2018 Year of Parity at Seattle Playwrights Salon: Lessons Learned

20170811_192213_Burst01.jpg

In a bit, I’ll tell you how many scripts the Salon received in the first fifteen months of operation that were written by women and female-identifying playwrights. But first, some context.  Playwrights Kate Danley and Margaret O’Donnell started up the Salon in October 2016 to give new and emerging playwrights script development opportunities. After doing table reads and closed readings, seeing your work performed in front of a public audience is a critical next step. The Salon presents staged readings on the fourth Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at the marvelously atmospheric Palace Theatre and Art Bar in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. We invite the public, provide well-rehearsed actors and an excellent director, and conduct a talk back, all with the goal of giving playwrights what they need to move forward with their work in development.

From August 2016 through December 2017, we invited any playwright in the state to submit to us full-length scripts or enough short plays to make up an evening. Ready for the number of plays written by women and female-identifying playwrights? Zero. That’s how many sent in their scripts based on our widely distributed submission calls. That doesn’t mean we didn’t produce plays by women in our first fifteen months. We did. But we had to reach out individually to each one of those women, and encourage them to submit. We heard from women about their fears of not being ready, not being good enough, not knowing how to work with a director, and not knowing what to do if the audience doesn’t like the play. 

The women’s scripts were every bit as good on average as those submitted by men. Our experience in those first fifteen months brought home what we knew only anecdotally before: that many women submit their scripts only when they believe they are perfect. But we weren’t prepared for zero submissions from women. So, to see if more encouragement and outreach would bring us the good scripts we know are out there, we launched our Year of Parity for the 2018 season, and began specifically soliciting scripts from women and female-identifying playwrights.

We worked harder than we ever thought to find women to submit their scripts, even more than our first fifteen months worth of experience predicted. We had excellent scripts for our first five months – we produced staged readings of four full-length plays, and staged seven 10-minute plays for our April Shorts competition. Of these, at least two have gone on to world-premiere productions. But a June script was hard to find, and our July Shorts competition had so few submissions that we had to cancel the event. We came up dry and short. With grace and style, Parley, a Seattle playwrights’ collective, stepped up to produce staged readings at the Palace Theatre and Art Bar in July and August. 

We spent the summer re-thinking and planning the Salon’s future, and decided to accept scripts from any playwright for our 2019 season. We also opened up our submission process to any northwestern United States and British Columbia playwright. We are thrilled with the quality of plays we received—more than half of which written by women and female-identifying playwrights.

We won’t give up encouraging women and female-identifying playwrights to submit their work to the Salon. We’re working on plans to bring more resources and classes to playwrights, and help make connections among us, in addition to producing staged readings. Our central aim is to give playwrights the resources we need to shine! 

— Margaret O’Donnell, Artistic Director