Summer is officially over, and fall is kicking into gear. Even if you’re not a student, we all seem to get swept up in the “back to school” phase. The playfulness of hot August days are replaced with a studious feeling as the autumn crisp settles in. Deadlines start to loom and, if you’re like us, a bit of inspiration may be needed. So we decided to round up some of our authors and ask for the best advice they would give to aspiring playwrights, composers and lyricists. Take a read, get inspired, and then, go write.


Robert O’Hara
BootycandyInsurrection: Holding History

“I encourage aspiring playwrights to create work that exists under the motto which I’ve tried to write my own plays: Everyone is Welcome. No One is Safe.”

Sam Willmott
Yo, Vikings!Standardized Testing – The Musical!!!!

You want to be a playwright.  And that’s exactly why you need to take calculus.  And travel to distant lands.  And volunteer, and pick up an instrument, and kiss somebody you think you might love, and see art installations that you don’t understand, and listen to people talk, even (especially?) when what they’re saying is dead-wrong, and kayak, and grow plants, and get political, and see fashion shows, and learn what you value — because, in my estimation, the artists who commune most fully with the world are the ones who truly unlock it for all of us.

Amanda Green
Hands on a Hardbody, Bring It On

“To musical writers: Choose your projects and collaborators wisely.  Musicals take so long to write – 5 years is average.  And most of the time you’re writing largely ‘on spec’ – with the hope that it will be something  people want to see and form which you’ll eventually make money.  Work on something that continues to challenge, interest and excite you and one that’s somehow meaningful to you.  Working on it should be rewarding and, dare I say, fun.  The same goes true for the people you work with.  Choose people you like being in a room with, have respect for and visa versa.  If you can laugh together, that is a huge plus!  Life is too short, and the process too long, to work with people who are too difficult, negative, or disrespectful.”

Ken Ludwig
Lend Me A Tenor, Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery

“When you sit down at your desk and put pen to paper, don’t forget comedy. Alas, so many courses in the history of drama spend most of their time discussing Macbeth and Othello when they should also be talking about Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing. Comedy is one of the two great genres in the history of theatre, and it deserves your time, your creativity and your genius.”

Damon Chua
Film ChinoisStuffed Grape Leaves

“Create DISTINCTIVE character names. Why? So that it’s easy for the reader to know instantly who’s talking, instead of having to backtrack to confirm. Don’t use ‘John’ if ‘Motor Mouth John’ will do; don’t use ‘Mary’ if you can use ‘Little Marisela.'”

Kevin Murphy
Heathers, Reefer Madness

“I like to eat dessert first which means I don’t write sequentially.  I will usually focus in on the one or two scenes (or songs) that first made me want to work on this particular project, the moments in which I have the most confidence.  An early success or two helps me build confidence and provides momentum to launch me into tackling the more challenging scenes.”

Leslie Ayvazian
Mama Drama, High Dive
“I recommend Eugenia Barba’s book, On Directing and Dramaturgy: Burning the House. A few quotes him his book that apply to playwrights:

  • ‘Anything I say, the opposite is also true.’
  • ‘Every action becomes a story when something prevents it from racing toward its conclusion.  Every story is made up of turning points which make it deviate from a straight course.’
  • ‘Let chance reign.’
  • ‘I found it useful to start establishing the difference between result and process.’
  • ‘At the origin of the creative path, there is a wound.’

And from playwright Edward Albee:  “One must let the play happen to one.  One must let the mid loose to respond as it will, to receive impressions, to sense rather than to know, to gather rather than immediately understand.”

Ryan Scott Oliver
35MM: A Musical ExhibitionMrs. Sharp

“Don’t be weird about it. Step one: get an idea — maybe it comes to you unexpectedly, maybe you hunt for it… Don’t stop till you find it. Step two: make a deadline, and include time for research. I think 3-6 months is a good amount of time for research and then 6 months after that for a first draft. Step three: set regular times to show off your work, first to your friends, then to your enemies. Step four: make the thing, and the day after repeat from step one with a new idea. Lastly, read Story by Robert McKee.”

Sarah Ruhl
The Clean House, Eurydice, Late, A Cowboy Song

“1) Study with Paula Vogel.
2) Read everything.
3) Write what you know for a while. Then expand what you know. And write about that.
4) Don’t do so many rewrites based on the opinions of others that your play begins to look like the face of a person with too much plastic surgery—smudgy, odd, and like all the other faces of people who have had too much plastic surgery.
5) Conjure patience.
6) Write a play as a gift for someone you love, dead or living.
7) Write a play with a Greek chorus.
8) Don’t write for TV or film and then say that it makes your playwriting better. You can write for TV or film, just don’t claim it makes your plays better.
9) Don’t derive your self-worth from how many productions you’ve had.
10) Marry well.
11) Walk often.
12) Eat soup.”

Check out Part 2 here!

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