I Wish… is ready!

I got a late Christmas present from Pioneer Drama Service yesterday afternoon when I opened my front door to see a package of scripts for my new play, I Wish…, sitting on the porch. I guess this means it’s officially available for licensing! This is my first foray into writing theater for young audiences, and it was a lot of fun to write! I can’t wait to see photos of productions start popping up on the internet!

I Wish... script

I Wish… script

You can read a sample of the script right here on my blog by clicking on the Script Previews tab.

Synopsis: You’ve heard the story of Cinderella, but did you know that her sassy Godmother also has a tale to tell? When a hardworking fairy named Carol stops by her goddaughter’s cottage to borrow a cup of flour, a simple visit quickly turns into a complicated evening of chaos. Carol’s plans to bake a batch of brownies are set into a tailspin when a bunch of silly strangers (including a door-to-door salesman, a repairwoman, a pizza delivery boy, and more) show up, hoping to have their wishes granted by the Fairy Godmother. Making a wish come true should be easy with magic on her side, but an accidental encounter with a fire-breathing dragon renders Carol’s wand useless. To top it off, a bunch of mischievous mice are on the loose. Will we ever make it to happily ever after?  And will the brownie batter ever find its way into the oven? Audiences and performers will have a ball with this delightful fairy’s tale.

Cast: 5M, 4F, 3 that can be either. Interior living room set. Forty-five minutes.

“Has anyone bought your plays?” and other questions about dramatic publishing

Last week, I found out that my sixth play is going to be published (you can read about it in a previous post) and I received a ton of congratulatory texts and facebook messages from family and friends who are really excited for me…even if the whole concept of what it means for a play to be “published” baffles them.

I mean, we all know that when books are published, they’re printed and sold in bookstores, but plays are designed for performance, not for reading.  And even the most avid theatergoer will likely never deal with licensing a play.  So it’s not surprising that dramatic publishing is unknown territory for most people.

Hopefully, this post will make things a little less confusing.

Whenever someone learns that I have a few plays published, the response is always the same: “That’s cool!  …What exactly does that mean?”

Basically, it means a dramatic publishing company thinks my play will be appealing to producers and directors (much like a book publisher might think a novel manuscript will be appealing to readers) and they’d like to legally represent the play.  And like book publishers, dramatic publishers edit, proofread, format, and coordinate printing.  The major difference between the two is that book publishers market to booksellers (like Barnes & Noble and amazon.com) in hopes of getting copies of their books into stores, while dramatic publishers market to producers and directors in hopes that theatre troupes will want to stage productions.

Another question I get all the time is, “Has anyone bought your plays?”

Well, technically the publisher owns a play once I’ve signed their contract, so you can say that they “bought” it.  (The legalities of copyright ownership can vary depending on the contract, but suffice it to say that the publisher controls the play.)

What I assume people really mean when they ask if anyone has “bought” the play is, “Have there been any productions of your plays?”

Yes, there have been productions of my plays, but I don’t always know about them in advance.  Some of my publishers notify me whenever a new production is happening and some send a yearly invoice that lists all of the productions that have taken place that year.  I like to google the titles of my plays to keep a rough track of productions so that I can list them on my website and here on this blog.

Talking about productions usually leads to the question, “How do you get paid?”

People who have an understanding of book publishing assume I’m paid a one-time fee for the play since book authors receive what’s called an “advance” (meaning they get a flat sum of money from the publisher before any copies are printed, and aren’t paid again until several thousand copies have sold).  An “advance” isn’t common in dramatic publishing, though.  Rather, playwrights receive a percentage of royalties and script sales indefinitely.  So every time a producer says, “Hey, this play looks interesting; I’ll buy a copy of the script and see if I want to mount a production,” I receive a percentage of that script sale.  And every time that producer says, “Wow!  That was great!  I’m going to produce this play,” I receive a percentage of the royalty fee the publisher charges the producer.  This is why it’s important for producers and directors to make sure they’re legally staging a play and have paid all necessary fees.  To stage a production without paying a proper royalty is essentially stealing from both the publisher and the playwright whose income is derived directly from these fees.

I get some other questions periodically, as well…

“Do you have an agent?”

I don’t personally have one.  Dramatic publishers deal directly with playwrights (as opposed to book publishers who prefer to deal with literary agents).  Some playwrights have agents to negotiate contracts for major professional productions, but I write mostly for the school play market and all licensing for these plays is handled by my publishers.

“Can I find your plays in bookstores?”

Probably not.  If you look at the play section of a bookstore it’s usually pretty small and contains only a dozen or so of the most popular plays of all time.  You’ll have an easy time coming across The Crucible but not A Family Reunion to Die For (even if I’m partial to the latter).

“Can I buy a script copy of one of your plays?”

Yes.  Please do.  Remember, how that whole, “How do you get paid?” thing works?  You can get copies directly from the publishers.  (Here’s a listing of my plays with links to the publishers.)

I’m getting published! (Well, my play is.)

In case this post’s title wasn’t a clue, my latest play has received a publishing contract!

Wahoo!

Yeah!

Jump up and down!

This one is extra special to me because it’s the first play I’ve written solo.  All of my other plays were collaborations with my brother, Matt, (and sometimes a few of my students).  I had an idea for a fairytale spinning in my head for awhile and figured I’d flesh it out.  So I did.  (And I mentioned it in a previous post.)

The play is called I Wish, and it’s a story for young audiences centered around Cinderella’s godmother – a sassy gal named Carol.  It’s a fairy’s fairytale, if you will.  I set the play on the evening of the royal ball.  Cinderella wants to attend, of course, but needs to finish cleaning her cottage or her stepmother will not be happy.  Carol offers to get the job done…and hilarious hijinks ensue.  Apparently, Cinderella wasn’t the only one to have an adventure that night.  (And spoiler alert: she wasn’t the only one to have a romance, either.)

Publishing offer

Publishing offer

I finished writing the play about two months ago and sent it off to the submissions editor at Pioneer Drama Service (publisher of my plays A Family Reunion to Die For and Murderous Night at the Museum).  I received an offer and a contract in the mail, yesterday.

I’m really happy to have this play in the hands of Pioneer, because they do a great job marketing their shows.

I Wish will be available for amateur and professional licensing within the next few months.  Tell all the children’s theatre directors you know.  Or buy a copy.  Or two.

Talking about Offed at the Bake-Off

One of the neat things about Eldridge Publishing (the company that publishes my play, Offed at the Bake-Off) is that they feature a playwright’s question and answer page for each of their new plays.  They asked my brother, Matt, and I to answer a few questions to go along with the promotional materials for the play.

Take a look at the page: Behind the Scenes

The full text of the page is below:

MATT and MIKE STEELE talk about OFFED AT THE BAKE-OFF:

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE THIS PLAY?
We wrote this play for a high school that had been producing our murder mystery comedies for several years. Our past few mysteries had very non-traditional settings, and we were eager to return to the classic “dark and stormy night” since it’s an iconic and easily identifiable format. We still wanted to give the play a little bit of a twist, so we decided to push the formula and spoof the 1950’s television sitcom while retaining elements of the classic film noir style. This was our first time writing a piece specific to a time period, and we had a blast researching the era.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OR LINE OF THE PLAY?
Matt: My favorite moments are whenever Carolyn whips out a new weapon. I just love how she suddenly switches from a calm and collected hotel manager to a hysterical and paranoid warrior when she feels the rabid seagull is near. I also always laugh out loud whenever Sister Mary Martha mentions Father Abraham and when Thelma introduces herself and her sisters because the name “Blanche” seems so random when paired with Thelma and Velma.
Mike: I have two favorite moments. The first is when Paul enters wearing the nun’s habit and is then revealed a short time after. The second is when Clyde throws pies in the faces of practically everyone onstage, one by one. I can imagine audiences having some really great reactions to these scenes. In school productions, especially, I picture the families and friends of the casts laughing as they watch the events unfold, and I can see the casts having tons of fun rehearsing these moments. I mean, who wouldn’t laugh at a bunch of kids pieing each other in the face?

WHERE DO THE CHARACTERS COME FROM? ARE THEY BASED ON PEOPLE YOU KNOW?
When we write, we just let our imaginations run wild. We brainstorm character types together and shout things like, “Let’s have a nun!” “Let’s have a fitness model!” “Let’s have an elderly couple!” (At least, we “shout” at each other via text and instant message, because we live on opposite coasts and collaborate mostly apart from each other.) After we settle on the basic characters, we think of ways to give each character a funny twist. Our conversations turn into, “Let’s make the nun a practical jokester!” “Let’s make the fitness model a silent European!” “Let’s make the elderly couple hard of hearing!” Our characters continue to evolve as we flesh out a few drafts. For example, when it came to Paul and Pauline, we started off with the basic idea of having a couple with a newborn baby who never stopped crying. Something seemed to be missing in their relationship dynamic, and they needed more conflict between them, so that’s when we came up with the idea to make Paul a misogynist (which makes his reveal in Sister Mary Martha’s habit even more fun). We don’t name the characters until the script is virtually complete so that the characters exist before a name can define them. It’s amazing how much more layered the characters become from the first draft to the last draft.

WHAT DID YOU TRY TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS PLAY?
Since we wrote this play with student actors in mind, our main goal was to give the performers a chance to have fun. The more fun the actors have on stage, the more fun the audience has watching the show. We purposely made our characters and situations as off-the-wall as possible so young actors would be forced to commit to their roles and to what’s happening in the story. We wanted to create characters that young actors could easily understand so they would have confidence in their portrayals and really shine onstage. We believe that introducing theater to young people builds their confidence, improves their social skills, and provides great memories that can stay with them for the rest of their lives.

ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO SAY?
Beware of the rabid seagull…

Offed at the Bake-Off

Tons of scripts

Offed at the Bake-Off is officially in print!

Me with a copy of Offed at the Bake-Off

Me with a copy of Offed at the Bake-Off

Eldridge Publishing sent me several complimentary copies of the script to share with my co-writer (and brother), Matt.  Along with the scripts, they sent a few posters featuring the full color logo they designed for the play.  I have to admit, when I receive copies of my plays, I don’t look at them for…  Well, for a long time.  By the time I receive the actual published scripts, I’ve spent so much time writing, editing, proofreading, submitting to publishers, and then working with the editors to finalize the scripts that I’m tired of looking at my own plays.  I just want to let these scripts be for a bit.  I’ll open them and take a peek inside in six months.  Maybe.

Offed at the Bake-Off scripts and posters

Offed at the Bake-Off scripts and posters

Check out Offed at the Bake-Off

It’s here!  It’s here!  My play, Offed at the Bake-Off, is available for amateur and professional licensing from Eldridge Publishing.

Offed at the Bake-Off Logo

Offed at the Bake-Off Logo

Everything seems like it’s happening so quickly with the publishing process for this play.  I submitted the play to the publisher only 62 days before the play was officially available.  Eldridge Publishing was very eager to make this play available for the fall, and they somehow managed to do it.

There are two major differences between the draft I submitted and the published version:

1) The title now contains a hyphen.  What was once Offed at the Bake Off is now Offed at the Bake-Off.  It’s a minor difference, but I’ve spent the evening updating the title on all of my social networks.  (In addition to this blog, find me on facebook at facebook.com/mikesteeleplaywright and on twitter at @msteelewrites.)

2) The original version contained extra characters and the published version does not.  The editor, Natalie, was confident that removing the extras would make this play more marketable.  With a cast of 18 characters, she felt that the need for additional extras would limit the schools and theatres that would be capable of producing such a large cast show.  I’m sad to see the extra characters (a group of bratty students) disappear, but they still remain integral to the plot as they are all the (now offstage) victims in this murder mystery comedy.

Now that all the writing, editing, and proofreading is complete, I wonder where the premiere production will take place…

Offed at the Bake Off is almost ready

I woke up yesterday to find a proof copy of Offed at the Bake Off ready for me to take a look at.  I’m really surprised at how quickly Eldridge Publishing is pushing forward with my play.  They mentioned with the publishing offer only a month ago that their plan was to have the play available for licensing this fall so that it’s all ready for school play season at the start of the new year.  I was doubtful that they’d have it all edited so quickly, but they’re proving me wrong!

Offed at the Bake Off Proof

Offed at the Bake Off Proof

Well, rather than blog, I should go read over this proof.

Offed at the Bake Off soon to be published

Last week was a busy one, but in the midst of all the chaos, I was stopped with some exciting news: A play I co-wrote with my brother, Matt, titled Offed at the Bake Off, received a publishing offer from Eldridge Publishing.

Offed at the Bake Off

This will be my fifth full length play published and also the last in my queue of finished plays to submit to publishers (which means I better start writing some more).  This play also holds my record for shortest evaluation period, as I sent the script to the publisher only two weeks prior to receiving the contract (it normally takes several months to hear back).  Eldridge Publishing plans to have the play available by the end of fall so that it will be ready for the busy spring school play period.

What makes this news especially exciting is that Offed at the Bake Off has yet to have an initial production.  We wrote the play in the summer of 2013 with expectations to mount a full production at a local high school that fall.  Unfortunately, new regulations set by the school board pushed production back several weeks, and this play was just too big to pull off in the limited timeframe.  We were only able to hold a workshop reading with students at the school, so I’ve only ever seen the play performed in my mind.

My fingers are crossed that Offed at the Bake Off will do well (and that I will get to see a production soon)!

Till Death Do Them Part is here!

As of yesterday, my play Till Death Do Them Part is officially available for amateur and professional licensing from Big Dog Publishing.  Whew!  At last!  Finally!  I’m excited!  I’m tired!

It seems like it’s been forever that I’ve been working on this play.  Most people I talk to don’t seem to know the timeline from initial idea to publication, so I thought it would be fun to jot one down (or type one up) for this play.

March 2012: I receive word from the school where I direct that they would again like me and my brother, Matt, to work with students to create an original mystery comedy to be performed in the fall of the following school year, under my direction.  (This is the third year in a row that students will help my brother and me write an original play.)

April 2012: I meet with all drama students interested in helping to write the play.  After an application process whereby students submit playwriting samples and personal statements, Tricia-Rae Parent and Caleb Riggins (two rising juniors) are chosen to complete the four-person playwriting team.

May to early June 2012: I hold bi-weekly after-school writing workshops to quickly prepare the student playwrights for a summer filled with writing.

Late June to early September 2012: As soon as Summer Break begins, I meet with the students weekly for several hours at a time to brainstorm, draft, polish, and proofread a script for production.  The four of us playwrights email drafts of the script back and forth to each other throughout the weeks.  I assign each playwright a specific task to complete as they write (from “Outline the second scene,” to “Make sure no character uses the word ‘chill’ besides Dragonfly.”)  Over the course of two and a half months, we complete approximately 25 drafts of a murder mystery comedy set at a wedding, which we title Til Death Do Them Part.

Mid September 2012: At the start of the new school year, I hold auditions for the play to be performed in November.  Both student playwrights are in the show along with 21 other cast members.

Late September to mid November 2012: We rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.  I pull out most of my hair.  The students have a blast.

Mid November 2012: Til Death Do Them Part premieres.  Five months after we first put pen to paper, the four of us playwrights are elated to see the production run successfully.

December 2012: I prepare the manuscript for submission to publishing companies, making minor edits and formatting adjustments to appeal to publishers.

January 2013 to September 2013: Throughout the months, I mail out hard copies of the script to various dramatic publishing companies.  I wait.  And wait.  I’m in contact with several editors from these companies.  One company is scared that the science fiction aspect of the play (there’s an alien character) won’t appeal to producers in their market.  Another company is not interested in murder mystery scripts at all because many producers in their market won’t touch a play with violence, even if it is a comedy.  I wait.  And wait.  And wait.

Early September 2013: I hear from editor Dawn Remsing at Big Dog Publishing.  She is not interested in the play as written because one of the characters is perpetually drunk.  Alcohol consumption onstage does not appeal to the producers in her market.  She invites me to resubmit the script if I’m willing to edit this aspect of the play.  After a quick deliberation with the other three playwrights, we agree that if drastically editing one of the characters will make the play more appealing, we’re all game.

Mid September 2013: I edit the script and re-prepare it for submission to Big Dog Publishing.

Late September 2013: I mail an alcohol-free hard copy version of the script to Big Dog Publishing.

February 2014: Success!  Editor Dawn Remsing loves the revised script and thinks it will fare very well in Big Dog Publishing’s market.  She mails a contract for the four of us playwrights to sign.

March 2014: We sign the contract and mail it back to Big Dog Publishing.  I prepare a digital copy of the script and send it to Big Dog Publishing for easy editing.

July 2014: I receive a proof copy of the script in the mail, look it over, and contact the publisher with a few changes I’d like to see before printing.

August 2014: The play (with the new spelling Till Death Do Them Part) pops up on Big Dog Publishing’s website for amateur and professional licensing.  More than two years after beginning the journey that became Till Death Do Them Part, I can finally sit back and enjoy the news that schools and theatres across the world will perform this play for years to come.

…Now to hear back from publishers about my next play…

Proofing the proof

I received a surprise package in the mail the other day from Big Dog Publishing.  Inside was a proof copy of my play that they will be publishing.  It’s been nearly six months since they offered a publishing contract for the play, and I’ve been eager to see what the published script would look like as this is my first time working with this company.

Till Death Do Them Part Proof

Till Death Do Them Part Proof

Two thoughts right off the bat before even reading the script:

1) They changed the spelling of the title from Til Death Do Them Part to Till Death Do Them Part.  I don’t mind the addition of another “L” (though I am curious who made the ultimate decision and what the reasoning was behind it.)  I quickly updated the spelling of the title on this blog and on my website.

2) I love the cover art.  I have always been drawn to the style of Big Dog Publishing’s cover art.  Most interesting to me is the depiction of the character of Nathan (a community theatre actor who is dressed as an alien) as this is not how I envisioned the character at all.  It’s always interesting to me to see other people’s interpretations of my characters.

The published version will be available in August for amateur and professional licensing.