by Michael Bedford
Published at 2021-05-26
Although some of the steps that playwrights take on their journey to publication are similar to those taken by authors seeking publication, there are some features of play-script publication that set the process apart from that of publishing novels, short stories, and other books. For instance, unlike other types of book publishing, publishers of play-scripts generally require that the script in question has already been produced at least once. This requirement is in place to help weed out script ideas that need more work, and it handily precludes authors from submitting modified manuscripts for their unpublished novels and screenplays retooled as play-scripts. So, since production of a play-script is such an important step, let’s look at some things playwrights can do to improve their chances of getting their play-script off the page and onto the stage.
Books need editors. Plays need dramaturgs. As I discuss in this previous post, dramaturgs are essentially substantive editors for play-scripts. Like substantive editors, dramaturgs help refine the playwright’s idea by asking questions and making comments about the script. There is no set amount of time that dramaturgy takes. Like substantive editing, the process can take years or minutes depending on what level of attention is required to get the script ready for production. And, again like substantive editing, one is better off picking a dramaturg who has experience or expertise working in the genre that the playwright has written in. Otherwise, playwrights might find that their dramaturg has turned their absurdist love story into a musical.
Once dramaturgical work has reached its conclusion and the play is stage-worthy, the next step is getting it produced. Although Playwrights Canada, Talonbooks, and Coach House Books all have stipulations about submitted scripts having been produced prior to submission, their requirements are all slightly different. Playwrights Canada currently requires that the premiere performance of submitted scripts be no earlier than September 2018. Talonbooks requires proof that submitted scripts have been professionally produced. Coach House, however, simply requests information about past or future productions of the play.
Although Playwrights Canada’s submission guidelines might seem the most restrictive, with their submission windows and their two-year time limit on a play’s premiere, their guidelines specifically encourage submissions of online productions of scripts, providing a serious leg up to playwrights tech-savvy enough to produce their scripts online.
Independent production is always an option for those who have the money to spare but since professional play production can get expensive, it’s best to try to drum up some interest by farming a play out to local theatre companies. These might be professional or community theatres. Community theatres are likely to be more interested in new scripts from unknown playwrights but generally provide minimal staging opportunities. Professional theatre companies, on the other hand, often provide larger and more elaborate staging opportunities but often have less interest in new work from unknown playwrights.
Theatre festivals, like the Toronto Fringe Festival, also offer opportunities for emerging playwrights to produce their own work. Festival premieres are often a great fit for emerging playwrights since they allow the play to be produced at a professional level without requiring the playwright to lease a performance space. It’s important that photos and other documentation of the production provide an air of professionalism. After all, to prospective publishers of your play, the quality of the production, rather than whether the actors and crew were paid for their time, is what will make the production seem “professional.”
There’s no specific play-script format that’s preferred by all but there are some conventions that most publishers, and most actors, tend to expect when reading a script. Take a look at this example from writopialab.org for some common conventions. Where formatting is concerned, publishers are likely to be more concerned with the content you’re submitting than whether you got every formatting convention correct. Since play-scripts must already have been produced to be considered for publication, though, it’s very likely that the actors and crew were kind enough to point out all your formatting inconsistencies already.
Your next step, once your play is ready, is writing the submission letter and sending it off to the publisher. Be sure to follow the submission guidelines (see above) and be sure that your play is something the publisher will be interested in publishing. Does it fit that publisher’s list? Take a look at a recent catalogue or a few of the new releases to make sure your play is a good fit.
Good luck, and may your play be published!
Michael Bedford is a freelance editor, copywriter, and performer living in Stoney Creek, Ontario. He can be reached at https://mgb-editor.com/.