Our Best Playwrights Are Writing For Contests

Written by:  Ky Capstick

They are writing for a chance at a staged reading by actors they might never meet in a city they may never see. They are writing 10-minute kitchen sink monologues about the latest tragedy that abides by whatever is in-vogue theatrically. They are writing two-handers, maybe three-handers, but not four-or-more-handers because more hands, more money. They are writing about themselves and their lives because they have been told to write what they know. They are doing research into flat topics that leave them unexcited in an attempt to be topical. They are making their work more self-aware, less self-involved, more like Netflix that you have to put on pants to watch.

They are working alone at kitchen tables, in coffee shops, at bars, and wherever else they can steal some, preferably cheap, peace of mind. They are having discussions with themselves again and again about why this is important and pretending they still find Shakespeare relevant. They are stifling the urge to write a hole into the centre of their latest play because they cannot justify the thematic significance of the hole. They are having breakthroughs at 3:17 on a Tuesday afternoon after half a bottle of wine. They are reminding themselves about Meryl Streep’s nose and Arthur Miller’s first production of Death of a Salesman. They are getting frustrated. They are spending years and years developing a show that might never accomplish what they intended. They are ruthlessly editing because they have been told so many times that theatre means abiding by the rule of 3 and the unities of time, place, and action. They are stretching a solid 30-minute show to 60 for the fringe, to 90 for the independent remount. They are stuffing their 3-hour epic a 75 minute slot. Our best playwrights are directing and producing and designing because they need to. They are writing for major theatres that no longer read unsolicited submissions, but will come to a staged reading or production. Our best playwrights are spending years developing a single show. They are attending readings where they’re told how to fix their show to make it “relevant”. They are driving vans in the wee hours of the morning. They are working multiple jobs and lying to their parents on the phone. They are writing shows for basements and back alleys and anywhere that they can sit people down and speak to them.

Our best playwrights are writing for critics, praying for A’s and N’s and the whole alphabet of validation. They are being told that they’re not Mamet, or Shaw, or Chekov or any of the other old white men that have the unfair advantage of being dead. They are writing between more and more articles about the death of their art form. They are defending their belief that theatre is essential. They are learning to define their brand and market themselves. They are begging strangers and loved ones for money on the internet. They are writing for Twitter (because that works for Margaret Atwood, doesn’t it?). They are writing for Facebook pages, and press releases, and on-line interviews held in the seemingly small corner of the internet that might take interest in what that they do.

Our best playwrights are writing for contests, which means plays that are more like short fiction than full-length theatre. They are writing plays that can be understood as a text (but then how do we justify the need for production?). Our best playwrights are writing plays that might never be staged. They are writing worlds no designer will ever realize and no director will ever dream.

Despite all this, despite all this doubt and worry and criticism, our best playwrights keep writing. I hope they never stop. I hope this opposition only makes them braver and bolder. I hope they take fewer no’s and make more yes’s. I hope they shake their fear of exploring new mediums and nurture that thing in them that drives them to bring people together. I hope they learn to silence the voices that would make them small, and remember that they are giants. Because somewhere along the way all of our best playwrights will forget that they are giants.


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