Play publisher speaks

Doug Rand LAW ’10 SOM ’10, co-founder of Playscripts, Inc., a publisher of plays, spoke with half a dozen Yale students Wednesday evening at a discussion sponsored by the Yale Drama Club. Rand discussed his company and the upcoming launch of a new venture, stagegrade.com, which grades plays showing in New York City based on the reviews they have received. All questions were asked by members of the audience during the discussion.

Q. How did Playscripts get started?

A. We launched in March 2000. My brother, Jonathan, and I loved theater since we were kids. We started writing plays in high school just for fun. Eventually, I decided to submit some of my plays to a bunch of different playwright contests. I won one and it got published. My brother then wrote a play, submitted it to the same contests and won, but didn’t get a ready-made publishing deal. So when he started his freshman year of college, he took some scenes from his play and put it online. When people found the scenes on Yahoo, if they liked what they saw, they e-mailed him. If they wanted to perform it, they’d pay him a modest royalty check. After a year, his script saw over 100 productions in 12 countries. We saw through Jonathan that all you had to do was put the playwright’s words up online and people would be interested.

Q. How many authors does Playscripts currently publish, and how has the business changed?

A. We now represent over 700 authors. We’re about to turn 10. It’s been really exciting. Today we even sell books. We just began covering musicals. When we started 10 years ago, we wanted to publish anything that was awesome. We figured someone would want to use it. Now we also cover plays outside of New York. Right now we’re the only ones covering high school students. We recognize that they have different needs when it comes to plays.

Q. How do you find the works you publish?

A. I think we’re the only company with an open-door policy. You don’t have to have an agent to go through us. We read plays all the time. We’re scouting a lot. Also, playwrights send us stuff all the time. It’s not hard to get a giant influx of submissions. It wasn’t until we hired a literary staff that we could be more active and hunt instead of being overwhelmed by a giant pile of good stuff.

Q. Why do you think a service like Playscripts didn’t exist before you started it?

A. The theater world seems to be decades behind the economy. My theory is that certain companies, like [play publisher] Samuel French, have had a monopoly for years. Zero competition means zero innovation. These are old, privately held companies. They’re probably doing quite well just holding the golden plays they have, whereas we are still young and hungry and have to hustle. Sometimes that means [offering] really cool Web tools. It’s also about good costumer service. Who you hire matters. Everyone at Playscripts loves theater.

Q. What service will your upcoming project, Stagegrade, provide?

A. We’ve spent 10 years serving people who produce theater. My brother and I wanted to serve consumers. A lot of plays aren’t well attended because everyone’s only reading The New York Times reviews rather than other reviews. Stagegrade will be an improved version of Critic-O-Meter [another Web site]. Critic-o-Meter gives you a snap shot of critical responses. You get everything that’s playing on and off Broadway and then an aggregated score. The goal of Stagegrade is to help theater thrive by helping shows find their audiences. It’s just launching, and there’s a very small group that’s working on it. I’d be interested in talking to members of the Yale community who might be interested in getting involved.

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