Every year, millions of people use New Years Day to think about the things they’d like to do in the coming 365 days. We dream big, whether it’s improving a relationship, getting in shape, or finally writing that play you’ve always had in mind. Unfortunately, by February many of us have already given up on our resolutions. Writing a play, it turns out, is harder than you thought it would be. What’s more, how do you even start?
Never fear! We reached out to our incredible network of talented playwrights to get their advice on writing your first play. Here’s what three DCPA World Premiere playwrights had to say about tackling this monumental project:
TIP #1: First Draft? No Rules
Playwright Donetta Lavina Grays (Last Night and the Night Before) says that when you’re working on your first draft, it’s key to not get bogged down with rules or expectations. “Apply absolutely no rules to your first draft,” she says. “This allows you to surprise yourself and forgive yourself because it’s your play. So play!”
Letting go of rules allows you to freely express the ideas of your play. Don’t forget that there will be plenty of time to edit later, so when you’re just starting, let go and write! Which leads us into our next tip…
TIP #2: Write It All Down
How many times have you woken up in the middle of the night with a perfect idea for a scene or piece of dialogue, but you’ve forgotten it by the morning? Inspiration can come from anywhere and at any time, so make sure you’re writing it down when it comes. Tony Meneses (twenty50) says, “Nothing is worse than trying to remember something you were excited about that you can no longer remember!”
It might be worth getting a journal, notebook or app where you can write down all of your ideas so they exist in a single, accessible location. There are lots of great products out there, so consider your options before you commit to your note-taking technique.
TIP #3: Be Kind To Yourself
It’s easy to look at successful playwrights and forget that all of them started out with just an idea and a pen (or laptop!). So Lauren Yee’s (The GreatiLeap) best advice is simple – be kind to yourself! Honing any craft takes time, and writing the play of your dreams won’t happen in a single day or even a single month. So be patient and work hard!
Lauren notes that a great way to be kind to yourself is to reward your wins, big or small. Finally, finished that scene that you’ve been toiling over? Reward yourself with your favorite coffee! Figured out a character’s motives? Treat yourself to a nice bath! Setting small goals and rewarding yourself when you accomplish them can help keep the process fun.
TIP #4: Let Your Play Reveal Itself
Anyone who has written a play can tell you that more often than not, your play won’t end up exactly the way you anticipated. Part of writing a great play is being willing to let your play reveal itself to you. Tony had this to say: “Your play is a secret. Enjoy that and don’t be frustrated by it. It will reveal itself to you when and how it wants; you will earn its trust the more you sit down with it, listen to its ramblings its mistakes its silences….be enticed by its mystery, not frustrated, because you don’t know everything about it at the start.”
TIP #5: Don’t Be Afraid to Get Help
There comes a time in every aspiring playwright’s life when you’re ready to take the plunge and share your work. Lauren says that when you’re ready, “bring in collaborators you love, ones who get you and who you don’t have to worry about impressing.” Look for people or organizations in your community that want you to succeed and can give you the tools and advice you need to keep moving your play forward.
One way to get feedback and advice on your work is to take a class. Playwriting classes can be a great way to collaborate with professionals who have experience shepherding new works into existence. They can also help grow your network if you’re interested in reading other new plays or even getting your own work produced, DCPA Education offers tons of excellent courses and workshops on playwriting year-round! Here are some of the upcoming playwriting classes available through DCPA Education:
Scoring Your Script: Feb 13 from 10am-12pm
Playwriting Lab, Tuesdays from Feb 16-March 9 from 6:30-9pm
Approaching a Play: The Laramie Project March 1 from 6:30-8:30pm
So what are you waiting for? Your play is waiting to be written! Take these five tips and take the plunge. We can’t wait to see what you create!
Donnetta is a Brooklyn-based actor/playwright whose original scripts have been produced by New Harmony Project, Ground Floor Berkeley Rep, DCPA, The Labyrinth Theater Company, New York Theater Workshop, Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Portland Stage Company, Pure Theatre Company, [the claque], Naked Angels, Classical Theater of Harlem, Slant Theater Project, terraNova Collective, Theatre 4 the People, TOSOS, The Group Lab and Coyote REP. Donnetta is the recipient of a Helen Merrill Playwright Award (2020), Lilly Award (2020), National Theater Conference Barrie and Bernice Stavis Playwright Award (2019) and the Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award. FULL BIO
Tony Meneses was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and raised in Albuquerque and Dallas. His plays include Guadalupe in the Guest Room, The Women of Padilla, twenty50 and The Hombres. He’s an alum of the Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab, Ars Nova Play Group, the Sundance Institute Playwrights Retreat at Ucross, Playwrights Realm Writing Fellowship, Youngblood, and has been previously developed at the LARK Playwrights’ Week, the Berkeley Rep Ground Floor, the WildWind Performance Lab, the DCPA, The Old Globe Powers New Voices Festival, and the Pacific Playwrights Festival. He’s a two-time recipient of the Kennedy Center Latinx Playwriting Award and has been previously commissioned by the Denver Center, Two River Theater, and The Juilliard School; he is currently under commission from The Old Globe. FULL BIO
Lauren is a New York-based writer for theatre, television and film whose plays have been produced by South Coast Rep, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, La Jolla Playhouse, Victory Gardens, City Theatre, Merrimack Rep, Signature Theatre, Portland Center Stage, Jungle Theatre, DCPA, Seattle Rep, Atlantic Theatre, Guthrie Theatre, American Conservatory Theatre, Arts Club, InterAct Theatre, Steppenwolf, The Goodman Theatre, Center Theatre Group and Baltimore Center Stage among others. She is the winner of the Doris Duke Artist Award, the Steinberg Playwright Award, the Horton Foote Prize, the Kesselring Prize, the ATCA/Steinberg Award, American Academy of Arts and Letters literature award, and the Francesca Primus Prize. FULL BIO