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Is There A Market For Drama?

by Allen Rolf

Drama is alive and well around the world ... and a fun thing to write!

Ever thought about writing a play? Maybe you should look into drama writing because it is alive and healthy and many writers find it an exciting creative form that can produce both immediate and residual income.

Of course, we are all acquainted with New York Broadway and off-Broadway productions, several hundred which hit the boards every year. Write a three-act Broadway hit and you will not only become somewhat rich but also famous. This is what most writers envision when you mention the subject of drama, but most of today's drama writers never get to Broadway. The majority of American playwrights today are simple people who live quiet lives in villages across the land just like everyone else. What most of us don't realize is that most modern drama is presented in the schools, colleges, and institutions that we ourselves frequent.

Can I Write Drama?

Most writers, even accomplished fiction writers, freeze when they think of writing a play. In some ways it is easier to write a three act play than a modern short story, and certainly much easier than a modern novel. Play writing is just another way to tell a story.

Our concept of drama comes from the Greek religious festivals that were prominent throughout the Greek City States in late 6th century BCE. These festivals were religious rituals used to honor the Greek god of theater Dionysis and used choral groups and masked actors to explain the religious stories to the populace.

Legend has it that one Thespis, an actor, hit upon the idea of introducing speaking parts to the masked actors (Thespians), thus creating a unique story telling form that is the basis for all drama in the Western world. Needless to say, the introduction of drama was a tremendous sophistication over the older story telling form.

(Note: for more history information: http://www.warwick.ac.uk/didaskalia/Didintro.html

Most people, including writers, think of the three-act Broadway play form which consists of three parts; Act 1: Introduction and statement of the thesis; Act 2: Introduction of Anti-Thesis (seemingly insurmountable conflict); and Act 3: Creation of the Synthesis (resolution of conflict). You will find these divisions identical to the basic rule of thirds for witing either long or short fiction. (See "The Rule of Thirds" - http://members.tripod.com/~flornella2/HowToWrite4.html)

As with other forms of story telling, there are several separate sub-forms in drama. Principle among these are one and two act plays which were developed as shorter versions to the classic three act play with which we are all familiar.

Again, the storyline process is identical (thesis, antithesis, synthesis), but with more compact construction. In today's drama market there is a very large market for one act plays; two act plays are not as popular.

Where Do I Learn To Write Drama?

There are several methods that can be used to discover how to write drama. The first and least expensive is to study scripts of plays that have been written and successfully produced. In this respect, there is a wealth of information on the Internet, ranging from the ancient Classical Greek and Roman plays all the way to plays that have been written in our era. Here are some links where you can actually study drama construction and get a good idea of subject matter:

The English Drama Collection (A very complete collection of modern modern short and long plays, as well as Classical Greek plays) - http://english.hss.cmu.edu/drama/

Dramatic Arts Links (All sorts of information about theatre as well as links to many complete plays) - http://www.zephryus.demon.co.uk/education/links/artdr.html

Religious Drama Center (A sampling of contemporary religious plays) - http://studentweb.cs.bham.ac.uk/~pjm/art/dramatic/

Drama Exchange (Full scripts of many plays) - http://www.dramex.org/

A second method of learning how to write drama is to actually join a theater group and become immersed in actual play production. This method provides a real feel for drama as well as develop contacts which can be invaluable. Almost every community has a local theater group one can join. To get involved, check with your local school district, college, or arts center or arts council. Many sources are listed on the Internet. Two good sites are:

The American Academy of Community Theater (http://aact.org/aactlink.html) which lists community theatre groups across the US.

Similar information can also be found at the Sacramento Ca Area Performing Arts site (http://www.lightsup.com/) You will also find some excellent links to other sites here.

The third method of learning to write drama is to take one of the many courses being offered at local colleges and universities, or to study one of the many books on the subject of play writing. A trip to your local library will provide a wealth of "how-to" information. Several good books, available from Amazon ( http://www.amazon.com) are:

The Art & Craft of Playwriting - Jeffrey Hatcher / Hardcover / Published 1996 $13.29

Art of Dramatic Writing - Lajos Egri / Paperback / Published 1977 $8.76

The Art of the Playwright : Creating the Magic of Theatre - William Packard / Paperback / Published 1997 $11.16

Characters in Action : Playwriting the Easy Way - Marsh Cassady / Paperback / Published 1995 Our Price: $11.96

How Do I Get Published?

Getting a play published is very much like getting a short story or novel published. Here is a list of drama publishers that have sites on the Internet:

http://www.stagekids.com/
http://www.samuelfrench.com/
http://www.kmrscripts.com/
http://www.dramapublishers.com/
http://www.broadwayplaypubl.com/
http://www.pioneerdrama.com/

Visit these sites and request a copy of their Writer/Submission Guidelines. This information will tell you what kind of drama the publisher is seeking, how much they pay, and particulars on submission. I would suggest a short query letter before submitting your manuscript.

Other markets include your local community theatre group (many such groups hold annual contests), youth directors of local churches, local museums, as well as local business promotion groups. If you plumb these markets well, you may be surprised at the possibilities that exist. One excellent source of referral is your local State Tourism office who often will be involved in local festivals and pageants. All too often, the promoters of these events go begging for drama material simply because they have no access to a writer with such interests.

What Should I Expect In Pay

Writing drama, you will find, is a highly speculative market and the range of pay for a script will range from as little as $50 for a one-act play to a full consultant retainer for a play that you write and actually help produce. Generally, commercial publishers will operate on an advance against royalties much like many book publishers. One of the important things about writing drama is that if you write a hit, even a one-act hit, you will see royalty income over a period of many years since a play can be produced over and over again.

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1998 Allen Rolf