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“Pitch Without Fright and Playwrights Unite!”

Pitch Without Fright and

Playwrights Unite!

Cynthia’s Column August 2009

Our 40th annual Willamette Writers Conference is coming up in a handful of days.  If you are registered, I look forward to seeing you at the Sheraton.  If you (a) forgot to register or (b) procrastinated (you writers, you!) or (c) weren’t planning to come, but now you’re having second thoughts about missing it, I encourage you to do a wild and wonderfully spontaneous thing.  Jump in!  Come on down and join the party!  Our conference has an inspiring success vibe going on.  The air pulses with on-the-verge-of-breakthrough buzz.  Like the Nike slogan says (and I mean the Goddess, obviously) Just Do It!

A few last minute reminders on Pitching:

Dress for success.  This means your clothes are invisible.  They draw no attention to themselves by being bright or tight or sexy or with a tiny coffee stain on the sleeve.  In a pitch session, they should see only your face and have ALL their attention on your project.

It’s Not About You.  Don’t talk about yourself.  Keep all your focus on your project.  They don’t care what you do for a living.  Only if you’re a brain surgeon pitching a brain surgery story should you mention your day job.

Memorize a Great Opening Sentence.  It should deftly include what you are pitching (genre), title, the premise and if possible a great ad line.  (i.e.  “If adventure had a name, it would be Indiana Jones.”)

Be confident.  Smile.  Project a successful vibe.  Never apologize for anything.  If you forgot to tell them some key thing, your line is “What you also need to know is…”  And fill them in.  As if you meant to do that.  Seriously.

No Gifts.  Don’t give them a bottle of wine or box of candy or anything Made in Oregon.  Bribes don’t work.  They just make you seem desperate and it’s stuff for them to lug home or toss out.  Let your project speak for itself.

No Props.  Unless it’s something completely fantastic.  Nothing cutesy.  No photos unless they prove cold fusion or that you are the son of Elvis Presley.

Don’t Hand Then Your Manuscript.  Unless they beg you for it.  What you’re looking for is “Send it to me.”  And they give you their card or contact info.

Don’t Try to Tell Everything.  Be sure to include the premise, who, what, where, when and how.  I don’t tell the ending unless they ask me.  The goal is to leave them wanting to read.  Wanting more.

Don’t Stress.  I used to tell myself it was 12 pitches for every sale, and you never know which one will be the one, so don’t get too stressed out.  Relax. Just tell your story.

No Notes.  Learn your pitch.  Don’t memorize it.  (Except for your great opening sentence.)  No crib sheets.  Just know your material and practice and then trust the process.

Enough negatives.  The positives?

Breathe.  Relax.  Enjoy the process.  Remember what you love about your project and share it with them.  If you love it, so will others.

You are all invited to come and polish your pitches on August 1 in my all day pitching workshop at PSU 9 am to 3 pm ($50).  See the box on p. XXX LEONA INSERT PAGE NUMBER HERE.  There will also be a room where you can practice your pitch at the conference Pitch Practice Room.

Marc Acito and I took up the cause of playwrights recently when for the 4th time in 8 years no writers were included in the Portland Theatre Community’s Drammy Awards ceremony.  This is either a sin of omission or an act of aggression.  So we wrote a letter which was immediately embraced and signed by more than thirty playwrights.  It was published in Marty Hughley’s column on The Oregonian’s website, Mead Hunter’s blog and many other places by now.  Here it is.  Dedicated to all you writers.

An Open Letter to the Portland Drammy Award Committee:

On Monday, June 8th, the Portland Drammy Awards once again celebrated every aspect of theatre from actors and directors, to sets, costumes, sound, music, even going so far as to acknowledge the ushers and folks who work in the box office.  One category, however was noticeably absent: the very people who create theatre from literally nothing and without whom there would be no theatre, save a few stray mimes and improv events. That’s right, the playwrights.

Portland had many productions this year that were either world premieres or written by local playwrights or both, including Apollo, Cooler, Holidazed, Crazy Enough, Live Nude Fear, New Believers, and Pylon.  To snub this group is not only baffling, it’s an insult in the extreme.

Other cities, many less literate and writer-friendly than Portland, honor writers in their regional theatre award ceremonies: notably the Tony Awards in New York City, (awards for playwrights, as well as writers of the books for musicals); the Jeffs in Chicago (two writing awards for original plays and adaptations); the Barrymore Award in Philadelphia for a world premiere play; and three writing prizes from the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics for new plays.

Portland has the biggest and best bookstore in the country.  We have one of the largest writing organizations in the country, Willamette Writers, with 1,600 members. We have more best-selling authors than demographics would dictate (Jean Auel, Chuck Palahniuk, Chelsea Cain, Philip Margolin, to name a few). We have the Wordstock literary festival.  And two new play festivals, Fertile Ground and JAW.

So why is it that one of the most literate cities in America, with one of the healthiest theatre communities, chooses to overlook playwrights for the second year in a row and the fourth time in the past eight seasons, ignoring such critically acclaimed world premieres as Celebrity Row and Another Fine Mess, the latter of which went on to become a nominee for the Pulitzer Prize? We the undersigned writers urge the Portland Drammy committee to wake up and acknowledge the source of great theatre.

Because the pen is mightier than the plastic stage sword.

The result is that the Drammy Committee has already created a new task force to review new original work and hopefully they will make sure this doesn’t happen again.

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