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Submit a script

Occasionally, I get contacted by people I don't know who ask me to consider a script. So far, I have never produced an unsolicited script - where I have directed other people's work, it's almost always been plays I've seen. The only unperformed play of someone else's I've taken on was Waiting for Gandalf, which was written by someone on the same Live Writers' Group as me. Nevertheless, I want to avoid the usual Coward/Christie/Priestly formula that most amdram directors do to death, so any chance of discovering an unknown gem is appreciated. So here's a few words for anyone interested on what to expect.

In a nutshell

Let's start by managing expectations. If you send me a script, the chance that I'll produce it is slim, even as a workshop or rehearsed reading. It's unlikely I'll even give it any serious consideration. That, unfortunately is the same wherever you submit a script.

However, here's the sweetener: unlike most places, I will give some words on what I think of the script. That is a big improvement on virtually every script room, who considers it standard practice to bin 90%+ of scripts without any explanation.

Why? I partly do this because I have to practice what I preach: I am a strong opponent of the practice of feedback-free rejection. But the other thing that's in it for me is that the offer of feedback is an incentive to get scripts my way. If you've written an undiscovered gem, maybe, just maybe, I can get my hands on it first.

How this works

Before you get too excited, no, I'm not a reading and feedback service. In general, I will only keep reading as long as there's a chance this will grab my interest. Once I've decided this isn't the play for me, I'll probably stop reading. I will try to give suggestions on how to improve it if I can, but the feedback might have to be limited to saying what made me decide it was a no. It's the same feedback you should expect from an audience: they may give you vague pointers of what they liked or didn't like, but it is your responsibility to take it on board and decide what to do about it.

Also, be aware that it will be no easy task to grab my interest. I'm not one of these people who thinks "Oh, didn't they all try hard?"; I want things which are good enough to compete against those published by Samuel French and Nick Hern. There are unpublished plays out there which are that good - it's certainly not the case that Samuel French represents some unattaintable gold standard - but there's an awful lot more that aren't.

Here's a few pointers to give you some idea of whether I'll be interested:

  • First thing's first: if you're new to this playwriting thing, be aware that no-one gets it right the first time. The brutal truth is that the first play you're so excited about is almost certainly not the masterpiece you think it is. I am quite happy to give you some pointers in the right director (unlike most places), but don't be disappointed if your first attempt gets a no. And probably your second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth too.
  • So far, none of the new writing that's interested me has come from unsolicited scripts. It's come instead either from plays I saw and liked, or writers I already knew who did something that grabbed by interest. Maybe an unsolicited script will come that's as good as these, but that's what you're up against.
  • I have my personal preferences. I will only consider directing plays that I would personally enjoy watching (so will any other director with any sense). Even if I see it took a great deal of skill to write, if it doesn't interest me, it doesn't make sense for me to produce it. If you like, you can look at my theatre reviews to get an idea of the sort of theatre I like.
  • Submissions from local writers (i.e. anyone living in the vicinity of Durham) are welcome - that's easier for me for a number of reasons. However, I have no special interest in plays set in the local area, especially if this is the main selling point of the play. There's nothing I've particularly got against "local" plays, only that's it's done to death by New Writing theatres.
  • If you've got five-star reviews, or glowing reports from script reading services, or a place on a shortlist in a playwriting competition, I don't care. I want to make up my own mind.
  • Conversely, I will not rule out a play just because it previously got a bad review. If I think the critics are wrong, I'm not afraid to stick my neck out and say so.
  • I have a lot of other stuff to do, and I may be slow to give a response. But I will give one. If I don't, keep prodding me until I do.
  • I hope to keep my word about giving feedback to every script I get, but if I start getting loads of scripts, terms and conditions may suddenly apply.

Finally, just a word that I do expect you to be serious about asking me to produce your work. I am not there to give you tips for your Bruntwood or Verity Bathgate submission. I won't be strapping you to a lie detector machine from Jeremy Kyle, but I reserve the right to stop giving feedback if I think you're using me as a free reading service.

And if I'm interested ...

Okay, I've probably disheartened you by saying how difficult this is, but let's suppose you've grabbed my attention. Sadly, your challenges don't end there. There's further hurdles to getting any kind of performance, such as:

  • As well as my approval, I have to take into consideration how other people feel about it. It's got to be something that a prospective cast would like to do - and of course there's the audience. If I don't think I can get an audience in for a play, there's no point in doing it.
  • Then there's practicalities. New writing is a high-risk activity, so to limit the risk it needs low budget, low manpower and low resources. The more cast, scenery or special effects there are in your play, the less likely I am to want to produce it. (Pretty much everyone else will tell you the same.)
  • Much as I want to produce new plays, it's a tough sell. All other things being equal, published plays sell better than unknown plays. Also, it's easier for me to promote my own work than someone else's. An unpublished unperformed play needs to be damned good to overcome these obstacles.
  • It's unlikely you'll find your play in Durham Dramatic Society's main season, like Improbable Fiction was and Our House will be. I don't have full control over play selection there. It's more likely I'd look at an opportunity elsewhere, with less budget, less resources, and probably a smaller audience.
  • If I'm interested, it's more likely I will offer a read-through or script-in-hand performance than take the plunge into a full production. Most big theatres do the same. It's less of a gamble to test the water first.
  • A performance may be conditional on changes being made to the script. I don't like doing anything that may cause result in me turning your play into my play, but I also have to consider how likely the play is to succeed with my intended audience, and it's a delicate balance. Should you say no, that's your right and I won't be offended. Anyway, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
  • Finally, should I offer you a performance, don't expect a large royalty cheque. A profit share is a more likely offer - and bear in mind that at Fringe Festivals, the concept of "profit" is very much a hypothetical one.
  • If you somehow managed to clear all these hurdles, it could be a long time before you see your play on stage. I tend to make plans up to two years ahead - again, that's not unusual in theatreland.

Has this put you off? Probably. But if not contact me, tell me who you are, and what you'd like me to read, and I will take things from there. And good luck.

Last updated 13th October 2014.