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Advice for Playwrights: 10 Expert Tips for Marketing Your School Plays from Don Zolidis

This article originally appeared on blog.donnahoke.com on May 13, 2015, and has been reposted with permission.

Today’s guest poster, Don Zolidis, has taught both middle school and high school, and is a former playwriting professor. Currently living in Texas with his wife and two children and working on a musical, Zolidis is originally from Wisconsin, and received his B.A. in English from Minnesota’s Carleton College and an MFA in Playwriting from the Actor’s Studio Program at the New School. His work has received numerous honors, including the Princess Grace Award, an NEA grant, and two Edgerton New Play Foundation awards, and his plays have appeared at Purple Rose Theatre, Victory Theatre, Phoenix Theatre, Montgomery Theater, Coterie Theatre, and many others. In 2012, his play White Buffalo was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. His 71 published plays have been produced more than 7,000 times and have been performed in 47 different countries. It’s fair to say, then, that when it comes to marketing plays, he’s an expert, especially in the school play arena.

Here, then, is his advice based on years of experience. Bookmark it. Follow it. He’s giving this away for free.

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The first part of this is about making a connection with your customers. (Who are your customers? The kids who are acting in your shows, and the directors of those shows; in this instance, the customers are not the audience members.)

1. Get the email addresses of everyone who directs your work. Put them on an email list; if your publishers don’t give you the email addresses of your directors (most of them don’t, and that sucks and is counterproductive and a giant pain in the ass, and you should lobby your publishers to give you that info–Playscripts does, Sam French and Dramatic Publishing do not) , then you need to do a little Internet work and go to the school websites, find the drama teacher, and get the email address that way. Sign up for MailChimp or a similar service, and send out a monthly or bi-monthly email.

–High school directors don’t often get emails from playwrights, unlike professional theater people, so they will actually be happy to hear from you! And often they will actually respond!

2. The main thing, though, is that you have to offer them something. Give something of your work away for free to create brand loyalty; you want to have a relationship with your directors so they come back again and again. To quote Glengarry Glen Ross, it’s not about selling them one car, it’s about selling them five cars over ten years. You want repeat customers. You want these theater directors to become advocates for your work and talk to other theater directors– and they do. You want to have other people doing your marketing for you.

So… give stuff away for free. I put tons of free monologues and duets on my website and tell people to download, photocopy, print, share away– all for free. I put links to all the published plays from those monologues, but students will go there and download the monologues, perform them in class, and thereby pique the interest of their theater teacher. (What play is that from? Who wrote that? – Then the director comes looking for the play…)

3. Other things you can do in the newsletter: Offer world premiere status to schools that produce your work first. Offer them the chance to have their cast’s names in the published book, or their photos in the script. They eat that up. (I sent out an email once looking for a world premiere production; I said “first person to read the play, find a production slot, and say yes gets the world premiere.” I got a production in 17 minutes.)

4. Skype with schools. Skype costs you nothing but a bit of your time, and it’s well-appreciated. Once again, you need the email address of the directors to make this work.

5. Visit schools producing your plays if they are nearby, or if you happen to be in the area. If your plays are being produced at festivals nearby, try to attend them. Let the teachers know you’re coming. Offer to do playwriting workshops with kids at those schools.

6. Attend Thespian festivals and events. Sometimes they will hire you to teach playwriting, but sometimes your publishers will have a booth at these conferences, selling your plays. See if you can go. There’s probably a New Jersey Thespian festival, or a Pennsylvania Thespian Festival you can get to. Let your publishers know you’ll be there so they’ll bring extra copies of your plays. Often there’s an entry or registration fee of some kind–get your publisher to pay for you.

7. Write a crap-ton of plays. Seriously. Volume helps a lot. It especially helps, when you send out your newsletter, to be able to let teachers know of the newest play you’ve got. There’s a linear relationship between the number of plays I’ve published and the number of productions I’ve gotten.

8. Look for commissions. Again, once you have repeat customers, they will be amenable to hiring you to write a play for them. This is the best possible scenario, because you’ll publish it afterwards and make money anyway (and, what, you weren’t going to write a play?) – I don’t charge a lot for this–$500 for a one-act, $1,000 for a full-length–it’s a decent deal for them and a great deal for me. It also gives me lots of deadlines to keep going.

9. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram: pick one and go with it. The teachers are probably on Facebook; the kids are probably on Instagram or Twitter. Create a social media presence for yourself.  Again, don’t just ask people to give you stuff or buy your plays; you need to be giving of yourself to get things back.

10. Become indispensable to your publishers. This is hard to do, but you want them to push your work a lot, and the more your plays are produced, the more they’re going to bring you forward. This means, probably, focusing on one publisher at a time. If someone directs one of your plays and loves it, they’re going to go back to that same publisher looking for more of your plays. If they don’t find them there, they’ll pick someone else’s play.  Send your primary publisher your newest play first; once you have a bunch with the same publisher, people will start to see your name more and look for it.

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Just a note to emphasize the soundness of Don’s methods: as I was writing this, my 20-year-old theater performance daughter walked in and said “Don Zolidis! I know him!” Why? Because she’d done a monologue from High School Musi-pocalypse for a class (Sorry, Don, she didn’t email you; she’s from Niagara University.) Thank you, Don, for this amazing post!

–Donna Hoke

Western New York regional representative for the Dramatists Guild, award-winning playwright Donna Hoke’s work has been seen in 33 states and on five continents. Her full-length plays include THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR (currently in its second year in rep in Romania), SEEDS (Artie award winner for Outstanding New Play), FLOWERS IN THE DESERT (AACT top 20 finalist), and SAFE (winner of the Todd McNerney National Playwriting and Naatak National Playwriting Contests, current finalist Great Gay Play and Musical Contest); she’s also authored more than two dozen short plays that have had hundreds of productions.  Donna is also a New York Times-published crossword puzzle constructor; author of Neko and the Twiggets, a children’s book; and founder/co-curator of BUA Takes 10: GLBT Short Stories. For the past three years, she’s been named Buffalo’s Best Writer by Artvoice, the only woman to ever receive the designation.

One response to “Advice for Playwrights: 10 Expert Tips for Marketing Your School Plays from Don Zolidis”

  1. Kelly McCain says:

    Priceless! Great advice, every bit of it.
    Thanks. -KM

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