Theatre Horror Stories

Theatre Horror Story: Big City Folk (don’t know how to use a phone)

I’m a playwright and translator. A devout memeber of the Dramatists Guild. My plays have been produced across the country and in a couple places overseas.

I applied to a devleopment opportunity in New York City. Never been there before. Often I am outside the US and when I’m in the US, it’s not in New York City. It’s a lot closer to Salt Lake City. My play is about Mormon lesbians taking down Trump. It is the universal story.

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Artwork by Maiyal.

So I applied to the opportunity via Submittable and I got a response:

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A couple of things: a) I’m not a subway ride away from this theatre and b) My name has never been, is not, nor will never be “Leigh.”

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Oh, yeah, my play is called The Great Porn Caper. And it is awesome. You should probably know by now my name is Bryan. I’m the guy running this blog. Or maybe it runs me.

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Oh STFU. You meant “Leigh” – and I should explain that yes, this is indeed a self-production residency, but they’re supposed to provide the place, the tools, and the know-how (they call it a mentorship).

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I really wanted to say I was located in his garage. That would just be creepy. But I told him the truth.

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Thanks for explaining this to me. Because I’m a child and don’t understand things. Talking down to people is so sexy!

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Thank god for emoticons.

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Hehehe.

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I totally put the name and theatre up there, but then I wussed out. Meh. I’m going to use carbs to deal with my negative emotions:

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I picked my poison, thank you very much.

And no, I don’t have plans to go to NYC. Especially not for this über-tugs.

This isn’t the worst horror story I have. Hell, it ain’t even the most entertaining, but it is symbolic of the innate spankshaftedness of American theatre arrogance.

Do you have a theatre horror story??? Feel free to share it. You can remain anonymous.

Meanwhile, we still have Unknown Playwrights, monologues and more horror stories.

Thank you!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theatre Horror Stories

Theatre Horror Story: Sequels Verboten! (except we just made that up)

[A reader sent this in. A former member of the Dramatists Guild]
i submitted to a script call for plays for young performers.  i ended up being one of the ten finalists & when the plays were staged, my piece was voted “audience favorite.”  i reached out to several other finalist playwrights & began an email friendship with the playwright whose piece had been awarded “best play.”
the following year, we both submitted again & quite by chance, we both submitted scripts that were sequels/companions to the previous year’s entries.  there was nothing in the rules forbidding this.  both my friend & i made it through the first round of judging.
then, things fell apart.
apparently, due to problems within the theater company pertaining to my friend’s script (& having nothing to do with my script), it was decided – in the middle of the judging process – that ALL sequels to the previous year’s entries would not be allowed.  thanks for changing the rules without any notice while the contest was underway, folks!  not only that but i only found out the real reason my play was disqualified when my friend told me – she had been given a heartfelt apology & explanation from the director/playwright running the program.  i got bupkis.
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Art by Maiyal.
[It’s nice when when theatre companies just make it up as they go merrily along] 
naturally, i never submitted to them again but…a few years later, i saw their script call on a playwright site.  i posted a warning that entrants should be wary of this group & was promptly flamed by several other playwrights who obviously didn’t want to offend a producer/director.  glad they had my back.
:O
[Playwright-on-playwright nutsackery must end. I’ve seen too many examples of this to count. Could be a topic for another blog post]
Thank you for reading. Don’t forget the blog offers other goodies like Unknown Playwrights (living & dead) as well as Monologue Mondays
If you have a theatre horror story, please send it to the blog. Everyone can remain anonymous.  
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Theatre Horror Stories

Theatre Horror Story: They Cut My Play (and didn’t tell me)!

[This came from a Dramatists Guild member]

A director removed the first ten minutes of one of my plays.

They did it without my permission or my knowledge.

This is what happened, as best I remember it:

I had made travel arrangements to see the one-night-only performance of my play, but because of an emergency, the director had moved the performance up a few days, maybe a week, and I couldn’t make it. But I called in on the phone for the talkback session. The moderator, director, and other people involved talked to me about what worked in the play and what didn’t, and I took notes. It was a good talkback. But through the course of it, I learned that the audience had been generally confused about the play. And then someone (I don’t remember if it was the director, an actor, or someone else) asked if maybe the audience would have understood the story better if the first ten minutes had still been there.

What?

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I remember not being angry. I was more disappointed, sad, and surprised. Confused. What had caused this? The draft I had sent the director had still had its first ten minutes. Although I had once experimented with removing those ten minutes (more on that later), I was sure I didn’t have an electronic draft with the first ten minutes removed. Then I learned, though, that it hadn’t been me. In the talkback, the director admitted to cutting the first part of the first scene and to moving other things. The moderator and other people seemed to conclude, and so did I, that these changes had more than likely led to much of the audience’s confusion. Moreover, these changes did not give us a good sense of how the play would have been received in its intended form. Another grim thing someone brought up after the performance was that most of the audience had left the theatre before the talkback, and so for all they knew, the performance they had seen was how the play was “supposed to be.”

Eek!

Before the talkback, I had been unaware that the play had been altered. I had been absent during rehearsals because of how far away I lived. The director was my friend, however, and our friendship has always been based on mutual respect. We had emailed each other throughout the process, and about two months before the performance we had a meeting in person. In this meeting, I mentioned I wanted to send the director a new draft. I had made a few changes, mostly in the stage directions, and to me these changes were tiny. The director understood that I had the right to make changes, but asked me to please hold back on them because the process was already difficult. The director was a university student at the time, and I remembered college being hectic, with overwhelming work to do on other projects as well as plays. So I decided my changes were minor enough to skip this time, and that I would use them the next time the play was staged (if that ever happened, and so far, it has not). I realize now that if I had stood firm, the director would have had an opportunity to learn how to work with a playwright’s new changes even when it was hard. What does Hamlet say? “I must be cruel only to be kind”? But more than that, I should have been suspicious of the director’s refusal to incorporate my changes. I could have asked the director if they were having other difficulties with the script, because then I might have learned that they planned to move things and cut things. And I would have been able to clarify that they did not have my permission to make changes without me (I have also learned the importance of having a contract, which, because of my inexperience, I didn’t have this time).

Instead, after that meeting, I figured the play they presented would be the previous draft I had given them, without the small changes I had suggested, but still (mostly) the play I intended it to be.

I was never the best student director in the world. I’ve made mistakes, too. One thing I’ve learned from such mistakes is that being a student is no excuse to rearrange a script. You still need permission from the playwright to change things. The playwright makes the changes, and only if the playwright wants to. As a good teacher or professor, you teach your students how to work in communities outside of academia, and in the professional world. So it’s a good idea (I’d go so far as to say essential) to give students experience working with living playwrights. When you work with a living playwright, you learn to communicate with the person who wrote the script, and the play isn’t just your vision, it’s the playwright’s vision. I think my director and I learned from this experience that such communication is vital, and here’s why:

I’m almost certain the audience’s confusion could have been avoided or at least lessened if the director had asked me this question at some point: “What do you think of us cutting the first ten minutes?” Directors want to do all sorts of things, and most of them ask me before they do them, even though I might say no. Sometimes they have a brilliant idea or simply something I would like to try, and I will say yes. I say yes much more than I say no! But if you’re afraid to ask me because you think I’ll say no, and you do the thing I might have said no to, you risk damaging the play, and that can reflect on you as a director. I know people who say that if a play is “bad,” the audience blames the author and not the director, but in reality, I see blame come off on the director, too. Communicate with your playwright, and things will turn out better. If the director who cut the beginning off my play had asked me about cutting it, I could have explained something important: I had already tried a reading of the play with the first ten minutes cut.

That first reading was a year earlier, more or less. Its director (a different director) suggested the play would be much better without the first ten minutes. This director wanted to go “straight to the action.” So I decided to try it. I tore out the first ten minutes (eight pages) of the play half an hour before we did the reading. And it totally bombed. It was a major disappointment.

[So the playwright had already tried out the play minus those ten minutes and it didn’t work] 

I could have told the current director about that reading if I had known they were thinking of doing the play without its first ten minutes. But I did not know, because they didn’t tell me. I remember thinking after the talkback and reading over the script again that the play did need to lose most of what was in those first ten minutes, but it needed to keep the things that helped the rest of the play to make sense. If the director had talked to me about it, I could have looked at the script again and seen that it needed cuts, and I would gladly have cut the first ten minutes myself and put the important information somewhere else in the opening scene. I wished I had known!

But we learned. I think the director saw how badly it turned out not to have those first ten minutes, and regretted cutting them. So even though most of the audience probably left thinking the play they had seen was the play I had meant it to be (when it wasn’t) and that’s unfortunate, I think the director (and I!) learned from this experience not to mess around with the script you’re directing. I remember we had a one-on-one talk about it and left the discussion on good terms. There was no reason for me to damage our relationship because of this mistake. I would gladly have this person direct more of my plays.

As for future arrangements with any director, I’ll be sure to have a written contract.

Some horror stories have happy endings.

I’m still working on that play, and it’s still kicking my butt. Do I make it longer? Shorter? What do I move? What about the characters? Should it be a musical?

However it turns out, I hope one day we’ll see it performed as its author intended.

[Hopefully. I’m glad this playwright’s experienced turned out positive eventually. So many don’t]

Thanks for reading. Next week we’ll have another Theatre Horror Story.

Feel free to message the blog if YOU have a story to share. 

Don’t forget to check out our Unknown Playwrights (living & dead) as well as Monologue Monday

Thank you!!!!

Theatre Horror Stories

Theatre Horror Story: A Famous Theatre Wasted a Year of My Life

This came from a reader who reached out to us. A former Dramatists Guild member.

I am a successful children’s theatre playwright but I also occasionally write for adult audiences (although not as successfully). I have an unproduced comedy/thriller (in the style of “Deathtrap” and “Sleuth”) that I’ve been submitting wherever I can.

[Glad to see playwrights expanding their craft]

A few years ago, I saw a script call from a well-known, professional company in the Midwest. Long odds but I submitted two adult scripts. In the spring, I received an email from somone (I believe it was the Literary Manager or Literary Associate) saying that one script was rejected but a few days later, received a second email saying they were interested in the other script, the comedy/thriller. They would be doing a company reading in the next few weeks and she would contact me after that. Naturally, I was very excited!

[Well, yeah. The playwright told me which company it was and it’s one I think most serious playwrights in America would recognize. You would be excited too to have this theatre put on your show]

(Now bear in mind that all of the email exchanges following this were initiated by me, I never heard back from them again on their own initiative.)

A few weeks later, I ask about the reading. She replies that the script is so strong and the Artistic Director likes it so much that the reading has been canceled and instead, it will be included in a weekend script slam with three or four other plays in October. Wow! Amazing!

[More good news]

Summer goes by, I’m buoyed by the hope of my script getting closer to production by such a prestigious company (or at least their apparently strong interest in it). As we near October, I contact her to ask if there’s a chance the reading could be skyped as I would love to see it. She replies that the script slam has been canceled and all the scripts that were to be read will now be read individually in front of local audiences at a nearby library to guage audience interest. (Library? Audience interest? Weird, but I’ve never gotten this far before so who knows how big, professional rep companies do things and I’m still over the moon as my script is still definitely moving forward.) She will be directing my reading in February and is hoping to cast it before Christmas so she can begin rehearsals. Merry Christmas to me!

[Beware: Scrooge alert!]

In mid-January, I contact her again, asking how it’s going, can it be skyped, etc. I received back a very short, cold, totally out of character email telling me that my script will not be read, they are not interested in it anymore. What?! If I want details, I can email her back. I respond and her only “detail” is that I have to decide if my story is a comedy or a thriller. What what?! If I want to rewrite it, she is willing to reread it. Uhm, no thanks, I’ve totally lost confidence in you and your company. I clearly labeled it a “comedy/thriller” on the cover page and that’s exactly what it is.

[It only took them nearly a year to worry about the genre. Darf.]

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Some theatres are capable of Boschian torment. Artwork by Maiyal.

This totally crushed me and I lost a whole year of submissions. It was such an unprofessional way of doing things, I have no idea what really went on. Now when I see that theater mentioned and praised, I’m so pissed I could spit.

I seriously don’t blame this playwright for being angry about what that theatre did. Maybe someday it will change.

If you have a theatre horror story, please reach out. You can remain anonymous and still tell your truth. 

Thank you. 

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Theatre Horror Stories

Theatre Horror Story: We Changed the Deadline & Didn’t Tell You

This is from an acquaintance who is also a Dramatists Guild member. 

There should be a special circle in hell for theatres that put out calls and then change the deadlines or requirements “because they have so many submissions.” It should be up to the theatres to think their procedures through, be specific about their requirements, and not penalize applicants. In one case a deadline was announced for August 31, and when I submitted in early August I was told that the deadline had been changed to July 31.

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Special thanks to Maiyal. Please check out her work here.

[Duh. Look at the stupid playwright following instructions. He must be punished!]

Incidents like this have happened to me three times this year. I keep a file listing upcoming opportunities with all essential information including due dates. I can’t be expected to review the websites every day to determine if theatres have changed their requirements. In another recent case, a [theatre in a far away country] stated they were accepting plays internationally, and they allowed submissions in multiple categories. I submitted one play one day; then when I followed up the next with another play the website said they were accepting only plays from [the far away country.]

An email to the theatre confirmed that they had changed their requirements without notice. Furthermore, they said they could not use my first play because of prior production (not stipulated anywhere in the call). They were very apologetic and I think genuinely mortified, but that’s not the point.

[Often times I hear theatres really don’t know what they want until they find it. In this case the theatre doesn’t know what they want – period.]

My goal is to keep writing these until the level of professionalism in American theatre changes. 

If you have a theatre horror story, feel free to reach out. You can remain anonymous.

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Theatre Horror Stories

Theatre Horror Story: The Director Stole My Money (and didn’t direct a thing)

This playwright is an acquaintance and Dramatists Guild Member.

I had a short play accepted for a festival far from me, and put out a call for directors. Eventually one young man responded, a recent college grad, who didn’t live close to the theatre but was willing to travel. As this was self-produced, he wanted to know my budget, and eventually asked for an advance on expenses equivalent to about 1/3 of the final amount.

[Generous playwright]

I sent this amount to him and everything seemed fine until about 3 weeks before the festival date, when he suddenly informed me he had to replace actors repeatedly and so was withdrawing because he didn’t feel he could do a creditable job in the time remaining. Nothing would make him budge, so given the unlikelihood of finding a new director at short notice, I withdrew the play.

[I also know the pain of withdrawing a play because of flaky directors. I think many of us do.]

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Definitely reminds me of a song about the theatre. Artwork by Maiyal.

This wasn’t great, but the festival was very nice about it and offered me a slot for next year. But despite repeated reminders, this director has failed to return the money I advanced him.

[I hope that director bought a sandwich at Subway with the playwright’s money and Subway ran his card twice.]

Since the playwright sent the original story, this happened…

Update: he finally responded to me and promised to return the money. Fingers crossed.

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Probably actually the “crossies” thing kids do when they make  apromise so they don’t actually have to keep it. Except the director is (allegedly) a fully formed adult and not a tadpole.

Thanks for reading.

Abuse and unprofessionalism in the theatre should stop. We’re supposed to be on the same team, but that seems to be the exception, rather than the rule.

Please check out our first theatre horror story, too

Hopefully, I can keep making these posts until American theatre becomes a safer working environment. I’ll probably be 1,500 years old by then. 

I want to thank our anonymous playwright who bravely came to me with this story. 

If anyone has a story to share, please reach out to me. You will always be anonymous.

 

Theatre Horror Stories

Theatre Horror Story: Locked Out of My Own Reading

This is a new part of the blog, different from the playwright profiles and Monologue Monday. These are stories highlighting current problems in American theatre.

This story comes from a playwright I know. They belong to the Dramatists Guild and are good at what they do.   

The Story

In 2016, I pitched a script to a local theatre hoping for just a workshop. The AD [artistic director] said he loved it and suggested three public staged readings, with Q+A. As time went by, three readings were reduced to two, then to one. I was assigned a director and the first rehearsal was scheduled on a Sunday morning one week before the reading date. I arrived at the theatre to find it locked, and a voice mail telling me 3 of the 6 actors were unavailable, but we’d pick up again Tuesday or Wednesday. The week went by and I heard nothing.

[What world did this AD grow up in where it is okay to just cancel a reading and not even tell the playwright????] 

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Artwork by Maiyal. Follow her on Twitter or her website

I wrote a complaint to the AD which went unanswered. So what if we cancel your reading without notifying you? Eventually I spoke to one of the theatre owners who was sympathetic to me, and he said I was supposed to have received a letter from another of the owners (never happened), and an email from the director (never received).

[Looks like the owners and AD went to the same school of unprofessionalism]

A couple of years later I decided to try to mend fences, even though I was the victim. Sometime later the theatre put out a call for directors to pitch projects for their next mainstage season, and I pitched one of my full-length plays. Got an email from the AD saying the theatre was not doing original plays for its mainstage season (which was not specified in the call). Some months later the theater announced its mainstage season, which included an original full-length play – by the AD.

[What’s the saying? Burn me once shame on you, burn me twice, shame on me? Nah, burn me twice, shame on this dishonest evil little theatre hurting playwrights]

Abuse and unprofessionalism in the theatre should stop. We’re supposed to be on the same team, but that seems to be the exception, rather than the rule.

Hopefully, I can keep making these posts until American theatre becomes a safer working environment. I’ll probably be 1,500 years old by then. 

I want to thank our anonymous playwright who bravely came to me with this story. 

If anyone has a story to share, please reach out to me. You will always be anonymous.

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The Playwright Revolution starts here (with an emoticon from here)