What playwright doesn’t dream of seeing their work performed on the Broadway stage or published in a prestigious literary magazine or recognized by their peers with a distinguished award?
Phillips’ Mill Drama encourages the creative growth and professional success of emerging playwrights by sponsoring its annual playwriting competition. Writers from around the region submit short plays for the chance to be read on the stage by actors at the Phillips’ Mill. Entering competitions is one of the best ways for writers to gain experience and exposure and, perhaps most important of all, witness in real time the impact of their words on an audience.
Do you have a one-act play or two collecting dust in your top drawer or a brilliant idea floating around in your head? Find out why J.B. Heaps and Jim Moss, two of this year’s EPC-winning playwrights, submit their works to competitions. It could just give you the push you need to hit “send.”
The Best Reason to Submit Your Work to Competitions? You Might Win!
For J.B. Heaps, who is among the six winning writers in the Phillips’ Mill Emerging Playwright Competition for the second time, it’s all about the process of refining his work. After hearing “Go Gently Into the Night” read out loud for the first time during a virtual reading in 2020, “I went home and rewrote it,” Heaps recalls. His revisions paid off. The play went on to be a finalist for the Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama Writing and the basis of a short film voted the Filmmaker Favorite in the Chain Film Festival.
“I think it was the first time I won the contest,” he says of his 2020 Phillips’ Mill EPC submission. “I was surprised it won. It was a very early draft. By the time I submitted it to Kenneth Branagh, it was about 40 minutes. And then I started rewriting it again to submit it for film.”
The 10-minute play he originally submitted to Phillips’ Mill, the one he never thought would win at all, later evolved into a 20-minute movie recognized by his peers at the Chain Film Festival. He attributes the progression to those early readings.
“When you hear your play read out loud, you get a sense when the actors are comfortable and not comfortable (with a line),” Heaps adds. “You also realize, maybe for the first time, that the work is no longer yours."
It's all part of an ongoing process, one that develops thanks to competitions like Phillips’ Mill’s. Heaps keep submitting. Just last week he won the best screenplay for a short narrative at the Mystic Film Festival.
Prior to becoming a playwright, Heaps was a five-time Emmy-winning producer/writer at “Showtime Sports.” Now “retired,” he writes and rewrites, probably four to five hours a day. He also submits a lot of work to a lot of competitions with the goal of refining his craft, expanding his material and seeing his characters come to life on stage and on screen. “I send out work constantly, in various formats and drafts. It’s an ongoing process,” says Heaps.
That Play Sitting in Your Desk Drawer? It's Never Going to Win
Jim Moss, another second-time winner of the Phillips’ Mill Emerging Playwright Competition, concurs. “You have to get your material out there if you want to be a professional playwright. It can’t be sitting in a drawer,” he says. “I keep a spreadsheet and the data proves it. I send about 120 submissions out a year. I am also in four different writers groups. What I have learned is that 5 to 8 percent is considered an average acceptance rate.
“Art is subjective and this is a numbers game. Eventually something will click,” Moss assures. And every time it does, it is a great feeling and a new opportunity. But to get there, you have to have a goal and you have to do the work.
“I have a trunk full of 10-minute plays. It is easy for me to write them,” he explains. “Right now I am focusing on writing more full-length plays. I am adapting some of my older plays, plotting them out to at least the main conflict.”
To sharpen his practice and strengthen his discipline as a writer, Moss once entered a contest that entailed penning a play a day for an entire month. “If you completed the challenge, you got your money back at the end,” he recalls. And, yes, he did get his money back.
That kind of perseverance, not to mention natural talent, continues to pay off. Moss has written seven full-length as well as more than a hundred one-act plays. His work has been produced in theaters in London, Chicago, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, San Diego, Albuquerque, Seattle and numerous New York off-Broadway venues, including La MaMa Galleria, the American Globe Theatre and the Manhattan Repertory Theatre.
Learn more about Heaps and Moss
You can read more about Moss and Heaps, as well as the bios of the other four 2022 EPC-winning playwrights, here. You can also see their winning plays read live at Phillips’ Mill on Saturday, November 19, 2022.
Moss’ play, “You Love Me,” is a comedy about a couple, both recently divorced, who are trying to stick to their commitment to non-commitment. Heaps’ one-act play, “Counterfeit Truths,” is both a comedy and a tragedy that explores the buffoonery of fame and the disappointment of a failed life.