Playwright and bestselling novelist, Lenore Skomal, is busy in preparation for the upcoming debut of her new Off-Broadway play, The Exes. On the surface it seems like she has enough time on her hands before the opening, with final auditions still a couple of weeks away. But the play is slated to open at Theatre Row in New York’s theatre district in August, and as any producer knows, there is never enough time when you produce professional theatre.
A writer turned producer, Ms. Skomal has transitioned quickly and deeply into the world of theatre production. As it so happens, three weeks before the debut of her first Off-Broadway play, she is also opening the third installment of the highly acclaimed Broadway Bound Theatre Festival (BBTF), which was created from scratch by Ms. Skomal and her husband, Rick Sayers, three years ago. Launched with 20 carefully selected plays downtown at the 14th Street Y Theater, the festival is taking a huge risk and investing big dollars to bring their show to the heart of New York City’s theatre district this Summer by moving to Theatre Row. In just 3 short years BBTF is a great success by all measures, and has become one of the top theatre festivals in the country for serious playwrights looking to take it to the next level, so pushing the bar is a no-brainer for BBTF. Known as a higher-end version of the many theatre festivals we’ve seen and loved over the years in the New York City area, BBTF is personally curated by Skomal herself, and a carefully selected team of writer/producers. As a result, the festival has earned a reputation for being very picky in their annual selection of plays as hundreds of submissions flood in up to the deadline in March. For the lucky (and talented) works selected to be in the festival, it’s a win just getting in.
As we talk about her play, the festival, and the newly announced submissions, Skomal keeps pushing the idea that the festival is all about the playwright’s success, something she felt was missing when she was submitting her work as a writer, and insists with each year of the festival.
We sat with Ms. Skomal to talk about the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival and its new home at Theatre Row this coming Summer.
LocalTheatreNY: Year 3 of the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival (BBTF) is happening this Summer. What’s new? What worked, what didn’t work? Give us some idea of the evolution of the BBTF.
Lenore Skomal: We're happy to report that our model still holds strong and relevant in 2019. We did expand our offering to include a dedicated audience feedback for our playwrights, something we didn't have last year. We did have written feedback forms for the audiences, which our playwrights really appreciated. But we figured we go one better and allow the one-on-one interaction with their audiences that they really have wanted.
LocalTheatreNY: What’s your idea of a good play for the festival? What kind of play(s) really peak your interest?
Lenore Skomal: Honestly? The most important ingredient is strong writing and adherence to basic playwriting formats. While we love a play that effectively breaks the rules, you need to be an expert at those rules before you can break them. Right along side that, playwrights should be fully cognizant and appreciative of the fact that this is a festival, not a Broadway production. So when submitting, if there are elaborate sets or a heavily reliance on projections, they should rethink both.
LocalTheatreNY: Submissions are now open until March 31st. I know many submit at the last minute, but what are some reasons someone should submit early?
Lenore Skomal: You have the best of our readers. It's a lot pressure to meet our own deadline of when we have to announce. If we get 60 plays in the last hour of submissions, that means less time to devote to really thoroughly appreciating a play and giving it our full attention. Some works we receive aren't ready for the mainstage, but when we have enough time to really digest them, we can see their potential. And that gets factored into the ultimate decision of whether or not to pass them through to the finalist stage.
LocalTheatreNY: Some festivals have been criticized for not reading the plays submitted and pretty much just filling the holes in their schedule. How is BBTF different?
Lenore Skomal: We read each and every play. From "at rise" to "the end." Each play has at least two professional and produced playwrights reading and critiquing it.
LocalTheatreNY: Moving to Theatre Row is a big deal. It’s more visible, it’s closer to the New York theatre scene. Why the move, and what changes does this mean for the festival?
Lenore Skomal: Quite simply, we wanted to give our playwrights a taste of putting up a production of their own work on a professional, respected Off Broadway venue. Theatre Row is top notch. And it's an incredible opportunity to have a show open there. The theatre is much more expensive than our former venue, but we've decided to keep our acceptance fee the same for our playwrights and NOT pass that increase onto them.
LocalTheatreNY: What exactly do you mean by putting the playwright center stage? Tell us more about that process.
Lenore Skomal: Our website fully explains the difference between our festival and others. We basically focus on the playwright, the production and the work, by giving assistance and training every step of the way. We want this to be a rewarding experience...not a traumatizing one.
LocalTheatreNY: What success stories in your short 2 years can you share about the trajectory of past festival shows?
Lenore Skomal: We've had many. Just ask our alumni. SUNSET VILLAGE by Florida playwright Michael Presley Bobbitt did quite well at the festival last year and went on for a regional run in Gainesville with sellout audiences. He has said that his experience at BBTF made that possible. Three of our plays have been optioned. And quite a few more have gone on to regional and even college runs.
LocalTheatreNY: What happens after a play is submitted and accepted?
Lenore Skomal: The fun begins! Playwrights will be invited to join the Playwright's Forum on Facebook and get know each other, as well as our team. They will receive information and instructional packets every two weeks, outlining what exactly they need to do every step of the way. We have four workshops that we conduct via Facebook or Skype, from technical information to rewrite. And that's just some of what we do. There's quite a bit more!
LocalTheatreNY: Where do you see this festival in 5 years?
Lenore Skomal: Since we've been an organic, growing festival that's not afraid to change with the times, BBTF will continue to be at the forefront of the festival scene.
For more on the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival 2019, please visit: https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/
For information on The Exes, please visit: https://www.theexestheplay.com/