YOUR PLAY YOUR WAY: SLAMS AND GAMES by Jeff Jenkins & Anne Negri
As TYA playwrights, we are always looking for ways to get our work noticed. We enter competitions, ask friends and family to read our scripts, send our plays to networking contacts, and hope that someone sees something special in our writing. In addition to the more traditional methods, there are a few unique opportunities for playwrights to share their work in a more immediate, high-energy, risk-taking, yet satisfying fashion.
One way is to try playwriting games or prompts promoted through supportive organizations such as Write Local Play Global (WLPG). WLPG hosts the playwriting game, “A day for a play,” an international and instant playwriting game. Playwrights are given a prompt and have an opportunity to create something new within 24 hours, posting a short play to WLPG’s website for the global playwriting community to read.
Another way for playwrights to shine is in a Playwright Slam. During these five–minute performances, playwrights take center stage by reading an excerpt from their work. Typically eight to twelve playwrights volunteer or are selected to present their work. The format allows playwrights to read all characters and selected stage directions within a five-minute timed session. Sometimes we get to see a playwrights demonstrate their acting chops, other times it is a straight read of the script.
This past summer and winter playwrights “slammed” at the 2018 AATE Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the 2019 Write Now! Conference in Tempe, Arizona. They braved the mic for a five-minute roller coaster ride. Here is what a few playwrights said about their Slam experience:
Pam Sterling: “Exciting, fun, nerve wracking, and fulfilling. Moments of time suspension and fast forward as you feel your five minutes coming to a close.”
John Newman: “Participating in a playwright slam is both thrilling and terrifying. The pressure to beat the clock and the urgency to please the audience gets the adrenalin going.”
Sandy Asher: “As a presenter, I've enjoyed the company of my colleagues, the enthusiasm of the audiences, and -- every once in a while -- the beginnings of a relationship leading to further development of one of my scripts. I never fail to leave invigorated and inspired.”
Anne Negri. "Every time I do a Playwright's Slam I get nervous, hands shaking and voice wavering...but I also understand the rewards. One of my plays caught fire at a Write Now Slam and was developed and produced! Now I never miss an opportunity to Slam because its such an amazing way to open up a conversation about my work."
Jeff Jenkins. “Attempting to give the audience a sense of your play in five minutes is an exercise in minimalism. You deliver your lines while the time slips away and your adrenaline is pumping. It’s a great ride.”
If you want try “slamming” one of your plays, here are a few tips from some frequent slammers to help you get started!
-a play or scene you are excited about (new or generally unfamiliar to the audience)
-a cutting from any part of the play (however, ensure it’s understandable, plot-wise)
-a manageable amount of characters
-a scene with moments of humor / poignancy
2) Practice (Solo, Partner, Team):
-highlight your parts to distinguish them, even if you’re acting them out solo
-cross out extraneous stage directions, you can act some of them with gestures or facial expressions-time yourself, shoot for 4:30 to give you time to breathe, room for laughs (hopefully)
-practice it in front of someone else
-create distinct character voices, body positions, and facial expressions
-slow down, breathe!
-look up from your script, don't bury your face and voice
4) Prepare to Share:
-be ready to stick around after the Slam to discuss with others
-give out your contact information to those who are interested in reading the full script
-share your script that night or the next day (don't let that momentum wane)
Ready to give it a try? Look for your next opportunity to Slam this summer at the 2019 AATE Conference in New York City. Interested in learning more about WLPG? Check out this online community of playwrights and theater artists from around the world (here) for more information.
Jeff Jenkins is a Chicago playwright. He recently completed a residency with the TYE Center, Utah Valley University, as winner of the Old Miner Children’s Playwriting competition (Timmon and The Magic Shoes). He is a two-time semi-finalist with Write Now and NYU’s New Plays for Young Audiences. Plays which have been produced or workshopped are Monarch Ashes (Arizona State University), The Purple Heart (Adventure Stage Chicago, 10-Minute Play festival) Scout’s Honor (Adventure Stage Chicago, Scratch Festival), Minotaur of Warren Park (One Theatre World (TYA/USA) Staged Reading), Timmon and the Magic Shoes (Reading- Northwestern University), and Scout’s Honor (Reading –Northwestern University). He serves as co-chair of the Playwrights Network for AATE as well as serving on the Young Playwrights for Change National Competition selection committee (AATE, TYA/USA).
Anne Negri is a K-8 Drama Specialist in the Evanston, Illinois public schools. She's a graduate of Arizona State University (M.F.A Theatre for Youth) and Ripon College (B.A Theatre, French, K-12 Education). Her first play for young people, With Two Wings, published by Dramatic Publishing, has received major awards from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education and the Kennedy Center and has been produced nationally (Childsplay/AZ, The Growing Stage/NJ, Northwestern University/IL, Hangar Theatre/NY, Northeastern University/IL) and internationally (Theatre Ma/Japan, National University of Tainan/Taiwan). Some of her other produced or workshopped plays for young audiences include Girls Who Wear Glasses (Childsplay/AZ), Cave Boys (Paradise Valley Community College/AZ), Maddi's Fridge (Childsplay/AZ), Robin's Hood (Northwestern University/IL) and Not a Test (Utah State University/UT) and The Dancing Dog! Her youth theatre play, The JunGirl Book, has been produced by several theatres across the country in youth / educational productions (DC Ranch/AZ, The Rose Theatre/NE, Childsplay/AZ).