We asked theaters: Why do you charge submission fees?

Submission process

Submission fees can have a great impact on which opportunities writers choose to submit to, especially when writers often don’t know why the fees exist or how that money will be used. We wanted to make this issue a little more transparent by getting in touch with theaters and asking them directly why they charge submission fees and how those funds are used.

We decided to contact organizations whose opportunities appear on our membership site and asked them about their fees—how they’re set, what they fund, and if they’ve changed over time. The following theaters responded, and we’ve compiled their answers below. (Responses may have been edited for length and clarity.)

Jewish Ensemble Theater’s JETFest ($15 fee):
“The fee helps defray duplication, distribution, and administrative costs. A small financial commitment encourages a playwright to submit their best work that fits our mission. The fee is designed to help sustain the festival while not creating an impediment to submission.”

Pride Films and Plays ($10-30 fee):
“Pride Films and Plays charges submission fees for our play contests only for writers who are not members of the Dramatists Guild or writers who are a part of our Writers network. The fees defray a small portion of our expenses in running the contest. Last year we awarded $400 to 15 different writers who were finalists in our contest—$6,000 total. The finalists also got to participate in rehearsals and see a public performance of their piece. The entry fees cover a small portion of that, as well as costs for talent and other festival expenses.”

MacDowell Colony ($30 fee):
“A portion of our application processing fee goes to the online management site that hosts our application and provides tech support for the applicants. The remaining portion of the fee goes toward the admissions program. The fee has increased over time. Records from the 1970s and 1980s show that the fee was $10 and $15, and $20 in the 1990s and early 2000s. We increased the fee to $30 about 5 years ago when the application went online to help cover the cost of the management site hosting fee. We keep the fee low to make it affordable and offer a fee-waiver when the cost is prohibitive for an applicant to apply.”

Historic Elitch Gardens Theatre New Works Festival ($35 fee):
“The fee will go toward the production of the festival and the restoration of the Elitch Theatre.”

Sky Blue Theatre Company (£15 fee):
“Sky Blue Theatre Company provides the necessary money and invaluable help of gifted professionals to stage the plays. The £15 submission fee goes a small way to help subsidize the enormous costs: hire of audition and rehearsal venues and the theatre for performances, as well as the cost of filming the plays. The readers/assessors put in hours of unpaid work. Along the way, Sky Blue have managed to pay for the filming of the plays and obtaining written assessment from publishing companies for each play as part of the winners’ package.”

Weathervane Playhouse’s 8x10 TheatreFest ($10 fee):
“Weathervane’s fee is not a reading fee. No one will be paid to read plays. We are charging a fee to help cover administrative costs. Among these costs will be the services of a Contest Coordinator. All production expenses of TheatreFest are covered by the Playhouse. No outside sources of funding are available—theater management is concerned with affecting current Playhouse fundraising strategies.”

Ticket to Write Festival (£10 fee):
“The fee funds the prize of £150 for the winning writer. The main part of the fee goes to pay a theater professional to give a considered critique of the entry. Any surplus helps to fund the production. Last year, the fee went up to £20, £10 of which went to the assessor. This year, because of a windfall to fund the prize money, I have slashed the entry fee to £10, all of which will go to the assessor.”

Pittsburgh New Works Festival ($15 fee):
“Every single script that is submitted receives at least two written critiques of the work. Playwrights receive a service for the money that they are spending. It is up to each playwright to decide if there is enough value for the cost of submission. The money collected from these fees is invested directly into the Festival. PNWF is a grassroots, all-volunteer organization. Every penny that we collect from submission fees, ticket sales, raffles, etc. is put directly back into creating an opportunity for playwrights to have their plays on stage and to receive meaningful feedback on their work.”

Playhouse on the Square ($15 fee):
“Our submission fees help cover expenses such as administrative, printing, advertising, and supplies. It also helps fund our cash prizes.”

New England Theatre Conference ($10 fee):
“We charge a $10 handling fee, which covers the cost of processing each script as well as the cost of shipping scripts to the readers.”

Neil Simon Festival ($25-55 fee):
“Our decision to charge fees is based on the economics we face with new play development and our desire to put quality plays in front of our audience. Our contest is only in its fifth year, so we’re still in the process of cultivating a substantial audience that will attract a philanthropic entity to help financially support the process. Until then, we embrace our decision to pay readers and respondents for their expertise during the selection process. The largest portion of our fees go to pay for the work of our readers and respondents. We’ve hand-selected a group of working playwrights and dramaturgs who have an established history with new play development, and who are also sensitive to the mission statement of the Festival and its audience. We have a standard submission fee that pays for our readers to read and assess the script and then respond to me with their viewpoint. We also have a higher submission fee that is used to pay for respondents who not only read and assess the script, but also provide a 3-5 page response to the playwright. Each year I receive emails from submitting playwrights who appreciate the respondent’s specificity, insight, and respect for craft in their critiques.

In addition we use fees to fly out the winning playwright to the festival and house them for a five-day residency in preparation for the public staged reading of the script with our actors. A smaller portion of the fees is also used for minor production expenses such as photocopying scripts.”

Bloomington Playwrights Project ($10 fee):
“BPP has had submission fees since long before my tenure (5.5 years now), and I’ve done what I can to get rid of them. I’m going to surmise that many theaters and their fees started the same way BPP did: they start because the organization doesn’t have enough money to produce the plays. For us, each play must be opened and processed in detailed manner before the literary associate or manager assigns the play to a reader. The reader thoroughly reads it and submits a review online. Readers are volunteers, but we do pay our staff and interns who orchestrate the readings. The literary team then catalogues that review score separately from the written review and sends it to a second reader, no matter what the first score was. The process is repeated. Then it gets filed separately to be read by me. I look at the scores the script has received as well as the reviews and read each play—some more thoroughly than others, depending on their reviews. I work to narrow down top plays and then often read my favorites again as I decide which to produce. I also pass out my favorites to other members of the artistic team and we discuss them. Then each playwright receives an email letting them know that they have either been selected or not. After you do this for upwards of a thousand plays each year, you can start to see why small theaters with small staffs feel the need to charge. BPP has had significant success in diversifying its income and making new plays marketable (we’re on track for playing to 100% capacity for the whole season!). For that reason, we’ve been able to be lenient on fees and I have waived any submission fee from an agent or from Dramatists Guild members. That decision cost me thousands of dollars of income per year, but I did it because my organization exists to serve the playwrights, and in an ideal world I really don’t want to be charging any fees! I urge playwrights to try and understand why fees exits. I don’t know that all organizations have the good intentions that BPP does, but I believe that most do. We’re a non-profit organization in a capitalist world doing the best we can to stay open and serve our community of patrons and playwrights.”

 

Cash register photo used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user skippy.

 

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