Friday, July 6, 2007

New Dramatists Opens the Kimono on the Admissions Process

Went to an interesting meeting at New Dramatists last night. They talked about fifty or sixty interested playwrights through the selection process and application process to "dispell myths" that are prevalent about how they choose new members.

My friend, playwright, and musical lyricist Al Penedo from the Chris Shinn workshop went with me. And I found myself sitting next to and chatting with Brown MFA student Enrique Urueta ( before the panel. Also recognized J. Holtham, TCG New Generations Fellow at New Dramatists, who was sitting on the ND staff panel -- J. and I folded programs together briefly at the Partial Comfort Battle of the Bands fundraiser a few months ago. Amlin Gray was also on the panel to give some perspective on ND alumni participating in the selection process. I don't know him, but I did see his email on the Flux Theater Playwrights workshop invitation-- so he is a part of that group and I might get to see his work developed at a meeting at Flux sometime this year.

The other staff members sitting on the panel included: Todd London, AD; Emily Morse, Dir. of Artistic Development; and John Steber, Dir. Playwright's Lab.

Todd started off the meeting saying the guiding forces for selection of new members includes "artistic eclecticism and diversity." And emphasized that the new members are chosen exclusively by the committee, none of the staff members at DG influence the decision. The selection committee is comprised of 3-4 current ND members, 2 outside theater professionals (directors, designers, producers, etc.), and 1-2 ND alums (like Amlin Gray, who served a few years ago). The committee members change every year.

Todd also talked about how some people apply between 5-15 times for admission before they get in and this is not uncommon. Also, applying multiple times does not 'build up credit' since the selection committee is entirely different every year. It is more of a crap shoot. And often people will send in the same application two years running, and get thrown out in the first round first year and invited to membership the next year. There is really no predicting. Also, contrary to rumors, "horse-trading" is discouraged at the meetings. Committee members are strongly discouraged, in other words, from making deals with other committee members outside the meeting room along the lines of "you let my friend in, I'll let your friend in." Everything must be discussed and consensus reached in the room.

Emily talked next, outlining the exact process. She emphasized that it is a process that the selection committee takes extremely seriously and is always emotional. She said that every year in the later meetings people cry over having to reject writers whose work they have been championing. (!!??) Which makes me think that someone should really write a play about the selection process, if it is really so dramatic. She also said that the September 15th date is not a postmark date, and it is a really dumb idea to wait to the 15th and walk your application in. Every year they get about 150 walk-ins and application drop offs on this date. The interns do nothing that day but collect applications and it creates a huge bottle-neck.

Last year, they received 306 entries and selected 8.

Each playwright submits 2 plays (play A and play B). Before the first meeting of the committee (held in early Jan). Each comittee members reads 10 plays every two weeks until every playwright who submitted work has had their play A read. The only exceptions being-- it you get a recommendation letter from a current or former ND member-- your application is AUTOMATICALLY advanced to the final round. They put your plays aside and don't consider them until the final meeting. Also, every member of the committee is allowed to automatically advance one submitting playwright to the final round at will.

At the January Meeting, every committee member gives a brief book report on the plays they read and a thumbs up or thumbs down on the playwright. If another committee member thinks the play sounds interesting, they can volunteer to read a play that has been rejected at this point and keep it alive for the next round even if the first reader hated it. Also, if a first reader thinks that the play they read just isn't to their tastes and is not getting fair consideration because they don't like that style of writing, he or she can ask that it be re-assigned to someone else for fair consideration. Last year at this meeting they winnowed the 306 applicants down to 102 at this meeting. The meeting typically lasts 15 hours or so. if you are sent a rejection letter in late January or early February, it means your play was cut at this meeting.

Then the play A's go back into circulation until at least 3-4 members of the committee have read each playwright's play A. Committee members are also free to read play B from certain playwrights at this point, if they are on the fence with play A, but it is not required.

The second meeting is in March. Also takes about 15 hours. This is the meeting where people start crying because they start cutting good writers. Last year, they winnowed the 102 down to 21. If you get your rejection letter in late March, you were rejected at this stage.

For the finalists under consideration, every committee member and the ND staff read both Play A and PlayB. Also, the statements of interst and the letters of recommendation are gone over carefully.

The final meeting is in early May. There is usally a target number (between 5-8) given to the committee for how many new members the staff wants, but it is up to the selection committee to decide how many offers they will make. This last meeting also lasts 15-16 hours. And I think Emily said they read all the statements of intent outloud at the meeting.

Todd talked them about the usual composition of the incoming freshman class. He said there may be 1-2 playwrights who are 'fresh off the boat' in each class, but the majority of new members tend to be 'accomplished.' A quick scan of this year's new members has me scratching my head as to who the 1-2 FOB's are. They all look pretty accomplished to me.

They took pains to unscore that a great, great deal of care and concern goes into the candidate consideration. The plays and applications are taken extremely seriously by everyone involved. ND members who do not seem to be consensus-building are not allowed on the selection committee.

They also talked about how the Princess Grace Award selection process is similar, although the early rounds are judged by outside readers and there is a points system (1-10) applied to assess the plays. This year's Princess Grace had 226 entries that were winnowed down to 13 finalists. My play SANS MERCI was one of those thirteen, so I thought that was pretty cool.

Finished the second scene on my new play Angel Eater today. Have decided that that will be the first play in a new trilogy. Will be reading the first two scenes at Flux Theater's writers group on Sunday. Will let you know how it goes!


Gail Parenteau said...

Very informative blog entry today.For further information on The Princess Grace Awards and complete list of all Playwriting Fellowship winners please visit

Malachy Walsh said...

Great post. Thanks.

Kenneth said...

Great post.
I'm applying this year (2nd time for me) and now I can say I truly know what's going on over at ND while I'm at home waiting...and waiting...and waiting.

jde said...

Thank you for posting this! Enlightening.