Mr. Lazare in the Culture Club section of the December 27 Reader states that “an author submits a play to a theater company, where it winds up at the bottom of a stack of unsolicited manuscripts. Finally, someone gets around to reading it. If he likes it, he’ll pass it on to someone else, who’ll then mull it over before deciding whether to do a staged reading,” etc. I am afraid to inform Mr. Lazare that this is a somewhat romantic view of the play reading process. A more realistic description would probably be more along the lines of:
An author submits a play to a theater, more often than not solicited, but even if not it hardly matters since the treatment is generally the same, i.e., the play is given to someone whose specific duty it is to read it and comment on it, but instead it ends up at the bottom of a stack of too many plays for the theater to be considering (which wouldn’t be too many if the theater would only incorporate a few practical guidelines into their play consideration process), after which the playwright more often than not never hears from the theater again unless he writes to them at the end of six months to a year inquiring after the submission, to which no answer is received so a few months later another letter is sent which results in still no answer, and then another letter is sent which results in one of several scenarios: (1) they claim to have never received the play, (2) the person responsible for reading it left and they don’t know what he did with the plays he was supposed to be reading, (3) they return the play without reading it at all, sometimes with a letter stating that since the writer inquired after his play that he is to never submit to them again, (4) they return it with a letter in which your name and title of play is written in by hand on a photocopied form, or (5) fill in your personal experience (and of these, on 1 and 2, you are out the $6 to $10 it cost you to submit it in the first place, and symbolically you’re out the same amount for 3 to 5 because it was obvious they never seriously considered it in the first place), and it doesn’t even matter if you only send an inquiry letter with the first ten pages of the manuscript because the result is the same and you discover that it takes them the same amount of time not to read ten pages as it does not to read a full play.
I know that theaters these days are in a Charybdis and Scylla position, and contrary to how it may seem from what I’ve written above they do have my deepest sympathies, but I also wish they would realize that simply because they are facing severe times it doesn’t mean they should make the lives of others equally arduous.
Of course this excludes any theater that now has a play of mine in consideration and pertains to no artistic director I have ever had any contact with and that Chicago theaters are the most responsible and responsive of all.