Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Bring back comedy

A few weeks ago when I launched I offered scripts of my plays for free on the first day. Since then I have received many nice compliments for which I am enormously grateful. All of my plays, full-length and ten-minute one acts are available to buy. But my main focus is trying to get theatres to perform them. You can license my plays for very reasonable rates.

I would hope I’m providing a service (or a couple of them).

Many theatres don’t want to do new full-length comedies. (Many theatres don’t want to do new plays period.) Comedies lack the prestige and importance that more serious fare offer. Which is fine except audiences like to laugh and be entertained. When theatres put together their subscription seasons they usually have one or two comedies but they’re often established hits by established playwrights like Neil Simon and Chris Durang. Nothing wrong with that – they’re two of my favorites and I would encourage anyone to go see their work if it’s in a theatre near you – but there should be room for new work that might resonate more with today’s theatregoer. BAREFOOT IN THE PARK is a masterpiece in my opinion, but it is a little dated. The first ten minutes is a guy installing a telephone.

Since playwrights don’t get a lot of encouragement to write comedies they either don’t or they head to Hollywood to write for TV or movies. You make a lot more money writing sitcoms than for regional theatre.

I, on the other hand, have enjoyed great success in television and now really enjoy the experience of seeing my work performed live. So I don’t care that there’s not a huge market for comedy or that plays that today pass for comedies are really dark. I write what I want and the satisfaction I get is hearing an audience laugh and have a great time. So hopefully some regional and community theatres will be willing to take a chance on one of my comedies. So far they’ve been extremely well received everywhere they’ve played. A lot of those theatres were so delighted they're doing more of my plays next year. 

And then there are the ten-minute plays. Quite a few theatres are doing ten-minute festivals. They’re less risky. If an audience member doesn’t like one play it’s over in ten minutes and they might like the next. I enter quite a few and am extremely lucky to get into some. Usually they receive around 400 submissions for six slots. So the odds of getting into even one are pretty slim. I’ve gotten into thirty this year. Although, truth be told, of the 400, probably 300 were terrible. And I understand why theatres put themselves through that because it’s a way to acquire material. But man, that has to be brutal slogging through all those awful clueless ten-minute plays.

My hope is through the website I can cut through some of that for theatres. If you’re looking for comedies, how many playwrights bring a background of FRASIER, CHEERS, and MASH to the party? You could present an evening, or even part of a program with quality comedies without having to read 400 scripts.

So those are my goals. Please stop by the site and look around. You can read samples of all my plays and licensing is easy. And if EVER there was a time when we needed comedy it is NOW.


slgc said...

Will you be returning to the theater in Hatboro, PA? We loved seeing A or B? there!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,
I downloaded Goimg Goimg Gome. Fantastic. Regarding your campaign to bring back comedy - I am on board. You have touched on one of the obstacles in your writings. Political correctness. I understand and celebrate tolerance, understanding and inclusiveness. But, they are not funny. And if you wrap everything in their cloak, no matter what one does, one is left perhaps with a smile - but not a laugh. Let's face it, MASH was maybectje best television show of all time. Some of the story lines - under today's microscope - would be considered sexist, racist, ethnicist, if that is a word, homophobic, leftist, rightist and every other ist. The show was none of these things. It was simply funny and thought- provoking. Same goes for Seimfeld, Curb, The Office.
It is a big responsibility - but with your gravitas, track record, inclusiveness bond fides - you perhaps could start the discussion - panels, working groups etc. How can we bring back funny without seeing a joke that begins "A priest, a rabbi and a nun walk into a bar..." without immediately worrying that it is anti religious, anti woman and pro-alchohol and therefor unacceptable.
Love your work- keep it up.

E. Yarber said...

Having put in a number of years reading feature film submissions, I can tell you that the ratio is more like 390 of those 400 are simply unusable if you're LUCKY. You can generally tell within the first ten pages that something isn't going to work, which is why it feels so exhausting to have to go through the remaining 90 to 120 trying to see if the writer raises their game.

No matter how idealistic and ready to help aspiring creators you may be when you enter the field, you have to adjust to the reality that the vast majority of would-be writers are simply kidding themselves. They haven't learned their craft and seriously underestimate the level of quality necessary to reach an audience (if they're not proclaiming "the public wants crap").

You can sit through screenwriting classes in film school or buy how-to-write books or just wing it assuming the director and actors will find some way of making your material work, but that isn't a substitute for carefully studying the form and constantly practicing to improve your ability. It takes a lot of experience to develop the instincts you need to be able to produce at will, and frankly there are very few people willing to put themselves through all that effort for an uncertain return. That's why the majority want to pretend it's only a lottery where winners are chosen at random or a cult of personality where success comes because people in the business are taken by your charm and decide to elevate you.

It's no accident that Ken has such a high success rate placing work at these festivals. I saw two readings of OUR TIME and was very impressed by the amount of revision that was evident from one performance to another. You can't expect that level of depth from the one-day ten minute plays he does every couple of months, but there you can still see an innate sense of structure and facility with dialogue, the same way an artist can put credible perspective into even a quick sketch.

One of the biggest disappointments you can have in the story field is to find a new talent, help them get started, then watch them quickly slide, their sophomore project reflecting a complacent winner who no longer feels they have to work as hard to prove themselves. Suddenly the writing becomes self-celebratory... if their first story came from common experience, the second is all about the wonderful world of show business or wealth. The writing part of you can never stop staying hungry, and without trying to sound ingratiating I really have been able to watch Ken's plays feeling as though each one is the first work by an ambitious young writer really trying to break out as a creator.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Wonderful! Break both legs!

RyderDA said...

A suggestion: you have all your plays on your website, but each play has only a name. You should have a short blurb saying what the play is about, how many cast (men, women, children), approximate performance time, number and type of sets... otherwise folks considering putting them on don't have to purchase the script to see if it's what they're looking for.

Good luck with getting your plays performed!

By Ken Levine said...


When you click on each play there is a description. Click on additional information and all of that is there. Along the left of the main page there are also categories so you can skip right to full-length, ten minute, or other designations to make finding just what you're looking for easy. Cheers. Ken

By Ken Levine said...


I would love to have another play at Hatboro. That was a great experience. And I need another excuse to visit Philly again. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I would be interested in four or five of your 10-minute plays for a festival at my school in Akron, Ohio. Do you have four or five that are high school friendly? They don't need to be squeeky clean but they do need to be appropriate for teen actors.

Nathan said...

Just curious Ken, how much does licensing cost? Is it fixed or depends on the total audience and the amount collected?

Do you have to pay 10% to your agent too?

By Ken Levine said...

10-minute plays appropriate for high school: 15 SECONDS, BACKGROUND CHECK,CARTOON BALLOONS,NOIR MAN,THANKS DUDE. They all might touch on sex or a swear word or two but basically they're good for a high school audience (especially TODAY'S high school audience.)

Pat Reeder said...

I downloaded "Our Time" and enjoyed it a great deal, partly because I relate to being a comedy writer and to that era of comedy, and partly because I recognized all the things from your own life that ended up in the script. Also, as a radio guy, I particularly enjoyed the radio bits and references.

A few years ago, my wife and I were asked to be judges for the Dallas theater awards. This required us to see every non-musical production of every member theater company in the DFW area. We like live theater, but it was a chore to get out and see everything. At peak times, we were seeing up to five shows a week (we saw three different productions of "A Christmas Carol" alone -- the best being in the smallest, lowest-budget theater, BTW.)

One thing that drove me nuts was seeing so many new plays that were billed as comedies but that weren't funny or that had a funny moment here and there, but the writing was haphazard and undisciplined, lines came close to being funny without actually landing on it, and plots went all over the place and often included the author's personal psychological problems or other foofarah that should have stayed between the author and his/her therapist rather than inflicting it on paying customers. I used to come out of those plays with a headache because as I was watching them, I was editing and rewriting them in my head to turn them into something resembling a decent play. It wasn't all wasted time, though: I later ended up doing play doctoring on various shows, and sitting through all that bad theater really helped hone my ability to spot script problems and fix them.

Steve Lanzi (formerly known as qdpsteve) said...

Ken, would you be willing to license a play for a short-subject YouTube movie?

I wouldn't expect to make any money from it so I couldn't pay you much, but I'd like to produce something within the next year or two and figure I could do a lot worse than perform one of your works. :-)

A. Wayne said...

Did you get that lavish Romanoffs screener package from Amazon Prime? Sheesh. Do you remember if the networks ever sent out elaborate screeners like that for shows you did to garner nominations?

Craig Gustafson said...

I read "Up Fronts & Personal" and immediately submitted it to the play reading committee for one of the community theaters I work with, for 2019-2020. This season's shows are in place and advertised. It's a slow process. But the play is hilarious and I want to direct it. My main hopefully helpful suggestion: a cast list page at the top. It's the first thing play reading committees look at - can we cast this?

10-minute plays: I have one currently being produced at a local theater. It's the first time in years where I wrote something, sent it to somebody else, then had nothing to do with the production. So I was thrilled when they nailed all the laughs, which were huge. And there's a plot twist near the end that I wasn't sure the audience would pick up on. They gasped. Next month, I'm driving from Illinois to Michigan to see another one of my shows.
So yeah, seeing your own script with a live audience can be mega-cool.

By Ken Levine said...


Thanks for the offer but no, I want my plays licensed for live productions, not videos. Thanks again.

Ted said...

I love comedy, and I love theater. But for me, at least, attending plays is more difficult than ever before (I have more pressures on my time, getting across town in evening traffic is next to impossible -- and as a tall person, I find the small seats in many theaters to be increasingly difficult to sit in). At the same time, staying very well entertained at home is far easier than ever before. As a result, if I do make the effort to see a play, it will probably be a big drama with great acting that really makes me think -- or a musical that needs to be seen live to be appreciated. By contrast, a comedy -- even one I know I'll enjoy -- often doesn't seem worth the time and effort. I realize that's completely unfair, but I wouldn't be surprised if other theatergoers are behaving the same way.

blogward said...

Even the log lines are hilarious. Wondering how the 10-minuters would go down at open mic sessions.

scottmc said...

'The Ferryman' is a new play on Broadway which features a 6 month old baby in the cast.(The casting notice says that babies younger than that will be considered for replacements, and it pays $1,000 a week.) As a playwright do you notice if theater companies indicate an age minimum for characters in plays that they'll accept? Do you consciously avoid including children in your plays? The television shows that you wrote for predominantly focused on adults and their work environment; is it tough to write for children, is casting and rehearsal for young actors more time consuming?