Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Call for Readers and Actors

We're looking for Readers and Actors for the 2016 New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival. Interested? Please fill out our survey (here) to get more information and to share your interest.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

One month to go!

Hey NJ Young Playwrights, there's only one month to go before your scripts are due to us on December 18th!

Happy writing!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Here's the Pitch!

When writers have an idea, or a completed script, and are looking for financial support, they sometimes need to give a presentation of that play to a producer (think Shark Tank for writers). Similarly, other writers (usually in television) meet together frequently to share plot ideas with one another. Talking about a story idea in this situation is called giving a "pitch". A pitch is a summary of the story that is usually pretty short and defined by a certain amount of time, amount of words, etc. This is typically something done when you start writing, but I've found it to be helpful to young playwrights at any time throughout the process.

Playwriting Workshop students discussing their story ideas.
If at any point in the process you find that you are stuck, or have writer's block, give this pitch exercise a try. First, summarize the general information about the play by beginning with the phrase: "This is a story about ________ " and then continue by giving some information about the character. This can simply be a noun like "girl" or "boy" or "wallaby", or you can give the name. Next, tell a little something about that person's everyday life, what they want/need to do in the play, and why the want/need to do it." For example, if we were to give a pitch about The Wizard of Oz, it might look something like this:

This is the story of a girl from Kansas who gets trapped in her house during a tornado. The tornado picks up the house and lands in the middle of a magical world called Oz. The girl wants to get back home, but is in danger because when her house fell, it fell on the Wicked Witch of the East and killed her. Now, the witch's sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, wants revenge on Dorothy for what she's done. With the help of a good witch named Glinda, Dorothy begins her journey to the Emerald City to see the Wizard who she is told will be able to send her home. Along the way, she meets three other inhabitants of Oz who also need the Wizard's help.

In that one paragraph, we get a pretty good sense of who the story is about, what she needs to do, who some of the other characters are, and what difficulties they all might face. This isn't a complete story, but it might just give you enough of an idea of what you are writing about to help you move through any writer's block, or moments where you are unsure about what you are writing. You can also use this exercise to brainstorm before writing your play, or as a check-in to see how well your story is progressing at any time during the writing process.

Happy writing!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

As Long As It Needs to Be

The most frequent questions and concerns I receive from young playwrights preparing their scripts have to do with the limits that we place on script format and page count. In fact, this was the most troubling thing to the writers in a playwriting class I just finished teaching. They were constantly checking the number of pages and double-checking to see if I thought they might have enough, or too much. I tried to ease their worries by answering the question “How long does it need to be?” with the open answer “As long as it needs to be to tell the story.”

I completely understand the anxiety about these things. The majority of the submissions we receive each year come from students who are writing a play for the first time and what we request for a manuscript is different from the way a script looks when published in the books that they read and use to rehearse the school play. Luckily, script formatting comes pretty easily with a little practice. (You can find more information about the format requirements on our blog here.) While format can be managed, it is page count that causes young writers the most anxiety.

This makes sense to me, too. Young playwrights spend most of their time writing working on papers and projects for class, which often have limits and requirements. I get it: When there is a page limit, or a page minimum, you want to make sure you are saying enough, but not too much, while still writing something good. I worried about this when I was a student and, truth be told, it is something I still think about now that I’m writing my dissertation.

Screenshot from our Guidelines Page
The NJ Young Playwrights Festival asks that script submissions be “longer than 20 minutes in performance time (roughly 20 typed pages)” because that’s what we are able to manage in the production of the Festival. We choose about 9-10 plays and only have a total of three hours between the two performances to present that work. And I want all of you writers to know that while we ask for scripts that are no more than 20 minutes in length (roughly 20 pages of typed dialogue), that isn’t an exact measure of what accounts for 20 minutes on stage. Please keep in mind that if your play reaches the final round, and even if it is selected for the Festival performance, you will do a lot of rewrites and revisions to it. So, there is room to go a little over the limit, if you need to. (Please note the emphasis on little!) But please don’t go overboard. Reaching beyond 25 pages is probably too much.

But really, rather than worrying about how long or how short your play might be, try to focus on telling a good story. Make this a play that you feel confident and passionate about – a play that you are proud to share with the world and a play that you yourself would really like to see. Because in the end, that is what is most important. Tell the story first. Then edit to fit the guidelines later.

Happy writing!