I had the absolute pleasure of being on the assessment panel for the Erin Thomas Award this week, a fund awarded through Australian Plays Transform (APT), the national playwriting peak body. Erin Thomas was a regional playwright (from Tamworth!) who created a career for herself as a playwright and dramaturge. She passed away in 2015 and her family created a legacy of an annual award program where regional playwrights of merit receive dramaturgical support and a travel bursary to help them establish their career. Such a cool idea. Being a regional playwright and dramaturg myself, I know it is really very hard to find access to professional development. Looking through this year’s entries, I was struck by something. We playwrights need to get better at shameless self promotion.

There definitely is craft and technique to writing a grant. I write 15-20 grants a year as part of my job, and a further 3-5 as part of my independent practice. Shameless self-promotion #2 (did you spot the first one?), my successful grant rate is about 80%. I will write a blog post with my hot tips on how to improve your grant writing soon enough. But for now, I have to say you can start raising your chances astronomically right now by working on the following.

  1. Grow your online profile.

    I don’t mean Facebook. Facey has its merits, but it really shouldn’t be your online frontline. You need a proper grown-ass web site. So many playwrights don’t have one. Or they do have one and it’s not regularly updated.

    Lil’ story here…(promise it’s got a point) 23 years ago I won an award from the Australian National Playwright’s Centre called the New York Dramatists Exchange. The award was another playwright’s legacy, this time Ray Lawler who wrote the iconic Summer of the Seventh Doll (affectionately known only as ‘The Doll”) who wanted playwrights from Australia to be afforded an opportunity to go to New York to study. As you’d imagine this was a very competitive award. I admit I was completely surprised to win the award. When I went to New York I had the honour to met one of the people who had been on the assessment panel. And you know what she told me? The decision of who to chose had been in neck in neck between myself and another playwright. The deciding vote was in this woman’s hands and she was unsure. But then, she saw that I had a website, with an (almost) daily-updated blog. My online was a deal breaker for her. For her, it demonstrated discipline, passion and a writer’s mind.

    A proper website is free of tumbleweeds blowing through it. It features fresh blog posts, news updates, samples of your scripts, updates about what you’re working on, videos of your previous work, information about you, a professional headshot, photos, videos. If you keep it neat and professional, it will serve you well the next time in a grant application or an award submission to point assessors in the direction of more information.

    Facebook, fine for letting your peers know what you’re up to but treat only as a way to drive traffic to your website. Linkedin, fine but it isn’t an open book that assessors can access easily. Insta, fine, if you want to document your projects and use it to drive traffic to your website. Youtube, fine, use it to store any snappy and professional footage you have of your work in rehearsal or being read or performed —embed these videos on your website.
  2. Make your CV/resume a priority. CV’s and resumes are the BANE of my life as a creative producer. Artists seem almost allergic to them. Ask the average theatre artist for their CV and 90% of them will do one of 3 things: procrastinate until I literally need to write one for them, hand me a CV from 2020, or send me a one that is crazy long/all in CAPITAL LETTERS/cluttered with utterly irrelevant information.

    Come on.
    Create a one page CV or resume.
    Make it bespoke to the person/funding body/organisation you are sending it to.
    List your relevant career highlights, most recent ones first.
    Make it easy to scan, dot points.
    Make sure the document is about your playwriting, omitting stuff like eg. your clowning experience (unless this is directly relevant because you are eg. writing a script about a clown)
    Keep it professional. I know that sounds absolutele, painfully basic, but so many CVs and resumes I see randomly include stuff like how may children an applicant has—female playwrights please stop putting that sort of thing in with your professional information, it serves no purpose and should, in a world of equity, be irrelevant. When was the last time you read a resume of a male artist that included their number of children as a cutesy reveal at the end of the page?
    And please, not all in capital letters.
  3. Know the difference between a CV or Resume and a Bio. A Bio (Biography) is a 200 to 300-word summary of your CV or Resume. Theatre companies will requests a Bio to be included in their production notes or website if they are working with you, or if you are applying for a grant with a larger number of artists involved (and let’s face it theatre is a massively collaborative artform) you will need to get everyone’s Bio rather than their one-page CV or resume. Having an updated Bio handy make your life easier and creative producers like me will adore you for your quick hand over of it.
  4. Get your elevator pitch ready. It’s a spiel of about three or four sentences that capture the essence of your work and creates interest. Even if you are only just beginning on your play, start perfecting your short-form pitch now. When you only have 300 words in a grant application to explain your current work, you’re ready. And. You just never know when you will have the ear of a producer, director, important industry peer. Whatcha gonna say when you unexpectedly find yourself in conversation with a Declan Greene or an Anne Louise-Sarks. They turn to you at that theatre conference and ask, ‘so…(checking name tag)…Mary. What are you working on at the moment?” You don’t wanna be bunny in the headlights. You want to have the answer in your pocket. You want to sound enthusiastic, organised and compelling. Know, Your. Pitch.

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