Start a Playwriting Contest Using 20 Questions

Start a Playwriting Contest in 20 Easy Steps

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Twenty-nine years ago, I was president of a community theatre, the Columbia Entertainment Company, in Columbia, Missouri.  Also, I was the director of a youth theatre program for them.   I volunteered hundreds of hours to both programs. It was an amazing learning experience and one that I draw upon from time to time in my career.

Here is the story of probably the most important thing we did in this company:  We created a national playwriting contest for large cast youth theatre plays.  It is called the Jackie White National Playwriting Award Contest and still in existence to this day.  That’s a long time for a contest of this nature to flourish, especially sponsored by a community theatre.

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The Origin

Thirty years ago I was a young woman who needed scripts for large student casts—over thirty students in number, ages fourth through ninth grade.  At the time, there were very few plays to choose from, much less musicals for kids.

 I lamented to a board I was having a difficult time finding any suitable plays for the season. In the past, I pad the roles with extra non-speaking characters or ones with little ad libs, but what I really needed was youth theatre plays with large casts, period. The board member suggested our company create our own playwriting contest specifically for this purpose.

So, really out of desperation, we created one!

Please understand, we had NO idea what we were doing.  We merely figured it out as we progressed.  It took us a few years to perfect the contest, but it is still one of the most valuable programs the theatre created.

The Why

Generally, playwrights need their plays or musicals to be produced before a publishing company will represent them. The Denver Performing Arts Center sponsors a New Play Summit each year in February.

Their contest is very clever.  The first time the winning entries are produced as stage readings with minimal set and costumes.  The audience gives feedback after the performance through a survey.

If the play suits DPAC’s needs, during the next season, they mount a full production of it.  My husband and I have attended several years of the New Play Summit and enjoyed being part of the creative process. We feel more invested in the play, because we offered our suggestions. Whether DPAC intends to or not, this is a terrific way to encourage audience members to return to see the production once it is produced.

Your contest could be created by your drama class, community theatre or even youth group.  There is no end to the possibilities a contest of this type affords a group. The contest can be as big or small as your group desires. You could sponsor whatever kind of contest you want—a ten minute plays, musicals for youth theatre, plays focused on bullying or plays concerning tolerance. It’s all up to you.

Now before you look at these questions and think is an overwhelming project, I want you to consider the people who will receive such fulfillment from the contest. Playwrights are always seeking places to get their plays read and produced.  That could be you!

Here are some questions to contemplate when creating your own playwriting contest:

1)      What is the mission of our contest?  What is our end result?  Are we looking for something particular subject to be explored? Reach a particular audience? Attract an underserved demographic?

2)      What are the requirements of the winning script?  Cast size, gender and age of characters, length of play or musical, set, costumes props and the feasibility of producing the script within the confines of our budget are all important questions to consider.

3)       Is any subject taboo? In some social circles, certain subjects are considered appropriate.

4)      How about inappropriate language?

5)      Should we charge a fee to enter the contest?  How much?

6)      Are there granting agencies or donors we could approach to fund the contest?

7)      What is our budget to spend to advertise the contest?

8)      What free media sources will we use to publicize the contest?

9)      Will we fully mount the winning entry?

10)  Should we present a stage reading?

11)  Can anyone enter the contest? Are we seeking only student scripts or adults?

12)  Who will read the scripts and make the final decision on the awardee?

13)  Will we award 1st 2nd and 3rd place awards as well as honorable mention? How many honorable mentions?

14)  What will the winner receive?  A cash award, gift, certificate, life time season tickets?

15)  Where will the cash award money come from? A donor?  A service organization? Your city’s arts council?

16)  After the awardee is selected, will we publicize the winner?

17)  Do we want to bring the winning playwright to the performance?

18)   If the winning playwright attends, is it our responsibility to provide room and board to them?

19)  If the playwright is present, do we want to host a social in their honor?

20)  What is our time line?

A Contest with Their Head in the Right Place 

I am an indie author, too. Recently, I ran upon an indie author book contest in England created by a popular children’s author, Edward Trayer.  The Whistling Shelf Award is a fairly new contest.

When I was perusing his website regarding it, I discovered he charges an entrance fee and donates a portion of money to the Blind Children fund in England. Now, that’s my kind of author.  Because of this, I quickly entered my book, Bumbling Bea into its competition.  I look forward to this year’s awards.

I believe in philanthropy and I believe in the power of theatre.  I bet you do, too.

Try your hand creating a playwriting contest. The Jackie White National Children’s Play Writing Contest is one of the most important programs the Columbia Entertainment Company ever created.

If a desperate, young director like me with no experience creating a contest can be successful, so can you!

Denver Performing Arts Center New Play Summit:

http://www.denvercenter.org/events/colorado-new-play-summit

Wishing Shelf Book Awards

http://www.thewsa.co.uk/

Contact me at dhcbaldwin@gmail.com or check out my website at DeborahBaldwin.net I’d love to hear from you!

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Full Circle Moments

What No One Tells You About Full Circle Moments–Part One

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I am excited!  This weekend I’m going to enjoy a full circle moment. I should call it a full circle moments, because I’ have experienced several in my life. 

Have you ever experienced one?  You know, a “pay it forward” kind  of thing? They’re deeply fulfilling.

As a teacher and director, I’ve had many.  It seems to go with the territory. I would imagine everyone experiences full circle moments several times in their lifetime. If they are happy ones, we are joyful. If they are sad, I’m not certain we recognize them as full circle moments, but some sort of lesson we still need to learn.

Has anyone advised you how to handle them? Me neither.

No one tells you the brevity of them– they are magical and surprising.

Full circle moments, in general, are random.

An example:  My Ukrainian pen pal ended up on a  train  in Romania with a professor from my small midwestern hometown who knew my family.  That’s one chance in at least a million chances of occurring.

Another:  My daughter grows up to perform in a show with one of her babysitters who grew up and became an actress at my encouraging. They perform together in a different city one hundred miles away. Ten years later.

You have to admit full circle moments make you take a pause. Sometimes they are baffling. You are afraid to share them with anyone for fear they’ll think you are crazy–you are fantasizing and dillusional.

We can’t prophesy when full circle moments will occur or even if we’ll have one. That’s what makes them special.

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This particular full circle moment began very innocently.

Forty years ago next month, in 1977 I  student taught drama at West Junior High School in Columbia, MO. Some of the students were the best students I’ve taught, even if I was still in the learning phase of my career.  I am still friends with many of them today.

A young man, Randall Kenneth Jones, is a student of mine during that semester.  He is smart, witty and clever.

In 1978, we work together in an outdoor community theater.  Randy performs Dauntless in Once Upon a Mattress while I serve as the stage properties mistress.  We perform as brother and sister in 110 in the Shade.  He is in the chorus while I portray Mrs. Bumble in Oliver!

Two years later, my former husband and I create a community theater– Columbia Entertainment Company.  Randy performs in several of the shows–Two by Two and Damn Yankees.  I perform with him in Damn Yankees.

Get this: My cooperating teacher when I student taught, Jackie Petit White, performs in the production as well!

Randy attends the University of Missouri-Columbia in journalism.  Afgter graduating, he moves to Washington, DC. He works in marketing, advertising and public relations with a focus on creative development. He develops a terrific resume which includes PR and marketing for Walgreens, JCPenney, The Washingon Post and more.

I stay in Missouri, divorce, remarry, have children, preside over CEC for several years, run a theatre school, teach drama to middle schoolers and create several youth theater programs.  I direct several hundreds plays and musicals with adults and children alike. My resume is different from Randy’s, but equally successful.

In essence, we are equally busy.

Bumbling Bea

Time passes….

Thirty-nine years later in 2016, we meet again. I read on Facebook Randy has authored a really cool book, Show Me.  Show Me is filled with over one hundred interviews Randy collected with very successful people–Pat Benatar, Barbara Cochran, Jent Evanovich, Tyler Mathiesen, Suze Orman, just to name a few.

He’s about to release Show Me.  I write him, congratulating him.  We rekindle our friendship.  We promise to do a better job of keeping up with each other.

It’s fun to know again this great student, now a grown man. He’s just as witty, clever and smart.

Now the full circle moment–

Two months go by and Randy contacts me.  He’s traveling to  Columbia to do a fundraiser for CEC which was built twenty-nine years ago. (Isn’t that crazy?) For the fundraiser,  he’ll be performing a stand up routine, selling and autographing his book, too.

His routine includes memories of the teachers who inspired him, one of which was my cooperating teacher, Jackie Petit White.   He wants to speak about me as well, because I was very instrumental in keeping the community theatre afloat for years.

Would I be interested in participating as well?

Heck, yes!

I’m not taking center stage.  This event isn’t about me, but I will benefit from it.  I’ll be signing and selling Bumbling Bea (2.0) books before and after the show.

A portion of the proceeds go to Columbia Entertainment Company.  Tickets may be reserved in advance at cectheatre.org

In some respects, full circle moments are snippets of time in our lives. 

They prove, “I am here on earth.  I matter.  I helped someone to find themselves.”  My inner self and actual self meet in congruence. Wow!

We have amazing lives whether we notice them occurring or not. Could I have foreseen this upcoming moment? Never.

What full circle moments have you experienced?

Read part two of this full circle moment here: https://dramamommaspeaks.com/2017/03/28/what-no-one-tells-you-about-full-circle-moments-part-two/

Randy and I would love to see you and say hello.  You’ll find our books on Amazon.com

See you soon!

full circle moments

I’d love to hear about your full circle moments.  Contact me at dhcbaldwin@gmail.com or my website at DeborahBaldwin.net

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