UK based author, Dan Weatherer, is set to release a new book detailing his experiences as a playwright. Dan, (39) has been writing stage plays for three years. In that time he has seen a number of pieces performed in the UK and USA. He has also published and sold performance rights to several more.
“As an author turned playwright, I learned quickly that there are practices playwrights can implement to dramatically increase the appeal of their work.
Inside The Dead Stage, you’ll find advice that will enable you to better tailor your work to the needs of the theatre industry, without having to compromise on style, content or subject matter. I also share my early mistakes, and present the advice of notable theatre professionals including the award-winning playwright, Deborah McAndrew, noted actor Matthew Spence, and London Horror Festival producer, Kate Danbury (along with many, many more!).
You’ll also be able to read several of my completed stage plays, which are presented in a preferred industry format, and often contain side-notes detailing the success (and failures) of said pieces.
From budgets to set design, run-time to cast size, if you ever felt the desire to write for the stage, following the advice presented in my book will help improve your chances of pairing your script with an interested party, hopefully making The Dead Stage pass almost unnoticed.”
“Placing a stage play with a theatre company is (in my experience) more difficult than placing a book with a publisher. Open theatre calls are highly competitive, seeing hundreds of entries for a call that can possibly stage only three or four pieces. Quality of work is no longer enough to guarantee consideration for performance.
The tips and advice contained in The Dead Stage allowed me to build an impressive portfolio of theatre work in a relatively short space of time. I believe it is important to share experiences if they may be able to help others achieve success.
Throughout my career, I have worked to create opportunities for others, believing it is better to be a small fish in a thriving ocean, rather than a big fish in a stagnant pond.
This book is about sharing my experiences and mistakes, in the hope that I can help others avoid the pitfalls that I fell into.
Theatre, more than any other medium, is a tough industry to break into. Every piece a playwright will write will always be in competition with work from the greatest playwrights of all time. Theatre is a business: seats need to be sold in order to keep theatres running, and so often established pieces are booked instead of the work of what many might term the ‘New Writing’. This is because they are considered safe bookings, and the theatre will, in most instances, not lose money. New writing is considered a risk. Usually, theatres set aside a budget for new writing, but this is often small and tightly contested.
But theatre needs new voices and there are theatre companies willing to give new writing a chance. This book is my way of saying that yes, it is possible to see your work performed on stage, no matter your previous experience in the theatre industry.
If you have a passing interest in the theatre industry, either as a playwright, director, producer, actor or working behind the scenes, then this book is for you. It includes insights and advice from an array of professionals working at all levels of the industry today. Their advice helped me see my work performed on stage, now it’s their turn to help you.”
The book is published by Crystal Lake Publishing and is available to pre order for release on October 19th via Amazon, in paperback/Kindle editions.
Excerpt from ‘Place The Play’ Essay (The Dead Stage).
So, you have penned your theatrical debut and it is a masterpiece, but what now? How do you get your freshly completed stage play from your hard drive and onto the stage?
Believe it or not, this is not as daunting or as complicated a process as it might sound. While there is no 100% sure-fire way to ensure your piece gets to be performed on stage, I will share a few useful tips that will save you a lot of time when it comes to submitting material, and help manage your expectations of what you can expect to experience during the process. Again, I must stress that this is in no way, shape or form the ONLY way to get your work onto the stage, but as of writing this I have only been writing as a playwright for eighteen months, and I have already had several pieces of work staged/aired in the UK/USA, and have successfully landed representation as a playwright. What has worked for me may work for you.
OK, so let’s dive in with what I have learned during my short stint as a playwright:
First, some truths as regards to theatre and new writing (most of what I will discuss is born of my experience with the UK theatre scene, but I imagine some of it will ring true wherever you are in the world). New writing is seen as a gamble, more so than with regard to traditional book publishing. Many believe that theatre is the toughest nut to crack when compared to film and book industries. The aim of the theatre is to make money by filling seats. The sad truth is that new writers are not often seen as seat fillers, and theatre companies are reluctant to take a risk on any piece, regardless of its merit, if they feel the name of the author is not enough of a draw to cover their overheads and make a profit.
However, don’t despair! There are many theatres that DO encourage new writing, and they often post submission calls detailing exactly the kind of work that they are looking for. I use the Play Submission Helper and the London Playwrights Blog. Check them often and I guarantee you will eventually come across a theatre/group that will be willing to read your work. From then, it is a case of following their submission guidelines and waiting patiently for a response (please bear in mind that response times vary considerably, and as with any submission, decisions are based a multitude of factors, and feedback is rarely provided with a rejection).
Before You Submit:
How many times have you looked over your work, confident that it reads perfectly well, submitted it, then later found a glaring typo?
Proofreading a script is just as important as proofreading a manuscript. Shabby submissions rarely get to the stage. Remember, you might be submitting alongside countless other playwrights; you may as well give your work the best chance of acceptance possible by submitting a watertight script to begin with.
Further, if you can get a group of people together to read your script aloud before submitting, you will immediately hear if your dialogue is in need of further work. Hearing others speak your material will highlight any clunkiness of dialogue, or other shortfalls (such as the flow of the piece, plot holes, etc.). I would also advise listening to what your readers/performers have to say with regards to your characters. For example, not everybody speaks in full sentences, and your readers may highlight lines that feel awkward when spoken aloud. Properly written dialogue can be wooden and unbelievable. Listen to how it is performed and amend accordingly. You will be surprised at how different a line is heard as to read inside your head. However, taking into account their feedback is entirely up to you (not every piece of advice you will be given need be followed, after all: you are the architect of the piece), but sometimes they may be able to highlight issues that you may have overlooked. All of this effort can help fine-tune a script and make it ‘pop’ from the page, improving your chances of success.
Excerpt from Industry Insights’ (The Dead Stage).
How did you initially become involved with the theatre industry?
I grew up in a normal, non-showbiz house in Yorkshire, but fell in love with the theatre at an early age. I was good at English and planned to study this at University, but then I found out you could do Drama at degree level. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be an actor, and I couldn’t imagine going to Drama School. In those days, there weren’t many degree courses in Drama. Manchester was one of the few, and I got in in 1986. I was the first in my family ever to go to University.
At University, I did quite a bit of acting and caught the eye of a casting director at Granada TV. However, at the end of my undergraduate years, I still wasn’t sure I could be an actor and didn’t go on to post-grad at Drama School, as my tutors advised, but went to Teacher Training College instead. After a difficult year, I got my PGCE but realised I needed to give showbiz a go. I got my Equity Card through singing with a jazz band (you needed one then to work), got back in touch with the University Drama Department, and things snowballed quite quickly. I got an acting agent through my tutor’s recommendation (I’m still with that same agent), and then an audition came in for Coronation St. I got the job, which was a three-month contract. This was extended and extended, and I ended up staying as a regular in the show for three years—at which point I left to go into the theatre where I really wanted to be.
After eleven years as an actor, working constantly in theatre and radio, my daughter was born. At this point, I focused back on my first love—writing. I’d been writing all through my acting years, but too busy to give it the time and focus that it takes to be any good. Sixteen years on from that point and I make a living as a playwright. I still work as an actor on radio and do voice overs, too. I haven’t been in a play on stage for ten years. I have three agents—a Literary, Acting, and Voice Over.
What does a Creative Director do?
When I founded my theatre company, Claybody Theatre, three years ago I called myself Creative Director because I make all the key creative choices, and am the main driving force behind the company. I write the plays (obviously), but I also do most of the outreach work and marketing too, to build our audience and our connection to the community we serve. It’s fundamentally my vision to create work that grows directly from the unique people and experience of North Staffordshire (specifically Stoke). Conrad Nelson is Artistic Director—and he directs the shows, and has gradually become more involved in funding applications, etc. . . .
What qualities do you look for in a script? Does this differ depending on if you are approaching the script as an actor, or as a Creative Director? If so, how?
I’m looking for a script that fits the brief—whatever that might be. I’ve written for many different companies, and they all want different things. Northern Broadsides is different to Mikron, which is in turn very different to a Christmas show for Bolton. It’s quite rare that I find myself just writing what I want to write. I get commissioned, and it’s my job to give the buyer what they want. I’m a working writer. It’s mostly not about me. I do like to write the stories that just come to me, but this is a luxury.
But whatever the piece, I’m always looking for key ingredients in my own work and that of others: a strong narrative, clear story telling (including a solid structure), good dialogue, and characterisation. I’m looking for a lean script—without fat or flabbiness. Something that is thoroughly worked to make every line count—multitasking wherever possible to provide character, plot, and subtext all at once.
As an actor, writer or director I’m looking for the same things. A good script is a good script.
Does your experience as an actor influence your approach to writing? If so, how?
My work as an actor is inextricably linked to my writing. Both are rooted in the same place in my imagination—the part that is very interested in what it feels like to be other people. When I have written something I work with it as an actor as well as a writer, saying it out loud and feeling the rhythms and the narrative from that perspective. I like to think that my lines are ‘sayable’ for actors. In everything I do I am rigorous and disciplined.
Do you feel experience in theatre/drama at an academic level is necessary for a playwright? If so, how?
I don’t think it’s necessary, but it’s been my experience, and I can’t imagine being without it. I do think that writing plays is a very muscular intellectual activity, and so a high level of education is needed, but this may be gained in other ways—or through the process of writing itself.
In your experience, is the theatre industry accepting of new writing? If so/not—how?
The theatre doesn’t eat up new writing the way TV, film, and radio do. Theatres do a lot of adaptations, as they are generally constrained financially and need a ‘title’ they can sell. Audiences are quite risk averse and therefore so are theatres. It takes a lot of trust in a writer or a company for an audience to book in large numbers for a new and untested work. However, there is an appetite for this, which can be cultivated. There are theatres specifically dedicated to new writing—though these tend to be in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, etc. . . . Many of the big publicly funded theatres in major cities employ a literary manager to sift through scripts and work on developing new writers and new writing.
What one piece of advice would you offer to aspiring playwrights?
It’s very difficult to break in, but as an actor you’re in a much bigger pool than as a writer. There are far fewer writers out there, as it’s really hard—and even fewer good ones. If you’ve got ability and you persevere and learn your craft you’re in with a shout. Also—see anything and everything and learn from others. It’s possible to learn as much (if not more) from a bad play as from a good one.
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