevin before, on a reading of Constant State of Panic.  She's super smart and was able to make the most of the time we had, and also helped me find our cast.  Someday, we'll get to work on a full production together. 

Yummy snacks.  Good snacks make for better readings.  Everyone is in a better mood after a home-baked brownie.  I like my actors and audience in a good mood.

An audience.  For our reading, we had about 20 people in the house.  They were good listeners and very responsive.  In some ways, for a public reading, a good audience is the most important part.  For a comedy, I always say there's no point even having a reading for fewer than 20 people.  You won't be able to judge laughs.  I worked pretty hard to get people in the seats, but it was still a struggle.  Saturday evening readings in September are a tough sell.  There's just too many full productions going on in September, as the season hits full swing.  I probably would have had a better crowd with a Saturday afternoon reading.  Or a different time of year.  I'm not a big fan of formal talkbacks after readings, but instead prefer mill-abouts, where we all eat snacks and talk about the play informally after the reading.  I got lots of useful feedback from the folks who attended.

That's about it.  I mean, you also have to have a script ready for a reading, copies of that script, a good way to take notes (I used my LiveScribe pen).  Having a little cash to pay the actors is helpful, if you can swing it.  (I can't afford to pay them what they're worth, but at least can give some gas money.)   I love that the tools to developing new plays are so basic and accessible.  It's not rocket surgery.  It's just a matter of bringing people together who are willing to spend some time on an interesting project.

Thanks to everyone who gave their time to help my make Flight a better play.  (I'll have another reading in NYC in February, from the id theatre.)