Honored and Amazed

By Guest Blogger and 2016 ONSTAGE Finalist, Playwright Elizabeth Coplan

Elizabeth CoplanMy name is “Elizabeth Coplan and I wrote Hospice: A Love Story,” I told the audience at curtain call. Did I hear a collective gasp of appreciation? More likely it was my imagination. Either way, I continued “I am honored and amazed by tonight’s performance.”

Honored to be a part of this terrific group of female playwrights, honored that Little Black Dress Ink selected my play as one of the 5th Annual Female Playwrights ONSTAGE project and the National Festival of New Work’s semi-finalists. I’m honored that Red Earth Theatre, its directors, actors, and crew, could take my good play, and make it a great play.

And I was amazed at how well the LBDI Festival submission and peer review processes worked from start to finish. I enjoyed reading the works of other female playwrights, discovering the commonplace situations they describe with new eyes and filters, and I was amazed by the opportunity to travel where my play would be seen by no one I knew, no one who had even heard of me before that night.

In reality, the entire LBDI process spanned nine months and counting; however, the excitement began three months ago when LBDI director Tiffany Antone sent an email that began:

Thank you for your patience as we’ve been working hard to make our way through this year’s ONSTAGE submissions.  We had almost 200 plays submitted this year, and that meant a LOT of incredible peer-reviews to go through—so we are feeling incredibly grateful to everyone who shared their work, time, and talents with us!

We are pleased to inform you that your play has been selected as a semi-finalist for Little Black Dress INK’s 2016 Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Project! 

OMGoddess! I won! Well, I won a semi-finalist staged-reading of my play along with other talented female playwrights.

My husband and I own a small business which means traveling is a very small part of our budget. Yet I did not want to miss the opportunity to see my work interpreted by Kate Hawkes at the Red Earth Theatre. I studied the area after, arranged our plane flights, snuck in a few days to see the Grand Canyon and a couple more to explore Sedona which celebrated Cinco de Mayo on the Saturday of my play.

We found an inexpensive flight, took the cheapest room at the Grand Canyon, discovered the perfect AirBNB at the end of Sedona, away from some of the tourist spots and with a full kitchen. We enjoyed Tlaquepaque for the First Friday Arts Walk and returned the next day to taste a Prickly Pear Margarita at El Rincon.

With the full kitchen we cooked our own meals and enjoy the view from our deck. We “stayed in” for our meals which gave me the time to work on other projects and deadlines.

By early afternoon, Saturday, May 7, I felt something shift. Red Earth posted a picture of the evening’s directors and actors. Okay, I am not going to lie. I felt much more excited and nervous than I thought. Up to that point I was cool, calm. I had spent the morning working on the re-write of my latest play and editing a press release for another writer’s play in Seattle. Ho hum. All in a day’s work.

Now Red Earth’s picture had my stomach doing flip-flops as if I was the one going on stage. I guess in a manner of speaking, I was. Or at least my play was and all my creativity and my life and…

RedEarthONSTAGE2016My stomach did not calm down, not even by the end of the evening. In fact, even now I feel excitement as I remember those final moments on stage, right before Kate Hawkes asked us all to take a bow.

I would do this all again in a heartbeat. Thank you Little Black Dress Ink and Red Earth Theatre. I am honored and amazed that I shared the stage with playwrights Amber Bosworth, Anne Hamilton, Micki Shelton, Melanie Ewbank and C.J. Enrlich (in absentia). Thanks too Directors Kate Hawkes, Nichole Garrison, Sarah Ann Leslie, and Gerard Maguire…and all the talented actors, especially Nichole Garrison and Terra Shelman in my play.

Someone should notify the Sedona Chamber of Commerce (and any other city hosting a festival performance) of the high level of entertainment provided.   I think the Chamber would be honored and amazed that such talent was presented right under their own starry-night.

 

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Announcing our 2016 ONSTAGE Finalists!

Female Playwrights ONSTAGE cropONSTAGE has had an awesome year so far!  Our Partner Producers in Lafayette, Ithaca, Sedona, Los Angeles, Ames, and Auburn have gone beautifully, and I couldn’t be happier with our list of finalists… now I just have to winnow this tremendous list of plays down to our final line-up, and I’m telling you that it won’t be easy!

In no particular order, our 2016 ONSTAGE Finalists are:

DANGLING by Deneen Reynolds-Knott
JACK PORK by Donna Hoke
WRITE THIS WAY by Donna Hoke
THROWN FOR A CURVE by Anne Flanagan
THE EGG by Tiffany Antone
IN THE LOOP by Nancy Cooper Frank
BIG BELLY by Jen Huszcza
ASKING FOR IT by Rhea MacCallum
WATERFALL by Katherine Koller
OLD SCHOOL by Melanie Ewbank
SHOPPING WITH BEVANN AND NIKI by Karen Murphy
THE LILAC TICKET by C.J. Ehrlich
HOSPICE: A LOVE STORY by Elizabeth Coplan
TIME LOOP by Reina Hardy
MODEL BEHAVIOR by Amy Drake
THE MOON by Rachel Hall
READING SIGNS by Marilynn Barner Anselmi
I ONLY CRIED TWICE by Erica Bennett
LOW AND AWAY by Demetra Kareman
THE FALL OF AUTUMN SUMMERS by Karli Shields
THE PLAN by Katherine James
BAZOOKAS by Sharon Goldner
HERE THERE BE CURVES by Amber Bosworth
TILL ITS OVER by Jennie Webb

Finalists were selected based on their peer review score and nominations from our Producing Partners.  Winning plays will be announced June 1st, and presented at the Samuel French Book Shop Saturday, June 11th at 1:00 pm.

HUGE thanks to all of this year’s playwrights, partner producers, directors, actors, and audiences for making our semi-finalist readings such a success!

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From Bloomington to Broadway

Amy Drake headshot summerBy guest blogger, ONSTAGE semi-finalist Amy Drake

I’m so excited about having my play MODEL BEHAVIOR read at Little Black Dress INK’s 2016 Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Project in Ames, Iowa! Here’s why: according to The Broadway League a full 49.2% of Broadway ticket-buyers reside outside of New York City or Big Apple suburbs.[i] Chances are theater patrons are who take their vacations to New York and spend their hard-earned dollars to see Broadway shows enjoy seeing theater during their leisure time back home, not just on vacation. In terms of ticket sales that equates to 6.5 million tourists making the trek from large cities and small towns all across the country.[ii] “The average reported date of ticket purchase for a Broadway show was 36 days before the performance.” These patrons are planning ahead. Not surprising. No one wants to risk missing the show they really want to see.

If your new play resonates with the sensibilities of their family and friends in the Sun Belt or the Midwest, it bodes well for theater ticket sales in New York. That’s why it’s important to read and stage new works in theater festivals around the country. You can forge a connection with patrons by staging short works in their home town. If they like your work they may just remember you when your show makes it to the New York stage.

And they can afford to see a range of shows. NYC Data reports, “Broadway theatregoers were quite affluent compared to the general United States population, reporting an average annual household income of $201,500.”[iii] These travelers have already made a substantial investment in travel and lodging. If the ticket buyer has heard of your show, or you, the playwright, they might just take a chance and buy a ticket after taking the site seeing tour and visiting Central Park Zoo.

The only way you get better at play writing is to write and produce a lot of plays, read a lot of scripts, see a lot of plays and stay current with theatrical trends by joining professional theater organizations, attending conferences and maintaining connections with others working in the field. Attending a workshop can be a great learning and social experience, too. Moreover, theater festivals are training ground for improving your play, even after you have held readings and local performances. You can get feedback on your work and a new perspective on the piece.

I am delighted to present my play MODEL BEHAVIOR in the upcoming reading. The plot developed from a news story about a Swedish department store featuring “real-sized” models right alongside traditional thin mannequins in their windows. My message is that everyone should be able to find clothing that makes her, or him, feel attractive. Full disclosure: the play recently premiered at the Midtown International Theatre Festival in Manhattan, but a reading always helps a playwright improve work. I’m grateful that the Little Black Dress INK’s 2016 Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Project has given me this opportunity to share my script with my colleagues and a wider audience. See you there!

Amy Drake is a Pulitzer Prize nominated playwright, member of the Dramatists Guild of America, International Centre for Women Playwrights and Theatre Communications Group. Her play Home Body was nominated for four awards in the Midtown International Theater Festival (MITF), New York. Voted Theatre Roundtable Best Director for Night Must Fall and was assistant director for the Actors’ Theatre production of Servant of Two Masters, chosen by The Columbus Dispatch as a Top Ten show of 2012. Amy is a published academic writer, conference speaker, and poet. Amy holds a B.A. from Ohio Dominican University and a M.S. degree in marketing and communication. Her education includes creative writing and history programs at Cambridge University, UK, graduate studies at Reed Hall, Paris and playwriting at the Kenyon (College) Summer Institute. Her new play, Alexander the Great in Love and War, will be performed in the Evolution Theatre Festival, June 2016.

[i] The Broadway League, “The Demographics of Broadway Audience 2015-2015.” Download 4 Apr 2016.

[ii].According to the Broadway League: “In the 2014–2015 season, there were a record breaking 13.1 million admissions to Broadway shows.” The Broadway League, “The Demographics of the Broadway Audience 2014-15.” Online. Retrieved 2 Apr 2016 from https://www.broadwayleague.com/index.php?url_identifier=the-demographics-of-the-broadway-audience

[iii] NYC Data. Demographics of the NYC Broadway Audience, 2013-2014. Online. Retrieved 2 Apr 2016 from

< http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/nycdata/culture/broadway-demographics.htm >

 

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Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Semi-Finalist Readings

We are thrilled to share our 2016 ONSTAGE Semi-Finalist reading schedule with you!  (Updates with IA and AL reading dates/times forthcoming)

Curves Ahead 2READING SCHEDULE:

Lafayette, LA: April 1st and 2nd with Acadiana Repertory Theatre

DANGLING, by Deneen Reynolds-Knott
JACK PORK, by Donna Hoke
BOX CAMERAS, by Christine Foster
PINNED, by Alice Stanley Jr.
THROWN FOR A CURVE, by Anne Flanagan
THE EGG, by Tiffany Antone
MEMBERS ONLY, by Jennifer Tromble


Los Angeles, CA:  April 24th at 7pm
 
– 7 plays, 7 playwrights, 7 directors representing 7 L.A. Theatre Companies

IN THE LOOP, by Nancy Cooper Frank
GRIT, by Jane Ann Crum
TILL IT’S OVER, by Jennie Webb
DON’T JUST SIT THERE, by Diane Sampson
BIG BELLY, by Jen Huszcza
ASKING FOR IT, by Rhea MacCallum
WATERFALL, by Katherine Koller

12973228_989078917814055_4712128086016233521_oIthaca, NY: April 30th at 6pm

LOW AND AWAY, by Demetra Kareman
STAK, by Stacy D. Tanner
THE FALL OF AUTUMN SUMMERS, by Karli Shields
THE UNLIMITED YEAR-LONG CLASS PACK, by Erin Austin
THE PLAN, by Katherine James
CLEAVAGE, by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich
WRITE THIS WAY, by Donna Hoke

Sedona, AZ: May 7th 5:00 pm

HERE THERE BE CURVES, by Amber Bosworth
OLD SCHOOL, by Melanie Ewbank
THE HIKE, by Micki Shelton
SHOPPING WITH BEV AND NIKI, by Karen Murphy
THE LILAC TICKET, by C.J. Ehrlich
HOSPICE: A LOVE STORY, by Elizabeth Coplan
MUSE, by Anne Hamilton

coming-soonAimes, IA – April 28th

EMPTY BEDS, by Alex Rubin
FUTURE GIRL VISITS BARBIE’S MOM, by Ellen Davis Sullivan
TIME LOOP, by Reina Hardy
MODEL BEHAVIOR, by Amy Drake
TOMORROW, WE WILL BE STRONGER, by Kira Rockwell
BAZOOKAS, by Sharon Goldner
THE MOON, by Rachel Hall

Auburn, GA – May 14th, 5:00 pm
at Rising Starz Performing Arts Studios

THE GREAT TIT, by Gretchen O’Halloran
READING SIGNS, by Marilynn Barner Anselmi
SHIRLEY MACLAINE, by Annie Wood
CREME FILLING, by Jo-Anne Walton
GUN PLAY, by Jennifer Walton
I ONLY CRIED TWICE, by Erica Bennett

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Announcing the 2016 ONSTAGE Semi-Finalists

Wow, we have been so busy over here at Little Black Dress INK!  We had almost 200 scripts submitted this year, and some incredible peer-reviews—so we are feeling incredibly grateful to everyone who shared their work, time, and talents with us!

via GIPHY

We also had a new Partner Producer join us, meaning we could select 40 semi-finalists this year, and with that in mind, we’ve created an exciting line up of short dramas, comedies, and monologues!  So, without further ado, let me introduce you to the 2016 ONSTAGE Semi-Finalists:

Asking For It  by Rhea MacCallum
Bazookas  by Sharon Goldner
Big Belly  by Jen Huszcza
Box Cameras  by Christine Foster
Cleavage  by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich
Creme Filling  by Jo-Anne Walton
Dangling by Deneen Reynolds-Knott
Don’t Just Sit There!  by Diane Sampson
Empty Beds  by Alex Rubin
Future Girl Visits Barbie’s Mom  by Ellen Davis Sullivan
Grit  by Jane Ann Crum
Gun Play by Jennifer Walton
Here, There Be Curves by Amber Bosworth
Hospice: A Love Story  by Elizabeth Coplan
I Only Cried Twice by Erica Bennett
In the Loop by Nancy Cooper Frank
Jack Pork  by Donna Hoke
Low & Away  by Demetra Kareman
Members Only  by Jennifer Tromble
Model Behavior  by Amy Drake
Muse by Anne Hamilton
Old School  by Melanie Ewbank
Pinned  by Alice Stanley Jr.
Reading Signs  by Marilynn Barner Anselmi
Shirley MacLaine  by Annie Wood
Shopping with Bev and Niki  by Karen Murphy
Stak  by Stacy D. Tanner
The Egg  by Tiffany Antone
The Great Tit  by Gretchen O’Halloran
The Hike  by Micki Shelton
The Lilac Ticket  by C.J. Ehrlich
The Moon  by Rachel Hall
The Plan  by Katherine James
The Fall of Autumn Summers  by Karli Shields
The Unlimited-Year-Long-Class-Pack  by Erin Austin
Thrown for a Curve  by Anne Flanagan
Till It’s Over  by Jennie Webb
Time Loop  by Reina Hardy
Tomorrow, We Will be Stronger  by Kira Rockwell
Waterfall  by Katherine Koller
Write This Way  by Donna Hoke

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2016 is Going to be our Biggest Festival Yet

Little Black Dress INK is thrilled to announce that our Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Project will receive its first rolling premiere in 2016 through a partnership with Acadiana Repertory Theater (ART) in Lafayette, LA! ART logo

Little Black Dress INK is a female playwright producing organization, and our ONSTAGE Project is a nationally recognized new play festival that includes a peer-reviewed script contest featuring multiple staged reading across the country before culminating annually with a production in Prescott, AZ.  With ART’s partnership, our 2016 winning playwrights will now receive two (yes, TWO!) separate productions of their winning plays!

Acadiana Rep will first participate in our ONSTAGE semi-finalist readings this coming Spring, before producing the winning 2016 ONSTAGE plays in mid 2016.

“It has always been my goal to evolve our ONSTAGE Project from a one-time production in AZ, to a rolling premiere event that spans the US,” said LBDI’s artistic director, Tiffany Antone. “Acadiana Rep’s partnership is a HUGE step closer to making that happen, and I couldn’t be more excited!”

Little Black Dress INK is currently accepting submissions from female playwrights.  If you are a female playwright, please check our submission guidelines t0 find out how you can participate in this year’s awesome new play adventure!  The deadline to share your work with us is Nov 15th, 2015.

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Part III: Producer Talks With Playwright/Playwright Talks With Producer

Tiffany Antone & Jen Huszcza have a chat (via email)

This is Part III of a three-part conversation playwright Jen Huszcza and I had about Little Black Dress INK’s ONSTAGE Project festival.  I want to thank Jen for conceiving of and initiating this conversation, and for getting it into readable shape!

You can read Part I here and Part II here

Jen2JEN:

As we finish this up, I want to talk about being yourself as a writer. So often we writers hear about finding your voice, or finding your truth, blah, blah, blah. Then, when you’ve written a bunch of stuff, there is an expectation (both from yourself and others) that you will just do your thing. I find myself constantly fighting that. Writing does not get easier. It gets harder as I find ways to stay true to myself and what I want to say. Meanwhile, time keeps moving forward and I keep moving forward in life, so I find I have new things to say and new ways to say it. I’ve reached a point in my life where I have failed at a lot, and I find that interesting.

I can talk about where my plays come from or my influences or the circumstances of the world or my life, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean a damn when I sit down to work. When I’m writing (and writing is work, not some fluffy little hobby), I am only focused on what I have in front of me and building from there. Then, when I’ve reached the end, I go back and rewrite again and again and again.

Neal Griffin and Annabelle Veatch star in Kira Rockwell's WITH MY EYES SHUT, directed by Cason Murphy.

Neal Griffin and Annabelle Veatch star in Kira Rockwell’s WITH MY EYES SHUT, directed by Cason Murphy.

I don’t know if this will be helpful to someone submitting to your festival. Sometimes things done with the most helpful intentions explode in unexpected ways, but I’m an American, so I must remain optimistic. And I am curious about what the next theme for the next festival will be.

TIFFANY:

I love what you said about messy theater.  I adore messy theater.  In fact, I wanted to make this year’s theme HOT MESS – but my husband very wisely reminded me that since we are still just borrowing stages, I probably shouldn’t seek out scripts that would leave our host theaters digging dirt out of their floorboards for days.

With that in mind, I definitely appreciate your compliments about my writing style.  Coming at playwriting from an acting background as I did, I have always felt that plays should be active.  I love plays that have to be seen in order to be heard and felt.  As an actor and as an audience member, those are the pieces I most respond to.  So as a playwright, those are the plays I strive to write.  I mean, we live in an age where we can essentially watch theater anytime, anywhere – so if a theater company is going to ask me to shell out a fistful of my hard earned clams, I want to see something on their stage that I can’t just beam to my television/laptop/iPhone.  And that’s a tricky standard, because Hollywood can do so very much!  But when I see a show that lines up killer story with mesmeric theatricality and emotionally inventive characters, I can’t get enough!  I walk out of the theater feeling alive, invigorated, and feeling as though I’ve been privy to something sacred.

We recently attended HAND TO GOD in NYC.  I loved it.  The play is smart, fierce, and messy as hell – in all the best of ways.  Sure, you could turn it into a (probably very enjoyable) film, but the vibrancy and theatrical power of the story would change.  There’s just something electrifying about seeing a man violently wrestle with a hand puppet (and his demons) in live theater that you can’t recreate on a screen.

So, I guess you could say that as a writer, I’m always trying to tackle whichever mad question about the human condition that’s seized my mind, with a sense of theatricality.  And if that gives way to messiness (as it often-times does), I’m ok with that.  Of course, not everyone shares my enthusiasm for theatre that leaves literal marks on stage, haha.  So the question becomes, “Where are my people?”  As a playwright, where can I find a home amongst like-minded directors, designers, and producers who aren’t afraid of a play that needs a live chicken on stage?  Or a house that collapses in on itself at the end of the show?  Oftentimes, a director or producer reads a fantastical play and goes “Well, it’s great, but it can’t be done!” and I think that in 99% of those cases, they’re wrong.  It’s not that the play itself is impossible – it’s that they’re unable to solve the creative challenges the play represents.  Some of my favorite plays were at one time or another deemed “impossible” – until of course someone accepted the challenge to do it.

Looking for a Miracle by Karen Murphy w/Karen Murphy and Jean Maissen

Looking for a Miracle by Karen Murphy w/Karen Murphy and Jean Maissen

And I think that’s really one of the disappointing things about theater today.  We live in an age where technological advances make nearly everything possible, theatrically speaking, and yet there are still a lot of theatricians revering talky-talk plays above all else.

This all reminds me of discussions I would have when I was producing the Young Playwrights Festival at the PCA.  Every year we’d wind up with some fantastical, crazy, imaginative piece that required cavemen and pirates and space travel or shadow puppets – and someone would say “Well, it’s cute, but it’s not really as good or as smart as this play over here…” with said play being a genuinely well written, but arguably safer, play that follows traditional structure but isn’t particularly challenging.  So I’d go to bat for the wacky, “challenge” plays because I knew we could make them happen!  I could see that with a little extra careful staging, the right costumes, or some well-chosen music, the piece would come to life in the most delightful of ways.  And I was always right!  Those plays that I fought to keep in the line up were most often the pieces that got the biggest laughs, or had people talking the most afterwards because they required some theater magic – people love theater magic!  They may not have won the “best in show” honors, but they were integral to the success of the line-up, and to the creative energy of the festival at large – because it’s only when someone tells us we can’t do something that we start to question our creative instincts.

Now I’m soap-boxing, haha.

But the point I’m trying to make is that I think a lot of playwrights feel like they “can’t” write wild things because no one will produce them.  I think we need to be true to our wild side, because there are other wild things out there who can’t wait to get their wild paws on something meaty, beautiful, and visually mighty.  We need to be responsive, we need to pay attention to the market, and we need to write things that will inspire a team of creatives to put their lives on hold in order to produce our little play-babies, but we also need to be bold and not stifle ourselves due to a fear of (or aversion to) spectacle.

Now, that being said, I did not pick HOT MESS as this year’s theme – so don’t send me a bunch of plays that require we hire a cleaning crew when we’re done.   I’m still dealing with some financial limitations that mean I can’t flood the stage with rain or mud or a hoarder’s collapsed house, haha.  And it’s a festival, so we’re aiming for quick changes between shows.  But don’t be afraid to send me plays that take risks, that are adventurous, and that inhabit the theatrical space beyond conversation.  I’m always trying to build a diverse line-up, and that only happens when we receive a wide variety of plays.

That being said… This year’s festival theme is now available HERE!

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Announcing the 2016 ONSTAGE Festival Submission Guidelines!

Little Black Dress INK is creating production opportunities for female playwrights through its Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Project; a short-play festival dedicated to producing peer-selected works by women.  In addition to contributing to the selection of plays, participating playwrights are able to review and revise their work via online-streaming of play readings, and are encouraged to blog about the process along the way.

Submissions are now being accepted from awesome female playwrights for consideration in this year’s festival!  This festival utilizes a peer-review process for evaluating submissions.

yay-happy-dogPlease make sure to read over the following guidelines carefully before submitting.  Incomplete submissions, or submissions that do not meet the following criteria will not be considered:

  • You must be a female playwright to enter the ONSTAGE Festival.
  • This year’s festival theme is Curves Ahead.  Playwrights are invited to submit short plays and/or monologues written on this theme.  In the past we’ve had great success with short scenelets as well (10-minute plays comprised of a couple of scenes, which we can sprinkle throughout the show)
  • LBDI strongly suggests you do not submit plays or monologues longer than ten minutes. Keep in mind that in all instances, shorter truly is better.  Plays running longer than ten minutes stand very little chance of making it into the festival, as we strive to produce as many playwrights as possible.
  • Little Black Dress INK utilizes a peer review process for evaluating plays.  By submitting to this fest, you agree to participate in this unique opportunity to help select plays for production.
  • Once our submission window is closed, you will receive a selection of plays to read and score using the LBDI online eval form.  You MUST read and submit your evaluations by the required date in order for your play to remain in consideration.
  • Submitted works will be read by other participating playwrights and LBDI artistic personnel.  By submitting to the festival, you agree to share your work for review in this process.

Submission materials must be emailed to LBDI by November 15th, 2015 and should include:

  • The following information in the body of your email:
    • Your name
    • The title of your play
    • Your contact information *It is very important that you use a reliable email address as all correspondence will be done via email*
  • A blind PDF of your script – do NOT include your name anywhere on the script!
  • Email materials to submissions@LittleBlackDressINK.org

LBDI will be producing readings of the top scoring plays at locations nation-wide.  The top eight to ten scoring plays will also move on to full production in Prescott, AZ.

Our 2014 festival winners are available through IndieTheaterNow.com at the following LINK.

ADDITIONAL ONSTAGE RESOURCES FOR PLAYWRIGHTS:

  • Four time ONSTAGE Playwright, Jen Huszcza, and I talk about the ONSTAGE festival and what I’m looking for in festival submissions HERE
  • I’ve also written a few tips for submitting to short-play festivals HERE and shared some thoughts on how I build our festival line-ups HERE
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Part II: Producer Talks With Playwright/Playwright Talks With Producer

Tiffany Antone & Jen Huszcza have a chat (via email)

This is Part II of a three-part conversation playwright Jen Huszcza and I had about Little Black Dress INK’s ONSTAGE Project festival.  I want to thank Jen for conceiving of and initiating this conversation, and for getting it into readable shape!

You can read Part I here.

Jen2JEN:

Like you, I think visually and physically. When I first started writing plays, I would have long specific stage directions and visuals. I have since found ways to be precise and clear about what the audience sees. It takes a lot of work to be lean and simple.

In the festivals, I have been fortunate to have Cason as a director and collaborator. He embraces the visual too and does not shy away from directness. I was so glad to hear he took on THIS which is a difficult three page monologue.

Don Langford and Jon Bryan in Jen Huszcza's POP. Directed by Cason Murphy

Don Langford and Jon Bryan in Jen Huszcza’s POP. Directed by Cason Murphy

Something I have learned about writing short pieces is to keep the staging and set very simple. It will be part of an evening, and folks will have to change sets around. Couches are heavy. A table and chairs usually requires two or three people to bring it in. I also have done a lot staged readings, and somehow I’m the one who has to go three Goodwill stores to not find that elusive prop. Such treasure hunts stopped being fun for me after awhile.

That said, my first play that you all did, RINSE, had a lot of water flying around the stage, and after it was over, it looked like the whole crew had to get on the stage and wipe it down with towels. The crew got some well-deserved applause. RINSE is a play about water torture, so I think the audience needed something to applaud after the bleakness.

Something I never forget as a playwright is that plays happen on a stage. Where are plays set? On a stage. That stage could be a prison or a garden, but it’s still a stage. A few years ago, I went to the Globe Theatre in London and realized Shakespeare was an extremely practical playwright. Sure, he had the Elizabethan ear for language to play with, but he knew what his stage looked like. He didn’t need a lot to be epic.

So I’m wondering if you could talk about the practicalities of producing short play evenings. You had talked about THREE LESSONS IN LIVING with its multiple settings. How much are you thinking about how many plays need a couch or there will be a lot of popped balloon parts on the stage after this play? Also, casting. Obviously a ten minute play should not have a cast of thousands.

TIFFANY:

I have to answer this with two contradictory statements:  First, I am always considering production needs because, as you pointed out, they are SO important to consider in a festival.  When you’re producing 10-12 short plays, props/set/costume/furniture needs can make or break your plans to produce multiple pieces.  Then there is the issue of time.  In addition to the “Can we afford to buy/rent a large chicken costume?” type questions, I also have to ask “Can we afford the time it will take to strike/set this beast of a creative play amidst our line-up?”   Sometimes the answer to one contradicts the other… and sometimes we produce the thing anyway – as was the case with your play RINSE, which is a great example because the show itself was super compelling and I just knew we had to produce it!  I also knew the clean up was going to be a bitch, haha.  But obviously, the merit of the play, and the unique and very thrilling nature of the play, along with its theatricality (which I personally am a sucker for), won out against practicality.   What I couldn’t have anticipated however was how the clean-up itself became a performance.  Cason even added in some music – I think it was Rise of the Valkeryries, or something similar – and it just worked!

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Allie Kate Elliot, Ered Mathew, and Melody Startzell in Kate Hawke’s BABE IN THE WOODS – 2012.

And then there are those times when – in weighing what the play requires against what I can reasonably provide – I have to let the piece go.  This year, we had a very powerful monologue submitted by playwright Anne Dimock, called SEÑOR ADRIA that I would have loved to produce!  The piece didn’t have unreasonable requirements, but it did demand an actress who could dance several different Latin dances – either with her IV stand or the imagined Latin lover she speaks of as she receives chemotherapy onstage.  In addition to an actress who could deliver the piece while dancing, I needed a director who could choreograph the piece… and I just couldn’t find the right team to handle the piece, so I had to let it go… not because it was overly demanding, but because I felt we wouldn’t be able to honor the piece in our production.  That was a hard decision, and one in which I really felt torn, but ultimately I think I made the right choice because I wouldn’t have been serving the playwright to include it without the people in place to bring it to realization.

Casting is also something I consider, but mostly because 10-minute plays with huge casts rarely take us on a complete journey.  And when I say “huge” I mean any cast over 6 for a 10-minute play is pushing it.  Of course, there are always exceptions… sometimes the style or story are perfect for bigger casts.  So, cast size is generally the last thing I worry about. Especially because we’re doing a festival and there are often quite a few actors involved, so I usually have plenty of actors to work with if a piece with a big cast is awesome and we want to produce it.

JEN:

Jumping back to RINSE for a second: a big part of my theatrical aesthetic has always been the idea of mess. I like making a mess on stage. It can be a physical mess or psychic mess, but the stage is a great place to explore mess. Dionysian excess (and the basis of western dramatic writing is Greek tragedy) leads to mess and destruction, and what comes out of that mess and destruction is fascinating to me. In my life, I like order and neatness (I was one of those kids who didn’t get her white shorts dirty on camping trips), but in the theatre writing, I like to tear it all apart and see what falls out.

When Sara Israel sent me your plays, I saw this in your work as well. You tore your plays apart in such a uniquely visual way that I wanted to read more.

Check back later this week for Part III and an exciting announcement about this year’s fest!

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Producer Talks With Playwright/Playwright Talks With Producer

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Jen Huszcza

Tiffany Antone & Jen Huszcza have a chat (via email)

This is Part I of a three-part conversation playwright Jen Huszcza and I had about Little Black Dress INK’s ONSTAGE Project festival.  I want to thank Jen for conceiving of and initiating this conversation, and for getting it into readable shape!

JEN:

Some months back, Tiffany wrote an interesting blog post on the LAFPI website about how she makes curatorial choices for her festivals. Totally inspired by her post, I asked her if she wanted to collaborate on a blog piece in which she can expand on her ideas and possibly create an exchange between producer/curator and playwright. Because she is a positive force in the universe, she said yes.

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Jen Huszcza’s RINSE, featuring Sean Jeralds, Anthony Osvog, and Dino Palazzi as directed by Cason Murphy, 2011

A little about me. I have been an unsuccessful playwright for twenty years. I was shocked when Tiffany wanted to produce my short play RINSE in her festival back in 2011. Then she wanted to produce POP in 2012. Then FLOWERS, then THIS. I continue to be in awe of Tiffany’s courage to produce the strange and the uncomfortable.

The first thing I want to talk about is choosing the themes of your festivals. Every festival has had a theme: DIRTY LAUNDRY, FROM THE MOUTHS OF BABES, PLANTING THE SEED, and OUTSIDE THE LINES. How do you come up with the themes and as a writer yourself, do you think about different ways it can be interpreted?

TIFFANY:

I actually spend a lot of time thinking about the theme every year.  I want to create something that has flexibility in how it can be interpreted, but still steers writers to create work that will have some connectivity.  The theme is a means of tying the fest together… even loosely.  I also try to find a theme that I think will interest audiences.  Because I’m a visual artist, I tend to think in images – most often when I come up with a theme that sparks my imagination, it comes along with an idea for the poster.  If I don’t think I can make the concept work, I go back to the drawing board.

As to interpreting the theme myself, I have written and entered plays in three of the past four fests, so I not only try to imagine different interpretations of the theme, but am oftentimes inspired by them myself.  But I don’t have any preconceived notions of what the themes will illicit from other writers.  Every year I’m happily surprised by the multitude of directions our writer’s take.

It is interesting though how some themes inspire plays along a similar topic.  Last year’s fest, PLANTING THE SEED, yielded a lot of plays about pregnancy/getting pregnant/making babies… It totally makes sense, but at the end of the selection period, a handful of plays had to be left out because I wasn’t trying to put together a whole festival about pregnancy.  I kept only one pregnancy themed play in the final line-up. Sometimes it’s better to sit and stew on a theme for a while and seek a less expected interpretation.  This year for instance, our theme was OUTSIDE THE LINES.  I had one playwright, Bridgette Dutta Portman, submit a play about an unhappy line-segment in a triangle.  It was SO unusual and also SO on point with the theme that it stood out from the start.  It was also the only play that took the theme so literally… well, except maybe for your piece, RUNNING LINES, which was a semi-finalist.

JEN:

I was actually surprised that RUNNING LINES was a semi-finalist. It is a mime in four parts in which two guys in party hats run lines (or ropes) through blocks or they have to throw the lines to each other or the lines pull them off stage. I sail boats, so lines are very much in my world. I thought the piece was just a bit of fun that only sailors would get, but it happened in Iowa. I guess someone read it and liked it.

Speaking of reading and liking, I want to next talk about the peer review process you have for the festivals. When I first did it, I did not enjoy it. I was a professional reader for years, and I viewed reading scripts as a chore. However, I have now embraced that aspect of the festival. I found myself cheering for pieces I liked. It brought a feeling of community to the undertaking. I wasn’t just sending plays into a void. I was a part of the process.

Could you talk a bit about the peer review process, how it has evolved, and other things you have noticed from the curatorial point of view?

TIFFANY:

Cason Murphy in Jen Huszcza's THIS

(A very blurry) Cason Murphy in Jen Huszcza’s THIS, 2015

I loved RUNNING LINES.  I definitely felt like there was a sailing theme, but the actions and the silent communication between the players was compelling outside the world of sailing too – which I think comes down to your deftness with visual language.  Your text is always lean, and there is strength in the visual platform they inhabit.  For instance, with THIS – Cason got several compliments on his “choice” to do the piece on a bed standing upright on stage.  Everyone was doubly impressed when he said “That was all the playwright!”

As to the Peer Review process, your progression from disliking it to coming at it from a more rooted place is exactly what I hoped would happen.  So often we playwrights send our work out into the world without any idea what its hopeful trek to stage will look like.  We wonder “Who’s going to read it?  What will they think?  What do the winning plays have that mine didn’t?  Who are these people judging my work?” And nowhere along that process do we get to learn anything that can be applied “next time” because it all happens behind a wall.  Additionally, there’s no community in that process – it’s a dichotomous power structure that’s designed (not maliciously, of course) to keep playwrights out.

Our Peer Review process, on the other hand, aims to do the exact opposite of standard submission practices.  I’m not designing the festival with a panel of mysterious co-producers – I’m designing it hand in hand with the playwrights themselves.  And along the way I try really hard to empower the playwrights to connect with one another.  I LOVE that so many participants in this year’s fest felt invested in one another’s work, rooting on the pieces they believed in!  Rather than creating a competitive field where everyone’s out for themselves, I hope I’m creating an environment where female playwrights are meeting and becoming advocates for other female playwrights.

As to the process, each playwright reads and evaluates around 10-15 plays.   When I first started the fest, I thought I could get away with having each playwright read and evaluate only 5-6 pieces, but it turns out that was just enough to render the scores too similar: two people would love it, one would be indifferent, and the other two would dislike it.  The scores were all too similar except in very rare cases.  With each play getting read 10-15 times (and we can do that because the pieces are short) you see the scores fall very clearly along “These plays are really working for people” and “These plays aren’t”.  After all the scores are aggregated, I usually wind up reading the top 60% to gauge scores against material and to get a handle thematically on where we’re at.  I also keep an eye out for plays that received widely disparate scores, because if half the readers gave it a top score, and the other half hated it, I know I’ve got an interesting piece on my hands that I need to read and make a final decision on.

Something else I’d like to mention is that our festival process allows for some more creative choices than would be possible without our semi-finalist readings.  Take for instance Amy Schleunes’ play THREE LESSONS IN LIVING.  The play’s scores were totally uneven, and when I read it I understood why – talk about wild!  It reminded me of HAMLETMACHINE – it was only 6 pages, but it could probably be a full-length play!  The play calls for a forest, bedroom, and kitchen set, and there’s a clown with a friggin’ chainsaw in the show!  Haha, I loved it – but I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to produce it, unless I wanted to devote at least half the festival to this one show.  And yet, it scored high enough and was interesting and unique enough that I decided to include it in the semi-finalist line-up.

Then there are the shows that score really high that, when I read them, leave me scratching my head.  I read the piece, re-read the piece, and go “What am I not seeing here?” and then when we get to the semi-finalist stage or finalist stage, I get to see what the other playwright saw.  Every year I’ve included at least one of these types of pieces that didn’t originally strike me, but spoke to our playwrights during the peer review.  And you know what?  That’s what the festival, curated by our playwrights, is all about!  I love when they teach me something, and I love when I hear them say that they’re rooting their peers on – that’s what it’s all about!

JEN:

I agree about the community aspect to the Onstage Festival. I came up with this dialogue/collaborative blog because I wanted to help other writers who are out there writing and submitting to this Festival. I have learned from sailing that I get better when people share what they know with me. I think for playwrights there is a lot of not sharing, but now we can share everything.

Read Part II here.

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