Geek Confessional: I tried writing for dinner theatre

This entry is part 6 of 22 in the series The Road to Publication.

I spent some time in the confessional, talking about how, for a while there, I tried my hand at writing screenplays. This resulted in three very lousy scripts, most of which are lost to the ages. But those screenplays weren’t the extent of my literary experimentation.

When I was in college, I wrote the script for a theatrical play called Shattered Perspectives: A Comedy. And, in an odd journey, I came kind of close to getting it produced by a dinner theatre company in Australia.

Maybe I should explain: in my freshman year in college, I declared myself a theatre major. And in my first quarter, I had this brilliant idea: I wanted to write a one act play that my friends at my old high school would be able to perform. So I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were) and came up with an absolutely ridiculous story. A professional theatre company was trying to perform a very serious and weighty play about love, acceptance, and tolerance. The problem was, the major financier of their company, a batty old Englishman who thought he was a good actor but really wasn’t, decided that he wanted to inject himself into the performance. He did so, with comedically disastrous results. In some ways, it was a riff on a real life woman named Florence Foster Jenkins (whose life is the subject of a recent movie). There were stupid gags and ridiculous moments galore.

After the script was completed, I had my introduction to acting class do a readers theatre workshop of it, so I could hear the dialogue. And that’s as far as that version of the script got.

But I wasn’t done with the story yet. Several years later, I tried my hand at it a second time, this time expanding it to a three act play. This time, I tried to base it off the structure of Noises Off. With a little more room to work, I added in subplots and more characters. I even gave the daffy Brit a rambling soliloquy. It finally ended with a bizarre dance sequence, complete with a big sign that labeled it a Deus Ex Machina.

Trust me, it all made sense in the script.

Again, I recruited some friends to help me revise it. We staged a workshop in my dorm room and I taped the results. My friends had a lot of helpful suggestions and I kept tinkering with it and tweaking it, trying to make it work.

The thing was, I had no idea what to do with this script, even after it was completed.

Then, after I had graduated from the seminary, some friends of mine encouraged me to submit the script to a writing contest that their theatre company was holding. The prize would be a staged dramatic reading of the script.

I don’t think I won exactly, but my script was given a dramatic reading anyway. It was an interesting experience, watching an audience listen to a script that I had read.

One of the interesting comments that came out of that experience was that someone thought that it would do well as a dinner theatre show.

Huh. I had never considered that before. So how does one go about selling a script to a dinner theatre? I had no idea, so I made it up as I went along. I got a list of all the dinner theatres I could find (I think through some sort of official organization) and then sent them all query letters. More specifically, I sent them letters with self-addressed stamped postcards asking if they would consider a script from an unknown playwright. Most didn’t even bother to respond. The few that did politely turned me down. But one guy seemed interested. He ran a dinner theatre out in LA and he asked to see the script. I sent it to him. A few weeks later, he contacted me again and said that he couldn’t produce it—his theatre didn’t have the right physical space for it—but he knew someone who owned a dinner theatre in Australia who might be interested. Could he send it on to them?

I figured, Hey, why not? And so I waited to hear from the land down under.

I never heard a peep out of them.

And that was kind of the end of the road for this idea. I did try to adapt it as a screenplay for one of the iterations of Project Greenlight and that went precisely nowhere. And since then, I haven’t ever really had any desire to resurrect that script. I’m good with it remaining buried in the past.

Author @JohnWOtte tells the story of his near brush with dinner theatre fame. Click To Tweet
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One Comment:

  1. I’m an actress, and I don’t even want to write a play, for stage or screen. So much to consider VS just writing the darn story! stage left, stage right, up stage, down stage, lighting, props, who’s on stage and who’s not….. GAAAAA

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