Becoming a professional writer is hard. It’s a business of no guarantees and soul-crushing rejection. It’s even worse, however, when you’re a playwright.
If you’re a poet, an essayist, or a writer of fiction, there are thousands of print and online journals where you can submit your work. You have a fair chance at being accepted in one of these if you’re any good. These journals look for unpublished material, new talent. That’s their purpose.
Where are the journals for playwrights? As a playwright, I can tell you that there aren’t that many. There are few journals for plays exclusively, and even fewer that consider accepting one-act plays (a format that typically ranges from 30 minutes to an hour). A journal that’s willing to take a full-length play? Forget about it.
Can you submit new material to theaters? Yeah. Good luck getting it past the heavy-hitters. “To whom it may concern: Would you please consider accepting my play for your 2015 season? I know, I know. For the sake of profit and common sense, you probably won’t want to advertise an entirely unheard of play when you could be bringing in droves with the classics.” Hmm. It’s not a hard choice between an unheard of play versus “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
New playwrights, then, rely entirely on play festivals which offer opportunities for non-produced or unknown work. It’s not only good for playwrights, it’s good for the community. These festivals let the community that hosts them see brand new or obscure theatrical works that they would likely never see otherwise.
One of the best things about one-act festivals is the variety you can get. A full-length play will give you an hour-plus of one genre. One-acts will let you experience multiple genres (via multiple plays) in the same time it would take to sit through one full-length play. The variety makes the experience worth it.
Last Friday and Saturday, the Manhattan Arts Center put on its third annual One Act Play Festival. The MAC offers galleries, a black box theater and a stage for musicians during the year. I enjoyed it tremendously because it gave me a chance to see the work of three playwrights I hadn’t had exposure to. It featured performances by Manhattan locals, letting me know that K-State is not the only artistic hotspot in Manhattan. This city’s invested in culture, and you don’t see that everywhere.
The first two plays were funny and dark, respectively. John Wooten’s, “The Role of Della,” humorously covers the lengths an actor might go to in order to grab that role of a lifetime. However, I thought the best written play (no contest) was “No Shoulder,” written by Nina Shengold. I’m going to have to keep an eye out for more of her work. A serious drama with moments of dark humor and poetic language, “No Shoulder” asks the audience to evaluate their own life decisions.
Yet, the applause clearly marked “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All To You,” as the show-stopper. It was a spectacular satire, both sharp and funny, on the sort of religious education that ends up harming individuals psychologically. Christopher Durang’s play ran the gamut of emotions in the audience by getting a laugh and then ripping that laugh away by magnifying its ramifications. Penny Cullers, an MAC regular, was committed to playing the title character Sister Mary Ignatius. Her acting talent and Durang’s script truly felt like they were made for each other.
The Manhattan Arts Center hosts the annual One-Act Play Festival each summer. If you missed it, don’t worry; annual means it’ll be back next year. In the meantime, you should check into what’s happening during the remainder of their 2014-15 season by visiting manhattanarts.org.
Jesse Lobbs is a graduate student in English. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.