Wednesday 1 July 2015

The Play's the Thing

"Writing for the stage is an exhilarating experience.  I'll never forget the first time I saw my scruffy pages of dialogue transformed into flesh and blood drama on an off-off-Broadway stage in New York's east village in the late 1960's."

One author, who used to write fiction, poetry and essays, thought that his background would not suffice for playwrighting.  However, he found that his fiction experience helped him to structure a story, his poetry background helped him with rhythm and diction, and his essay writing helped him present the core factual information.  Here are some tips to help you get started as a playwright (

1.  Involve yourself in all facets of the theatre.  Volunteer, attend rehearsals, audition for roles.  Observe the collaboration involved in mounting a play.

2.  Study the play's text before and after the performance.  See how the dialogue moves the play forward.

3.  Use standard playscript format.  Page 1 should include cast members, setting and what happens when the curtain rises.  The characters' names should be written in capitals.  A single space should appear between dialogue, a line between characters.  Stage directions should appear in parentheses.  A one act play should run 30 to 60 pages while a full play should run 90 to 120 pages.

4.  Keep casts, sets and scenes simple.  Focus on character develpment.  Remember that most of Shakespeare's plays can be performed on a bare stage.

5.  Don't overdo stage direction.  Again, keep it simple.

6.  Stage test your play with a group of amateurs or friends.  A dramatic reading of your play will help with pacing, coherence and dialogue.

7.  Find each character's voice.  It should be recognizable.

8.  Keep the plays as small as possible.  "It is a slice of life, not a biography." (

9.  Understand the limits of the stage ex. no gun fights, no car chases.

10  Break the plot into scenes and acts (usually three).

11.  Enter playwriting competitions for exposure.  It could be your one true shot at the big time (metropolitan commercial theatres).

12.  Contact play publishers, not theatres.  Look in the Writer's Market for a listing ex. Big Dog Plays, Broadway Play Publishing, Eldridge Publishing Pioneer Drama Service.  When a theatre buys your play, the publisher will send you a royalty statement.  Just as authors have literary agents, playwrights have theatrical agents.  However, you usually need at least one performed play under your belt before you can attract an agent.

Note:  For more information, read The Art and Craft of Playwrighting by Jeffrey Hatcher.

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