Smartphone Theatre ® is platform that relies on professional playwrights, actors and directors. Our standard is high and ask that our creatives bring their "A" Game.
That said we are always looking for excellent new and somewhat new short and full length plays. A "short" play reads between 20 and 30 minutes long and a "full length" is divided between two weeks where Act I performs first with Act II reading the following week.
What kind of stories are we looking to tell? Great question. Comedies are wonderful, in fact, Smartphone Theatre was formed at the onset of the recent global pandemic with the mission of bringing some light and humor into a very dark time. Dramas are also welcome but keep in mind that we do not do any stories that deal with COVID-19 or very dark or disturbing content.
Use the link below to send us 2-3 sentences about your play and if it fits within our programming we will be in touch.
Is there compensation? Another great question. At this point Smartphone Theatre ® remains a terrific online venue to workshop your plays but we do not offer any financial return. There is a Tip Jar which is split with the weekly creative team and Smartphone Theatre provides marketing tools through social media, Facebook and archives everything on our YouTube page so it can be shared with audiences indefinitely.
Additional questions? Feel free to email Todd Felderstein, Smartphone Theatre's founder at: Todd@SmartphoneTheatre.com
I am basically exploring for myself, I don't want to speak for anybody else, but when you (Todd Felderstein) asked me that fateful March 24th, at the top of the lockdown, if I had something that could be read on your new platform of Smartphone Theater, I immediately set to looking at this two-person thing I had written and wondered, “Will this work on Zoom? . . . and what the hell is Zoom?”
What are my takeaways as a playwright?
I will say even before we were all pushed into the Zoom thing - before the world went on ice, my takeaway as a playwright has always been to create in a very confined environment. My first template is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. These four people stay together throughout the night, enduring hours of mental torture. Why? And why do we watch? That’s fascinating to me. As a writer, how do I keep my character in that room together - what do I need to do so they don’t escape? My second example is God of Carnage, 4 people in a room; again, why do they stay together through the carnage, mental anguish, vomit and absolute animalistic behavior … I mean, they are about to commit cannibalism before the curtain comes down. Again, why doesn’t someone just leave? Because the writer created a psychological space that the characters cannot exit - and that’s thrilling. So again, I’m always asking myself, how do I create and maintain tension and connection with a tiny group of actors? And I tend to work all in real time so the audience lives moment to moment as each character is living theirs. If I can avoid a scene change, I do! My takeaway is, if I can believably do that, if I can believably get through that, and an audience person does not come up to me and ask, “why don’t they just leave?” If no one asks me that question, then maybe I did it right. Another great play I look to that encompasses all of these elements is Conor McPherson’s The Weir. Yes, please.
With regards to Zoom:
Small cast. Again, only speaking for myself and not to dissuade another writer’s vision but for me, I love a small cast. Two, maybe three actors. Look, my computer screen is small and already a confined space so it gets crowded. So with Zoom, I really like to feel that each person has “room” - it’s easier for me to focus on who’s talking and what they want. Kind of like a tiny dinner party. So with Zoom, I think the minute people log on and the play starts, I want them pulled in and totally engaged - and for me, the key to that is simplicity. You asked me how do you keep those actors connected to audience members sitting at their kitchen tables or in their bedrooms or wherever. Again, I like simple. I like my stuff to be almost like a campfire story. People gather around the campfire and lean in and no one leaves. You have one person tell a story, it’s probably a really good scary story, but it makes people lean in and pretty soon everything else disappears . . . as all things do when a good story is well told. And whether it's one actor speaking to the audience or two or three actors speaking to each other that makes the audience lean forward, if I can keep that campfire lit between them and the audience in a simple yet provocative way that makes people need to hear and see how it all ends, then that’s really great . . . more hats off to The Weir (which by the way, is scary as hell).
To answer your question, I can totally blow up the Universe within the confines of one of my stories. What I like to do, or it’s just the way I work, is to start with something very simple, very relatable, very familiar, a very simple relatable environment and a relationship. And within that confine, I want to coax the audience along with me, bring them onboard, get them comfortable, get them engaged, then I can start to one by one to blow up the metaphorical “planets” around them with whatever that story is.
First of all, everything that I write about must be plausible. It has to be credible. If there’s a point where I feel like someone in the audience is going to go, “okay, you had me until that,” or “that would never, ever happen” then I have re-work it. I have to make sure there is a shred of credibility throughout the whole thing. I have to keep the audience saying, “Holy shit, I can see that happening. I didn't know that could ever happen an hour and a half ago but it did and I saw it happen before my eyes! Again my example goes to Edward Albee, my dude - his play “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia”, - that play is crazy and outlandish and completely tests our moralistic psychological boundaries and breaks our hearts at the same time but it maintains its credibility. You follow this family along and then you find out what's been going on, and it becomes a bloodbath and you can see how it happens. If that’s a metaphor for blowing up the universe then yeah, I want to shoot for that.
I certainly love movement when it’s on a stage. If I'm working in a room, I want people to use that room, use it every way they can. Use the furniture, use the doorways, the walls, the floor. I love the Woody Allen-esque sort of thing where somebody just exits and they keep talking and going on because we do that in real life. With Zoom, I like the idea that someone can get up and exit the frame and the other person is talking to you and you can either keep talking the way we do when we raise our voice or I love the depth of field that Mitch used in his 21st Century piece, coming down the hallway and I love when actors show me something exciting that maybe I hadn't written but it completely works. Like when an actor can sink down out of sight and then peek back up again. I find that hilarious and totally fun. If it works it works. Test the boundaries of the confined space.
Working with a director you want that director to know you as a playwright and to know your work and ultimately be on the same page. It’s about communication.
In Zoom, if the director, whether they're used to working on stage or whether they're used to working in film, that’s kinda great for Zoom because it’s a film-like medium. I'm open to ideas. I want to hear what was on the director's mind, how they see what I've written. The one thing that I absolutely require is that the director always keep humanity and the human connection completely alive. My stuff's totally character-driven, I don't write plays with big plots at all so again with Zoom and the campfire metaphor, that human connection really needs to be nurtured and it needs to be paid attention to, and if out of that bigger stuff comes whether it's other movement or other directorial theatrical ideas let's do that, but I'm going to ask that director please pay attention to the people first, please. That’s the most important thing - that relationship between those people, that's the gut of the story.
Do you think there are certain aspects of the stories that outside of the cast should not be explored through Zoom?
I think any story can be absorbed through Zoom, it's just how the writer and director choose to execute it. I think they say - whoever “they” are - that there are only seven stories in the world and it's really just how YOU tell it. If somebody were to say we're going to be doing a Zoom reading of Ben-Hur I would be like I totally want to see what that looks like. Maybe it's just Ben-Hur talking to Pontius Pilate and it’s done with Barbies. Bring it.
Say someone just got the nod to put something up on Smartphone Theatre. What's good preparation for them as a playwright?
Watch the other Smartphone plays, take notes of what they like and what they didn't. Note what works for them technically, what drew them in and/or if they lost interest. Note how you like the actors positioned - close to the camera or further out? What kind of lighting or backdrops worked well. Pay attention to what made this experience interesting and worth your time. Then, when you’re ready to start rehearsing, absolutely allow plenty of time to get technically ready with your cast. Until your cast is totally comfortable with the tech side of Zoom, factor in about 30 minutes to each rehearsal just for tech issues and delays. Then when you actually get to the fun part of rehearsal, I’d work to eliminate as much stage direction as you can - incorporate what you want the audience to see in your dialogue as much as you can. Edit, cut, trim and slash anything unnecessary. Just because it may have worked like gangbusters on an actual stage or even just an actual physical reading, it may need to be really honed and tailored for Zoom.
The canvas is blank right now. Show up with something good.