When James Eychaner of Olympia made his first-ever submission of his first play, the ten-minute One Fine All Hallow’s Eve, to Seattle Playwrights Salon in July 2017, he and the play began a journey that revolutionized his thinking about his art, the theatre world, and the possibilities for him as a “late artist” (informally defined as one who begins making art in middle age or afterwards). Here’s his take on writing plays, submitting one’s work, and expanding one’s horizons.
Margaret O’Donnell (MOD): What happened as a result of submitting your first play to the Salon?
James Eychaner (JE): The opportunity at Seattle Playwrights Salon was a Godsend. Not only was it my first real encouragement (Hey, maybe I can write!), but it turned out to be an important practicum in theater. I had to really step it up to find actors, work with them on the script, gather props, etc., and finally get everything together for the staging. [Editor’s note: The Salon now engages directors for our plays, who do the work James did himself in 2016.] I then submitted the play to the Smith and Kraus competition in 2018. First place plays, including mine, received the "Standing Ovation Award," meaning publication in the book Best Ten Minute Plays of 2019. To me, the big deal is national exposure and the right to call myself an award-winning, published playwright. I submitted "All Hallows' Eve" thinking it must have some redeeming qualities. It turns out my play was among a handful selected from over 1,000 submissions.
MOD: Why did you start writing plays?
JE: I made a living with my writing skills before retiring from state government. I started writing plays about three years ago, after taking a theater course offered by playwright Bryan Willis. I had some early, terrible scripts read locally. I then went on to take playwriting classes from South Puget Sound Community College. "One Fine All Hallows' Eve" grew out of a class writing exercise and was read by college acting students at the end of the course.
MOD: What are you working on now?
JE: We'll see what happens with "All Hallows'." Since then, I have written a number of ten-minute, one act, and three act plays. Some of them are on New Play Exchange. I am currently in the planning/outline/scheming stage of what I think will be a 90-minute script on the theme of betrayal, especially how older people experience the betrayal of their bodies.
MOD: What’s your advice to other new playwrights?
JE: Write because you have to write. There is little or no money in playwriting. Submit work to appropriate venues and keep track of what you submit. A 1% or 2% response/success rate of submissions to acceptance would be outstanding. And it's not how good you are, it's really who you know. So, work to meet theater people.
My own strategy is to write the best I can, submit to contests, and hope for the best. If my dream were to come true, publication in Best Ten Minute Plays of 2019 would bring me to the attention of an agent or theatre that wants to know more about me, wants to produce my work, or commission a play.