A project this big means a lot of little details.
Explore these tabs for answers to frequently asked questions.
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About the ASC and about SNC
About the American Shakespeare Center
We are the American Shakespeare Center, Shakespeare’s American Home. We produce world-class performances and educational programming year-round at the Blackfriars Playhouse, the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre in Staunton, Virginia. Add to that a tour that has visited forty-seven states, one US territory, and five other countries. Our vision is to be a beacon for all to feel more alive through the experience of Shakespeare, changing lives one encounter at a time.
How can I see what you do?
As part of the Playwrights Welcome program, we are happy to offer Dramatists Guild of America members two complimentary tickets to our productions. Simply visit the box office or call 1-877-MUCH-ADO (1-877-682-4236). A Dramatist card must be presented at Will Call.
How can I support the project?
- Donate. Access our secure portal to make a contribution today.
- Attend performances of these groundbreaking new plays. Stay tuned for more information about upcoming performances.
- Don’t keep us a secret. Make sure your friends and family know about the magic we’re making (especially if they’re a great playwright).
What’s the prize?
Each winning playwright will receive a $25,000 cash prize, plus travel to and housing in Staunton, Virginia for the rehearsal period and opening of their production.
When will you announce the next round of plays?
We will announce the next round of plays approximately 1 – 1.5 years in advance of the deadline for each cycle. Check this site for announcements or sign-up for email updates.
Writing a Play
What are the play qualifications?
The play must be inspired by or in conversation with one of the Shakespeare titles being considered during the given application cycle. (Shakespeare titles for the upcoming Year 3 application cycle will be announced soon).
The play must not have had a professional production.
The play should take advantage of and be producible using Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions* (Cast size 10–12; universal lighting; direct address; character doubling and cross-gendered casting; 2(ish) hours; minimal sets; all sound effects created in real time, unplugged, by the cast)
For more information about casting, visit the Producing a Play tab.
*see more below
Tell me more about Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions.
We’re glad you asked. They’re our heart and soul. The best way to understand how we produce is to see our work – either here in Staunton or on the road (and we’re happy to provide tickets to playwrights who want to check us out). We think Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions create an engaging, interactive, and magical theatre experience for our audiences – even if the show isn’t by William Shakespeare. Learn all the ins-and-outs of our unique style, and why we believe using Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions is an exceptional way to create exceptional theatre.
Here’s a general overview:
Shakespeare’s actors could see their audience; ASC actors can see you. When actors can see an audience, they can engage with an audience. And audience members can play the roles that Shakespeare wrote for them – Cleopatra’s court, Henry V’s army, or simply the butt of innumerable jokes. Leaving an audience in the dark can literally obscure a vital part of the drama as Shakespeare designed it.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth has more than forty parts; Shakespeare’s traveling troupe may have had fewer than fifteen actors. With a troupe of fifteen or fewer actors, the ASC doubles parts, with one actor play as many as seven roles in a single show.
Because women didn’t take to the English stage until after the Restoration (1660), all the women in Shakespeare’s plays were originally played by young boys or men. Shakespeare had a great deal of fun with this convention. In a performance of As You Like It in 1600, a boy would have played Rosalind, who disguises herself as a boy, then pretends to be a woman. Let’s review: that’s a boy playing a woman disguised as a boy pretending to be a woman. Because we are committed to the idea that Shakespeare is about everyone – male and female – the ASC is not an all-male company. Because Shakespeare wrote so few female characters, women in our troupes will often play male characters; every so often, male actors will play female characters too.
We cannot know the precise running time of a Shakespeare play in the Renaissance, but the Chorus in Romeo and Juliet promises “two hours’ traffic of our stage.” The ASC tries to fulfill this promise through brisk pacing and a continuous flow of dramatic action.
Shakespeare’s company performed on a large wooden platform unadorned by fixed sets or scenery. A few large pieces – thrones, tombs, tables – were occasionally used to ornament a scene. Like Shakespeare, we rely on the audience’s imagination to “piece out our imperfections.”
Costuming was important to the theatre companies of Shakespeare’s day for three reasons. First, the frequently lavish costumes provided fresh color and designs for the theatres, which otherwise did not change from show to show. Second, costumes made it easy to use one actor in a variety of roles. Third, as they do now, costumes helped an audience “read” the play quickly by showing them at a glance who was rich or poor, royalty or peasantry, priest or cobbler, ready for bed or ready to party. Costumes are important to the ASC in the same way. But costumes were NOT important to Shakespeare and his fellows as a way of showing what life used to be like in a particular historical period. They probably performed Titus Andronicus, for example, in primarily garb with Roman-style pieces thrown on top. Sometimes we’ll use contemporary costumes, sometimes Elizabethan, and sometimes a mix of everything in between.
Shakespeare had a soundtrack. Above the stage, musicians played an assortment of string, wind, and percussion instruments before, during, and after the play. The plays are sprinkled with songs for which lyrics, but not much of the music, survive. The ASC sets many of these songs in contemporary style. The result is emblematic of our approach – a commitment to Shakespeare’s text and to the mission of connecting that text to modern audiences.
Does my play need to be written in verse?
No, there is no requirement regarding the linguistic form of the plays. They can be in verse, in prose, in whatever style that best suits you and the story that you’re trying to tell.
Does my play need to take place in Shakespeare’s world or feature his characters?
No, while some of the submitted and selected plays may choose to include Shakespeare’s characters – or Shakespeare himself as a character – this is not a requirement. Additionally, plays may be set in Elizabethan England, today’s world, or any other time and place. How you chose to engage with Shakespeare’s text is up to you.
What is a companion piece?
We are seeking new plays that will be companion pieces for each of Shakespeare’s plays (e.g. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead to Hamlet or Wittenberg to Hamlet or Shakespeare in Love to Romeo and Juliet, etc.). The American Shakespeare Center will perform each new play in rotating repertory with its companion Shakespeare play.
What do you mean by “inspired by Shakespeare”?
We are looking for new work that is inspired by and in conversation with Shakespeare. Something in a Shakespeare play that inspires you to write a great play. It can be what if? What if Mercutio lives. What if Morocco or Arragon open the right casket. What if Cordelia tells her father what he wants to hear. What if Hamlet and his twin sister Judith are shipwrecked off the coast of Bohemia on their way to their father’s funeral and Hamlet is eaten by a bear (and his ghost hangs around for the rest of the play). What if Duke Senior has his own play. What if Imogen’s mother has her own play. What if Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have their own play (well, that’s already been done).
You might wish to engage with the theme of a play: the loss, redemption, forgiveness of The Winter’s Tale. You might wish to interrogate a character: Iago and his anger, jealousy, revenge. You might wish to engage with a line in a play: “What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, / That he should weep for her?” You might wish to explore a moment in a play: Thaisa’s rebirth. The opportunities for inspiration in Shakespeare are vast.
We aren’t looking for translations of Shakespeare’s plays or scene-by-scene retellings of the plots, although you can be inspired by the plot to create new work (e.g. My Own Private Idaho, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, A Thousand Acres, 10 Things I Hate about You, Throne of Blood, etc.). We want something that inspires you to create something new. Something wonderful. Something great that will be fun and exciting and beautiful to play in rotating repertory with its companion Shakespeare play.
What do you mean by character doubling and cross-gendered casting?
Character doubling means that one actor may play a number of different characters in the play; cross-gendered casting means that actors of any gender (cis or trans) may play a fictional character written to be a specific gender. A modern example of this is Angels in America: the actor playing Hannah also plays Rabbi Chemelwitz, Ethel Rosenberg, Henry, etc.
May I submit a collaboration?
Yes, but the $25,000 prize would be split between the collaborators.
Are you accepting musicals?
Yes, but keep in mind that all music must be live and unplugged on acoustic instruments played by the same 11 or 12 actors in the troupe. And neither the voices nor the instruments will be amplified.
May I submit a previously produced play?
The contest is only available to unproduced work. If your work has had a script-in-hand reading or was produced by a high school or college, it is still eligible for consideration.
Plays should remain unproduced through any American Shakespeare Center involvement. However, if you have questions about this, please contact us.
submitting a play
Who should submit?
We’re looking for remarkable playwrights from all walks of life. Do you have a great play that vibes off of Shakespeare’s canon? Can you write a great play to be a companion piece to one of Shakespeare’s plays? We want to see it.
Our anonymous reading process ensures that the plays are solely evaluated on the merits of the script itself, not on any information about the playwright.
When is the deadline?
Dates of the application cycle for Year 3 of Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries will be announced in late 2018.
May I submit more than one play?
You may submit multiple plays.
May I submit the same play to multiple rounds of the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries Project?
Yes, if your play engages with more than one of Shakespeare’s titles, you are welcome to submit it to any round that is considering those titles.
May I submit a paper copy of my play?
Please submit using our online submission form. We are unable to accept scripts by other methods. If you are truly unable to use an online submission form, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Does my script need to be formatted in any specific kind of way?
No. And Yes. You are welcome to format the elements of your script (dialogue, stage directions, etc) in whatever way you feel best suits your story and your way of telling it. That said, we do ask a few things in preparing your script: that your name and contact information (as well as the name and contact information of any agent or representation) be removed from the script and that a character breakdown be included at the start of the script.
May I submit if I am not a US citizen?
Is there an age requirement?
All applicants should be 18 years of age or older. (Under 18 and want to engage? Check out our education programming!)
May I submit a play that is a companion piece to a Shakespeare play that is not included in the current round of titles?
No, we’re very glad that you’re excited about the possibilities of partnering with Shakespeare’s work, but we are only able to consider companions for 4 of Shakespeare’s plays at a time.
We ask that you remain patient until the play you wish to partner with comes around; and check back here or sign-up for updates to hear about the next round of plays. If you’re curious to know when we last did the Shakespeare play you’re interested in (and want to make a guess as to when it might come around again), check out our production history.
My play is great, but it is ineligible or otherwise is not a fit for Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries. May I send it to you anyway?
Unfortunately, at this time, ASC is unable to consider new plays submitted outside of the SNC application process.
Selecting a Play
What is the selection process?
All scripts that meet our criteria will be read once in their entirety. Based on the recommendations of our reading committee, approximately 25% of scripts will move forward to a semifinalist round. 10-20 projects will advance to a finalist round, from which 2 plays will be selected as winners. Final selections will be made by Ethan McSweeny (Artistic Director), Ralph Alan Cohen (Co-Founder and Director of Mission), Amy Wratchford (Managing Director), Jay McClure (Associate Artistic Producer and Casting Director), and Anne G. Morgan (Literary Manager).
In order to support a fair process, all readers will evaluate plays based on the script itself and with no knowledge of the writer’s identity.
All writers will be notified of their application status as the selection process moves forward. Second-round winners will be announced in January 2019, with the selected plays produced in early 2020.
We expect that the vast majority of plays produced through Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries will come through this open submission and anonymous selection process. However, there may be a handful of projects over the course of the 20 years that are selected by invitation or collaboration, as these can broaden and deepen the conversations between Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries, the American Shakespeare Center, and the wider theatre community.
Who is reading my play?
Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries has a terrific team of volunteer readers. Our readers are artists and administrators, scholars and students, performers and patrons; what they all have in common is a familiarity with Shakespeare and his staging conditions and a passion for new plays. Semifinalist plays are read by our Semifinalist Reading Panel, a select group of Shakespeare practitioners and scholars. Final decisions are made by Ethan McSweeny (Artistic Director), Ralph Alan Cohen (Co-Founder and Director of Mission), Amy Wratchford (Managing Director), Jay McClure (Associate Artistic Producer and Casting Director), and Anne G. Morgan (Literary Manager). The entire process is closely managed by the literary department. Find a complete list of the readers for Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries Round 1 here.
When will I hear back?
You’ll receive confirmation of your play’s receipt shortly after you submit. You’ll be further notified as to whether or not your play is selected for the semifinalist round. Second-round winners will be selected in January 2019.
If you have any questions regarding the status of your application at any point in the process, please don’t hesitate to email us.
Will I receive feedback on my script?
No. We are unable to provide any feedback on scripts not selected for Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries and believe it would be poor artistic practice to do so, given that we would not be producing the work.
Producing a Play
When will the first production take place?
The first two productions will be mounted during our 2018/19 Artistic Year. Amy E. Witting’s Anne Page Hates Fun, in the 2019 Actors’ Renaissance Season (January – early April), will accompany The Merry Wives of Windsor. Mary Elizabeth Hamilton’s 16 Winters or The Bear’s Tale, during the 2019 Spring Season (mid-April – mid-June) will accompany The Winter’s Tale.
That happens between selection and production? Is there any kind of workshop or development?
Selected playwrights are encouraged to revise their play as they wish throughout the process. In addition to offering feedback on any new material, ASC will provide each selected play with a staged reading workshop process a few months prior to the start of the production rehearsal process. For the production, the play will receive three weeks of rehearsal.
How are selected plays cast?
Each Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries play will be part of a rotating repertory with three or four other titles; the same troupe of actors performs in all of the plays. For the plays in the Actors’ Renaissance Season (the first two Shakespeare titles listed among the considered titles for each round), the troupe is comprised of ASC alumni. Because we believe that Shakespeare’s characters can be performed by actors of all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities, our intention is that, to the extent possible, the casting needs of SNC plays will be a significant factor as we put our acting troupes together.
What about retaining performance rights and restrictions on other performances?
Submitting playwrights will retain the rights to their work. The American Shakespeare Center will request acknowledgment credit for future performances and publications.
For selected plays, we will request a blackout period from the time the performance agreement is issued through 60-days after the production at the American Shakespeare Center.