The Dead Stage by Dan Weatherer: book excerpt and and advice for new playwrights

Staffordshire based author, Dan Weatherer, is set to release a new book, The Dead Stage, detailing his experiences as a playwright and offering advice for writers wanting to break into the theatre industry. 

Dan, 39,has been writing stage plays for three years. In that time he has seen a number of pieces performed in the UK and USA. He has also published and sold performance rights to several more.

In The Dead Stage, he shares his early mistakes, offers tips on tailoring your work to the needs of the theatre industry and draws upon advice from theatre professionals. 

Here, Dan shares his motivation for writing the book along with an excerpt…

“This book is about sharing my experiences and mistakes, in the hope that I can help others avoid the pitfalls that I fell into.”

Placing a stage play with a theatre company is (in my experience) more difficult than placing a book with a publisher. Open theatre calls are highly competitive, seeing hundreds of entries for a call that can possibly stage only three or four pieces. Quality of work is no longer enough to guarantee consideration for performance.

The tips and advice contained in The Dead Stage allowed me to build an impressive portfolio of theatre work in a relatively short space of time. I believe it is important to share experiences if they may be able to help others achieve success.

Throughout my career, I have worked to create opportunities for others, believing it is better to be a small fish in a thriving ocean, rather than a big fish in a stagnant pond..

Theatre, more than any other medium, is a tough industry to break into. Every piece a playwright will write will always be in competition with work from the greatest playwrights of all time.

Theatre is a business: seats need to be sold in order to keep theatres running, and so often established pieces are booked instead of the work of what many might term the ‘New Writing’. This is because they are considered safe bookings, and the theatre will, in most instances, not lose money. New writing is considered a risk. Usually, theatres set aside a budget for new writing, but this is often small and tightly contested.

But theatre needs new voices and there are theatre companies willing to give new writing a chance. This book is my way of saying that yes, it is possible to see your work performed on stage, no matter your previous experience in the theatre industry.

Excerpt from The Dead Stage

From ‘Place the Play’ essay…

So, you have penned your theatrical debut and it is a masterpiece, but what now? How do you get your freshly completed stage play from your hard drive and onto the stage?

Believe it or not, this is not as daunting or as complicated a process as it might sound. While there is no 100% sure-fire way to ensure your piece gets to be performed on stage, I will share a few useful tips that will save you a lot of time when it comes to submitting material, and help manage your expectations of what you can expect to experience during the process. Again, I must stress that this is in no way, shape or form the ONLY way to get your work onto the stage, but as of writing this I have only been writing as a playwright for eighteen months, and I have already had several pieces of work staged/aired in the UK/USA, and have successfully landed representation as a playwright. What has worked for me may work for you.

OK, so let’s dive in with what I have learned during my short stint as a playwright:

First, some truths as regards to theatre and new writing (most of what I will discuss is born of my experience with the UK theatre scene, but I imagine some of it will ring true wherever you are in the world). New writing is seen as a gamble, more so than with regard to traditional book publishing. Many believe that theatre is the toughest nut to crack when compared to film and book industries. The aim of the theatre is to make money by filling seats. The sad truth is that new writers are not often seen as seat fillers, and theatre companies are reluctant to take a risk on any piece, regardless of its merit, if they feel the name of the author is not enough of a draw to cover their overheads and make a profit.

However, don’t despair! There are many theatres that DO encourage new writing, and they often post submission calls detailing exactly the kind of work that they are looking for. I use the Play Submission Helper and the London Playwrights Blog. Check them often and I guarantee you will eventually come across a theatre/group that will be willing to read your work. From then, it is a case of following their submission guidelines and waiting patiently for a response (please bear in mind that response times vary considerably, and as with any submission, decisions are based a multitude of factors, and feedback is rarely provided with a rejection).

Before You Submit:

Proof it.

How many times have you looked over your work, confident that it reads perfectly well, submitted it, then later found a glaring typo?

Proofreading a script is just as important as proofreading a manuscript. Shabby submissions rarely get to the stage. Remember, you might be submitting alongside countless other playwrights; you may as well give your work the best chance of acceptance possible by submitting a watertight script to begin with.

Further, if you can get a group of people together to read your script aloud before submitting, you will immediately hear if your dialogue is in need of further work. Hearing others speak your material will highlight any clunkiness of dialogue, or other shortfalls (such as the flow of the piece, plot holes, etc.). I would also advise listening to what your readers/performers have to say with regards to your characters. For example, not everybody speaks in full sentences, and your readers may highlight lines that feel awkward when spoken aloud. Properly written dialogue can be wooden and unbelievable. Listen to how it is performed and amend accordingly. You will be surprised at how different a line is heard as to read inside your head. However, taking into account their feedback is entirely up to you (not every piece of advice you will be given need be followed, after all: you are the architect of the piece), but sometimes they may be able to highlight issues that you may have overlooked. All of this effort can help fine-tune a script and make it ‘pop’ from the page, improving your chances of success.

The Dead Stage by Dan Weatherer is published by Crystal Lake Publishing and is available from 19 October via Amazon.

You can find out more about Dan Weatherer on his website. 

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