In News, Opportunities, Playwrights

How do we select plays?

At Playwriting Australia we approach the selection of plays with care and precision. It is a multi-stage process that involves a number of different readers assessing plays across a detailed list of criteria. It is a process that also allows for readers to be in conversation with us and with each other, ensuring quality control of reader’s responses.

Plays must be read with great sensitivity and attention to detail in order to find fine, honest, disarming, fierce, innovative, tender, joyous new work for production.

We believe terrific new writing must be produced and we do this reading to give playwrights opportunities to develop and/or showcase their best new plays in order to see the work reach production.

All plays submitted to Playwriting Australia are read in their entirety.

There is always at least one playwright involved in the final programming selection, as well as Playwriting Australia’s senior artists.

 In the first stage of selection, all plays are read ‘blind’. That is, plays are read without the reader having any knowledge of the identity of the playwright.

Plays are assessed against the following criteria:

  • originality
  • narrative
  • story
  • characterisation
  • quality of the dialogue and use of language
  • use of form
  • stage imagery
  • use of symbol and metaphor
  • engagement with the social or political context
  • the relationship between form and content
  • the relationship between intention and effect
  • the reader’s gut response
  • the quality of the voice
  • the ambition of the work
  • the intended genre
  • the theatricality of the play

At this stage, plays are also scored against five criteria: character, dialogue, plot, themes and ideas, and theatricality. Scoring is an imperfect mode for assessment, but can be a useful tool – alongside others – when dealing with a large number of submissions. (There were 176 submissions in February 2016, for eight development opportunities.)

We also ask the reader to write a synopsis of the play, note what they enjoyed, and what they were more critical of. Each reader receives between five and twenty scripts to assess, and we instruct them to rank the plays in their batch. Each first round play is read by 1-3 readers.

This combination of scoring, discursive response, ranking and checking against criteria is an invaluable, meticulous and productive technique to ensure each script is given the best chance to make it through, if it is good, to the next stage of assessment. The score and ranking may disagree with one another but the final arbiter here is a recommendation the script should move to the next level, and be considered further for development

We also ask the playwright to provide development notes because submitted scripts are often incomplete or at an early draft stage, giving the writer a chance to let us know their ambition and vision for the play.

The results of this first stage are checked by Playwriting Australia staff. Variations in scoring and any other anomalies are investigated and often move through to the second round of reading to ensure there is no bias or unreasonable subjectivity.

We sometimes convene a second panel of readers (different to the first), readers aware of the identity of the playwright, to read and assess the highest achievers from the first round. Their responses are discursive, though they too respond to the same criteria as the first round readers. The second round readers discuss their shortlist with our artistic staff at some length.

The final stage of the process involves a smaller panel reading and responding to both the first and second round shortlists. This panel consists of Playwriting Australia’s senior artistic staff, and at least one external senior playwright (often several more). Plays are read for a third, and often fourth, time and both first and second round readers are again consulted. Artistic staff at Playwriting Australia discuss the plays in detail and may at this point discuss the script and the specific development opportunity on offer with the applicant as the final selections are made. Quality of script, however, is the final arbiter. Many, many playwrights apply for places in our programs but our resources are limited and it is therefore a very competitive process.

This is a rigorous procedure and one that is demanding and necessarily time-consuming. We are confident that our readers are fastidious, fair-minded and have a good, practical knowledge of the theatre. The readers are playwrights, directors, dramaturgs and actors – the list of each year’s readers appears in our Annual Report.

Playwriting Australia is committed to representing the entire country onstage in all its facets. We are committed to gender parity and developing new works from the widest range of cultural backgrounds.

Ultimately we’re looking for work that is enthralling, captivating, and surprising; writing filled with promise, vision and inspiration. We’re rarely looking for scripts that are ready to be produced, rather for plays that will benefit from our development processes.

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