No prior productions: Theatre’s unfair obsession with world premieres

“No prior productions.” The words may seem innocent enough, but when included in play submission criteria they are incredibly frustrating. Theatre has an obsession with new plays and world premieres. That’s fine for a major theatre like the Steppenwolf, but I’m not talking about major theatres like the Steppenwolf. Too many smaller theatres and play festivals demand new plays only, and the result is a bunch of orphaned scripts that are cursed by the success of having been produced once and, therefore, not being world premieres.

For a small theatre or festival to insist on world premieres audacious and unreasonable. You want new plays? No prior productions doesn’t necessarily mean the script is new. It could be a tired old thing that’s been on the rejection circuit for years. You want something your audience has never seen before? The likelihood of anyone in your audience having seen a production attended by a few hundred people at a theatre a thousand or more miles away is incredibly unlikely.

New Plays Blingee
Always demanding world premieres is as obnoxious as this Blingee.

Okay. Fine. Limit the number of prior productions. Limit the amount of time since the first production. Just don’t insist on world premieres unless you are the sort of theatre where a world premiere is likely going to do something significant to help a playwright’s career.

I have seven plays with one production each. Seven plays. I have four plays with two productions each. My most produced play has five productions. Most of these plays are one-acts which means I need to submit to festivals, and festivals are most notorious for demanding “no prior productions.” A lot of scripts I really love are sitting around doing nothing because they have the fatal flaw of not being world premieres.

Someone please do an “old plays festival.” Limit submissions to plays that had one production five or more years ago. My only problem with such a festival would be deciding which of my not world premieres to submit.

Until then I keep writing new plays and submitting them and hoping that if they get produced that production is so good that it makes up for the fact that the play may never be seen again. So far no production has been quite that good.

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