Wait a second! Did we just hear that somebody said they wanted to be a playwright? Before you make any rash decisions, try scribbling a few short stories first. Alternatively, you might try to write a novel. Once you've got a firm grip on how good writing works, you might try to jot down a play. Why do we say this? The reason is simple. If you were a novelist, you could simply write a book which people might read at their leisure. Typically, they'll scan a few chapters day by day as they swing lazily in their backyard hammock. If your story interests them, that's good -- but if it doesn't interest themthat's bad! captivateThey will put the book aside and attend to other things, perhaps mow the lawn, have a snooze. A playwright, on the other hand, demands more of his audience. S/he requires people to buy a ticket, hire a babysitter, get dressed up, drive downtown, find a place to park, then sit in the dark for two hours. When people sit in the dark, they tend to feel anonymous. They tend to close their eyes, they nod off. A playwright must write a compelling work if he wants his audience to stay awake.

While saddled with this responsibility, a playwright must also work with less control over his masterpiece than a novelist. For example, if it's a dark and stormy night, a novelist can write a few descriptive words to set the scene. A playwright, on the other hand, is forced to rely on other people to make his masterpiece work. If it's a dark and stormy night, s/he'd better have a good lighting technician to make it so. If he casts the leading man as a dapper "man about town", s/he needs wardrobe people who are capable of designing the right costumes. Then there's the actors. What if they flub their lines or the director has a hangover? A playwright must depend on a lot of people within his two hour framework to be a big hit or a miserable failure. His masterpiece happens in the here and now -- right before the viewer's eyes.

So did you say you want to be a playwright? Our prayers are with you
-- because you'll need all the help you can get.

Now don't get us wrong. Don't think for a moment that we're discounting the challenges of writing a novel -- because that, too, is a tough road to hoe. All we're saying is that there's a lof of work to being a playwright -- and, frankly, we're in awe of those who can pull it off successfully. Aside from his own set of headaches, however, the playwright also shares the challenges of the novelist. Whether you're a playwriter or a novelist, you have to keep the story moving. You have to keep the viewer or reader's interest -- and each type of writing requires "hooks" to carry the spectator along (hooks are those little "mysteries" that keep cropping up to keep the spectator interested in the action.) And like a good novel, there are two very important ingredients to a screenplay: conflict and interesting characters. Conflict is, of course, required in every great piece of literature. Conflict adds tension. It is the glue that binds the spectator to the plot.

The best kind of conflict is between people -- man against man -- to pique the audience's interest. If there is a good conflict, the audience is kept curious as to exactly who will come out the winner. Other conflicts exist as well. There's man against circumstances (Blanche Dubois wanted what she couldn't have and was at everyone's mercy in a Street Car Named Desire). There's also man against nature, man against himself, and -- well, you name it. In every play, there must also be interesting characters. Who wants to get dressed up and drive downtown to watch dull people? The audience might as well stay in their backyards and watch their neighbours (well, perhaps that isn't the best analogy). Interesting characters seek answers to their problems in interesting ways -- often in ways that are beyond the norm. The best way to use your characters is to use them in their most extreme forms. Hamlet, for example, double crossed everybody to discover who killed his father. Richard II killed the rest of the cast in his attempts to gain the throne. (By the way, this play saves money on actors).See what we mean? Interesting people! Solving their problems in interesting ways!

When you write a play, you must, of course, work with a plot. A plot is simply a series of events strung together by dialogue. If you want your play to work, those events should "dovetail" easily into each other. In other words, if something happens, it causes something else to happen -- which keeps the spectator interested in the action. The action is like a set of dominoes. When one action happens, it sets off a chain reaction...and the audience is spellbound as the action unfolds.

Start writing. Where do you get your ideas? Study the famous plays. You can start with the "Six Famous Plays of the Modern Era". They are:
The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov
The Master Builder by Henrik Ibsen
Mrs. Warren's Profession by George Bernard Shaw
Red Roses For Me by Sean O'Casey
All My Sons by Arthur Miller
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

In addition to the plays we've mentioned above, there are many other plays that are based on historical events or characters. For example, in the play Amadeus by Peter Shaffer there is an analysis of the love/hate relationship between Salieri and Amadeus Mozart, which illuminates their characters. This play was an excellent example of tension at work. The audience was always kept in suspense as to what Salieri's next move might be -- and was he, indeed, the one who poisoned Amadeus? Other ideas can be culled from contemporary stories or your own personal experience. It doesn't matter what your profession is. You can still be a playwright. If you were a dentist, for example, you'd know all the ins and outs of the profession -- and you could base your play on what really happens when the novocaine kicks in. One day your epiphany will come -- and you'll start writing. But don't just write willy nilly! Write down an outline of who the characters will be -- with a character sketch for each.

Write down the plot -- and make sure your ending sparkles and makes your point. Don't forget the conflict -- and the tension.

Like life itself, a play has a beginning, a middle and an end -- but if you want your play to be successful, it should have a terrific beginning an awesome middle and a rivetting and emotional end. It should be structured like a hard driving, heart-pounding machine -- a huge Hoover Vacuum Cleaner, so to speak that is switched on as soon as the curtain rises,then switched off the moment the curtain falls. As the play progresses, the Hoover should increase in intensity, sucking the audience in until they're virtually holding on to the edge of their seats. When the curtain falls and when you switch your Hoover off, your audience should be left gasping for breath (that's when you really know you've got a winner!) Your play should contain the following elements:

The "I want" section. This happens at the beginning of the play when the characters reveal their hopes and dreams and goals. For example, in a musical, it's usually the second song when the lead actor gazes wistfully at the moon and sings his or her deepest wishes. In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy sang "Somewhere over the Rainbow".
The "uh-oh" section when the character's deepest desires are being thwarted. This usually happens in the middle of the play. If we stay with the "Wizard of Oz" scenario, the Wicked Witch of the West wants to stop Dorothy from fulfilling her wants. Dorothy has to use her wits to fulfill her wishes.
The Resolution. This is when all the characters have resolved their difficulties and have achieved (or not achieved) their goals. In the Wizard of Oz, the characters wanted something that wasn't really available. The Lion wanted a heart, the Scarecrow a Brain and the Tin Man some oil, but what they didn't realize was that those elements were already within their reach. All those elements were within them!The "magic" was already theirs! What a resolution! Everybody walks out of the play feeling happy --- not only for the characters, but for themselves and the human condition!

Imagine this. You've just written a play. Once you've got all your thoughts down on paper, you head for the theatre, leap up on the stage and read your manuscript. Perhaps you're a great reader, but if you're not a great actor, there's a good chance you will bore your audience to tears. In order for your play to succeed, you'll need actors. Actors are usually fairly temperamental people -- not because they're naturally cantankerous (although many are) but because they are "artists" -- and "artists" strive for perfection. When you deal with actors, you must understand their mindset. Every actor dreams of the perfect role -- the role they play that will lodge themselves in the public's minds forever. For example, if we asked you who was the best Ebeneezer Scrooge, who would you say? To our way of thinking, it was Alistair Sim. If we asked you who was the best James Bond, who would you say? Most people agree it was Sean Connery (although this new guy is giving Sean a run for his money). Every actor wants to be as memorable to their role as these actors were to theirs and if an actor suspects that your script isn't helping them achieve their goal, they will tell you. And it's important that you listen. Don't let your vanity get in the way. If actors don't understand where your script is leading, they will not be able to breathe life into your words. And if you don't listen to their suggestions, they will become apathetic -- and deliver the lines as though they were talking robots. So it's important to treat them as more than just puppets. By listening to your actors and adjusting to their needs, you'll have a better chance of succeeding with your play!

Arthur Miller -- 1915 - 2005

Arthur Miller wasn't doing a lot with his life until he read "The Brothers Karamazov", which was a book that changed his life profoundly. Thanks to its effect, he decided to become a writer. He wanted to "bring to the stage all the elements of the novel". He worked in radio for many years, wrote a novel "Focus" -- which fell flat on its style and then wrote his first big success: "All My Sons" in 1947. In 1949, he really got into the swing of things and won the Pulitzer Prize for "Death of A Salesman", one of the most powerful and moving plays of our time.

Tennessee Williams -- 1911 -1983

Tennessee Williams was born in Columbus, Mississippi. He moved north to St Louis when he was twelve. His first play, Battle with Angers, starred Miriam Hopkins, closed in Boston after a couple of days. After that failure, he subsided on odd jobs such as "elevator operator" and "movie usher". When he finally got the necessary cash together, he travelled to Hollywood and wrote his first big smash success "The Glass Menagerie". Among his long string of hits are: "A Streetcar Named Desire", "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof", and "Night of the Iguana".

Noel Coward -- 1899 - 1973

Noel was an Englishman. He was born on Teddington on the Thames. His first play was bought but not produced. "The Vortex" in 1923 was his first hit -- which was followed by one brilliant success after another: "Hay Fever", "Bitter Sweet", "Private Lives", "Designed for Livings" and dozens of others. After World War War 11, he returned to the silver screen to write: "In Which We Serve", "This Happy Breed", and "Brief Encounter" and the delightful film version of "Blithe Spirit".

Thornton Wilder -- 1897 - 1975

Can you imagine winning not one, but three Pulitzer Prizes? Thornton Wilder did! His first successful novel, The Bridge Of San Luis Rey" was a play and a movie. His next Pulitzer Prize winners were "The Skin of Our Teeth" and, of course, the enduring "Our Town". Other plays include: "The Matchmaker", "Infancy", "Childhood", and "Lust". All his works bear the stamp of a truly original mind.

George S. Kauffman -- 1889 -- 1961

George S. Kauffman was both a great playwright and a brilliant collaborator. He penned only one play on his own: "The Butter and Egg Man" in 1925. But he collaborated with dozens of other writers to create many award-winning plays, two of which won Pulitzer Prizes. George went on to work in films, including several scripts for the Marx Brothers and in 1951, he directed the stage production of Guys and Dolls.

Eugene O'Neill --- 1888 - 1953

The son of a famous romantic actor, Eugene O'Neill has been one of the most influential and respected of modern playwrights. After stints as a sea captain, a gold miner, a reporter and actor, he finally settled on writing plays. Many of his works weren't produced, since he wanted them released 25 years after his death. Among the more famous plays: Beyond the Horizon, a Pulitzer Prize Winner, "A Long Day's Journey Into Night", "Desire Under the Elms" and "The Iceman Cometh".

Web Sites For the Playwright
Playwrights on the Web Yahoo: Theatres on the Web

Companies Who Accept New Plays
These theaters are open to direct submissions from playwrights (as opposed to through an agent, director, or artistic director). As is the case with most writing jobs, most respond best to a synopsis, brief sample, cover letter and SASE.

A Contemporary Theatre
Seattle WA
Actors' Guild of Lexington
Lexington KY
Adobe Theatre Company
New York NY
Allied Theatre Group
Fort Worth TX

Stone Mountain GA
Artists Repertory Theatre
Portland OR
Aurora Theatre Company
Berkeley CA
Axis Theatre
Baltimore MD
Barter Theatre
Abingdon VA
Bristol Riverside Theatre
Bristol PA
City Theatre Company
Pittsburgh PA
Clarence Brown Theatre Company
Knoxville TN
Cleveland Public Theatre
Cleveland OH
Company of Fools
Hailey ID
Contemporary American Theatre Festival
Shepherdstown WV
Edyvean Repertory Theatre
Indianapolis IN
Famous Door Theatre
Chicago IL
Germinal Stage Denver
Denver CO
The Group at the Strasberg Acting Studio
West Hollywood CA
Hip Pocket Theatre
Fort Worth TX
Horizon Theatre Company
Atlanta GA
InterAct Theatre Company
Philadelphia PA
Illinois Theatre Center
Park Forest IL
John Drew Theater
East Hampton NY
Long Beach Playhouse
Long Beach CA
McCarter Theatre Center for the Performing Arts
Princeton NJ
Mill Mountain Theatre
Roanoke VA
Moving Arts
Los Angeles CA
New American Theater
Rockford Illinois.
The New Group
New York NY
New Jersey Repertory Company
Long Branch NJ
New Repertory Theatre
Newton Highlands MA
Pegasus Theatre
Dallas TX
Pittsburgh Public Theatre
Pittsburgh PA
Playwrights Horizons
New York NY
Portland Center Stage
Portland OR
Portland Stage Company
Portland ME
Primary Stages
New York NY
The Public Theatre
Auburn ME
Red Eye
Minneapolis MN
Riverside Theatre
Iowa City IA
Round House Theatre
Silver Spring MD
Hudson NY
Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center
Tampa FL
Menlo Park CA
Theatrical Outfit
Atlanta GA
Trinity Repertory Theatre
Providence RI
Trustus Theatre
Columbia SC
Unicorn Theatre
Kansas City MO
The Victory Theatre
Burbank CA
Watertower Theatre Inc.
Addison TX
Westbeth Theatre Center
New York NY

General Writing Links

Authorlink Information on the publishing industry, literary agents, some information on what editors are looking for, as well as new books coming out, writing links, and links to established writers.
Poets & Writers. Many, many writing topics, mostly for prose and poetry. The site is the web site of Poet and Writer's Magazine. Speakeasy forum is a good place to share triumphs and tragedies with other writers as well as bitch, moan, and pick up market tips. Kind of an ongoing writer's conference where you don't have to eat the stale cookies.
WESTAF An excellent list of resources for the "mid-career working writer." Lists writers communities, includes a reference section, information on grants, information publishing, specialized genres, and lists of pertinent magazines. Very intelligently put together.