Unknown Play by an Unknown Playwright

Lowell Williams

New Hampshire Columnist


The point of the exercise for the writer is to be produced. Novelists want to get published. Playwrights want to get produced.  Out of the gate, whether you have inked your first play at the age of seventy-three, or scrawled it in crayon at age three, you look for affirmations that it is “good.”  Good means that maybe you’ll get produced. If you can get produced, maybe people will come. So, you write and write. Soon, you discover that you are Unknown Playwright with an Unknown Play.

See, good is fine, but money is money. That nice regional theater company down the street, with the awesome lighting system and the Equity Actors, needs to be paid for. You know every time you’re there that they are shaking you down for cash. But, will you look at that beautiful set!?

So, you toil away, year after year, as I have. Honing your craft and getting a chance for a reading here or there. The odd opportunity for an “workshop production.” Let’s put it up in the Black Box.  Do you have something with just two actors? Is it a World Premiere?

In the world of the Unknown Play, you don’t want to give away the premiere status of your work too easily.  All the companies want that World Premiere status. They want to be able to say that they discovered it. Because, in order to produce you, they will need a grant.

Why? Because our subscribers will not come to see the Unknown Play. Especially by an Unknown Playwright. Where did you get your M.F.A.?

There are places where this is not true. They are well known to the Unknown Playwright. These theaters look for ways to winnow down the thousands of new plays they could receive in a year with a variety of schemes: It must come from an agent. It must be ten minutes long, or full length, or use a specific prop. It can’t have been produced before. It could have had a non-professional production. Include your resume. Don’t put your name on it. Send only printed copies. Send only digital copies. Include twenty-five dollars reading fee. Do this by midnight on the 30th. Wait six months. Wait a year. 

More often than not, you’re rejected with a short paragraph like this: “We received over 350 entries this year. Sorry, we didn’t pick yours. But, it’s good. It’s really, really good.”

Last year, I produced a reading of a new play myself. I had never sent it out to anyone. I got a room at a café for free, and I found a cast and a director, and we did it on the opening night of season five of Game Of Thrones. 

There were some one hundred people there for that reading. I discovered, much to my surprise, that I was no longer Unknown, at least in my community. That, after quite a long time of doing this thing, I was writing something that people wanted to see and talk about. And, it was really, really, good.