national playwrights conference
Wendy C. Goldberg, Artistic Director
Founded in 1964, the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center is the country’s premier institution for new play development. Every summer, six to eight unproduced works are selected from a pool of 1,000+ submissions for a playwright-driven workshop on the O’Neill’s campus in beautiful Waterford, CT. At every step in the process, the O’Neill strives to foster an inclusive, collaborative environment in which artistic exploration and experimentation is encouraged.
The submission window for the 2021 National Playwrights Conference will be September 17 - October 9, 2020.
Ms. Goldberg herself is an award-winning director whose credits include world premieres, revivals, classics, and musicals at the most esteemed theaters in the country, including: Arena Stage, the Guthrie, the Goodman, Denver Center, the Alliance, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Center Stage, Actors Theater of Louisville, Signature Theater, Paper Mill Playhouse, Philadelphia Theater Company and off-Broadway at Ars Nova, The Daryl Roth 2, and McGinn-Cazale. Wendy was represented on Broadway as Creative Advisor to the long running Rock of Ages. She has directed work in every major play developmental program in the country.
As Artistic Associate at Arena Stage for five seasons, Ms. Goldberg helped to create the theater's new play initiatives and led them from their inception through 2005. American Theatre magazine has described her as "one of the most promising theater artists working today." Other than the theater's founder, Zelda Fichandler, she is the youngest director to have directed for Arena Stage in its 50 year history, making her main stage debut at the age of 26 with the revival of K2 in celebration of the company's 50th anniversary.
Ms. Goldberg is a visiting faculty member at the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and the Yale School of Drama. She has served on panels for the NEA and TCG, and has served as a judge for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize as well as a guest at the Commercial Theater Institute through the Broadway League. Ms. Goldberg has served on the Executive Board of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society for 11 years and has been a Tony Voter since 2005. She is an honors graduate of the University of Michigan (BA) and holds a MFA in Directing from UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television where she received the Distinguished Alumna Award in 2014.
open submission process
The National Playwrights Conference is delighted to accept script submissions from playwrights of all stripes. We hold our mission of discovering and amplifying the voices of new plays and playwrights in high esteem, and remain committed to maintaining the open, blind submissions policy that has been place since the inception of the National Playwriting Conference itself. To that end, we don’t require those submitting to have an agent or letter of nomination to apply; rather, we only ask that you have the right to work in the United States.
Our literary offices typically receive between 1,200 and 1,500 scripts annually, and a small volunteer corps of 200+ professional theatermakers — directors and dramaturgs, actors and designers, critics and administrators — reads every submission in its entirety. Every submission is considered with care and appreciation, undergoing a rigorous evaluation process in which form, content, and developmental goals are meticulously reviewed and discussed. At the end of this reading process, a select number of outstanding plays are chosen for their artistic excellence, originality of voice, singularity of perspective, and developmental potential.
The submission fee is $35. This covers the costs of the process itself — its organization, administration, and reading. We recognize that this can be prohibitive, and the O'Neill is actively making efforts to reduce this fee, most notably with the establishment of the Wendy Wasserstein Endowment Fund. As this endowment continues to grow, we hope to eventually reduce and eliminate the fee in its entirety, ensuring that submission process remains open and equitable to all.
The National Playwrights Conference 2021 Summer Season will likely look different due to the continuing presence of COVID-19. The core tenets of the NPC process remain, however, and feature a writer-driven development with collaboration and rehearsal time with actors and creative teams. Writers selected through the open submission process will experience these processes through an in-person or digital development. As previously announced, all NPC 2020 finalists remain in consideration for the NPC 2021 season.
Founded in 1964, the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center is the country’s premiere program for new play development. Every summer, six to eight unproduced works are selected from a pool of 1,000+ submissions for a week-long, playwright-driven workshop on the O’Neill’s campus in beautiful Waterford, CT. Each play is matched with a team of industry-leading directors, dramaturgs, and actors for an intensive 30-hour rehearsal period, culminating in two public, script-in-hand staged readings. At every step in the process, the O’Neill strives to foster an inclusive, collaborative environment in which artistic exploration and experimentation is encouraged. The previous National Playwrights Conference was held June 26 - July 29 2019.
The National Playwrights Conference is proudly committed to an open, blind submission process, and we welcome all playwrights, regardless of location or representation, to share their work with us. Our offices typically receive between 1,200 and 1,500 scripts annually, and a small volunteer corps of 200+ industry professionals — directors and dramaturgs, actors and designers, critics and administrators — reads every submission in its entirety. Every submission is considered with care and appreciation, undergoing a rigorous evaluation process in which form, content, and developmental goals are meticulously reviewed and discussed. At the end of this reading process, a select number of outstanding plays are chosen for their artistic excellence, originality of voice, singularity of perspective, and developmental potential.
The National Playwriting Conference offers each play selected for development a week-long, 30-hour workshop, culminating in two public script-in-hand staged readings. These workshops are wholly playwright-driven, and staffed with industry-leading directors, dramaturgs, actors, and designers. Playwrights are welcome to revise, rework, and rewrite as much or as little as they like while in residence with us — as always, risk-taking is encouraged.
At the end of their week-long developmental workshop, each play receives two public, script-in-hand staged readings. We believe that these staged readings are a crucial step in the O'Neill’s developmental process, serving as an invaluable opportunity to hear a fresh audience’s real-time response to the play in a welcoming, low-pressure environment.
The O’Neill is also delighted to offer our playwrights the rare opportunity to confer with a team of top-of-field designers about the visual, aural, and spatial world of their play. To this end, each workshop kicks off with an hour-long, public conversation between the playwright, scenic designer, light designer, and sound designer — all in the interest of facilitating the play’s later transition from page to stage. Original scenic renderings are created based on this discussion, and presented on the night of the play’s first public reading.
In addition to developmental workshops, the National Playwrights Conference is delighted to offer participating writers a month-long residency at the O’Neill’s ninety-acre seaside property — including full room and board, as well as a stipend. We welcome you to use this time however you see fit. Many playwrights continue to reflect and revise their play while others begin new projects, and others still use this time to retreat and recharge. Playwrights in residence are welcome to attend the rehearsals, readings, and presentations of their peers' work, as well as their own: we’ve found that one of the most valuable elements of an O’Neill summer is its strong community of fellow writers, artists, and theater-makers — which endures long after the summer conferences have drawn to a close.
You must be 18 years of age and have the right to work within the United States.
The play must not have had a professional production, or be scheduled to have a professional production, before July 31, 2021. A professional production means that the artists working on the show were compensated for their time, and that all of the theatrical elements one hopes to see in a production were present.
You may submit one original or adapted work, providing that the rights to any material not in the public domain have been granted in writing, and a copy of the release is sent along with the script.
We develop all genres and styles of drama, including one-acts and solo pieces. NPC does not develop music theater works, though you may submit such work to the National Music Theater Conference.
While we accept work that has been submitted to NPC in previous years, we recommend that you share new work with us each year.
Only complete applications will be accepted.
The submission fee is $35, covering the process’s costs— its organization, administration, and reading. We recognize that this can be prohibitive, and the O'Neill is actively making efforts to reduce this fee, most notably with the establishment of the Wendy Wasserstein Endowment Fund. As this endowment continues to grow, we hope to eventually reduce and eliminate the fee in its entirety, ensuring that the submission process remains open and equitable to all.
frequently asked questions
We’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions for your convenience below. However, if you would prefer to speak directly to a member of our literary staff, you’re more than welcome. Please note that due to COVID-19 safety protocols, the Literary Office will be remote for the application and selection process. We highly recommend you send us an email at email@example.com rather than calling our offices.
Can you tell me more about the selection process?
The National Playwrights Conference accepts scripts from playwrights of all stripes, and remains committed to an open, blind submission and selection process. This year, we expect to receive approximately 1,400 scripts over the course of our one-month application window.
Of the initial ~1,400 submissions, about 20-25% will be moved forward to the Semifinalist Round of consideration. Roughly 20% of the NPC Semifinalists — or, 5% of total submissions — proceed to the Finalist Round of consideration each year. From this pool of approximately 50 to 75 Finalists, six to eight plays are selected for development in the National Playwrights Conference.
Who will read my play?
Every play shared with NPC is guaranteed at least one full read by a member of our corps of volunteer readers, though many will be reviewed more than once. This corps is comprised of 200+ theater makers — directors and dramaturgs, actors and designers, critics and educators, all familiar with the O’Neill developmental process — will read each submission in its entirety. Every script is considered with care and appreciation, undergoing a rigorous evaluation process in which form, content, and developmental goals are considered and discussed. This process is carefully managed by the O’Neill Literary Office.
Submissions that move to the Semifinalist round of consideration are also reviewed by the Artistic Council, comprised of an elite group of theater professionals including playwrights, directors, and dramaturgs, as well as the O’Neill artistic staff.
When can I expect to hear back from you?
If selected, exactly how long is the residency?
In addition to your seven-day developmental workshop, the National Playwrights Conference requests that participating writers stay in residence for the entirety of the month-long Conference. We welcome you to use this time however you see fit. Many playwrights continue to reflect and revise their play while others begin new projects, and others still use this time to recharge. Playwrights in residence are welcome to attend the rehearsals, readings, and presentations of their peers' work, as well as their own: we’ve found that one of the most valuable elements of an O’Neill summer is its strong community of fellow writers, artists, and theater-makers, which endures long after the summer conferences have drawn to a close.
Of course, we understand that you might need to attend family events and business trips — and we’ll note that Mondays are our weekly off-day. Still, the expectation for participating playwrights is that the majority of their time during the National Playwrights Conference will be spent in residence with the O’Neill community.
If selected, can I bring my family with me?
Do you accept work from international writers?
Yes. NPC gladly accepts — and has developed — work by playwrights from around the globe. We’ll note that the script submitted must be accessible to English-speaking readers. To participate in the National Playwrights Conference, international writers must have the right to work in the United States. Unfortunately, our small staff size precludes the O’Neill from assisting with visa applications; however, previous applicants have found the resources on the U.S. Department of State's website useful: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/employment.html
What exactly does “professional production” mean?
The O’Neill requires that all scripts submitted to the National Playwrights Conference remain without professional production until July 31, 2021. For our purposes, a professional production means that the artists working on the show were compensated for their time, and that all of the theatrical elements that one hopes to see — light, set, sound, costume, etc. — were present. A few notes:
- If your play had a reading or a workshop, or if scripts were still in your actors’ hands at the time of the performance, we do not consider that a “professional production.”
- If your play was produced by a college or university theater, we do not consider that a “professional production.”
- If your play was fully produced but the artists were not compensated, we do not consider that a “professional production.”
- If your play was produced but the production lacked significant and necessary theatrical elements — stage lighting, projections, or puppets, for instance — we do not consider that a “professional production.”
I don’t consider it a “musical,” but my play has music in it. Should I submit it to the National Playwrights Conference or the National Music Theater Conference?
Our rule of thumb is: If developing the musical world of the play is your primary developmental goal, it's likely a better fit for the National Music Theater Conference. Conversely, if your focus is on revising the text of your script, then the National Playwrights Conference would be a more appropriate developmental home for it — in no small part because the National Playwrights Conference is, unfortunately, unable to provide robust musical support for participating projects.
Can I submit more than one play?
No and yes. When we say that “Only one play may be submitted by a single writer each year,” we’re referring to the single writer as a unique writing team. You may only submit one play. However, You and Writing Partner A would comprise an additional unique writing team — and would therefore be eligible to submit an additional play. Similarly, You and Writing Partner B would comprise another unique writing team, and would also be welcome to submit an additional work.
What kind of play is the O’Neill looking for? Or, "I have one play that has A, B, and C qualities, and another play that has X, Y, and Z qualities. Which should I submit?"
The National Playwrights Conference proudly supports all styles and genres of theater, including one-acts and solo pieces. We would encourage you to worry less about submitting the kind of play you imagine the O’Neill would like to develop, and instead think deeply about which of your plays you would prefer to focus on during the O’Neill’s month-long residency.
So you accept one-person plays and solo shows?
Yes. We welcome one-person plays and consider them fully.
How about one-act plays?
Yes. We’ll note that most successful of these tend to be approximately 60 minutes in length, and are designed to be the main event of an evening. (Ten-minute plays do not fare well.)
Do you have a minimum or maximum page requirement?
No. We have no formal requirements regarding the maximum or minimum page length for submissions — but, we are happy to share that our more successful scripts tend to range in length from approximately 50 to 150 pages.
Do you accept resubmissions or revised drafts?
Yes. Though we would prefer to spend time with your latest work, we do accept scripts that have been previously submitted to the National Playwrights Conference. We do ask, however, that the work has been significantly revised — which tends to mean that substantial changes to the story and its telling have been made since it was last shared with us.
Do you accept adaptions?
Yes. We do accept adaptations, provided that the rights to any material not in the public domain are granting in writing and that a copy of this permission is shared with our offices. Please email a copy of this permission directly to firstname.lastname@example.org after submitting your script.
Does my play need to be formatted in any specific way?
No. We recognize that plays come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes — and that scripts do, too. We only require that your name and contact information (and agent information, if applicable) is removed from the script, that you include a character breakdown with both age and gender, and that you include page number.
What should my character breakdown look like?
We ask that your breakdown include each character’s name, any doubling schemes should they occur, and any traits that you deem necessary for casting. These traits include but are not limited to: age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, etc. Beyond that, any information or notes that you wish to share about your cast of characters is welcome, but not necessary.
Can I include an author’s note in my script?
Yes, as long as it remains anonymous. Please only include information that you believe is crucial to the reader’s understanding of your play.
What should I put in my statement of objectives?
Your statement of objectives should describe your hopes and plans for the future development of the piece — and, crucially, what you intend to accomplish with the resources of the National Playwrights Conference in July. It should be about a page in length, but a little longer or shorter is fine, too. We’ll only note that the more specific you can be about your goals, the better. Bear in mind that is an opportunity to engage with your readers about the material that they have just read, so there’s no need to include a blow-by-blow account of the plot or worry about spoilers.
Should my biographical statement be anonymous?
No. Please include your name and any other pertinent identifying information in your biographical statement: this document is for internal use only, and will not be shared with our reading team. Your biographical statement should give us a sense of your path in playwriting or theater-making more broadly — like you might see in a playbill. It should be no more than one page in length.
If you are submitting an online application, please DO NOT include your biographical statement within your uploaded script PDF. Within the application, there is a separate field for input of your biographical statement.
How do I make a PDF?
We are only able to accept scripts in PDF format. Fortunately, the vast majority of word processors— including Microsoft Word, Final Draft, GoogleDocs, and Pages — will allow you to convert your document to a PDF by clicking on the tab, “Save as PDF.” Once you have done so, simply upload the new PDF of your script as directed on our online application form.
How do I pay the application fee?
You will be guided through the payment process step-by-step as you finalize your online application. We are glad to accept both debit and credit cards. If you run into any issues regarding the acceptance of your payment, please contact email@example.com
Can I expect feedback on my submission?
Unfortunately, our small staff size and the sheer number of applications we receive preludes us from giving individual feedback on script submissions.
Where else should I submit my play?
Though the O’Neill does not maintain a directory of script submission opportunities nationwide, we are happy to recommend those of the New Play Exchange, the Dramatists Guild Resource Directory, the Playwrights' Center, and the Play Submissions Helper.
You can reach the Literary Office via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 860-443-5378 ext. 227.
2020 npc finalists
Funding for the National Playwrights Conference provided by: The Harold & Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, The National Endowment for the Arts, Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, Time Warner Foundation, The Shubert Foundation, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, Dramatists Play Service, and O'Neill Annual Fund donors