Every aspiring screenwriter knows what a pitch fest is. If you live out in L.A., you might attend them frequently, hoping to impress an industry professional up front and personal. Though it has been tried in New York, the pitch fest really hasn’t caught on here despite the legions of screenwriters in this town.

However, for the past several years, Theatrical Resources Unlimited (TRU) has been running pitch fests in-town for plays and musicals. In May of this year, I entered Paris – A Musical of the 1920s, and was admitted for the May 16th slot.

TRU supplied plenty of pre-pitch materials, including the art of the pitch itself. I typed out the required print materials: synopsis, cast breakdown, bio, etc., and worked on my pitch. TRU’s idea was to join speed dating with the pitch session. I would have two minutes to pitch Broadway and Off Broadway producers. Having lived with Paris for 25 years, I abandoned the bullet points and decided to talk conversationally about the show.

I arrived at The Players Theater, in the Village, at 5:30 Sunday evening for the practice session. There were eight or nine writers in our group, and each one of us, in turn, sat in a chair facing the group and delivered our pitch and received feedback. At 6:30 we filed into the Loft where the producers were seated around tables covered in white paper, with place names. The writers wore name tags. There were nine producers’ tables.

It would go like this: The writers would take a seat at our first table, hand our three-hole-punched materials to the producer, who would place it in a binder. Bob Ost, founder and president of TRU, would blow a whistle, giving us two minutes to pitch to that producer, or two or three, and offer a cd of our songs, and the whistle would give the producers two minutes to ask questions. Whistle, and we would be off to the next table. And so it would go.

It got noisy real fast. At one point, I lost track of which whistle signaled what. I started shouting, uncharacteristic for me. In the confusion, to say as much as possible as fast as possible, I mistook lovely Erin McMurrough, Associate Producer of Broadway Across America, for someone else, and I told her she had beautiful teeth, which she did. Likely, this means I will never see her again.

Most of the producers were awake and receptive to the volley of pitches. Theater owner Richmond Shepard had lively eyes and quickly engaged me on the conflict and character arc in Paris; I seemed to answer his questions. Several of the older producers looked tired or uninterested, as if they had been dragged to the event—a second group would come in on our heels. One fellow asked me why I had confidence in my show, and I answered: “Because I have imagined it.” All-in-all, I pitched to some 18 or 19 producers. I was hoarse and tired by the end of the hour. Some smiled at me, probably the oldest writer in the room, amused in some way. Brooklyn-born Bob Crothers, said I had done well.

There were no fights or writers shedding tears or blood on the white paper table covers.

That was two weeks ago and I am still waiting for a call or email from any of the esteemed company of producers. I have waited a quarter century to see my show put on, so what’s two additional weeks? I gave up trying to figure out what the beast likes to eat years ago. If you have money, you can produce your show. It might not succeed, but at least it will stare an audience in the face. Connections help, as does having correct politics. It’s nice to have talent, but talent isn’t determinative of results, at least in the short term

The theater is fractured along many of the same lines as American cultural, in general. There are theaters for this or that type of special interest, plays about and by persons with disabilities, for example. This is not necessarily a bad thing; it does limit the number of venues for shows aimed at a general audience.

The older I become, the more I think of artistic success in terms of karma, or luck or destiny. Everyone nowadays knows about creative visualization and positive thinking exercises and techniques. Yet the fate of the majority of scripts is to go unproduced. It takes a little something extra.

As to the TRU speed date itself, I recommend it. It’s a rare opportunity to meet face-to-face with the theatrical powers that be in New York. Just remember to bring an extra pair of lungs…and a pinch of pixie dust. New York, you have my number.

By Hudson Owen. All rights reserved.

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