So you've written your dramatic masterpiece, one that you know will one day be honored as the Great American Play. And now, like any enterprising Charlestonian artiste, you want to know how to give it the kind of spotlight it deserves — and we all know that there is no bigger spotlight on theater around these parts than during Spoleto. Both Spoleto Festival USA and Piccolo Spoleto are all about promoting the arts, and we love artists that dream big, but we would be remiss if we refrained from a quiet warning: the way is long, the competition is stiff, and success is far from guaranteed.
With that out of the way, here's how to get your play into the extravaganza that is the Spoleto/Piccolo season.
Piccolo, as many readers will already know, is run by the City of Charleston and focuses on arts productions that come from the area (although there are, and always will be, exceptions). We checked in with the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs' Ellen Dressler Moryl and Laura Thompson for a play-by-play on how theater productions get selected.
The first step: Get your play produced. Piccolo doesn't accept anything less than a finished production, and it must be excellent. "This is about showcasing the crème de la crème of the region," Dressler Moryl says. Though quality is by far the most important criterion, it is also vital to know that your play will be successful within the festival setting, which often requires quick and efficient set-up and break-down.
Secondly, have, or at least know how to get, the funds required to produce your play at the festival. All Piccolo productions must be self-produced. However, you won't be performing for free — presenting theater companies keep 80 percent of their ticket sales.
Once you've got all your ducks in a row, fill out Piccolo's application, which is available on their website. The application is fairly extensive, requiring a 10-minute DVD of your performance, so make sure you give yourself a wide window of time before the November deadline. Creative add-ons to your application are certainly permissible, but make sure they support, rather than distract from, your required materials. Thompson recalls a magician who included a magic trick with his application packet, which helped him stand out from the crowd.
The selection committees usually make their recommendations before the end of December, and final decisions are made by February. If your work doesn't make the cut the first time, don't despair; as with any festival, although quality is paramount, there are other, more earthly factors like budget and venue availability that unfortunately must be considered.
If your production is selected, then know that you've got the City of Charleston behind you all the way. "We are all vested in this," Dressler Moryl says. "This is our chance to showcase Charleston against the international backdrop of Spoleto USA, and our job is to make sure every production is successful."
Spoleto Festival USA
Now when it comes to Spoleto Festival USA, honestly, there's not a whole lot you can do to get this international festival to take notice of you unless you're already enjoying a decent amount of success. Spoleto has no application process, relying on producers like Nunnaly Kersh, who curates most of the festival's theater programming, to seek out great productions throughout the year and invite the best to perform during Spoleto.
If your play is getting rave reviews regionally or nationally, then you might want to drop Spoleto a line. Kersh notes that, in addition to Spoleto's informal networks of colleagues in other countries and other international festivals, the best source is often the artists themselves. "There are many artists who are regularly in touch about projects they're working on," Kersh says.
And if you've already produced your work at another major festival, like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, for example, you're a step ahead of the pack: Not only are you more likely to catch the eye of Kersh or one of her fellow producers, you've also proven that your production can handle the limitations of the festival setting.