To Prompt or Not to Prompt?

There are countless stories to tell. And even if a version of that story has been told, there are millions of other ways to tell it through your unique and incredible perspective, voice, and characters. But we don’t always see it that way. We get stuck, unclear, and experience the dreaded block!

And then, along comes a prompt. A few words or an image to direct you to write something different. A nudge to help you to get your writing juices flowing; help you write freely again. A push in the right direction, so to speak. But are prompts the way to write that story you have been dying to tell? They could be. Or they could be a distraction.

Many theatres use prompts as a way to guide their submissions, which can make it a hinderance to even want to submit. I’ve had many plays that would fit the submission process but it didn’t include the added elements the theatre was asking for. So I could either try to alter my plays with their prompt, create a brand new play based on their prompt, or keep looking for theatres that aren’t so specific.

This can sometimes be exhausting as many theatres have very specific ways of submitting — blind submissions, add a cover letter, references, what is your production history, who is in your cast — that can sometimes add to the pile of things to do before you even send the play.

And sometimes to submit, you have to create a play from scratch based exactly on what the theatre is asking. And I do it. We all do. Because we want our work out there – in any form – into the world. We do it because we love to tell stories. But are these plays what we would have written if we just let our minds be? Probably not and sometimes that’s ok.

My play, Morning Ritual was created via a prompt for the White Plains Performing Arts Theatre, Play in a Day festival. Writers were presented with various images where we picked one to inspire our 10-minute play that we were creating in around 12 hours. I picked a picture of a sleeping women on a cloud and wasn’t sure what I was going to do with that but it was my prompt.

Back home — and knowing there wasn’t much time — I let my imagination go and came up with the idea that the women in the picture underwent a trauma and was now in a sleep retreat going through the trangressive period to clear her mind of what happened. It took on a sci-fi/ other worldy stance with humor (I hope) and characters that I love/am confused by as I commented on pill culture, authority, and what happens to someone both in trauma — and when they are sleeping. I probably never would have created had it not been for that prompt. Same goes for The Wheel Man, which recently had a Zoom production and other monologues that were created only because I was given a jumping off point.

And sometimes it’s the challenge from that prompt that challenges us; gives us permission to try something new; to write freely. Or maybe, we need deadlines and specific parameters to write.

So, what I am really trying to say?

  • Don’t feel as if you have to adjust your write for every single theatre with prompts they request. Pick 1-2 prompt submissions that you align with — both in your writing and where you think you want to go — and try it.
  • Don’t rely on prompts for all of your plays. While they are helpful and can help you to create some incredible pieces, the ideas that are floating around in your head — or the ones that pop in where you’d least expect them — are also the work that should be tapped into.

Bottomline: You have a story to tell and sometimes a prompt can help you get there quicker than you think and with unexpected results.

Happy writing!