A novelist submitting his work to publisher after publisher in hopes of being discovered faces a daunting task, with only a small likelihood of a payoff. A playwright, on the other hand, may find it somewhat easier to find an audience for his work. Schools, churches and community theaters everywhere regularly present plays. Someone has to supply the material. Amateur playwright festivals are a common and popular way for playwrights to gain exposure and experience and for producers of plays to find new talent.
There is no shortage of amateur playwright festivals in the United States. For example, Columbus, SC has been home to the Trustus Festival since 1988. Many of its winners have later been published and produced off-Broadway or in Hollywood. The Center of the World Festival is held annually in Frazier Park, California. Its focus is Eco-Drama, featuring plays that are environmentally themed.The Telluride Playwrights Festival in Telluride, Colorado brands itself as a "laboratory" for amateur playwrights and others with an interest in theater. Its past winners have gone on to have their plays produced in New York, Chicago and Denver. The Actors Theatre of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky sponsors an annual "10-Minute Play" nationwide competition.
After location, the second factor of which to be aware with amateur playwrighting festivals is appropriateness of material. For example, the Center of the World Festival is ecology-themed and entries are limited to ten minutes in length. The Trustus Festival will not consider musicals or children's shows. The Telluride Playwrights Festival specifies only that submissions be "thought-provoking." The Actors Theatre of Louisville asks that characters in contest submissions range in age from 18-28.
Once a playwright has established that his play is appropriate for a particular festival, he should be sure to check the specifics of the contest guidelines. It would be unfortunate to invest time and effort into a good script only to find out that it features one too many characters--for example, the limit for Trustus Festival entries is 8--or that the submission date has passed. Playwrights should pay particular attention to any theme, length and formatting requirements and to which materials they are asked to send.
Prizes vary from competition to competition but the goal of any amateur playwright festival is the same: a production of the play. Some competitions also offer monetary awards. The Trustus Festival offers a staged reading and a $250 award to the playwright; after a year during which the playwright develops the script, a full production is staged and an additional $500 is awarded. The winner of the Actors Theatre of Louisville competition wins not only production of his play but also the $1,000 Heideman award.
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