Donna Hoke

#PlaywrightRespect and why it’s important

If you missed the hullabaloo over the weekend regarding the #PlaywrightRespect hashtag on Twitter, here is an overview. Saturday, the talented Donna Hoke posted a call for new, never produced, never published ten-minute plays from a group called Words Players. Donna went into great detail about WHY this call was offensive to playwrights in her blog post (which I linked to in a previous blog) and suggested tweeting about, using Facebook to spread the word, etc, using the hashtag #PlaywrightRespect. If you follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, you saw that I was madly tweeting and retweeting about it. Words Players responded by not allowing anyone to post on their Facebook page and ignoring the tweets and hashtag. When this same issue was presented last year at this time, the management at Words Players responded with,”if you don’t like it, don’t submit”. Which is a response many of us chose to not do last year and this year.

The respected theater producer and blogger Howard Sherman picked up on the issue and blogged about it himself on Sunday. In that blog, a commentator who works with Words Players asked why this was such a big deal.

This is why.

I’m a working playwright, involved primarily in Theater for Young Audiences and community theater. I work with a lot of bright kids, smart talented kids, with aspirations of being theater teachers, dance teachers, English teachers or performers. During a recent rehearsal of a big name Music Theater International (MTI) licensed musical, I noticed the actors were taking minor liberties. Skipping a word here, a line there, rearranging words. To most people, this would not be a big deal, but I wanted to take this opportunity to teach these 16-21 years old (with a few 30 year olds and older thrown in) something. I sat down and opened up MTI’s licensing agreement at the front of the script and read to them and had them read along, the agreement that we are not allowed to change words, etc as written. It was like seeing a light bulb go off. This was something they had never been taught.  As I explained, “even if I wasn’t a writer and this wasn’t a hot button issue with me, I would still be talking to you about this because this is what the license says we have to do.”

The #PlaywrightRespect hashtag was chosen because that is what theaters are not doing when they make blanket changes, lines, gender, etc. without at least consulting the playwright. There is a difference between interpretation and changes to the script. Here’s an example, I recently had a production of my TYA adaption of Alice in Wonderland done by a children’s theater education program in Atlanta. My script says this:

HATTER crosses to the table, sits down and the chair breaks. He sighs and begins to work on it.

What they did was one of the funniest, couple of minutes of physical comedy I’ve seen a young actor do. It wasn’t anything I had imagined, but it was a legit choice that respected what I wrote. However, they respected every written word. They had a chair break and they had the Mad Hatter work on the chair. They said every word of dialogue as written.

We could choose to not send in our plays, and many of us have made that choice. HOWEVER, the reason this is an issue to many of us is because we share the same goals as you and your company do, to educate the next generation of theater and art creators and that starts with teaching respect for the writer’s words. The writer’s who have spent hours, days, weeks, etc into crafting a play that you want to produce. By asking us to write a brand new work, even one that is ten minutes long, without respecting the words and the time it takes to write that, is insulting to us. It’s like asking for a gift and then breaking it because it wasn’t the right color, or whatever. It doesn’t teach children about the collaborative nature of theater but rather encourages a culture of entitlement.

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#TAPT or Trade A Play Tuesday

Today is Tuesday and for most people that would mean another day at the office or in class but for a growing number of playwrights its a day to pull out a play they’ve trunked or a that needs dusted off or one they are working on and need a new set of eyes to look over because Tuesdays in the playwright community has become “Trade A Play Tuesdays” or #TAPT

So what exactly is #TAPT? Well it’s just as the name suggests, its a day where playwrights take the time to trade a short play (no more then 10 pages) with another playwright and you offer feedback on each others works. I’ve done this twice (for plays that I’m the process of developing) and both times the feedback has been great. But don’t take my word for it…

I’ve now had readings of my play by 6 members of this group. All of them contributed something useful, and several went out of their way to give me the encouragement a newbie like me needs.

David C Tucker

I have traded with Donna and I personally believe she should be paid for her feedback, it’s that valuable. I immediately adopted some changes based on her observations and look forward to continuing. I will definitely be trading again

Stephan DeGhelder

Those aren’t the only ones that have participated, according to Donna Hoke, who started #TAPT,

There has never been a week where somebody hasn’t shown up with a play to trade, that there are continual newcomers, and that more than 500 trades have been made, which is more than 1000 plays.

Over a 1000 plays in the year that it has been going on! No wonder the competition is so stiff in every contest we all enter

So how did this all get started? Well according to Donna and the blog she herself wrote on it,

One Tuesday, I had just finished a ten-minute play that I wasn’t sure about. I usually don’t ask for feedback on ten-minutes, but this one was a little unusual, and I felt like I wanted some. So I posted on the Playwright Binge asking if anybody wanted to trade a ten-minute play for feedback. The response was incredible! I ended up reading 20 ten-minute plays that day, and got a ton of feedback on mine that helped shape it and make it funnier.

So today, I woke up, it’s Tuesday, I have a couple new ten-minutes, and I thought why not make this a regular thing? There are no development opportunities for ten-minute plays but, as with any play, a ten-minute can be improved with thoughtful feedback and attention.  (You may also send ten-page scenes that you’d like some feedaback on.) So let’s provide for each other what doesn’t exist.

I know how invaluable getting feedback on a play can be. The ones that have gotten productions are the ones that get other eyes looking at them. Weather that’s from a trusted writing partner (as until recently, has always been the way I do it) or from a stranger, new eyes give us the chance to step back and hear others thoughts. I know when I’m writing a play, I’m pouring tons of creative energy into it and that often leaves me too close to the material to judge it objectively. That is where new eyes come in handy.

So who is this person who started #TAPT? Donna is a playwright, journalist, children’s author and crossword constructor from Buffalo, NY who also serves as the Western New York representative for the Dramatist’s Guild of America, which allows her to foster the playwright community in her area (which makes me want to move to the western NY area LOL) She makes her artistic home as an ensemble playwright at Road Less Traveled Productions, where the premiere of her first full-length production, The Couple Next Door, was the theater’s top-grossing world premiere and the sixth highest grossing play in the theater’s history.

So, playwrights if you have a 10 minute play or a 10 page scene you’d like some feedback on, I suggest participating in Trade A Play Tuesday!


Some helpful links:

Donna Hoke

Trade-A-Play Tuesday

The Official Playwrights of Facebook Group

The Playwright Binge

The Playwright Purge