by Alexa Fitzpatrick, executive director
1. I can learn a lot from your log line. If your logline is long winded, usually so is your piece. If you feel the need to spell it all out for me, chances are most of it is going on in your head and nothing is happening in your script. If you find yourself writing “and then… and then… and then,” it’s likely you’re very plot heavy and still aren’t clear on your theme. And if it’s all hook, you might have a great idea, but still not know how to tell it.
If you can’t give me your pitch in one sentence, you’re probably not clear on what is happening in your play. Figuring it out is certainly part of the process. We are looking for works in progress, so we’re open to pieces that are still trying to execute their plan. But, if your play is the journey and we can’t see the ultimate destination, your log line can save you by showing us what directions you are attempting to follow. Once we can tell where you’re trying to go, if it looks interesting, it’s easier to get past the fact that you’re not quite there yet.
2. A lot of people don’t read. To pass the Bechdel Test you need: two women who both have names and have a conversation that’s not about a man. Your one-woman show (thank you to those of you who can see where this is going), even if it’s a history of the feminist movement, doesn’t pass. The first two words of the test are: Two Women. I get it. Pulitzer plays have been written that only have one woman in them. The Flick, for example, by Annie Baker. While we’d love to have her get excited about our group, we wouldn’t read that play.
The rules are simple and, while we’re open to a fairly loose interpretation since it wasn’t really designed to be a test, the most important one is that we need to have at least two women in the play. We get tons of submissions. It’s frustrating when we can rule you out before we even read a word of dialogue.
In a quick, non-scientific assessment of the plays we have received and read so far, 18% haven’t passed the test. That’s almost one out of every five. It makes you wonder, why apply to us? Are there people with so much time on their hands that they are just spamming out submissions?
And here’s a not-so-secret secret: being a good writer means being a good listener and paying attention to and absorbing the details of life. Nine times out of ten, the plays that don’t pass the test aren’t very good. Whether there’s a correlation between an attention to detail in your life and in your writing, I don’t know. It’s just something I’ve noticed.
3. There are people who think violence and drama are synonyms. They’re not. Violence creates drama, but without a strong emotional spine to your work, it quickly becomes empty and gratuitous. Also, the suggestion of violence, or the threat of violence, is way more powerful than actually beating the crap out of or killing off one of your characters on stage/film. If there’s no drama without the violence, chances are adding it isn’t going to fix your problem.
4. The most common storylines that I’ve seen in our submissions (the ones that pass) to date are…
Mental illness/suicide (frequently with an abusive therapist/parent thrown in),
Mother/daughter dysfunction (is it possible to have a baggage-free mother/daughter relationship?),
Women trying to become/recently having become mothers,
Abused/raped/harassed-at-work women taking vengeance on a parent/boss/other abuser,
Very angry (sometimes serial killer, sometimes vigilante) lesbians.
5. And then there are the outliers (most I loved, some I hated, all were unique)…
Lesbian serial killer who kills with pie,
Young noble dancer using her talents to blend in to a Soviet ballet academy in the time of the Russian Revolution,
Mother daughter porn stars,
Female soldiers at war (we are getting more soldier pieces, but only one has showed actual/accidental combat),
Female pilots right after World War II,
A young girl who might be part alligator.
6. One final thought: when dystopian fiction goes awry, it doesn’t just jump the track, it goes way the hell off the rails…but, after reading almost 200 plays in the past two years, the ones I remember the best are the ones who went for it, whether it hit or not. As they say in the marketing campaign for the basketball finals, “Go Big or Go Home!”
And, if you have a script to submit to us, bring it on. We’re about to start reading for our spring season.
The Bechdel Group
Working to challenge the portrayal of women in film and on stage.