Don Fried — Playwright & Author

Posts Tagged ‘playwright


You may be surprised to learn this, especially those of you who know me personally, but in actuality I’m a sixteen year old, black, gay, female Hispanic, of Armenian ancestry.

This week, anyway. Next week, it’s entirely possible I’ll be something else.

Let me explain.

Every week or so, I look at several playwrights’ newsletters.  They all have listings of contests, asking for submissions of unproduced plays, and I pay a lot of attention to those listings.  As I’ve mentioned before on my blog, sending unrequested scripts to theaters is not a particularly productive way for a relatively unknown playwright to spend his time.  So these sorts of contests are a key element in the playwright’s tool kit.

The problem, though, is that an extremely high percentage of the listings are very restrictive in terms of who the playwright must be and what is to be submitted.  To one degree or another, many of them specify age, sex, sexual orientation, race, place of residence and ethnic background.  That’s not to mention the length of the play; its subject matter; the number, age and sex of the characters; the size of the stage required; the complexity of the set …. You get the idea.  And many of the contests aren’t content with only one of those requirements.  They bundle them together.

“The Black Kitten Theater is looking for 4 minute plays by female elementary school students living in upper-central Wyoming.  The plays must be about the experience of 19th Century Lutheran immigrants in Iowa.  Minimum of 12 characters.”  That’s only a slight exaggeration.

So if, like me, you thought you were a middle-aged, Caucasian, heterosexual male who has written a full-length historical comedy about Shakespeare, you can be mighty restricted in what you can do with it.

“Aha,” I hear you saying.  “He ‘thought’ he was a middle-aged Caucasian.  Wouldn’t he know?”   Apparently not.  Last week I was going through some papers in the attic, and I discovered that I’m not middle-aged, Caucasian and heterosexual at all.  And it turns out that I’m a sixteen year old, black, gay, female, Hispanic whose ancestors come from Armenia.

The good news is that my new demographics nearly match a listing I came across yesterday.  The bad news is that to enter the contest, the play needs to be no longer than 10 pages and I need to live in Delaware.  Don’t worry, though, while I’m waiting for the moving van to arrive I’m working on cutting 70 pages out of “Shakespeare Incorporated.”  They were mostly fluff, anyway.

Aren’t I lucky that the attic is so full of papers I’ve never been through?

bulldozerFor a couple of months I helped start up a Boulder chapter of a Denver-based playwright’s club that I’m a member of.  I’ve now parted company with that group.  It was either that, or we were going to come to blows.  Part of the reason is that  I’m not enlightened enough to breathe the same tantric air that they do.   (See “If you’re not as caring and sensitive as I am, I’ll smash your face in”).  Even worse is the fact that I’m not willing to flagellate myself publicly and admit that my refusal to accept the “true way” is a catastrophic personal failure on my part.

In actuality, though, a lot of the conflict is based on my aggressiveness in marketing myself and my writing.  What a lot of beginning writers don’t realize — I certainly didn’t — is that a large part of getting started in this business is making a name for yourself.  There are countless stories of great works of literature that were turned down by the first 40 publishers they were submitted to.  How many more are out there molding in drawers (does an unread manuscript mold on a computer disk?) or already decaying in landfills?

I submitted the first plays I wrote to dozens of theaters, and got turned down nearly as often as I got ignored.  I realized that there must be some key difference between me and Tennessee Williams.  Other than the fact that he was a great playwright and I was writing crap, I mean.  A press agent!  Of course!

Being naturally frugal, I decided to become my own press agent and went on a concerted campaign to market myself.  As my writing improved and I started to get  productions, I took responsibility for letting everyone — local theaters, newspaper columnists, radio hosts, people I sat next to on the shuttle bus to the airport —  know who I was and what I was up to.

And lo and behold, it started to work.  In the past year there have been quite a number of newspaper articles and radio interviews about me and my work.  And more importantly, when I submit plays to theaters, especially in the Denver area, instead of always getting rejected or ignored, sometimes people want to talk to me.  And those discussions sometimes turn into productions.

I went to a play at the University of Colorado the weekend before last and afterward went up to congratulate the graduate student who had directed the production.  When I introduced myself, she immediately said, “Oh, you’re the playwright, aren’t you?”

But as nice as it is to have some recognition, that’s not why I do it.  I have no intention of writing for the next 20 years and then dying, either for my work to disappear without a trace or to be discovered after I’m gone.  Instead, I’m going to see my plays produced and my books published.  I’m willing to take responsibility to make that happen, and marketing myself and my work is a critical part.

So it’s too bad if there are people who think I’m a shameless self-promoter. I am.  It even says so on the banner at the top of this page.  And I’m not going to stop.

And it’s too bad if those people don’t want to play with me because of it.  I’ll see them on Broadway. Oh, wait!  I won’t see them there, because they’ll still be in Boulder.  With their eyes closed, breathing meaningfully into significant parts of  their bodies, and complaining about the fact that they’re not getting anywhere with their writing careers, but that aggressively promoting themselves isn’t the true, touchy-feely way.