Scripts, scripts, scripts. For a company that only develops and produces new plays, you can imagine the amount of paper we go through to get the submissions we receive read, evaluated, and catalogued in our database. The most frequently asked question I receive regarding our plays is "what happens next?" Meaning, once a playwright submits a script, what else is there to expect from us? This post is dedicated to those playwrights (or those curious about the process).
Everything starts with the play. A play is received by our offices via email or snail mail and is directly routed to me. Once I ensure that all the guidelines have been met, I contact the playwright directly giving him an approximate time of when he can expect to hear from us should his play be selected for a developmental event. This is an extremely important point as we do not contact playwrights who have not been selected for a slot. Of course, if an un-selected playwright were to to inquire about the status of his play, I would be more than happy to discuss the play with him but this is done on a case-by-case basis and I think you'll find that most professional theatre companies operate in this way.
Next, scripts are placed in groups of five based on the order in which they were received and sent to a professional reader for coverage. Coverage, for our purposes, consists of a detailed plot synopsis of the play and the reader's personal recommendations to Native Voices. Our readers represent a variety of cultural, educational, and geographical backgrounds and they are all aware of the company's mission and purpose. Plays that receive high scores from our readers will be placed on the top of my personal reading list; those that receive middle-of-the-road scores are placed at the bottom of that list.
Then I evaluate every play that's been placed on my personal reading list and score each of them individually. As I sort through the plays, I try to find ones that tell a meaningful story by playwrights who have a unique voice. I look for strong characters; characters who I want to live vicariously through; characters who I can identify with. I also look for plays that are theatrical - plays that go beyond three people sitting around a dining room table discussing how their day went. Plays need conflict, they need a dilemma, something has to happen in order to gain the interest of your reader and, more importantly, the interest of your audience member. I want to be able to put the play down and feel as if my life has been bettered by having read it. Now those may sound like lofty goals but, trust me, we have been lucky enough to receive plays that have that criteria.
After I score the scripts, I compile a list of my top plays and send that to Randy and Jean who then have their own criteria the plays have to meet. Then the three of us get together and select the top ten scripts that will be sent to a National Reading Panel for further evaluation. Like our readers, our panelists represent a variety of backgrounds but, in addition, they are a group of nationally recognized theatre artists and Native community leaders. It is with their aid that we ultimately select the handful of plays we will offer developmental opportunities to during our season.
It is a rigorous process, one that involves a multitude of steps and an array of people. I think playwrights would be surprised to learn that the play selection process for Native Voices includes much more than just the company's artistic staff. That when a play is selected (or not selected) for an opportunity with the company, that decision is supported by a variety of voices, not just our own.
I hope this helped dispel the enigma that can surround a company's play selection process. I think some playwrights get discouraged when they submit to a company time and time again and don't get selected. Don't let that stop you from working on your play. You can always ask us for feedback and, as an artist, you can also take the initiative to host your own opportunities for development. Join a writers group, ask a dramaturg- friend or someone with a critical mind to provide you with some notes, invite a group of actor- friends to your place or even your local coffee- house and hold an informal reading of your play to each other. Also, Native Voices isn't the only company accepting scripts. Visit our "Links and Resources" page to find other opportunities to submit your work to. Most importantly, never stop writing. Your stories need to be shared.
Native Voices accepts scripts all year. For a look at our Submission Guidelines, please click here.