Getting Your Play Performed
Dateline: 14th November, 1999
I am a playwright who has had one of his plays professionally performed.
What a boast, eh? Great! People say, "Wow! You must be good to get a professional production." It's enough to make a man big-headed!
But I have to be honest. I was lucky. I was in the right place at the right time and met the right person. Not for me the trials and tribulations of sending my play around every theatre or company I could think of: I was simply asked, during a bit of a boozy evening, "We want to do a version of the Mystery plays. Can you write one for us?" As simple as that.
Most people don't have that sort of luck: they have to go through those trials and tribulations - and the pain - of trying to find someone who will be willing even to look at their plays. After "What's on in London?" and "Can you tell me something about actor X?", the question I am most commonly asked is, "How do I get my play produced?"
So here is the British Theatre Guide How To get Your Play Performed FAQ! And for much more detailed - and, I have to admit it - recent advice, take a look at Lynne Harvey's Playwrights' FAQ.
Should I get an agent?
An agent may get a better deal for you on payment - although there are agreed rates for certain kinds of theatre - but will certainly earn his/her commission in negotiating different kinds of rights.
There is one thing that is certain: you should look for an agent who specialises in theatre. For many the word "scripts" means TV or film (and, occasionally, radio), not theatre.
And we have a list of the main theatre specialist agents. Just click here!
Should I just send my play to a theatre?
It is producing theatres and production companies which should be the target of your marketing. But beware! - not all such are willing to look at plays by unknown playwrights. Next week's feature will be a list of theatres and companies which are willing to look at new work and what their requirements are, but I doubt it will be totally exhaustive.
What about amateur companies?
If you have contacts with an amateur company, make use of them, even if the company wouldn't consider new writing. Every company, even the most conservative, has members who would like to try something new, and you may be able to persuade them to do a rehearsed reading of your play, which is a marvellous way of seeing what does and does not work, and what needs revision - or even rewriting!
Are Writers' Circles any use?
There are some Websites and Web-based groups which fulfil a similar function and which are devoted entirely to play writing:
Script or synopsis?
How do I get a commission to write a play?
Remember that new-writing theatres and companies like to develop a relationship with their writers and, once they are satisfied that they can produce the goods, will come back to them time and time again.
How long will I wait for an answer?
What about presentation?
Do not bind or staple the pages together. If you're sending a full script, a ring binder is OK, but do not use comb-binding or any other permanent binding.
This shouldn't need saying, but never, ever send hand-written scripts, nor scripts on which there are revisions, crossings-out, etc. If you are reading this, you obviously use a computer, so word-process your scripts. Print out on A4 with a reasonable margin on the left. Number the pages. Put your name and the play title in the header or footer. Use a serif font (such as Times New Roman) which is easy to read. Use the Normal or Best print quality setting. Have a cover sheet with the title of the play, your name, address, home phone number, fax number (if any) and email address.
If you want to get your script back if they can't use it, make certain that you enclose a self-addressed envelope with the correct postage. If you want an acknowledgement that they have received your script, send them an addressed and stamped card or envelope.
How much will I get paid?
Payment is made in stages. If your play is commissioned, you will be paid slightly less than half the fee on the actual commission, then about a quarter when you deliver, and a further quarter when the theatre accepts the script. Non-commissioned plays are paid for in two stages: on delivery (the bulk of the fee) and on acceptance.
There are additional payments for attendance at rehearsals (to do any necessary re-writes!), which range from £34.88 to £43.14.
And, of course, there are options which the management can take: an option on a tour of the UK, for instance, costs £1,824 and a West End or US option is £3,040. An option for the rest of the English-speaking world is £2,432. These fees are payable whether or not the management decides to take up the option. Paying them means that they have the right to produce the play in the agreed area, on payment of additional fees. It is here that an agent is invaluable, for (s)he will usually be able to negotiate better touring or West End fees, for instance, than the writer can. Options are usually for a limited period of time, and if the management do not take them up within that time, then they revert back to the writer, who can then dispose of them as (s)he wills.
What if someone wants to make a film of the play?
In fact, even if you place the play with a theatre company yourself, it's a good idea then to get an agent to represent you. Some companies will try to insist that you hand over to them all subsidiary rights - tour, West End, US, film, TV, amateur - and a good agent will make certain you get the very best deal possible - which often means reserving certain rights to you. An agent is in a better position to do that than you are.
What about publishing my play?
The two areas where publication without a professional performance is most likely are the schools and amateur markets. These are quite specialised, and if you are aiming at either of them, you are (or should be!) deeply involved in the area and will already know which publishers specialise in your field. But this is something which is beyond the scope of this article!
Are there any books which will help me?
Thee are, of course, many books on play writing - and on the art of writing in general - but these are the only ones which provide up-to-date information on markets.