What theater festivals, grants, and awards can learn from college applications.

I talk to a lot of emerging writers who are eager to get their shows produced or to just get a Producer to read their script (I put a few tips on how to do that in my new “Whiteboard Workshop” series on Facebook this week – which you can watch here).

One of the tips I give to writers is to submit to festivals, enter contests (Jonathan Larson Award, Richard Rodgers Award), apply for grants, etc., because the good housekeeping seal of approval of one of these organizations (or any organization, really) is just another way for your script to stand out from the others.

And every advantage counts.

But this blog isn’t for the writers, it’s for the festivals and awards and anyone seeking scripts for the purpose of advancing our art form or shining a spotlight on undiscovered talent.

See, submitting to all these places is challenging for these artists. I know this because I just asked a whole bunch and they told me exactly that (my favorite question to ask any group I’m speaking is, “What are you struggling with” or “What keeps you up at night,” and then we try to overcome it).

There are a lot of these festivals and awards and such (we keep track of them for our writers in here) . . . and they all have different requirements for submission. That means it takes writers a huge chunk of their day to put together just one application, while most are struggling with their day job, never mind finding time to write. And these smart writers know that the more they apply to, the more chance they have of getting through the gatekeepers.

In the brainstorming session that I had with this group of next-gen writers, I couldn’t help but wonder . . . what if a whole bunch of these grants, festivals, and contests did what colleges did back in the day. In an effort to increase the number of applications (in the hopes of finding even better students), a group of schools agreed to accept a “Common Application,” a simple standardized app that one prospective student could submit to multiple colleges.

Making it easier for writers to submit gives these important artists more of a shot at success, and gives the organizations looking for them a better chance for higher quality and greater diversity.

So if you’re an organization seeking scripts, get together with some others and see if you can simplify the process for our writers. They could use the help.

And if your organization isn’t running a festival or a script competition . . . think about starting one.


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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.