In addition to her work as a script coverage consultant in the film industry, Christina Hamlett is the published author of 17 books, 100 plays and musicals, and several hundred magazine articles that appear regularly throughout the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Her upcoming book, WHERE THE PLOTS ARE, will soon be released. For more information, drop her an email.
INKLINGS: Writing Well & Profitably for Books, Film, and Stage
This Month: TAKING THE SHOW ON THE ROAD - How Playwrights Can Get a Reading, Find an Audience, and Perform a Community Service. plus: Announcing the HERITAGE SQUARE 2004 PLAYWRITING CONTESTAs I often attest in my playwriting workshops, the best training I ever received for crafting realistic dialogue came from the 16 years I spent as an actress and director. Even more beneficial to the creative process, however, was the fact that half of that time was spent in the development and management of a touring theater company in Northern California.
For aspiring playwrights in search of an enthusiastic forum for their new scripts, a little recognition and applause may be as close as the nearest phone directory.
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The idea behind The Hamlett Players actually sprang from an audition incident involving two of my acting students. Because they had never been cast in anything before, the director considered them an "artistic risk" and didn't even allow them to read for the open roles.
Unfortunately, this practice among regional theater companies isn't all that unusual and can be likened to the Catch-22 of trying to get your first credit card; everyone would love to say 'yes' as long as someone else takes the chance first. Likewise, the greenlight given to finance fledgling scripts themselves is often based on whether they have been previously workshopped.
The decision to launch my own repertory company not only validated my belief in the abilities of the actors I was training but provided a proving ground for material that had yet to be pitched to prospective publishers or producers. Our primary audiences when we first started were retirement residences. The wisdom of this was that these were people who had a greater affinity for live performances than the norm, having grown up in an earlier era with vaudeville, musical theater and radio stories that relied on an active listener imagination.
There were also cost, transportation and security issues that made our innovative "bring-the-show-to-you" concept an attractive proposition. By transforming the various facilities' dining commons, recreation halls, or even outdoor courtyards into instant theaters, it satisfied the new actors' desire to perform and the audience's chance to dress up and enjoy some original plays without having to drive at night or purchase a pricey ticket.
The success of this community outreach was later expanded to include schools, hospitals, churches, and civic clubs and organizations. From a personal standpoint, these year-round programs were a viable method of gauging audience reactions as well as working out any bugs that hadn't made themselves known during rehearsals. Of the 112 productions that debuted during the company's 8 years of operation, 45% were either sold to publishers or produced by other theater troupes.
While obviously not every playwright has his or her own contingent of thespians (ala SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE), this performance template has user-friendly applications for authors who want to go public with their work and receive valuable feedback.
- Start a playreading group. This can be comprised of fellow playwrights or simply people who like to get together one a month and read parts out loud. One of my clients initiated such a group through her local bookstore, an endeavor that evolved into weekly, drop-in sessions similar to one which already existed for the store's coffee-house poets. At one such session, a neighborhood producer came into the store with the intention of buying a magazine but walked out with the phone number of a playwright he later invited to develop some holiday skits for him.
- Make the acquaintance of college and community theater actors. Not only will you find them to be outspoken when it comes to offering comment on your characters and dialogue, but the venues in which they regularly perform are always hungry for fresh material that won't cost them an arm and a leg in royalties. In addition, actors are constantly seeking original monologues to do for auditions rather than resorting to standard performance pieces that everyone has heard 83,000 times already.
- Contact the activity directors of local retirement communities and hospitals and arrange "performances" of some of your shorter plays. Both venues are receptive to outside entertainment (especially if it's offered at a time other than Christmas) as well as enthusiastic about any medium that encourages participation and group discussion.
- Contact local service clubs that incorporate guest speakers and performances as part of their monthly agendas. For scripts that range from 5-20 minutes, this is a nice forum for getting feedback, especially if the subject matter can be tied to the club's particular interests.
- Is your play film-worthy? Not only are local access stations starved for original programming but many of them will even allow you to take a turn behind the cameras. In addition, you may want to contact regional film schools and summer film camps. Although you won't get any money for it, you will retain all performance rights plus receive a copy of the finished product which can be incorporated in a "digital portfolio" of your talent.
- Familiarize yourself with websites and newsletter subscription services such as www.backstage,com, www.stageplays.com, www.writersinsight.com, and www.writeronline.com. These are replete with contest information and call-boards for theater production companies actively seeking scripts of all lengths and genres.
- Does your community have "living history" programs associated with its founding fathers and/or significant events? Most of these historical sketches are penned by volunteers and tour docents and, suffice it to say, often waft of amateurishness. If history is one of your passions, you may want to ask your local historical society if it could use your writing talents. This venue guarantees you a built-in audience and, further, allows you to work in concert with community outreach in publicizing the productions, especially to schools. Depending on the contractual arrangements made, you may even be able to then sell the scripts to publishers. Because museums and historical organizations are generally non-profits and/or have little cash to pay you what your words are truly worth, you'll find them amenable to whatever avenues you'd like to pursue once the "season" is over.
- Last but not least, offer some of your plays to groups that do fund-raising for charities and are looking for something besides silent auctions. Keep in mind that the material need not be fully "staged" in order to be entertaining for the attendees. Again, the script should be short and topical; i.e., a play that raises awareness of Alzheimer's effects on the patients' families would be a natural for a foundation trying to raise needed funds for Alzheimer's research.
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Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author and Pasadena, California script coverage consultant whose publishing credits include 17 books, 107 plays and musicals, 3 optioned films, and columns that appear throughout the world.
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Heritage Square 2004 Playwriting Contest
All the world's a stage.
Here at Heritage Square, all of the Past is a stage as well. Playwrights and history buffs are invited to submit original one-act plays for performance and professional filming this December 2004. The costumed productions will take place in four of our historic landmark homes; specifically, the Perry House, the Hale House, the Valley Knudsen Garden Residence, and the Longfellow-Hastings Octagon House. The following rules and guidelines will enable you to put your best script forward and to participate in "Holiday Lamplight Tours," a reflection of Southern California's rich cultural and architectural legacy.
Submission Period: March 1-May 31, 2004.
Entry Fee: $5 per script (no limit on number of entries).
Script Length: 12-15 minutes each.
This Year's Theme: "Faraway Friends"
Unlike a traditional theater setting, our audiences get to experience an hour's worth of time-travel by walking from one house to the next and eavesdropping on four families as they prepare for the holiday season in, respectively, 1876, 1900, the 1930's and the 1940's. Our objective is to not only entertain our guests with a well written story but also to impart historical tidbits on these particular eras as they affected those who lived in them.
Contestants are not limited in the number of scripts they can submit for each house. Some, for instance, may want to try their hand at writing a script for each house and interweaving references to prior characters (ancestors) from the earlier settings. Others might focus their energy on writing a script for the time period that most appeals to them. Each entry will be judged on the basis of creativity, originality, warmth, and the inclusion of no less than 5 historical facts pertinent to that era.
For official rules, entry form, home descriptions and sample script, send an email to: Inkview@cswebmail.com