"You really need to send each play to at least 100 places if you want a production."
Last week, there was a popular thread on Facebook started by a post from prolific playwright Adam Szymkowicz about how many times he submits his plays in order to get a production. The post garnered a great deal of response in the form of questions about how he submitted etc., (as well as a post from playwright/TV/Screenwriter & reporter Aurin Squire seconding the sentiment) so I reached out to Adam to see if he'd like to chat about it for Theaterspeak and he did, so here it is. Hope it serves to inspire and motivate.
How many times did you submit this year? And what were the responses?
Most I have not yet heard back from. I sent 60 in '17 so far, and two of them have led to productions. This is very good numberwise. I think a lot of playwrights don't send many plays out. You really need to send each play to at least 100 places if you want a production. That takes time.
Is this for productions or also grants and fellowships?
This year? Just for productions. Those don't make a lot of sense for me right now. Or maybe some of them do but I find that applying for the things everyone else is applying for makes every submission more of a long shot. I try to send to small theaters and big theaters (sometimes) who might be a match. But also, that's because of the kind of plays I write. I don't get awards and fellowships usually.
Someone on Facebook had asked if you cold submit - meaning you submit to places where you don't have a contact, and you said you did but you didn't used to. Can you talk about that?
I think I've always cold submitted and over the years have had luck with that. I think it's a lot about your play and about luck and not about a lot else.
If you don't know someone at place do you do 6 degrees of separation and see if someone does know them and can put in a good word?
Not a lot. Sometimes. I think a lot of theater people know who I am at this point but yes sometimes it helps if someone who knows how things actually happen at the organization is advocating for you. Other artists can be very generous that way.
How much time to you spend on submissions daily, weekly?
I have a reminder telling me to submit every Monday. I have no idea how much time I actually spend. The reminder helps me remember it's something I want to concentrate on more but math wise to get the number of productions I want I actually should be submitting at least one thing a day every day.
Do you have an agent and how do they (or have they) helped?
Yes. I think agents are all overworked. They can only do so much. Eventually we have to make our own relationships and no one should stop sending plays because they have an agent.
Same goes with manager? (Some people say that managers are more helpful...).
For TV, managers are helpful. I don't have one.
Where do you find your submission opps?
Mostly I look for theaters using google. I tell people to google plays like your play and approach the theaters doing them and see if they'll read your play. It only works for theaters that do new work so super famous plays aren't the ones to google. Which means reading and seeing a lot of plays. And really figuring out what your aesthetic is and who it matches with.
How do you track/organize them?
Poorly. In a notebook at the moment. Here's the thing-- everyone should submit the way they do it. You don't have to be super organized. You don't have to be famous.
How do you feel about paying to submit?
I pay for the big things only. Like things that would help my career if I got them.
Do you submit everywhere or are there some places you won't? What's the criteria and has that changed throughout your career?
It has changed. I sort of don't know how to answer this question. People should judge for themselves where to send plays but don't be afraid to put your stuff out there. No one can discover you unless you put yourself out there.
How do you negotiate payment for your productions? Do you use your agent or some other resource like the Dramatist Guild?
My agent does the contracts. Most of my contracts are for premiere productions. Most of my productions overall are from publication of plays that had premiere productions. Which means my agent might take care of one or two productions and then the publisher takes over collecting money from theaters.
How do you balance creating new work and submitting work and seeing other people's work? (And a family?!)
Badly. I am always overextended.
Do you have a day job as well and how do you (or have you) managed that?
I am the Lit Mgr at the Juilliard School. It's a cool job and it's flexible but it's a lot of work.
What about Film and TV?
I had a TV job once and I lived cheaply off that money for a long time.
Is there anything else regarding the submission process that you'd like to share?
People might like your play and never tell you. The new norm is to just not ever send a rejection so you should expect to never hear from anyone again and if you do hear from someone, that's really good.
How can people see/read your work?
I'm about to have my 10th play published. Amazon has lots of them. Go to the Drama Book Shop and pick them up there. Or check my blog to see upcoming productions. If last year is any indication, I'll probably have 20-something productions of my full lengths this year.