For years now, Bill Demastes has been selecting and editing together the best short plays in the U.S. for the long-running series, The Best American Short Plays. The newest volume in the series, The Best American Short Plays 2012-2013, includes works from a wide variety of writers, from seasoned playwrights to college students. Many ask, how exactly does Bill pick the “best” plays out of such a huge selection of eager voices? Mr. Demastes has been so kind as to write us a post giving us some insight into his quest to find the best plays in America.
First, let me say that I love this job. I get to read hundreds of plays from some of the best new talents in the country, and I get teasingly exciting submissions from many of the most established writers today. Judging from the number of high quality submissions I receive from year to year, I can say that
creative talent in New York City is definitely alive and well. (That might actually be an understatement.) What’s equally exciting to me is that talent exists across the country, in Baltimore, Atlanta, Knoxville, Athens, New Orleans, Kalamazoo, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Southern and Northern California, and even up there in Alaska. Where next?
People often ask me how I pick the plays for each volume. It is a very difficult decision, and there are no real rules to this procedure. I read for fresh writing, stuff that reads like spoken language. Neat ideas certainly help, but well-done, quiet vignettes and reminiscences work well, too. I’m a sucker for surprise endings and good jokes. Political messages are not what I look for, but well put together and heartfelt pieces often catch my eye. I love comic word play when I see it. Not a big fan of gratuitous profanity–can’t the effect be better generated through wit rather than coarse bludgeoning?
After I pull together a large list of plays that I like, I look to see what common threads course through most of the works and try to string together something of a theme for the volume. This is a difficult task. However, if you look hard enough, common threads do surface among good writing since all really good work deals somehow with the common experiences of love, hate, loss, regret–the things that occupy those moments in our lives beyond the empty hurlyburly of simply making a living.
I frequently hear from authors included in these volumes that their works find their ways onto the stage thanks to the exposure from these volumes. That’s a very gratifying thing. In a world where being a playwright is no easy occupation, it is a good thing to be able to help in some small way.
I look forward to the publication of this new volume, certain the playwrights and plays I’ve included will not disappoint. And I welcome submissions of scripts that have been produced over the past theatre season from any and all–including recommendations from discriminating theatregoers.