People often ask me what the process is for writing a play. The short answer is the solo experience of sitting alone in my writing room with my computer, tapping out a story I hope interests someone with characters I hope people care about. The long answer is, the solo experience of sitting alone in my writing room, followed by several events that require the support of a lot of other people and the investment of theater companies.
Playwriting, unlike other written forms, creates a blueprint, not a finished product. A novel, poem, or short story may still need an editor or a publisher, but they are finished on the page. A play, on the other hand, isn't finished until actors speak the lines, directors mold the performance, designers create an environment, and audiences respond with laughter, tears, silence, or applause. It's a remarkably collaborative process for often introverted writers.
One of the difficult things, therefore, for a playwright to do, is polish the finished script. It can't be done by having other people read the script and offer suggestions like one might do with beta readers and a novel. It has to be done (in my experience) with a group of actors, so the writer can hear the words, out loud. Words on the page are not the same as words on a stage.
This leads to the process of readings, workshops, and workshop or first productions. A "reading" is when a group of actors reads the scripts, typically to a small audience. If a playwright is lucky, there's at least one rehearsal, and the potential for feedback from the audience and actors. A workshop usually involves more time with the actors, possibly more than one rehearsal, and the inclusion of a director and/or a dramaturg (a dramaturg works with a writer on a new play). The process allows the writer to hear what works and what doesn't. Then, after time to do rewrites, the author hears another reading to verify if their changes are moving the script in the right direction.
Productions can range from a single "performance" to a full run of several weeks. Actors are off book, and technical support might be simple lighting and suggested sets, or complete designs with costumes, scenery, and full light and sound designs.
During each of these, playwrights are making changes. We make changes based on actor, director, and dramaturg suggestions. We make changes based on what we hear listening to the actors rehearse. We make changes based on audience response. Throughout it all, we make changes, because there are so many things we can't find on our own, in our rooms, typing away on our computers.
These are (usually) wonderful experiences. It allows us to push our plays into places we wouldn't otherwise find. The struggle is finding support. A lot of people and organizations have to provide the time, money, and desire to foster new work. Without these opportunities, our scripts may never be truly "finished" and therefore appropriate for a full run at a theater company. The Catch-22 of playwriting is a play isn't producible until it's finished, and a play isn't finished until it's produced. This reading/workshop/workshop production process helps us attain scripts we can then submit as "finished" for a full production. Without events such as the Women's Work Festival, people like me couldn't do what we do.