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Theater and Disruptive Technology

06.30.10 | 30 Comments


CATEGORIES audiences, conversation starter, development, ideas, playwrights, rabble rousing, theatre festivals, theatrical ecosystem

Disruptive technology and disruptive innovation are terms used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically by being lower priced or designed for a different set of consumers.

— Wikipedia

I think the world of new play development is ready for some disruption.

Like everyone here, I’m assuming, I’ve read Outrageous Fortune with the same mix of resignation and melancholy, wondering whether the rift between artistic directors and playwrights can ever be healed, whether the practice of developing new plays for the American stage is dying a slow death, whether audiences can ever be lured back to the theater in greater numbers.

Naturally, I’ve pondered these things from the perspective of the playwright, because that’s what I am… but I’ve taken to heart the admonishment to look beyond myself, to think about these struggles as systematic.  The things playwrights have been asking for over and over again just aren’t getting it done; the things artistic directors want from us aren’t working, either.  Audiences still feel, I think, like we don’t hear them, like we aren’t telling the stories they want to see, like we aren’t serving them well enough to entice them to buy tickets.  Yes, there are exceptions, but in the main, we are still struggling… and struggling to make a living while we do it.

Lately, I’ve begun thinking about the ways in which radically new technologies can completely change the ways in which we live.  We tend to be a bit technophobic, sometimes, in theater, but technology has great transformative power.  Here’s just one example, from what you might imagine would be the slowest-moving government bureaucracy in the country: the DMV for the enormous state of California.  Thanks to Twitter, you can now “tweet” your questions to the DMV’s help desk and get answers in real-time, rather than the hours it used to take; thanks to YouTube, you can now watch driver’s ed videos online and qualify to earn your license in days rather than months.  If technology can revolutionize those things — if it can fix the DMV — it can do anything.

Yes, I know… technology and the DMV is one thing, but technology and new play development?  Believe me, I know it sounds strange… but the revolution is possible.  I can think of several places we could start.

Script Submissions

Let’s begin with how technology could completely revolutionize play submissions… since that, in some ways, is where the new play development process begins.

It sometimes seems to playwrights as if there are as many different varieties of query packet as there are theaters.  One theater wants a ten-page sample, another wants to see fifteen pages, another wants to see the whole script; one wants a short synopsis, one wants an in-depth synopsis, and one wants nothing at all.  There are always going to be theaters that are going to insist they need special components… but what if playwrights began to coalesce around what WE decided a standard query packet consisted of?  And what if, rather than printing and binding and mailing a new packet every time we needed to send one out, there was – here’s the disruptive technology – a database-driven website that would allow playwrights to upload the relevant materials and flag them for particular artistic directors to review?

Here’s the vision: you finish writing your script, you’ve been through whatever development processes you feel are necessary, and you’re ready to share it with the world.  You upload the script to the site, along with (say) a ten-page sample, a synopsis, a description of the play’s development history, a character breakdown, and so on.  At this point, any artistic director can choose to read your script, sorting through all the possibilities by subject matter, genre, full-length vs. one-act, and so on.  Likewise, you – as the playwright – can flag a certain script to be submitted, electronically, to a given theater (assuming the theater has agreed to accept un-agented submissions)… with the click of a button.

How much would you pay for a service like that?  Assuming it would save you the time and money involved in submissions not only for theaters, but for contests and residencies as well?

Yes, there are issues that would need to be resolved.  How would a theater prevent itself from being overrun with submissions?  (The ability to “opt out” from a given playwright’s submissions?  A limit on the number of submissions per month each playwright could make?)  How would we encourage both playwrights and theaters to adopt a system like this?  (How did anyone encourage most of the world to adopt Facebook?)  Who pays to build the thing in the first place, and who keeps it going? (A non-profit organization of some kind, either new or existing?)

Before you dismiss the idea, consider the fact that a solution very much like this – the nascent iScripts project – is currently in development.  I really believe it’s possible.

Commissions

To build on the idea above: what if instead of uploading finished scripts, playwrights simply uploaded proposals for commissions?  These could consist simply of beautifully-worded descriptions of the plays we want to write, or they could include everything from sample dialogue to suggested commission structures.  Naturally, the contents would have to be copyright-protected as necessary… and maybe only accessible by those with usernames and passwords for the system in question.

These “rough sketches” would be reviewable by artistic directors, who would be able to find stories they’d be interested in developing for their audiences – thus, perhaps, beginning to bridge the artistic director/playwright/audience divide. They might also be tied to Kickstarter-style campaigns that would allow playwrights to do direct fundraising for commissions themselves… and eliminate the need for an artistic director’s interest (and resources) before getting started.

Season Planning

To take the concept one step further: what if we stopped asking artistic directors to plan a season by themselves and started asking audiences directly to share their thoughts about what plays they wanted to see?

The model here is a service called Eventful, which allows users to “demand” appearances by their favorite performers in a variety of genres in their local areas.  What if we had a similar system for the theater, tied into the database-driven site I’ve been describing so far?

What if the audience members for Regional Theater A could “demand” a new play by Playwright B for the 2011-2012 season?  What if they could actually read a description of that play, or a ten-page sample of dialogue, on the site – and what if, being so moved by the story, they could simply click a link to suggest the play to an artistic director?  In time, when a particular play or playwright (or even genre) had enough interest, the artistic director in question would almost be guaranteed an audience.  It would be hard not to make that programming decision… or, more accurately, to let the theater’s audience make it.

Or, alternately, artistic directors could assume a semi-curatorial role.  What if they were to select, say, 25 plays from this increasingly feature-rich site I’ve been describing, post links to their profiles on their theaters’ home pages, then let their audience members vote directly on which plays from the 25 they are most interested in seeing?  Audiences could even comment on the particular choices, discussing them in great depth before they’ve even been programmed: how much excitement would that generate for the theater?

In Outrageous Fortune, the very forward-thinking and insightful David Dower talks about the difference between institution-centric, artist-centric, and audience-centric theaters.  In this last scenario, I think we’d have all three.

Closing

I’m not naïve enough to think that technology’s going to address all of the issues we’ve been facing.  Personally, I think the main way to bridge the gap between artistic directors and playwrights is for artistic directors and playwrights to simply sit the heck down and talk to each other more – and I’ve been trying my hardest to do that.  But I do think there might be a role for technology to play here – a disruptive role, even – and I hope we’re all open to it.  I offer these ideas, finally, not as finished thoughts but as starting places, and I offer them copyright-free for everyone’s fair use and implementation, for whatever that’s worth… as long as you promise to use them to make things better for everyone.

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  • What a brilliant idea. Why shouldn't the playwright submission process change? After all the technology is available and the end-users — theaters and audiences — are clammering for new material. Technology changed the literary and music worlds now it is time to change the theater.

  • Farmer9869

    I disagree with most of your suggestions — they can happen but that doesn't mean more new plays will get produced — especially if you ask audiences to pick the plays they want to see. One of the joys of being an artistic director is discovering a new or little seen play and then sharing that with your community — The Drawer Boy, Trying, The Clean House — these were little known titles that were produced across the country to large houses but no audience member would've chosen those titles because they wouldn't have known the title or author. Audience-centric theatres are called community theatres or amateur — a group of folks put on a play that they've always wanted to act in or direct and then they rehearse it after work for a few months and then put it up for their friends, family and many some other folks in their town come to see it. There is nothing wrong with this model but it's not going to generate the next great American playwright or production of a new play.

  • Anna Peterson

    I appreciate your thoughts about the submission process. The idea of somehow streamlining the submission process is one I've been considering for quite a while, and technology IS the solution. I dream about a place where playwrights can log in from anywhere, and have access to all their scripts, samples, synopses, etc. AND in the same place they can search for, send and track their submissions directly through their portal on a site.

    In order for nearly every party to buy into it, it has to be a savvy, well-thought-out and well executed system – like your Facebook example. It seems that the world embraces Facebook because it is perfectly simple, social and purposeful. Any new system also needs to be affordable for playwrights AND theaters, and they would likely pay a different rate for the service (perhaps a sliding scale?). Additionally, the organization hosting such a service needs to have the funding to pay for the most highly-skilled techies to put it all together brilliantly. I think it IS possible and vital for better access to more new plays. Thanks, Gwydion, for your engaging ideas!

    – Anna Peterson, Membership Manager
    The Playwrights' Center (http://www.pwcenter.org)

  • Pete Miller

    Using information technology to increase the efficiency of the movement of scripts and increase the discoverability of those scripts sounds great. Most projects like this in the real world fail because they don't take into account the emotional realities of the nature of communication the project is trying to streamline. For example, one of the insights I carried away from Outrageous Fortune and the discussions around it is that many artistic directors are reluctant to let a playwright know a script is under consideration lest the playwright's hopes be raised. The artistic director doesn't want to feel responsible for a later crash of those hopes if the play doesn't make the cut. So any such system should let artistic directors review scripts without the playwright knowing. Now, that would probably deny playwrights access to information they would want. Emotional and social trade offs like this example would be crucial to success of any such endeavor.

  • thegene

    These are some excellent starting points on this topic, something I've been thinking about a lot since finishing a thesis on the subject (would love a link to the iscripts thing you mentioned briefly). I think part of what you'll run up against (as per Farmer's post) is that this post is (not surprisingly) playwright centric.

    Can I challenge you a little further? I would propose that part of the play submission/reading process includes an AD driven development module, in which each version of a script can get feedback from the artistic director users (and why not other users as well?) by section or scene, what have you, and then the playwright can alter the scene, submit the new version, and the whole process repeats?

    I would also like to propose that theatre(er)s can invite specific audience members to also critique these plays, and thus bring more audience-centricity into a very closed-door process.

    Like I said, this is a great start to an excellent idea. Something similar has starting spreading across the country for development (fundraising), the Cultural Data Project, provides non-profit arts orgs a standardized tool for financial reporting. This standardized data allows for easy grant reporting and application, in much the same way you suggest for play submissions. The way that they got traction though was by getting the grant makers on board, rather than the grant seekers. So the ultimate question I'm getting to then is what benefit would your proposed system provide theatre(er)s and their ADs and artistic underlings?

  • I think you are selling your audience awfully short when you make these assumptions. Will most of your audience base want to take the time to read through 25 different plays that you have curated as options for the next season? No, probably not. Most will probably not have the time or interest. But what percent of your audience base is engaged enough with the work you are doing to at least read synopses? 5%? 10? And I think in a lot of ways, that is all you need. It gives you an opportunity to engage those who want engagement. And guess what, that 10% is going to talk, they are going to be your biggest advocates, because once the selections are made, they have become invested in the decision-making. They will have a sense of ownership.
    And the claim that audience-centric theatres are community or amateur kind of drives me up a wall. Community theatre by definition, the definition that you provide “a group of folks put on a play that they've always wanted to act in or direct and then they rehearse it after work for a few months and then put it up for their friends, family and many some other folks in their town come to see it” is NOT Audience-Centric. It's about putting on a show because you want to put on that show. Audience-centric is professionalism. It's creating a piece of work not only because you as the artist or adminstrator want to do it, but because you can SELL it to an Audience. We could all do with being a little more audience-centric, I think.

  • I think you're absolutely right to challenge the rough ideas I've put forward in precisely these ways. Naturally what I've written is playwright-centric, because that's the primary hat I wear… but as I tried to make clear, the only real solution — the only productive disruption — will arise from a solution that meets the needs not only of playwrights, but also of artistic directors (and, for that matter, audiences).

    So the question you ask — what benefit would the proposed system provide theaters and their ADs — is the critical one. I do have a few thoughts on the matter… but honestly, I'd rather hear from ADs themselves. The real right solution would only best be developed, after all, by an independent third party (or fourth party, really) interviewing representative members of each of the groups in question (playwrights, ADs, audience members), finding their pain points, and architecting a system that responds to those pain points. That's what will ultimately drive adoption.

  • Tom Borger

    My pie-in-the-sky spinoff of the play database is the Pandora model. Why couldn't you — aside from the money involved — assemble a team of dramaturgs, playwrights, scholars, etc., and create a Drama Genome Project? And then layer that data into the play database? Click on a play that you like, new or historical, and the software suggests three new plays that you may like, not based on something as simple as “genre” or “playwright” but a deeper analysis of story structure, dialogue style, balance of emotional vs. conceptual, that sort of thing. Again, there are questions about the investment of time, not to mention the politics, of analyzing each play, but the concept is intriguing to me because it would facilitate browsing through new plays that are tuned to one's interests instead of wading through a sea of new plays that may be great just aren't right for you.

    A rudimentary version of this could be put together using Facebook's new plug-ins — those “Like” buttons that are popping up on webpages all over the internet. My understanding, which could be wrong, is that one of Facebook's new gadgets is a recommendations box – here it is: http://bit.ly/b7bOFo – which will, when you “Like” a piece of content, suggest another piece of content on your site based on the activity of others who have liked that content. (And it will highlight content your friends liked – which would facilitate discussion about that new play.)

    Anyway, great article by Gwydion. We all need to be talking more about this in the future.

    Tom Borger
    Also the Playwrights' Center (Anna beat me to it…)

  • Well said, sir.

    Community theater, as has been defined by Farmer9869, is explicitly artist-centric, not audience centric: “a group of folks put on a play that they've always wanted to act in or direct.” They aren't asking their audience members what they want to see; they're indulging their personal creative whims. (Not judging here at all, mind you — simply noting.) In any event, I agree that a little more audience-centricity (to perhaps coin an awkward word) would do us all good… and build more confidence among the people we'd like to engage.

  • Oh, man — you really know how to dream big! Love the Drama Genome Project idea… and I honestly believe more and more projects like that are inevitable, given the advancements in information technology and AI that are likely over the next few decades.

  • I love the ideas in the post itself, but I would challenge the development-model idea here, if only because we end up developing scripts to death to begin with. If I'm suddenly getting critiques and comments from multiple AD's and audience members–many of which might be 180 degrees apart–then I'm not necessarily telling the story I set out to tell, I'm telling the story everyone thinks they want. This is what happens in Hollywood all the time.

    The problem with crowdsourcing that kind of thing is that you run the risk of losing the individual voices of the playwrights. “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” wasn't crowdsourced. If Stoppard had listened to some of the reactions audiences have had over the years, we might not have had the play at all.

    Obviously, we listen to consistent advice–if 9 out of 10 people say the ending doesn't make sense, or think it says something other than what we meant, we'll revise, and that's fine. But for the most part, I'm going to listen to and work with people whose opinions I trust–good or bad.

    More to the point, if I'm putting a script out there for sale, I don't expect to make major revisions to it, let alone by section or scene, let alone over and over. If I'm to the point of submitting a script to multiple theatres or even offering it for them in a standardized online library-type setting, I'm finished working on it. Revising a script regularly just to resubmit it over and over like that will eat into what little time I already have for writing the next script. And I won't be getting paid for that time either.

    If a theatre wants to produce it and wants to bring me in to actively develop it further, that's another matter. But I wouldn't start revising it until the ink was dry on the contract.

    I've got a few other ideas on AD's and submissions, but I'll be posting those in a little bit…

  • I've already got a commissions page on my website–http://www.davidjloehr.com/marketplace/–though I haven't advertised it much yet, I've been tinkering with the concept…

    But yes, why can't we advertise our potential projects? What if an AD could choose a project that intrigues him or her, that fits their style or mission, or even the theme of an upcoming season? Why not guarantee a world premiere and even work together to tailor it to the needs of that company?

    Very good ideas, G. (And we'll be watching the iScripts project as it develops, don't worry.)

  • thegene

    certainly a good point about crowdsourcing. I was thinking more along the lines of a closed-crowd model, in which if a theatre(er) picks up a play for production, then for that theatre and all of its audiences, a 'wright would be able to have resubmissions of scenes, etc. as per the feedback. It would be a tree shape, with each branch representing another production at a theatre(er).

  • Tim

    It's only the opinion of one person, but I think that in several cases, August Wilson's play development process was harmful to the finished play. While it sounds great to get lots of input, and to get lots of regional theaters to pay for multiple productions, some of his plays just got longer and longer, not better and better.

    I don't think we can rely on hungry playwrights not to game the submission system you've laid out. We already have performers who show up for auditions without the stated characteristics or experience asked for, and administrators who apply for a position they don't have the paper qualifications for. I'm not saying no one is ever right to press their career in this way, my point is that there's not going to be enough of the promised “winnowing” of the massive “reading pile.”

  • As a process removed from the open iTunes-esque system, that's a fine idea. I'd be more than happy as a playwright to go to a theatre company and develop the script with their staff, their actors, even their engaged audience members. And with the technology at hand, that can totally work as a virtual workshop–I've rehearsed and read a few plays via Skype video conferencing, been doing that for a few years in fact.

    But again, I'd want to stick to a single theatre. I'm not going to keep redeveloping a script for every group that wants to produce it, even the 2nd or 3rd productions. At some point, it has to stand on its own, and either your company wants to produce it or not.

  • Why should AD's be “fixing plays” in that manner? I'll be honest, i firmly believe any AD who thinks that is how to work with new plays should be replaced immediately. (that's probably a post on it's own)

    But for the sake of argument: How would an AD module of that sort help the process? What would the benefit of just shifting the current develpment model online change the process?

  • thegene

    that's a good question. I think it might change or support the process in a couple of ways.

    The first is openness: by making it very easy for an AD to invite others to provide open feedback, it is that much easier for more people to be involved. Granted, if said AD has no interest in openness, this won't change anything.

    the next one that I can think of is supplying secondary material within the framework of the play selection process. If a playwright is able to provide supplemental material, he would have a better position to illustrate his artistic vision beyond just the written word. It's much easier to discuss artistic development with multi-media supplements.

    Here's another one: what about the situation in which an AD might be on the fence about a play, and would want to see what it might look like slightly altered. In marketing, removing barriers to exchanges increases the rate of exchange: so maybe the opportunity to throw up a comment on a scene like “if there is a way to include x/y here, we might be inclined to consider the play” might drastically increase the chances of getting produced.

    the last one would be efficiency. All of the ADs I have spoken to on the subject reference the fact that due to time constraints, they can only read a certain number of plays a year. If you increase the efficiency of the process at all points, you could increase the number of plays that are considered.

    I think ultimately any tool like this would require some strong AD buy-in or be dead in the water. Although I'm certain there are ADs out there who do not believe they should try to alter a play according to their theatre(er)'s aesthetic or many other considerations a theatre(er) has that a playwright doesn't, I'm sure at least twice as many do. Therefore, a tool which does not provide a win-win situation to both parties involved won't be useful to anyway. is all I'm saying.

  • I do like the idea of providing supplemental material, research sources, imagery, all of which would help explain what the playwright was thinking, where they were going. That can be a very useful thing, I know that from experience.

    But why would an AD try to alter a play like that? Why not just look for another play that fits what they're looking for? It's one thing to set Hamlet in 1950's Milwaukee, but another to want to further develop or redevelop a play like that.

    “I'd really prefer it if Laura Wingfield had someone else to talk to in the first scene, maybe someone her own age. Give her some contemporaries, maybe lighten her up a little, that'll fit with our theater's mission.”

    No, at some point, the script has to be judged on its own merits. I don't get to rewrite or revise anything I choose from Samuel French or Dramatists, and unless there's an option whereby the playwright can offer that, then it shouldn't be the case here, either.

  • thegene

    Certainly there is a point at which a play is or is not right for a theatre(er). Maybe my example wasn't quite correct. I was thinking less along the lines of specific requests of a 'wright, and more along the lines of generating a dialogue. Kinda like what's happening now, throwing ideas out there. In this utopian setting, an AD might prompt a conversation with the playwright to get a better idea of the various directions/themes of a play. either real-time chat, or a more static long-form like a blog comment thing. Then the AD gets the opportunity to better gauge the artistic vision of the artist, and the playwright gets an opp to sell their artistic vision.

    This of course takes a slightly different approach than at Samuel French. The big change here is that the play is a more fluid, living thing than a dead piece of parchment. What's so wrong with a play being slightly changed in order to emphasize different aspects of the themes/topics involved? So long as all parties involved are willing participants, I kind of like the idea that at one theatre(er) whose audience is 20 yrs difference in age than in another one, the aesthetics and the context of this former audience would prompt a different understanding of the play than with the latter.

  • Gotcha. That I can get behind. That dialogue–or lack thereof–is what's really missing between AD's and playwrights, I think. If an AD can ask, “what were you thinking?” and I can say, “Oh, I was going for an Oedipus thing with birds and the cabaret music of Weimar Germany,” that's a good thing. Even if that was only the spark for the idea, then they've got a hint of what to look for when reading further.

    And certainly, minor tweaks are always possible once you agree to produce a show. I just wouldn't want to be doing them on spec in the hopes that the AD would maybe produce it. Certainly, different plays can adjust and adapt to different audiences and communities. A lot of that should be up to the director and the community instead of the playwright. But if a playwright is happy to revise accordingly, that can be a good thing.

  • I see what you're saying, but I don't necessarily agree. And believe me I totally get the time issue. I'm an AD of a small company, so I get to act as ED, marketing director, development director and literary manager as well. I also have another job, a wife and two kids under the age of four.

    Time is a very limited quantity for me. I read 300-500 scripts a year. (I like reading plays) It feels like the pile never shrinks.

    A way for writers to supply additional materials would be pretty great.

    But, if an AD is on the fence, they shouldn't do it. And more often than not, they won't. Requests for tweaks are just a way of stringing along writers, because most AD's don't want to–or don't have the spine to–say no. It's far easier to blame the Lit Manager or the audience. (Id it really that difficult to tell a writer “I like your work, but I'm not going to produce this one?”)

    I am all for open dialogue, and for open feedback. But as you say, if an AD isn't open to that it won't change anything. There's no technology to remove the silo from someone who doesn't want it removed. If an AD wants to prompt a conversation, they already can.

    The only real barrier to that is whether or not the AD wants to be open and have a conversation.

  • Rachel

    I'm an AD of a theatre in Atlanta – and time is also pretty short for me – with a small staff (no lit staff) and 3 kiddos under 4. Whee!
    I'm very interested in this idea – both for the investment of the audience and the democratizing for playwrights the submission process.
    It would be useful, however, to have the submission process curated in some way – so that there was some assurance that you were dealing with plays of a certain standard. of course, that opens up all sorts of cans of worms – as a first-time playwright (of course) can write a brilliant play and just because you've been doing it awhile doesn't mean that it is any good. So who decides…?

    I'm interested in figuring out in this equation a couple of things –
    1 – What happens when audience members are engaged in the decision-making process and yet the plays they liked aren't selected? Will they check out? Or will they be so 'in' at that point that they'll come see whatever was picked?

    2 – what happens to the notion of the curator – that the AD picks things sometimes that audiences might not think they want to see, but actually these selections raise up, open up, challenge and inspire their audiences. If it is all what people THINK they want (and sometimes that means what they are comfortable with) do we start to lose our vitality?

  • In the spirit of encouraging and participating in AD-playwright dialogue, I simply have to respond to this thoughtful comment, don't I? Yes, I do!

    #1 — I think you raise a very interesting possibility here. It's the soft of effect we call an “unintended consequence” of the system. If we invite audience participation, but don't seriously turn some of the engagement over to them — if we don't really make it a two-way conversation — then yes, I think we would risk alienating them further. But if we really did engage with them, over time, time and time again, they would buy in, and if they were eventually “over-ruled” — if they got, say, their third choice instead of their first, and the AD had very good reason for the swap — they'd be totally be “in” enough to look past it, I believe. This is all, of course, thoroughly speculative… and only the real world would determine how real-world participants would behave.

    #2 — I really think that in some ways, what we're talking about here is giving ADs another tool (or more information) to fulfill a curatorial role they are already playing. ADs already try to make season selections that serve their audiences, at least to some extent, while also being true to their theaters' brands and missions. This tool would simply be a way to help ADs take their audiences' temperatures, as it were — to know them better. It would only be one input in season planning, but not necessarily the final word.

  • I don't think we'd be relying on hungry playwrights not to game the submission system… I think we'd have to build the software to include smart feedback loops to prevent that from happening, some of which I suggested in my post (though undoubtedly many others exist).

  • Does it have to be one or the other?

  • Very good questions.

    I think you're right on the money there. I've seen cases where board members' choices for plays didn't get picked, and they threw in the towel. Of course, that's a hissy fit and makes you wonder how committed they were in the first place, but still, it does happen.

    This is why the curator/AD is crucial, and why not everything can or should be crowdsourced.

    In my own company's case, we've worked hard to build a level of trust with our audience. We're in the triangle between Louisville, Cincinnati and Indianapolis, so if they want to see the big shows on tour, or the popular regional theatre shows (Drawer Boy, Doubt, Dinner With Friends, W;t), they can do that pretty easily. Or even the summerstock staples, those are all within easy driving distance. So we bring them shows they won't see anywhere else, for the most part.

    Yes, we've done Mamet and Shepard and Lanford Wilson, but we've also done Sean Reycraft, Marie Jones, Tom Mula, Daniel MacIvor, James Rasheed. And we've premiered several of my plays here. And our audience trusts our choices, because we put it in terms of “here are stories we've found that we want to share with you.” (We also do 360 Storytelling events, about which more here: http://www.2amtheatre.com/360storytelling/ which encourage the audience to share their stories with us.)

    There's also the potential backlash of letting the consensus carry the day and when the show isn't what they were expecting, the AD and the company get the blame. I've also seen that happen.

    But I know of a summerstock theatre out here that used to trade in lousy sex farces and mindless comedies, partly because the entirely-too-large board was taking a hand in picking the season. They pared down the board and brought in an AD who designed a slightly more challenging season, and they've improved the level of their shows steadily since then. They're still doing light, fun shows, but they're picking quality and mixing it up with the occasional drama. And the audiences love it just as much if not more.

    Seems to me, audiences will let you know if there's something they're looking for, if there are plays they want to see. In our case, we've built a store of good will with them that they'll take a chance on our shows and often bring friends to the next, who'll bring friends to the next and so on. That's what I call audience development.

  • Been thinking all night about what this new platform should be called, and the answer came to me at 5 am as my two month-old newborn was squawking in the other room and, sadly, waking me up: disruption + scripts = discription. Or, said another way: http://www.discription.com. (Or maybe http://www.discriptive.com.)

    Now all someone needs to do is buy the domain and build the thing. I'd be happy to lend a hand…

  • David Dower

    A couple of comments here:
    First, if you are not already figuring out how to take advantage of the work that Playwrights Center (pwcenter.org) is doing around on-line script libraries and playwright's bios, etc, then look there before starting something new. It's invaluable, fresh, smart, and comprehensive. The Center seems genuinely open to new suggestions for how its services and energies can be further deployed in service of playwrights and their plays. And their on-line platform is already a magnet for AD's around the country. No need to start from scratch.

    Second, the disruptive technology in the area of submissions is actually the Kindle and the IPad. More and more AD's, agents, and literary managers are carrying these things these days. Your paper script is the least convenient thing and becoming obsolete on the receiving end, so stop spending time and money (and trees) creating them. We can carry an entire literary office in our briefcase or purse. And if the choice is between taking an electronic script with me or carrying the paper copy, I'm going electronic every time. So, this war has already been won for those who have adjusted. Agents still send paper, for the most part. And those sit in piles. The .pdf files sit in folders on my machine but that's with me no matter where I go.

    Simplest way to build on that is probably a simple app for the IPad that links the script to existing information for the playwright, the play, and associated content (reviews,video, context, etc.)

  • Hi, David. Great points. I agree that the Playwrights Center is doing great work — I'm a member myself, and I appreciate everything I get from them. I also think they're clearly open to new suggestions, as witness the fact that two Center leaders have commented on this thread already (and expressed great enthusiasm). I think the Play Gallery they've started is a sort of a beginning for what we've discussed here, but it's just that: a beginning. (Note to Anna and Tom: if you want to bring me into the loop to talk more, I'd be happy to chat about further options…)

    I also agree that the print script is dead — or at least dying. Many playwrights have decided to stop submitting to contests that require entry fees; I've also decided, personally, to stop submitting to (almost) anyone who wants a printed script.

    Finally, while I share your enthusiasm for the iPad and Kindle, I think it's best to conceive of those as devices with which the ultimate disruptive solution needs to be compatible. Somehow, scripts (and related materials) need to get into those devices… but the somehow is the disruption.

  • Excellent points.

    I think you're right about the iPad and the Kindle. Even using Kindle for the iPhone a year ago, I saw the potential there; when they announced the iPad, I may well have swooned. (For the record, I don't swoon easily.)

    One of the things I'm hoping to do through the 2amt site is to offer playwrights help in formatting their scripts to sell via Amazon, which would go directly into the Kindle or the Kindle app for the iPad. (It's not something I've talked about in the open yet.) Some have already figured out how to do that, others don't know where to start. That way, playwrights can get their work out where it can be discovered, where they can show it off with additional materials (video clips, notes, image gallery, author interview), where they can lnk to it and highlight it on their own websites, and where it can download straight to the device of your choice.

    It's only a half step and a jump to formatting the script for Amazon's self-publishing program. This wouldn't matter to AD's, but a playwright could go to his or her local bookstores and ask them to order copies, hold readings and book signings, etc. A theatre company could also bring in a few copies for sale to the public, or feature links on their website, what have you.

    The developing iScripts concept–and I don't know if that's a working title or not–looks to be something along the lines of iTunes but for playscripts. It would have that tight focus on playscripts and be purely electronic.

    This is a case where we can use the tools that are available now, we just have to take the time to use them properly and advertise what we have.


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