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Case History - How I sold my stage play

We asked playwright Jo Woods to keep a diary from the moment she finished her play to the moment a theatre finally accepted it. The result is a fascinating insight into the machinery of getting your play staged.

May 2nd 2002. Okay. Iíve finally finished my play - or at least, I think I have. Bearing in mind every stage script is supposed to need two more drafts than you yourself think it should, I resolve to stop faffing about and get it out there in the world. In short, to sell it now.

June 5th
Itís taken me a month to get myself organised. By which I mean, confident enough to send the piece out. In the meantime, though, Iíve done my research- something which all the experts say is the biggest problem with new writers- they donít research their markets. You have to get out there and see plays in the theatres youíd like to have your own work staged in; also, if you have meetings with theatre management, they want to know that you take your work seriously, that you watch plays, know whatís going on, how fashions and themes and styles are changing. So I draw up a list of venues, companies, directors and actors I like, and who specialise in modern, cutting edge new plays-a kind of wishlist.

July 1st
Iíve seen a few plays recently that Iíve really loved; while totally different to mine, they share some territory emotionally. So Iíve noted down the theatres and companies responsible. I call them to check they are currently reading unsolicited scripts, then write a letter outlining my past writing experience, what the play is about in a nutshell and how much I would value their feedback. Here goes; first bunch posted off. I keep a careful note of what play I send to who in which company, and the date. Mostly, I wonít chase them before three months, thatís the average time span for reading and responding. After that itís okay to politely enquire after your script.

October 13th
Nothing yet. Iím beginning to get slightly despondent, but just as Iím about to email the companies who are holding my work hostage, I get a letter asking me to come in for a meeting to discuss the play. Excellent. I wonít get my hopes up but itís progress. It turns out they want to chat generally; they are very excited by the play, love the writing and the themes, but they donít think the artistic director will go for it. ĎShe has a very specific tasteí, Iím told, Ďand this isnít it.í However, they ask me to write a page outlining a play that Iíd like to write next; they give me some gentle hints about what area that might be in. Weíll see. Itís not usually how I like to work but in the peculiar fickle world of theatre youíve got to adapt to get the work.

November 2nd
Some progress. One of my wishlist theatres asks me in for a chat, says they like the play but think it needs work. I sort of agree, but just want to get the play on. What they offer is a rehearsed reading; two days with actors, a director and the literary manager, and by the end of it weíll run the play in front of a few people from the theatre. My job will be to hear the piece, see where the flaws are, take criticsm from the actors and directors as we work through it, and make cuts or changes on the spot. By the end of day two, my script is a mass of red marks, pages torn out or crossed out. But the end result is, I have to admit, a lot tighter and more interesting than the play we began with. Now I can see what I need to do to make it work. We all get £120 in our hands from the theatre and I go away full of thought.

December 2nd
I have a pressing need to achieve something with this play before the end of the year. I spend a week solidly rewriting, remembering what I learned in the rehearsed reading. Iím fairly happy with the finished product but wish I could hear it read aloud just once before sending it back out. This time, Iím only sending it to the theatre whoíve already show interest; itís better to develop one strong relationship with a venue and literary manager.

January 17th
Hurray! The theatre have decided to go ahead with my play; they like the rewrite, although they caution I still have work to do before rehearsals. They schedule it for October, so thereís plenty of time. Now all I have to do is worry about whether anybody comes to see it, and if the critics like it. Thatís when it really gets scary. In the meantime, I start all over again; trying the one page brief for a new play in the hope that Iíll attract the attention of the first theatre I tried.

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