Tips for submitting your play

Submission process
Julia Brown

If you’ve spent time on the Opportunities page, you know that the submission opportunities listed vary greatly. There is no single set of rules for submitting plays to theaters, because different theaters have different processes and run in different ways. The postings on theater websites and on our Opportunities page should have all of the information you need to get started with your play submission. Below are some general tips and things to think about before you submit.

First and foremost

Be honest and follow instructions. This may seem obvious, but many playwrights submit unsuccessfully by forgetting or ignoring these two simple things. If a submission posting asks for plays 30 minutes long or shorter, don’t send your full-length and hope that the literary staff is so blown away they’ll bend the rules for you. They won’t. If a posting has a length, casting, or subject limit, it’s there for a reason. Even if your piece is the most amazing play to cross their desk in 50 years, they’ll most likely look at the page count and push it aside. Theater staff work very hard, and often have to field hundreds of script submissions between only a few people. You want to make their job as easy as possible so you’re remembered as the playwright with the great script, not the playwright who can’t read instructions.

On a similar note, be sure to read up on a theater company before sending a script. Many theaters have a section on their website with information about whether or not they accept script submissions. If they are unclear on the website, you can usually find an email or a mailing address to which you can send a letter of inquiry. It’s always best to find out whether or not the theater accepts scripts before you send one. This will save you time and money (particularly if you’re sending hard copies), and keep you on good terms with the theater. A polite letter of inquiry is much more likely to get a response than an unsolicited script (which will usually end up in the recycling bin). Think about who is receiving your submission and how to give them a positive first impression.

Submitting by regular mail

Fewer and fewer theaters are accepting scripts by regular mail for a number of reasons, such as convenience, storage, and environmental concerns. At the majority of theaters, email submissions are the norm.

However, some theaters do accept or ask for a hard copy via regular mail. Do not send a bound copy of your script unless the theater asks for one. Many submissions postings will include instructions for hard copy mailing (if you should use paper clips, staples, etc.), so be sure to follow those instructions. Sometimes the literary department scans a script and shares it with directors and producers digitally, so it’s much more convenient for them to have an unbound copy.

It’s also important to note submission fees. Some playwrights who send scripts internationally run into trouble with currency conversion - be sure to double check things like that before sending anything off.

If you want your script back, remember to include a self-addressed envelope with the correct postage. If you are concerned about the theater receiving your script, you may want to add a self-addressed postcard with correct postage, so that the theater can drop it in the mail and let you know that they’ve received the script.

Submitting by email

Keep the text of the email brief and to the point unless the posting asks for specific information. If the posting doesn’t specify what they need in the text of the email, it’s a good idea to include your name, contact info, and the title and running time of the play. If there are multiple documents attached to the email, mention them in your message (that way if one document doesn’t open properly or fails to attach, the recipient can let you know and you can resend it).

Always send your script as an attachment. Never copy and paste an entire play into an email message (it has happened).

Some theaters have the entire submission process on their website, so you may need to fill out an online form and upload documents directly to the site.

Files you might want to have available

Full script

Some writers save acts or scenes in separate files, but it’s important that if you’re submitting a script file via email it contains the entire text of your play. PDF format is a good idea; it will preserve your formatting so that the reader sees your script as you intended.

Identifying information

Some theaters will ask for scripts with your name and contact information on the cover page, while others require a script free from all identifying information. Be sure to read these instructions carefully, so that your submission is not disqualified. A theater that asks for a file without your name and information is not trying to steal your work but rather to ensure a blind evaluation process. That way, you will be evaluated on the strength of your script instead of on whatever the reader might know about you as a person.

Sample pages

Some theaters will ask for ten sample pages of the script instead of the entire thing. It’s important to follow these instructions. If they ask for a ten-page sample and you send your 150-page play, you’re most likely going to be disqualified. Some submission postings will ask specifically for the first ten pages, while others may ask for the ten strongest pages of the script. It’s good to save files with both options so that you’re prepared for anything. If you are allowed to choose your own selection to send, be sure that the pages make enough sense out of context to be enjoyable and that they leave the reader dying to know more about the play.

Synopsis

It’s helpful to have a synopsis on hand in case you need it. You want the synopsis to be intriguing and to give an idea of the tone and feel of the play, but you don’t necessarily want to spoil your big plot twists.

Cover letter and résumé

If the theater asks for a cover letter, it’s a good idea to do some research and make the letter specific to the company/contest/festival that you’re applying for. The résumé you include should be focused on playwriting (e.g., this is not the place to list your day job at the insurance company). See résumé tips and a sample playwriting résumé »

Bio

If you are submitting to a contest or a festival, the host theater will often ask for a bio to appear in publicity information about your play. That way if they select your piece they won’t have to track down all of the featured playwrights to get the information. It’s helpful to focus this biography on your writing or theater work. Remember that it’s also a part of your submission. See tips on writing a playwriting bio »

Casting breakdown

It’s a good idea to have a casting breakdown as part of your script anyway, but some postings will ask for this as a separate document. It’s important to be honest in this casting breakdown. If you have a role intended for an Asian-American male actor, for example, be sure to specify that so that the theater knows what to expect when they start looking for actors. Some playwrights end up disappointed with their casts because they failed to clearly state casting details. Don’t expect the casting staff to get all their information from the text of the play itself; be clear up front (e.g., BEN—male, Asian-American, 40s). If your characters aren’t specifically meant for an actor of a certain ethnicity, gender, or age, it’s helpful to note that in the breakdown as well (e.g., CAL—any gender, white, early-30s; or MARINA—female, any race, 54).

Do I follow up?

That depends. Some established companies and contests have a standard acknowledgment email that goes out after you submit a script. Some state clearly in the posting that they only contact finalists or winners. Other times, the posting will say something like “We will contact selected playwrights by X date.”

If the process is unclear, or if you worry that your submission did not reach the theater, you may want to follow up to be sure everything was received. See tips on communicating with theaters »

Finally

If you aren’t clear about any instructions, ask. Any staff member would prefer a polite question from a playwright to a pile of submissions that don’t fit the criteria. Most postings will list a contact email or phone number—use them!