In days gone by, prehistoric times before the advent of the household computer and the internet, the submission of plays was a costly business, felt even more if one was skint, as was usually the case. To begin with the play had to be printed. I still have on my shelf ancient rather tatty play scripts typed and bound by me in various folders but also scripts printed professionally, usually ordered a dozen or so at a time, and that in itself was an expensive outlay. Add to that the postage in sending out a script, a script that you were most likely never to see or hear of again despite including a stamped addressed envelope and a request for its return should the play not find favour, which was more often or not the case, though one always lived in hope. Somehow or other new plays, good, bad, or indifferent do get produced but seemingly never yours and, if they do get produced, nine times out of ten the critics have a field day mauling them unmercifully or, if so inclined, damning with faint praise.
All that has changed. (Not the critics – the cost.) Now, thanks to e-mail, it costs nothing to send out a script but more often than not what hasn’t changed is that you’re never likely to hear of it again, usually not even an acknowledgement which, thanks to e-mail again would cost nothing more than a little courtesy and a moment’s time. Most managements of course never were known for courtesy and, in previous years where your expensive script without a second’s thought went into the bin, it is now merely deleted. In those bygone days it was considered not quite cricket to send a script to more than one management at a time even if you could afford to send out multiple copies, but I guess that too has changed. Why should the writer be the only one to show some manners?
So how do you get a play put on? If you can produce it yourself all well and good. If you’ve got your own theatre (Offenbach, Ayckbourn) all well and good. I managed it at Buxton with a play called BAY RUM but, other than that, you rely on someone reading and liking it enough to consider it. Quite often a play will receive high praise from someone in the office but still not be in line for production.
A good literary agent helps but he or she has to believe in you and your work one hundred percent. Anything less than that commitment is a waste of time. My previous agent, deceased, managed to get three plays produced, TELL ME YOU LOVE ME, OH BROTHER, THE 88, three published, THRILLER OF THE YEAR, BEAUTIFUL FOREVER and RED IN THE MORNING, and one sold to television, ONE CANDLE FOR JENNY. But his replacement in twenty years or more has produced absolutely nothing. In fact I have come to the conclusion that to send him anything more is a waste of time. I am evidently on the agency’s website and that’s as far as it goes. Of course if an agent has some truly big established names on his books he’s hardly likely to put himself out for a would-be who isn’t yet despite the passing years.
Friends, acquaintances, even some legitimate contacts are usually hopeless. Promises that result in sweet fuck all. “Yes, do let me have it, I’d love to read it” After a year or more you can bet your bottom dollar it has not been nor ever will be read and to read a full length play takes no more than an hour/ hour and a half. The record must be held by Charlie Vance recently deceased and of blessed memory. Now Charlie produced two of my plays, THILLER OF THE YEAR and EARLY ONE MORNING and, when I sent him another, the reply I received was to the effect of I knew how much he admired my work and he would read it as soon as possible. Couldn’t wait in fact. Well, that was more than twenty years ago. I wonder where the script is now or even if it still exists gathering dust somewhere. A whole heap of dust after more than twenty years.
A short while back, a year? More? I don’t remember, Douglas Foote, now to all intents and purposes my agent here, sent out to every theatre that provided an appropriate e-mail address, the synopsis of no fewer than 18 plays, including musicals. Some theatres it would seem don’t like to divulge their e-mail addresses except for one for the box office. And when it comes to “contact us” that what’s it’s all about as well, an e-mail address for the box office, and it would be pretty pointless sending a play to a box office as I’m sure you will agree. Anyway the result of the round Robin was diddlysquat. An enquiry from a
London fringe theatre for a play I knew
they didn’t have the facilities for producing but sent them a script anyway and
from a lady in
who I think only responded because of my Welsh name. We never heard from her again either. Wales
So last week I decided to take the bull by the horns once more (my god I’m writing in nothing but clichés at the moment) and
emailed complete scripts of a number of plays to various theatres, once again
more in hope than expectation I suppose but one never knows.
The twelve plays sent out were THE RIVER OF SAND, ROSEMARY, BETWEEN TWO SIGHS, GENERATIONS, ARE YOU SITTING COMFORTABLY? THRILLER OF THE YEAR (To two theatres.) TWILIGHT OF AUNT EDNA, THIRD DRAWER FROM THE TOP, HEAR THE HYENA LAUGH and THE MUSES DARLING (To 3 theatres.) LITTLE FOOTSTEPS ON THE PETALS and AU PAIR.I might be the most underrated, playwright of the 20th/21st centuries but no one can ever accuse me of not trying.