Open Submissions that are Truly Open
I wonder if reading alone at my desk—or in recent years, on my Kindle while riding the train—is the best way to evaluate an unsolicited play and then decide whether it’s right for the company. My hunch is a fairly confident “probably not,” and I’m certain there must be other artistic directors who suspect this too. I am, however, charged with a long-standing artistic policy committed to the true discovery of new and unknown talent, making the unsolicited pile occasionally useful. A majority of my script coverage not only requires that I critique a play, but also attempt to get to know its writer’s potential between the words. This often feels like an impossibly tall order, partly because I’m a firm believer of the obvious—plays should be seen, not read!—and partly because I know that rejecting something after quickly reading ten pages does nothing to advance our mission of developing the imperfect, promising script by the rawest of talent.
T@9 promotes an unusual democracy that puts play development back in the hands of the artists themselves. It insists that what creates lasting works of art is feeding off of the energy of an artistic community that you can always retreat to, depend on, and never fear.
But luckily for me, I inherited a secret weapon when I took this job.
Tuesdays@9 is Naked Angels’ long-running cold reading salon—taking place weekly from Labor Day to Memorial Day—and its growing community of writers, actors, musicians, poets, comedians and novelists is an awfully talented tribe. Every Tuesday for nine fast months per season, this is the rare epicenter (on both coasts!) for all kinds of new work development, driven by artists, for fellow artists and solely benefitting the artistic process. Part of its charm over the years is the collegial, loose, and cramped atmosphere in basement theaters (equipped with full cash bars) located at Union Square in New York and in Hollywood out west. On any typical Tuesday, you’ll see famous alumni mixing with the new faces whom you haven’t heard of yet, but certainly will soon. They’re all returning home, tied together by one belief: it starts here.
Tuesdays@9 came to life on the night of the first Gulf War, when its founders—Naked Angels company members Frank Pugliese, Lili Taylor, Kenneth Lonergan and Pippin Parker—were in search of a way to discuss what was happening overseas. “The thought being that groups of people, artists or not, should come together, in a theater, face to face, with original pieces, found text, interviews, songs – anything that came close to what they were feeling and seeing,” says Pugliese.
What it’s ballooned into over the last twenty plus years is a popular (and packed) open-mic for new work, serving over 200 people each week in two cities, absolutely free of charge and open to anyone who walks through the door. Writers bring in five-to-ten page samples of their works-in-progress, cast them on the spot with actors who show up, and hear their work aloud often for the first time. T@9 works best when writers come back with the next ten pages and start building full-length material right in front of you. In many cases, work first noticed at T@9 will matriculate up our own development ladder before moving on to a world premiere production, with us or elsewhere. Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall, a play that started as a small idea at T@9 and eventually transferred to Broadway, is the most recent example of this particular kind of play development—kicking ass and taking names.
T@9 promotes an unusual democracy that puts play development back in the hands of the artists themselves. It insists that what creates lasting works of art is feeding off of the energy of an artistic community that you can always retreat to, depend on, and never fear. If you need it, it’ll be there for you, every Tuesday, ready to receive your latest draft, and armed with the ultimate feedback tool: an audience. And the open submission policy feels truly open—if you submit, you get a shot.
I’ve got a crush on Tuesdays@9. The surprising collaborations it forges between artists from all kinds of crazy creative backgrounds are a close second to the consistent quality of material it produces. And not only does the program discover the occasional diamonds in the rough—the desired result of any open submission policy—but I get to come in contact with this new work in performance first, meet the writers face-to-face, and most importantly, introduce them into one of the most unique and loyal families around.
We don’t have a literary manager sifting through cold submissions. We can’t afford one. But Tuesdays@9 makes me think Naked Angels already has a cooler alternative.