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Small Rochester theater gets big scorn from writers over request for plays

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Leaders of Words Players Theatre in Rochester didn't think they were on the radar of America's top playwrights.

But it only took a few days for the small-time theater to earn big-time backlash over a request for submissions for its 8th Annual Original Short Play Festival.

The guidelines for submissions mention that writers will not be paid for their work and say the students who direct the plays reserve the right to change the scripts – modifying the settings and dialogue to fit their own visions of the shows.

None other than the president of the Dramatists Guild of America wrote a scathing response, castigating Words Players for an "arrogant assault on playwrights" in a letter that was published by Playbill and Broadway World, among others.

President Doug Wright points out in his letter that the Dramatists Guild represents more than 7,000 writers around the world.

The record audience for Words Players is a crowd of 121, artistic director Daved Driscoll mentions in his response to Wright.

Discroll writes that he deeply regrets the misunderstanding caused by his wording of the guidelines.

He explains to Playbill: "Our small, budget-less, educational workshop is geared toward new, chiefly unpublished, playwrights."

The guidelines he wrote, Driscoll says, were meant partly "to warn experienced playwrights that our Festival is an informal workshop aimed at developing new playwrights." He concedes that the guidelines "failed miserably in their intent."

They generated lots of attention, though.

Playwright and journalist Donna Hoke wrote a blog entry titled "Dissecting the most disgusting call for entries I've ever seen."

The reach of social media and the Internet certainly fueled the backlash against Words Players – and may have played a role in what Driscoll calls the misunderstanding.

He writes in his letter to the Dramatists Guild's president that things changed for Words Players' annual festival a couple of years ago:

"...instead of the dozen or twenty scripts we usually received from Olmsted County, Minnesota, we received more than two hundred from all over the world. We had no idea why this was the case until one playwright mentioned having seen the notice on a website. It turns out that the notice had been copied to several dozen websites."

Driscoll says this year's guidelines were written to "dissuade playwrights who might expect some sort of professional theatre production from submitting plays."

Driscoll insists no disrespect to playwrights was intended and tells the Dramatists Guild's Doug Wright he would be delighted to take any advice about how to revise Words Players' call for plays.

The deadline for submissions is Aug. 15, with the selected plays performed on Oct. 23 and 24.

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