Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ken Davenport Doesn't Care About Playwrights

So Ken Davenport’s Davenport Theatrical Productions is hosting their third annual Ten-Minute Play Contest.

There is a $10 fee to apply, and IF selected, the playwright must produce her or his own work and present it in the contest. Asking for a fee to submit a play to a theater is a practice that is frowned upon and discouraged by The Dramatists Guild, and has been for several years.

Contests are a grey area, to be sure, as there is a possible benefit, in that it’s possible to actually win something substantial. Though asking for playwrights to put in money in order to put in more production money for the slim possibility to win that elusive $500 seems to be taking advantage of playwrights. In their favor, Davenport Theatricals does have an open submission policy for full-length plays, if you want to get on their slush pile.

Or they have a “Script Coverage” option, where you can pay them money to actually read it and give feedback.

I will say that I did apply to the Ten-Minute Play Contest the previous two years, considering that the possible plusses outweighed the minuses, as Davenport is a legitimate producer who has been involved in shows that have been to Broadway. The judges of the finalists were prestigious (and in previous years the 10 finalists received $50 each, even if they weren’t the $500 winner).

But this year, in his blog post about the contest (linked above), Davenport goes on to be frankly offensive to playwrights. He says:
What’s great about a 10 minute play is that anyone can write one. Doesn’t matter if you’re an actor, a producer or a veterinarian who specializes in tropical hamster diseases . . . you can write a 10 minute play (huh – you know what’s funny – a hamster vet’s office is a pretty interesting place to set a 10 minute play).

And then later:
And then get writing. No excuses. Including if you’re not a writer. I promise you, you can sneeze out a 10 minute play. And then, poof, you’re a writer.

It is frankly appalling that someone in his position a) has so little respect for the craft of playwriting, and b) is apparently using this contest to lure gullible people into giving him another $10 each for something they can just “sneeze out”. In his previous blog posts on his contests, he doesn’t reveal exactly how many people actually applied, but in the 2012 contest, they were “overwhelmed with so many submissions”, “of the hundreds submitted”… So even assuming it was only (the lowest possible) 200 submissions, 200 x $10 is $2,000 from the playwrights, which should tidily cover the $500 prize plus a little left over.

It seems this contest is merely a way to bilk money out of playwrights (who I assure you work hard to create GOOD ten-minute plays), and naive wannabes with stars in their eyes.

I’m planning to avoid it this year.

Addendum: I commented directly on the original post on his blog, questioning the fees, a couple of days ago, as did another poster. Both our comments were deleted.


  1. Good for you for speaking out.

  2. It seems amazing that someone in the biz as long as Davenport would write something so condescending as "Anyone can write, duh!" What, did he think just asking for plays from playwrights wouldn't yield enough entries? Believe me, he could make the submission criteria as specific as "plays from graduates of the top two MFA playwriting programs during the years 2010-2013," and his office would be inundated.

  3. Hey Duncan,

    So sorry you feel this way. I can tell you that we don't make money on these things. The prize money is only the beginning of our costs (and remember there is $50 to each finalist, so total prize money is $950). There are insurance costs, staffing costs, space costs (we use our own, but that means we can't rent to others which means a loss of revenue), photocopying and all sorts of stuff that add up. Run one of these - you'll see. ;-)

    We only charge to offset the costs so that we can continue to do it and a lot of the other things we do each year . . . like, you know, produce plays as well as host free networking events for playwrights and producers like my speed date, my social, and donate to the actors fund and other such stuff that support playwrights and artists.

    We also do it to encourage people to write, whether they are established or not. I believe that if we have more writers, the theater is better off. So I try to get more people writing. I certainly don't think it's easy (I write too).

    I also have to say that as someone who personally has lost a lot (and I mean a lot!) of my own money producing plays and musicals, including new plays like this year's Mothers and Sons, to say that I don't care about playwrights is a little upsetting. If I wanted to make money, I'd be a lawyer right now like my Mom wanted me to be.

    If you or anyone else doesn't like the contest, then you shouldn't apply. But if you're a writer, then what I suggest you do is go write something, instead of wasting your time and energy complaining about something that a lot of people love.

    Best of luck with everything you're doing and working on.

    1. Thanks for your reply, Ken. You’re absolutely welcome to charge whatever you like for your contest, and sell tickets to it, etc. I’m just pointing out that your contest is not particularly beneficial to the playwrights who work on (or other people who apparently can just sneeze out) a play, to give you money for the possible opportunity to produce their play themselves for one night for a paying audience.

      I didn’t realize you were using your own photocopier for this- is that to print the scripts for the actors to use? I’d assumed that was up to the playwrights; if you are providing that benefit to the playwrights, that is certainly a perk. (Or is it only for the programs for the event?)

      And assuming you’re using your largest studio at Davenport Enterprises, at $63 an hour, it is certainly noble of you to give up that $252 (? – assuming 4 hours, since I assume there’s probably a minimal tech rehearsal in the space at some point) in service of this endeavor. Or do you provide any rehearsal space or discounted rehearsal space for the playwrights who are producing on your behalf?

      Saying that you don’t care about playwrights was a bit of hyperbole, based off Kanye West’s famous “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People”. You obviously do care about playwrights who are already a name (I am looking forward to your revival of “It’s Only a Play”), and playwrights and wannabes who will give you money.

      It may not actually be the case, because I do believe you are sincere about creating good theatre, but it seems from your actions that you are less interested in cultivating new talent than you are in making more money, which is fine, theatre is a business, and with shows like Awesome 80s Prom and Getting The Band Back Together (developed through improv), who really needs playwrights after all? It’s just like Reality TV, you merely need an overseer.

      I wish you the best as well, I’m just surprised at the disrespect you’ve shown to playwrights. If we don’t complain about injustices, they may never change. And have no fear, I am still writing and have been for twenty years.

  4. Ah yes, Ken Davenport. I was wondering if you'd get to it. Turns out I had to wait until the penultimate paragraph for you to drop the "quit your bitching, playwright and write some plays" bon mot. Nothing like telling artists to shut up to boost your bona fides as a producer. And nothing like it to counter act all your hand-wringing earnestness in the earlier paragraphs.

    Here's a thought. If you don't like what Duncan's saying, why don't you go do your "god's work" and STFU yourself?

  5. As producer of the Short Play Lab, I'm sensitive to the demands and needs of playwrights (I'm also a playwright). I don't charge ten bucks a submission to the Lab, because (a) I think that's a bit of an imposition and (b) I don't have the clout of Mr. Davenport to back it up. I DO charge $20 to see a program of ten plays. I DON'T provide more than 20 min. of tech rehearsal. I DO give out a $75 prize to the most popular play in the program. I DO comp the playwrights, producers, and directors. I DON'T comp anyone else, including actors, agents, or mothers-in-law. All in all, I only break even if I stay out of town for the weekend. But the Lab presents some interesting, and mostly acceptable, work, and is the low-level entry point for my other festivals.
    One participant, while I was handing her the prize money, accused me in so many words of being a greedy bottom-feeder. Others complain about the ticket price (yes, rent is not cheap at 43rd & 8th, and the theatre has only 50 seats). But most participants have a good time, put everything into it, and even take another small step along their path in the theatre.

    1. Thanks, John. I learned a lot doing shows in the Short Play Lab over the years.