Laura Copland has been reading, and reading, and reading—and then reading some more. Between May 1 of this year and Aug. 15, she read 342 one-act plays—and one-act doesn’t have to mean short. Some of the plays take only 10 minutes to perform, but others take as much as an hour.
From the 342, only four were ultimately selected to be put on at the Ivoryton Playhouse’s second annual Women Playwrights Initiative on Friday and Saturday, March 2 and 3, 2018. The Initiative focuses on women dramatists writing about the wide range of issues that impact the lives of women.
Copland is the founder and director of the program. Last year, the first for the Women Playwrights Initiative, more than 100 plays were submitted for consideration. This year that number more than doubled, with plays coming from all over the United States as well as Canada, Italy, Great Britain, and Israel.
Copland listed her request for submissions on the website of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. From there, she says, related sites picked up the listing.
At first, she was worried that she had not received enough submissions so she extended the original deadline.
“There was a dry period so I got nervous, but we had a slew as the [Aug. 15] deadline approached,” she said.
Copland, who was an actress herself, created a spreadsheet to keep track of the 342 submissions. Plays were rated from one to five in areas like character development, dramatic arc, author’s intent, and whether that intent was achieved. Copland recruited readers from theater friends and others with experience in drama, but she also read every play herself, appreciating the effort that went into its creation.
“Playwriting is not just having an idea. You have to sit down and write. It’s hard. You have to revise. You really put yourself out there,” she said.
Even reading the plays takes a great deal of focus and attentiveness.
“You can’t just sit down and read plays. It’s not something you can read in bed at night. I wanted to take notes; I needed to concentrate,” she said.
The 342 submissions were whittled down to 22 finalists, and then to the four plays that will be presented this spring. That left Copland with the task of writing to the other playwrights to tell them their submissions had not been chosen.
“It’s wrenching work,” Copland said.
She toyed with the idea of a mass email, but in the end decided to write individually to every author who had submitted a play.
After working as an actor for more than a decade, Copland took a different career path; she went to law school and practiced law in Westchester County before moving to Ivoryton several years ago. Now she records audio books for Tantor Media, and does voice-overs for other projects.
As she looks forward to submissions for next year’s Women’s Playwriting Initiative, she thinks she will make at least one change in requesting plays. Authors will be allowed to submit only one project for consideration.
For the moment, before rehearsals start at the end of February for the March 2 and 3 productions, Copland has more time to do something she loves—reading, but not 342 one-act plays this time.
“Maybe a murder mystery,” she says.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated the plays will be staged on Wednesday and Thursday, March 2 and 3, 2018; the correct dates are Friday and Saturday, March 2 and 3, 2018.