Are you a playwright (or an aspiring playwright)? We want to support you – and beyond encouraging you to submit to the MTA Playwriting Competition, we want to provide resources to help you with your development as a playwright. We want to help you strengthen your playwriting abilities…so here are some tips on how to “HONE” your skills:
How-To: Some Basic Resources to get you started!
- Website resources. There are some wonderful resources online – Google “playwriting resources” and you’ll turn up so much information, you’ll be overwhelmed!
- Formatting guide. Making the right first impression by sending a properly formatted script goes a long way. Click here to download a PDF of a formatted script, which you can use as a guideline. There are also some really great scriptwriting programs available. Our top recommendation is Final Draft – not cheap, but worth the investment if you have a little pocket money to support your playwriting habit.
- Playwriting classes or workshops. Contact your local college or university to see if they offer playwriting classes, through their theater department or a community enrichment program – as one example, Millsaps College in Jackson offers playwriting classes through their community enrichment program. If you learn of playwriting classes open to the general public near you, share the information on our list-serve! If there are no classes near you, contact a local theater group or MTA to learn what workshops are on the horizon. Also, if you have other interested playwrights in your community, form your own weekly workshop to share your writing progress!
- Where can you submit your script? There are many submission opportunities – although, for Mississippi playwrights, it’s hard to beat the MTA Playwriting Competition
- Get in “The Loop.” To find more opportunities for submitting your work, we recommend joining The Loop Online. The Loop is a Ning group, co-founded by Gary Garrison. A free service, you create an account, and playwriting opportunities ranging from ten minute play contests to calls for submissions from publisher are shared in the Loop forum. Again – it’s free! The registered playwrights share opportunities, comment on contests they’ve submitted to before and whether or not they’re legitimate, and so on. It’s a great resource!
- Be wary of exorbitant fees. Some competitions request fees from playwrights for submitting their work. This is not necessarily a red flag: if you’re allowed to submit via email, and there is a nominal ($15 or under) fee for the competition to print and distribute your scripts to judges, etc, that’s generally all right. If there is a “reading fee” from a publisher, a more-than-$20 entry fee from a competition, or anything else that raises your eyebrows, trust your gut, and check with another playwright/see what you can find out about the opportunity before you submit your work.
Next Steps: Polishing, Producing, Publication
- Polishing. Congratulations, you’ve completed a draft of your script! Now what? It’s time to polish. Have a table read and invite some theatrical friends of yours (or just some good sports!) to read your play out loud. Don’t join in the reading – just take notes while they read, concentrating on what sounds natural, which jokes get laughs, which don’t, etc. A table read can be a really effective way to go back and write a second draft, even before having a reading or production of your work. Before submitting, you may also want to ask someone else to proof-read for any spelling/grammatical errors in your document. It’s hard for a writer to catch their own typos!
- Producing. Once your script is polished, it’s time to get it produced! If you have limited budget and resources, a staged reading might be the way to go. Another bonus about doing a staged reading (also sometimes called a “workshop” reading) of your show prior to production? Staged readings won’t render your play ineligible for competitions, whereas having a fully staged production might limit your future submission opportunities. However, keep in mind – before moving to the next step, publication, you typically will need to have a fully staged production or two under your belt.
- Publication. With a production or two completed, you should have enough material to submit your play for publication. Generally, publishers will request, in addition to your script, a list of past productions, any reviews / media articles about your production, and a list of any awards or accolades your script has received. Some of the publishers you may want to investigate: Samuel French, Dramatists, Original Works Publishing, and Pioneer Drama (note: Pioneer focuses on scripts for youth).
Experience. Share Stories. Best Practices. Residencies.
Once you have some experience, the best way to keep building your skills is to keep using them, refining them, sharing your best practices with others and learning from their best practices. Here are a dew quick suggestions for keeping yourself, and your writing, active:
- Start or Join a Writer’s Group. Gather some local like-minded folks (or start your own small online listserve!) and have weekly, bi-monthly, monthly, or even quarterly check-ins to cheer each other on, share your work, ask for feedback, etc.
- Seek a Residency. Contact local theaters to see if they have any artist-in-residency programs, where you could be their in-house playwright for a year – giving you the opportunity to workshop your new pieces, and giving the theater group the added-value of having their own playwright-in-residence!
- Take (or teach) another class. It’s good when you’re just starting out, but also good when you’re well on your way to a writing career. There’s always something more to be learned.
- Attend a writer’s retreat. Look for opportunities through the Mississippi Writer’s Guild, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, etc – not always cheap, but a nice goal to set for yourself.
- Sign up to be a reader, judge or committee chair for a playwriting competition! Help those aspiring playwrights, see what new works are being written, see what it’s like from the other side of the table. Hey, putting in a call to MTA to see if they need new judges can’t hurt… 😉