Short and Sweet: Tips for Newer Playwrights, by Anonymous

An award-winning Seattle playwright whose work has been produced throughout the US, Canada, and the UK (and who prefers to remain anonymous) has some smart leads for newer playwrights. Ready? Take a deep breath and plunge in!

Join the Dramatists Guild, and attend local meetings. The group meets every other month and is having a panel discussion on play readings on May 19. No need to be a member to attend. Four area producers will speak about how play readings work, how to get involved, and how to produce them yourself. The Seattle theater scene is small in comparison to the giants, and the Dramatists Guild meetings are a great place to get hooked in.

If you're on Facebook, there's a group called "The Official Playwrights of Facebook". There's a couple of crazy people, but ignoring them, it is a great resource. And if those short plays you have are ready to go, one of my favorite sites is Play Submission Helper. Once a month, they put out a spreadsheet with all of the theaters who are looking for scripts (it's an $8 a month subscription, but totally worth it). You submit your script to the theaters and if they like it, they produce it. It is how almost all of my plays get done. The general rule of thumb is to avoid opportunities that charge a production fee (the playwright shouldn't pay a producer/theater unless the playwright is self-producing.) Also, a good site for submission opportunities is playwright Aurin Squires’s monthly blog, and the Dramatists Guild’s listings.

Another great resource is the BBC Writers Room. They have a page with all of the writing formats, as well as a ton of helpful writing videos so you can figure out what your script should look like before you send it out. And be sure to check out information on playwrights’ rights and submission best practices.

Seattle doesn't have playwright training programs as such. A class or two will pop up every now and again, such as the weekend intensive offered by the Salon in November. The good news is that the Salon may be offering more classes in 2020. And Salvo, “a tiny studio for dramatic art”, the brainchild of Rebecca Tourino Collingswood, offers classes. But don’t let the paucity of local training programs stop you!

Explore the world of on-line classes at the Dramatists Guild Institute, and occasional writing workshop weekend intensives in cities throughout the country. Attend Dramatists Guild conferences, offered every other year or so in interesting cities, read voraciously (I love Working on a New Play by Edward Cohen), see tons of excellent local theatre (our theatre scene is SO good!), and form or join a playwrights’ group. The Salon has a writer’s group now, and is keeping a waiting list for the next group. Write to the Salon’s Managing Director Ashley Arai at, to get on the list.

Got it? Now go for it!

New Theatre Company in Town Brings Plays and Philanthropy Together: Play Your* Part Starts Off with a Three-Production Season

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Play Your* Part hit the ground running in 2018, opening 2019 with a staged reading on immigration themes with an additional three full productions already scheduled for the remainder of the year. The Salon’s Margaret O’Donnell interviewed Play Your* Part founding Artistic Director Michael Raimondi for his take on why he started the company, and plans for the future.

Margaret O’Donnell (MOD): You started a new theatre company in Seattle last year! What is your inspiration for “theatre that inspires action”? What makes your company different from other theatre companies in Seattle? Why Seattle?

Michael Raimondi (MR): Play Your* Part formed when I moved to Seattle after spending 16 years in New York City working in theatre and film while also managing a franchise of an education company. When I arrived in Seattle I decided to learn as much as I could about the theatre scene and came to realize that if certain hurdles can be traversed, Seattle might be a viable place to begin a company and use it as a template for how I envision growing Play Your* Part in the years to come. I have always believed that theatre can be a catalyst for social change, but what I felt was missing was the connection between the inspiration someone may feel after experiencing a moving piece of theatre, and what they then do with that inspiration. Play Your* Part aims to connect its audiences with other nonprofit organizations by partnering with them as consultants, as beneficiaries, and as educational partners so folks know what they can do to help reduce violence and increase equity here in Seattle, and around the world. Play Your* Part is a theatre and philanthropy company, working with a different nonprofit in this fashion for each production.

MOD: What are your personal plans (acting, directing?) for Play Your* Part for this year and next? What do you have coming up in May and beyond?

MR: I will be directing the full length shows within our first full season, this year, of which there are three. Opening our season we will be presenting Mae West's 1927 play, The Drag - A Homosexual Comedy in Three Acts in partnership with Gender Justice League performed at Gay City celebrating Pride month in June. Originally banned for indecency, The Drag ran for only ten performances and never made it to Broadway until Mae West rewrote it with a heterosexual leading man and it became a smash hit. Our production will reimagine the original incorporating live, original music by Elisa Money, choreography by Moscato Extatique, Adam Brozowski, and Levi Hawkins, costume design by Pete Rush, and draw the audience into a black and white film come to life before their eyes. The second half of the play opens with a technicolor drag ball, but ends tragically, hopefully helping our audiences to recognize how far we have come for LGBT rights, yet how much further we have to go.

In July, we open Oedipus the King benefiting Investigate West to be performed against the facade of St. Mark's Cathedral. This production will incorporate original half masks, designed by Joe Osheroff of Homunculus Mask Theatre, for the ensemble in the chorus from where the feature characters emerge, and use ASL as a base for the choral movement. Exploring the timelessness of the play, we will pull references and archetypes from various religions and cultures that help the audience best identify with each character, while highlighting the tragic story.

Beyond that we have a world premiere play slated for September/October to be performed at the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in West Seattle and two more one to two night events we will premiere at the University Heights Center Auditorium where we rehearse.

MOD: What would you kill to direct?

MR: As a director I consider myself a keen listener and ultimately a conjurer of life out of text. I'm less interested in what is popular, and more interested in what is relevant. I'm interested in telling the stories of communities who are not being invited to participate. I'm interested in new plays based on true accounts, juxtaposed with classic works. I would love to direct operas - Rigoletto or La Traviata. I would love to direct Streetcar Named Desire. I'd love to direct new work currently being developed; Shakespeare, Greek plays, musicals, kitchen sink dramas, slapstick comedies ... and in each expose the heart, humor, and humanity we can all relate to and do so only when the stories are relevant and urgent and immediate.

MOD: What have been the biggest challenges so far for Play Your* Part? Successes?

MR: The biggest challenge we face is financially fulfilling our mission to build toward a sustainable wage model. We are proud to pay competitive stipends to our performers, artists, and technicians right out of the gate, but we have a long way to go. Being such a young company we rely on our private donors for support, while we submit grant applications and continue to form a track record of necessary and viable work, proving our worth for larger gifts that will sustain us. The biggest successes come as a result of our partnerships and dedication to philanthropy. Check out our 2018 Impact and 2019 Season Announcement video here for more on what we have already accomplished and what we aim to do this year.

MOD: Is Play Your* Part a new play incubator?

MR: Play Your* Part regularly commissions playwrights to create short plays. We have two models for short play development we have found to be intriguing, interview based plays where playwrights are commissioned to interview a subject and write a play based on a true story, and our 30-second play festival where playwrights create a short play consisting of five 30-second scenes. Six of those plays are written and then performed in under half an hour in a sketch comedy format. The staged reading series we just did was an interview based play format and from that we have identified two plays we are interested in further developing.

MOD: What is your background and that of your collaborators?

MR: I hold degrees in Directing from Chapman University and Acting from The Actors Studio Drama School. My collaborators have backgrounds in production, technical theatre, marketing, PR, casting, office and administrative management, accounting, graphic design, and development. Play Your* Part is a working board of 16 with five advisory Board Members, and 11 staff/volunteers. Believe it or not, we are still in need of additional support. Anyone interested in helping out as a volunteer or inquiring about positions available can email us at

MOD: Dreaming big, how do you see synergies in connecting with other theatre companies? Specifically, what kind of companies?

MR: I would love for us to partner with companies sharing in our mission to reduce violence and increase equity around the world while employing and supporting local artists. London, New York City, and Mexico City are the three places I am most interested in exploring these partnerships and creating a presence for Play Your* Part over the next three years, with four more cities on the horizon. The Public Theatre in NYC and London's National Theatre are on our radar.

Never Look at a Blank Page and Despair Again: Writing Exercises Shine at Dramatists Guild’s Portland Conference March 30-31

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Portland Skyline

I thought I’d be writing a straight-forward piece about the effective writing exercises I picked up at the Dramatists Guild Playwriting Intensive in Portland. But I’m not. This is an unabashed fan letter for the Dramatists Guild with the writing exercises tossed in—because it was that good. It was worth the three-hour drive in the early morning from Seattle. It was worth sitting in a classroom for hours on Saturday and Sunday after a full week at the office. And not just for the incandescent teachers, and not just for the innovative writing exercises. Being with my tribe – other playwrights – making connections, seeing great theatre together, honing our skills, sharing our work, and writing together, is the tonic and the balm I need to keep going in this often lonely and often rejection-strewn vocation of mine.

Workshop instructor Francesca Piantadosi, Dramatists Guild representative in Portland, said to each of us at our first session: throw me a name, any name. No explanation. No, “this will help you as you develop your characters.” None of that. I said, Sally. Just that. Twenty-five or so other playwrights threw her some names: Mrs. Henderson, Snark, Ophelia, Buster, Randolph. Francesca wrote them all on the white board, and as she did, considered each name, with Sally being first. What she said about Sally—the name I’d thrown out without thinking—blew open a shut door in my mind and transformed my thinking about writing characters.

“Sally. A big first letter, that S. Takes up a lot of space. Then the small, compact a. Now two very tall letters, and a low-to-the-floor, dipping below the surface y. Interesting.” That’s all she had to say. I immediately knew that Sally, whoever she is, is going to be one contradictory character. Maybe both blustery and sneaky, showy and hidden, and definitely hard to predict. Wow! She had similarly unexpected things to say about each of the names our group gave her. I was on fire to write about this Sally. Francesca asked us to write for ten minutes, using our new character and adding another, and starting with what she calls the best first line ever: ‘No, I disagree!’ Or a version thereof. And we were off.

I loved it! Re-reading my scribbled page featuring Sally and Dan just now, I’m intrigued enough to develop a ten-minute play from this start, thanks to Francesca. And she did so much more during her one and a half hour session. She showed us what a loving, compassionate and passionate, skilled and experienced teacher can do to illuminate the one small thing in which the whole world is revealed. What’s in a name? Everything! (A side note about Francesca. See when she is teaching again. She will light you on fire with her passion for teaching playwriting in prison, and inspire you to go out into the world to share your own gifts with the underserved.)

Gary Garrison, the Dramatists Guild Institute’s Director, followed Francesca’s session with a two-hour, completely absorbing, mind-opening session on, of all things, stage directions. What? They don’t have to be passive and colorless? This is my third time in one of Gary’s classes. Each class, like Francesca’s, focuses on a seemingly tiny particular that opens up a landslide of possibilities. He began with “Don’t ever write ‘lights up, lights down’ again.” And continued, in paraphrase, “Write light as active. It splinters, it creeps, it is heavy and hot or expanding or ghostly or merciless.” And then there’s sound. “Sound pulls you into the play with no work.” And, “write your stage directions as fully as your imagination knows the play should look and sound. You, the playwright, are creating the world of the play. We are in control of that world. Write everything you want and the play needs, then describe what is second-best, what you’d be okay with, in case the director has more limited resources.”

For character descriptions, get specific. Gary pulled “ten random plays that I love from my shelves, really without thinking about it” and printed out stage directions from each for us. Included was Outside Mullingar by John Patrick Shanley: “Tony (father) is 75 or so and his eyes are sly. Anthony (son) is 42, and his eyes are those of an intense dreamer.” Gary: “Those descriptions tell you all you need to know about how to cast this play. This describes the central tension of the play.”

Gary asked us to set the scene, all the way up to the first line of dialogue, with this prompt: ‘Old southern mansion moments after a hurricane hits. Two people who don’t know each other.’ I wrote directions alive with sound and light for the first time ever. I began, before describing the scene: “It’s creepily silent, but for the sound of dripping water. Sunlight seeps into the dark room from the porch, rosy and timid, and slowly and unforgivingly reveals the shattered dining room. Off stage, someone explosively wrenches a door open. A 30ish woman in a torn and dirty, formerly white nightgown lurches into the room, sobbing.” Thanks to Gary, I made great strides from “lights up”.

Chisa Hutchinson did a fine job teaching us short and long form synopsis writing, and play-specific and career-embracing artistic statements, and set us writing them for our current and past plays. As we read aloud our short-forms, Chisa helped us hone. See her useful handout here. E.M. Lewis set us writing with permission and encouragement to use magic in our plays, with these prompts: ‘Write a monologue by a monster, by a monster hunter, by a ghost, by someone who is haunted. And then she asked us to start a new play with magic, starting with describing the weather.’ Yes, it stretched me and intrigued me, to see what lay buried in the depths of my mind. That’s the glory of free writing with smart prompts. It will shake you up and get that page covered faster than you can think.

I’m a huge fan of the Dramatists Guild conferences (La Jolla 2015 and NYC 2018) and now an even bigger fan of the Dramatists Guild Institute’s Regional Conferences. I have a fresh new take on synopsis writing, magical theatre, character names, and amazingly, stage directions! All delivered with wit and style, with tips about getting our work out, working with directors and theatre artists, and how sharing our talents with underserved populations gives back far more than we ever imagined.

The Truth About Trolls: Insights into a Musical Collaboration

In May 2018, the Salon held a staged reading for Melodee Miller and Mary September’s musical, The Truth About Trolls. Written in collaboration with the Film & Drama Academy students at Orca K-8 school in Columbia City, this thought-provoking musical received a world premiere production at Echo Lake Elementary School in January 2019. The Salon caught up with Melodee and Mary last month to get their thoughts on working together to develop the lyrics and composition for the musical, as well as their experience collaborating with middle school students to develop the narrative.

Margaret O’Donnell (MOD): Mary, as composer, and Melodee, as lyricist, after the staged reading of The  Truth About Trolls at the Salon in May 2018, you’ve gone on to a full production of this musical performed by grade school students for an audience of their peers and parents. How important was the staged reading in the development?

Melodee: The staged reading was very important for the development of our script. For one, it gave us a deadline for the first act (and Melodee needs deadlines to motivate her to get things done!) For the students involved at Orca K8, they could see that what they were working on was bigger than a classroom project, it was something outside of school that would culminate in some kind of performance. Because of that, they were highly invested in the process.

The night of the staged reading, your questions were strategically poised to get the best feedback. The audience excitement and response gave fuel for going into the writing of the second act.  It was important to see that the show resonated with people. Even Dr. Tanisha Brandon-Felder’s (Director of Equity and Family Engagement, Shoreline Schools) constructive criticism about Mary’s ethnic music idea and cultural appropriation was incredibly valuable, as it simplified the musical development process.

MOD: How did you work together in creating the musical?  Advice for other lyricists and composers?

Mary: That we have similar values and world perspectives was critical in the partnership.

Melodee: There was a time when we were working together and Mary was uncomfortable, sensing a potential personal problem. She brought it up in order to make sure our relationship was healthy and continued to foster the writing partnership.

Mary: I did the same, treating minor issues as if they were catastrophic, in order to practice talking through conflict and promote transparency.

Melodee: Our advice for others, communicate to strengthen the relationship and work through conflict.

Mary: I was trying to not be anal and overbearing, but recognizing Melodee was the mother of four small children, she would schedule phone dates in order to keep the writing process moving.

Melodee: Having the freedom to work independently as well as working together was useful. Mary’s scheduling was useful in setting mini-deadlines.

Mary: In dealing with Orca K-8, we set our own schedule and sent it to Donte (our school coordinator) to make sure the students were there on Fridays. Michelle Hermann and Zelda Padmanabhan, teachers at Orca K-8, were invaluable with student communications.

MOD: You write for young audiences, as performers and audience.  Why did you choose this group? What do these audiences and performers want to see and perform?

Mary: My mission is to use the performing arts to tell the stories of those whose voices aren’t being heard.  If the child population in the U.S. were a pie chart, the public schools represent the greatest piece of the pie. Reaching that sector and their families, serves the largest sector of the population.

Melodee: The reason I do theatre with children stems from my own childhood.  I was floundering and lacked confidence, not knowing where I fit in until I found theatre in high school. Helping children find community and people who will cheer them on regardless of ability in this overly competitive world is so important to me. I wish I had that as a child. DandyLyon Drama is my platform to provide that for children as it is not an exclusive theatre; we’re not looking for the cream of the crop. Our mission is to provide a safe space for kids to grow creatively, compassionately, and courageously through theatre.

In regards to why this audience for this script specifically, one of the main themes is reaching across boundaries and being friends with someone who seems very different than you. This hot-button topic of “other,” when written in the format of a children’s story, allows people to receive the message more openly.  It empowers the children to tell the story and impact their friends and adults with an important message. I believe audiences are hungry for these kinds of plays. One Orca K-8 mom at the Seattle Playwrights Salon said her daughter loved being a part of Trolls as she is passionate about social justice issues. She’s been in plays that are simply fun, but she was happy to be a part of Trolls because it had more meaning to her. Children and families need more than just entertainment. There is more “meat” to this piece and kids can handle it and need more important subject matters to explore and share.

MOD: Do you have plans for future musicals?

Mary: Absolutely! Home (or lack thereof) is a theme that resonates (our family lives in an RV).  I was talking about that and mentioned beetles with my 11-year-old son, Solomon, and he interjected, “It has to be about turtles and snails because they carry their home on their back!”

Melodee: Yes! I don’t know what they are, but yes!  The concept of home is “burbling” right now.

MOD: Ideally what do you need in order to write and compose effectively with another person?  What should an aspiring lyricist or composer avoid – traps you can warn about?

Mary: Practically, MuseScore or other notation software, simple phone technology such as voice recordings to sing or play into and share by email. Dropbox to save and share video, audio, and text files.

Melodee: Google docs for collaboration, know when to reach out for help.  Technical support and resources, Zoom conferencing. It’s nice to have the technology to work together remotely. Avoid feeling trapped into doing a part of the process you don’t want to and could give to someone else to do.

Mary: Decide upfront and/or talk regularly about the priorities of who gets credit for what and how are royalties shared.  In our case, 50/50 has always been agreed upon. Regarding Tanisha’s feedback - it was excellent. Take good feedback seriously even if you are feeling precious about what you’re going to have to cut and/or rearrange. Don’t be so married to your original idea that you don’t adapt according to good feedback to make the storyline (or anything else) stronger.

Melodee: Getting constructive feedback is always scary for me.  I was very nervous about the Salon because I didn’t know anyone or how it would all go. But I soon realized it was a safe space to share and receive outside feedback. I was also nervous about putting my script in someone else’s hands. Having Melani at Dandylyon Drama go through the script early on and suggest edits and bounce ideas back was so important though. And I trust her.  All these processes were so important for my growth as a playwright. So I guess I would say, get feedback, and choose wisely who and where you get it from.  


Melodee Miller is a Teaching Artist, Director, and Playwright

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Melodee loves kids, loves theatre, and has the energy and creativity to match! She holds a BA in Theatre from Seattle Pacific University and is a Director and Teaching Artist with Dandylyon Drama. Some of her favorite shows from over the years are Pirates of Penzance, A Murder is Announced, Dr. Doolittle,  and The Amazing, Ever-Changing Alice in Wonderland. As a playwright, she wrote her first full-length musical, The Truth About Trolls, which had its world premiere in January 2019. Melodee is passionate about connecting people to each other’s stories and her love of children carries over into her work as a volunteer Child Ambassador for World Vision.  She has traveled to Rwanda, Uganda, and Guatemala to see how children and communities are being educated, equipped, and empowered to tackle their root causes of poverty and advocate for change in their home countries. Currently, you will find Melodee and her husband of 14 years traveling around the United States in a 30 ft motorhome with their four children learning to live simply, meeting families of various backgrounds, and exploring intentional communities.

Mary September, Music Director and Composer

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Mary is the composer of The Truth About Trolls, a musical about prejudice and reconciliation loosely based on the folktale The Billy Goats Gruff. With a BA in Music Education and an MA in Musical Theatre Direction, she has worked in countless venues locally and abroad, ranging from choreographing for UNHCR’s Youth Day in Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi, to playing the trombone as Agatha in 5th Avenue Theatre's Guys & Dolls, to teaching musical theatre to Irish gypsy “traveler” kids in southeast London. Mary’s husband, Patrick, is from Cape Town, South Africa; they met in Maputo, Mozambique; were newly-weds in London, UK; and their son was born in Lilongwe, Malawi. As an immigrant herself, mostly (unintentionally) undocumented, in her years abroad, and as the wife and mother in a mixed-race, multi-national family, Mary finds herself in the position of being an advocate and author where her most powerful tool is her own story of falling in love and living abroad, forced migration, and family separation. She believes the combined elements of acting, singing, and dancing are an incredibly powerful medium for amplifying the stories of those whose voices aren’t being heard.

The Playwrights’ Booklist


Do you remember your favorite English teacher enthusiastically introducing the play-within-a-play concept? Maybe this was in conjunction with a study of Shakespeare. After all, Shakespeare was the master of the play-within-a-play: Think about the eerie performance of The Murder of Gonzago, in Hamlet, or the wild adaptation of Pyramus and Thisbe, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Each time Shakespeare artfully placed a play within his stories, he mirrored elements of the main story, sometimes adding comic relief or foreshadowing in the process.

Now, 450 years later, let’s look at the play-within-a-play idea in a new light. Below is a booklist curated especially for today’s playwrights and theater lovers. In the pages of these books, you will meet characters who are playwrights or actors and encounter stories that revolve around theaters. The books in this list represent a wonderful jumble of genres in hopes that you will reach outside your comfort zone when selecting your next book.

Be sure to report back. Let us know your favorites from this list, and post other ideas as well.

Mansfield Park, Jane Austen. Humble and intelligent Fanny Price grows up with wealthy cousins at Mansfield Park. Except for a friendship with her cousin Edmund, Fanny feels lonely and, at times, like she is the only person in the neighborhood who has retained a jot of common sense.

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel. Beginning with a fatal performance of King Lear, and moving back and forth across time, this novel tells the tale of a troupe of musicians and actors who are struggling to survive in postapocalyptic America.

Just One Day series, Gayle Forman. In this successful Young Adult series, Allyson and Willem meet in England during a Guerrilla Will performance of Twelfth Night. Over the course of a year, Allyson and Willem travel the globe searching for each other and for themselves, aided unknowingly by their mutual connect to the works of Shakespeare.

The Laughing Hangman (from the Nicholas Bracewell series), Edward Marston. Set in Elizabethan London, this witty tale follows Nicholas as he defends a feisty playwright and encounters more than his share of mysterious hangings - all while attempting to woo an old flame.

The Goddess of Buttercups & Daisies, Martin Millar. Ancient Greece is a refreshing and creative backdrop for Millar’s clever and laughable novel about everyday life, politics, the drama of the Greek pantheon, and the Athenian theater scene.

Waiting for 2000, Zack Love. Love’s clever Y2K satire pays homage to Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot. Readers can’t help chuckling as they escape into the absurd and excessive world of the uber rich - and the disgruntled duo who didn’t make the cut.

The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux. Perhaps you have a fond memory of seeing The Phantom of the Opera in the theater. But, have you ever read the novel? First published as a French serial in 1909, Leroux’s enthralling tale of love, loss, and jealousy is a must read.

Drama, Raina Telgemeier. Young Adult librarians turn to this popular graphic novel when they need a surefire book recommendation. This well-crafted story of middle school theater antics will have you laughing and shaking your head in recognition - and relief that those days are behind you.

Payment in Blood (from the Inspector Lynley series), Elizabeth George. Set in the Scottish Highlands, the second installment of the much-loved Inspector Lynley series focuses on the murder of playwright Joy Sinclair. Readers are simultaneously drawn into the lives of Inspector Lynley and his partner, as well as the exploits of a theater company and a colorful cast of characters and murder suspects.

The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide, Jenna Fischer. Dip your toes into the nonfiction pond with this witty how-to guide for aspiring actors. Most folks know Fischer from her role on The Office, but readers will learn about the years of hard work and rejection that came before. Designed to educate and inspire new actors, this book would be interesting for any fan of the arts. And, if you’ve been wanting to try out an audiobook, you’ll enjoy listening to Fischer read her own work.

By Autumn Hjort, Seattle Playwrights Salon’s Literary Manager