Choosing Scripts – Solo v. Consensus Methods

July 2, 2012

Since Big Story Small with Pony World, I’ve been mostly reading scripts. I’ve gone through script submission processes twice before since moving to Seattle in 2009, but on both occasions the processes were anonymous and for ten-minute works. Reading nearly 300 ten-minute plays is a lot different than reading around 40 full-length scripts or 30 some-odd proposals. I have enjoyed and struggled through all of the systems but each time I learn something new and feel more empowered to do it better the next time.

In May, I organized all of the submissions for Macha Monkey’s upcoming season. I read all of the scripts, culled it down to the best (high quality, fit our mission) and shared them with the company. Not everyone had a chance to read the ones I selected, but they did read the best one, which we all chose. (Of course now the more difficult part is securing a director!) The position was more of a liaison between the ultimate decider, the Artistic Director, and the playwrights. This is a similar process to the one I used for selecting the ten-minute plays, except that I had to enlist my dad to help me eliminate the weak ones for that process because there were just too many to slog through.

Directly on the heels of choosing Macha Monkey’s season, I jumped into the process of choosing Annex Theatre’s season. Annex Theatre choose its season by a very different process. As a collective, the decision is made with consensus. Not everyone reads the scripts or meets the potential candidates, but everyone has an opinion. By the end of the process, everyone has to agree. Otherwise, not everyone is in support of the season and that’s no fun for anybody.

I don’t know how much I can share about “The Afternoon of Long Knives” (the day we finally decide on the season at Annex Theatre) or the pitch sessions leading up to them (every person who submits has an opportunity to present their piece if they so choose) but I’ll share what I can. The pitch sessions (I attended three) were nerve-wracking and informative for me. I felt nervous for the presenters but also in a cushy place of power (“I choose your fate and I’m semi-anonymous.”) which was difficult to reconcile. I also learned the difference between taking a risk on a script versus taking a risk on a person.

I’ve slogged through anonymous scripts, read full scripts submitted by Google-able playwrights, and now I’ve worked my way through a proposal in which a playwright details their process and potential script, but there are no words-to-be-put-on-the-stage attached. It’s a method that works for Annex but would not work for everybody. For a theatre devoted to producing new work, I think this is the best method. It’s about finding a balance between how someone presents themselves in person, how specific they can be in their proposal, reading the snippets of script they send, and looking at their resume for examples of past work. None of it can give you the whole picture. Every time, they are taking a huge risk. Will this playwright deliver the same way they did two years ago? Will this new playwright who just moved here collaborate well with this director who we know and love and trust? Will this new and fresh director deliver on a fabulous script with a strong and trusted co-director?

Each show has its own needs that Annex works hard to meet in order to create the strongest season possible. Also, even though they give everyone a fair chance to present their script (some playwrights don’t respond so that takes them out of the running immediately), the Annex company and staff don’t make decisions lightly. (I am still having trouble including myself in the group who made the decision even though I voted and opined to great effect.) We did not select the entire season before we left the room just because we said we were going to. There is still some follow-up to do so that we don’t go in blindly. It’s wise and admirable and impressive.

Overall, I enjoyed both processes of choosing scripts as an individual and as a group. As an individual, the power trip is like no other and I still got to pass the torch onto the ultimate decider. As a group, it’s comforting to have support and needing to argue your point really makes you consider what you are willing to fight for and why you are so passionate about certain projects.

I am excited to be involved in the process again for next season, if I’m available, and can’t wait until Annex announces its new season!

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