Introducing the New Play Exchange, Where Playwriting Meets 21st Century Technology

If you're associated with the creative arts, particularly in the theater world, you're well aware of the necessary evil that is the "art of the hustle" (and we're not talking about the disco-era dance).

It goes like this: You put on your game face and subtly (but not annoyingly) pitch your script to some tastemaker at a cocktail party. You begrudgingly barrage a producer with text messages because, after all, producers are busy people. And you have to continually shake the money tree to get your project off the ground. It's a pain. It's demoralizing. It detracts from the creative process. Can't there be a better way?

The New Play Exchange (NPX) thinks so. Partially funded by the Doris Duke Foundation and the brainchild of the National New Play Network, an alliance of nonprofit theaters dedicated to the development and continued life of new work, NPX is billed as "an online script database, a social network for writers and producers, and a search engine for theater nerds all rolled into one."

Gwydion Suilebhan, project director of the New Play Exchange, puts it best, noting, "Playwrights have to knock on the doors of the castle and hope to be let in. And producers in the castle don’t know how to sort through and process, so they shut down and don’t even take submissions anymore. Submissions are dead." The entire system, and the theater in general, he says, "is ready for an upgrade."

But is the entire system ready for yet another technology platform/social network? Possibly. But if and only if the exchange can work as advertised.

We're not worried about the "supply" side of the equation. Playwrights will do their thing, and if they find the exchange to be useful, they'll happily reach out to any producer who's willing to listen. As Suilebhan notes, literary managers approve of 50 new plays, but can only produce two in a season. "What do they do with their love of the other 48?" (In this case, they pitch them on NPX.)

The challenge rests on the demand side. Specifically, from our vantage point, the exchange first needs to incentivize producers to get on board, and secondly, make the script-vetting process intuitive and streamlined. To that end, NPX allows readers to stay abreast of promising playwrights. For example, a writer’s "followers" are notified whenever he or she uploads a new piece.

Since its launch in mid-January, NPX has accumulated 2,300 users, including playwrights, lyricists, composers, or translators who have uploaded almost 4,000 scripts.

A basic NPX profile, which includes search tools and recommendation writing, is free. Readers and writers pay only $10 per year, while theater organizations, festivals, and universities pay $25. "Our goal was to make those numbers low enough so anyone can get in," says Suilebhan. "We’re talking about the price of two lattes."