How can I write a play that will get produced?

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Answered by: Theo, An Expert in the Theater - General Category
To write a play takes a lot more effort than simply putting text on a page. Even if you write a play - even if you write a GOOD play - how do you know it will ever get produced? During your writing and developing process, think about these simple questions. As long as you continue to ask yourself new questions, your work will continue to improve!

First: Is this something I want to write about?

When you write a play, you spend time with the characters, you delve into the location, and you immerse yourself in the story. If this story doesn't get you excited, you can bet it won't excite your audience either. If you aren't passionate about your work, it will show in the final piece. But remember - even though a topic interests you, doesn't mean you want to write about it. Just because you like football or NASA or contemporary jazz doesn't mean you can think up an entire life surrounding those things.

Before you begin, write out a hundred details about the story. These don't have to be plot points, but make them both specific and vague. For example, if you wrote that piece about NASA, give the project a name (maybe Project 3000) but also write down something broad, like the general idea of the project (maybe it is called "Project 3000" because that is the year our planet will die if we don't get more energy resources from another planet).

Write down as many details as you can, but do NOT limit yourself to an outline. Though it may help you at first to know where you want to take the story, it will only limit you later when the story decides to stray from your script. If you cannot create a large list of ideas surrounding your topic of interest, it may not be right for you - at least not right now. Plays require a lot of ideas, because real people will get on stage and perform them. Real people require entire lives, histories, futures, and whole worlds of context, emotion, and plot. Though your idea may get streamlined once it becomes dialogue, it is incredibly helpful to have all of these details in order to create a fully formed concept. If you can do this, this is the topic you want to write about.

Second: Is this play truly new?

There is no shame in recycling ideas in theatre. Theatre was created as a forum to discuss ideas, and recycling topics is a way of debating and hashing out topics that still make up much of our public discourse. The key is to not copy ideas without making them your own. When a musical artist remakes a song, he or she does so by reinventing the sound, not simply replaying the old track. Every theatre artist has seen at least one such work, and most have seen at least a reinvented version of a classic Shakespeare piece (The Lion King, perhaps?).

All this means is that your idea has probably been thought of. Your job then is to learn all you can about theatre (literature, history, canon) in order to create a piece that isn't simply an old, tired idea. Your play may cover the same ideas as a classic or older piece, but does it attack the idea from a new angle? Does it respond to the question with a new and even more complex question? Does it play homage to the earlier works and innovate to create a new, exciting work? If you can find something in your play that really has never been done before, you are ready for the next step.

Third: Is this play something people want to see?

So you write a play, it seems to cover topics in a new and intriguing way, and you want to get it out into the world, but will people want to see it? As an artist, it is your job to stay on top of trends in the landscape of contemporary theatre in order to know what interests audiences, what is pushing the edge of popular culture, and what is just too tired out. Maybe everyone seems to be flocking to plays about marriage right now, but you just wrote a play about being single.

That doesn't mean your play won't get produced, but it does mean you need to find out if there is an audience right for your piece. When submitting a play to developers or producers, take a look at their past productions, recent connections, and current audiences. Are their audiences going to be interested in your work? Or did you write a play about the benefits of a 401k to be presented to a house full of 18 year olds?

As a playwright, you are you own biggest advocate. When you write a play, it is most likely going to be your job to find it a suitable home. Do research into theatre trends, audiences, and theatres before you submit. Be prepared to write summaries that sell the piece and be even more prepared to hear that your piece (though wonderful, I'm sure) may not be right for a certain theatre's audience. This is not an insult. Just keep looking for the people that want to, need to, or really should see your play and when you find them, make sure to captivate them with an outstanding description and a script that really delivers.

Once you have asked yourself these questions, your journey is not over. There are a number steps on the path to writing a play that gets produced, but these questions will surely get you on the right path. Enjoy the ride!

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