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Henley Rose Playwright Competition for Women - Two Perspectives

05 May 2019 2:24 PM | Jessie Salsbury (Administrator)


The Henley Rose Playwright Competition for Women was founded by Yellow Rose Productions, with permission of Beth Henley, to encourage and recognize the new works of female playwrights. The Henley Rose Playwright Competition seeks to honor both the writings of Pulitzer Prize winner Beth Henley and those of future winners of the Henley Rose Award. 

Submissions are received July 1st of every year and capped at 200. It is a submission with a fee, but it is waived for Dramatists Guild members. You can find more information on the competition here: http://yellowroseproductions.org/henleyrose/


Ellen Wittlinger was a finalist in the 2018 competition with her play THE SUMMER DRESS.  

How did you hear about the Henley Rose Playwright competition?

I first heard about it through the Minnesota Playwright’s Center where I’m a member.

Is it something you would submit to again?

Absolutely.

What types of plays or work do you write?

I started out as a poet, I segued to fiction, started writing plays in my late 20s. But soon I had two young children and it didn’t seem possible to do the kind of unpaid travel all across the country that was the prerequisite for getting a career going in playwriting….But I'm older now and can afford to "retire" from writing for children, so about 4 years ago I went back to writing plays. That was always my first love and still is.

At this point I'm trying lots of things, some traditional 2 act comedies, full-length dramatic pieces, a hybrid of those two, some one-acts, and some 10-minute plays. These have primarily been more traditional kinds of plays, but I'm hoping to try writing something more experimental now as well.

Are there any other conferences or competitions that you have been a winner or finalist for that you have enjoyed or been a part of? 

I've only been sending things out for about a year and I'm just figuring out what to send where. I was a semi-finalist with a 10-minute play at The Actor's Studio of Newburyport in Massachusetts last year. In my earlier playwriting days I was also a finalist for Ensemble Studio Theatre's one-act competition.

I just found out another of my full-length plays, LEFTOVERS, is a finalist for the New Works Festival at the Garry Marshall Theatre in LA. I'd love to be able to go to that!


Melissa Bell’s play LADY CAPULET was a Henley Rose finalist in 2017.

How did you hear about the Henley Rose competition? What led you to submit? 

I saw the Henley Rose competition on a listing of submission opportunities. I had spent the year writing, workshopping and revising LADY CAPULET and felt that it was in a good place, so I began submitting it for various opportunities. With the Henley Rose Competition for Women I felt I had a level playing field. There is an incredible bias in the theatre world for plays written by men with men as the central character and women in supporting and subjugated roles. I often don’t submit to competitions with fees, but the fee was waived for members of the Dramatist Guild, which I am. As emerging playwrights, we need to submit to competitions, not just to win, but to have our work read by the judges, who then become familiar with us and our work.

 

As a finalist, you had to beat out 200 submissions. What do you think is captivating about your script that got you to the finalist level?

For a play to work, the stakes must be high. The characters need to have skin in the game. No one in LADY CAPULET is passive, everyone is active; each character wants or needs something from another, especially the lead character, Rose. The play begins with a sexual betrayal, and Rose is driven by a tremendous secret as we follow her journey from budding country girl to powerful Lady of Verona. Rose is more like Richard III than Juliet in her actions to get what she needs.

Moreover, the premise of the play, “what caused the feud” of Shakespeare’s most well-known play, peaks people’s interest. They know there is a feud in Romeo and Juliet, but no one knows what caused it--he doesn’t say. Once Rose makes up her mind to be a player rather than to be played, the audience knows they’re in for a rollercoaster ride.

Would you encourage other playwrights to submit to this competition?

There are few opportunities for women playwrights that provide a forum for our unique voices to be heard. The Henley Rose competition is one. I would encourage women to submit a play that has had some early developmental work, such as a reading, dramaturgical feedback and several rounds of revisions. Submit something that is well-cooked. With only 200 submissions, you have a pretty good shot.

What types of plays do you write?

I create new works for the stage grounded in plot-driven storytelling, featuring a strong yet flawed woman as the central character. These women are active participants in their world who want something more than their current social or gender experience allows them. I am interested in re-imagining and responding to classic themes and texts. I don’t write straight adaptations; I use a source text as a jumping off point and respond to it, pushing it forward rather than looking backwards.

I am increasingly aware that as playwrights we need to differentiate our work in theatre from that of film and television, and that is through “theatricality.” To that end, I belong to a physical-theatre group, Farm Arts Collective, which devises short performance pieces on conservation and social issues, touring at festivals and conventions in the Catskill region. This type of work goes against my inclination to write scenes with “three people in a room.” Writing a scene for a group of people walking on stilts teaches a lot about theatricality.

How do you feel the Henley Rose competition help your play in its development to this point?

When I saw that LADY CAPULET was a finalist, besides being thrilled, I felt incredibly validated as a writer. The Henley Rose Competition's only agenda is to support women playwrights.

The competition is about the work and whether the play is good on its own terms. I knew that people enjoyed LADY CAPULET, but I didn’t know if it was a good play. Being a finalist means I have one unbiased confirmation that LADY CAPULET is stage worthy and worth an audience’s time to watch. Luckily, Emily Gallagher, Artistic Director at Barefoot Shakespeare, agrees. It will be presented free and open to the public at Summit Rock (W 83rd St & CPW) in NYC’s Central Park by Barefoot Shakespeare, August 22nd to September 1st 2019, and is available to download on the New Play Exchange. Additionally, I was an honored Finalist for Women in the Arts & Media Coalition’s 2019 Collaboration Award for COURAGE, produced by NACL Theatre.


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