The Origins of the Inkslinger: Emerging playwrights

Professor of Theatre and Directing James Winter oversees a rehearsal for “Life on the Moon,” the 2017 Inkslinger winner. Annie Goodman/The Lion’s Roar

For the past four years, the university theatre program has produced an unpublished play as part of their main stage season. The chosen play is the winner of the Inkslinger Playwriting Competition.

“Inkslinger is my way of helping emerging playwrights keep our art form vital,” said Professor of Theatre and Directing James Winter. “My hope is to help these playwrights get their work published. In the playwriting world, an author must show proof that theaters are staging the play in order for it to get published. I think this is also a great way for our students to learn more about the process of developing new works while learning directly from contemporary playwrights.”

Winter created this contest.

“Six years ago, I received an endowed professorship from the university,” said Winter. “I used the money from that to start up the Inkslinger Playwriting Contest. Since our program had shown a previous commitment to staging new plays, it was easy to get my colleagues to support the endeavor.”

Winter feels that new plays  keep theatre fresh and alive.

“I am a playwright, and I am also a director who specialized in developing new plays,” said Winter. “I really enjoy the process of working with a group of theatre artists to help a playwright fine-tune his or her work. New plays don’t get enough attention these days.  It’s all well and good to keep restaging Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare, but if we don’t cultivate emerging playwrights, our art form will become irrelevant, stagnant and possibly obsolete.”

This endeavor that Winter embarked on six years ago has exceeded his expectations.

“It has already grown into something far larger than I ever anticipated,” said Winter. “We receive between 150 and 200 submissions annually. Playwrights from all over the world know about Inkslinger, and our previous winners have all commented on how positive the experience was for them.”

With its success, Winter hopes to expand upon his project.

“We are considering adding a workshop component to the process for the winner,” said Winter. “This would mean that we would work with each winner in a further developmental capacity each fall prior to producing the play. We believe this would make the actual productions stronger and the scripts more likely to be published.”

Since Winter does not get to read all the submissions, he is left wondering about the possibilities.

“I’m only a judge for the final round each year, so I read the top four to five submissions,” said Winter. “The material is always very strong. Though as an author, I can’t help but wonder what great plays didn’t make the cut in the earlier rounds of judging.”

Winter feels theatre is sometimes the best place to go to hear the truth.

“If you don’t cultivate new artists, an art form can quickly become irrelevant,” said Winter. “Theatre has been, and always will be, a reflection of the society in which it is created. To study the history of dramatic literature, is to study the history of the world. It is important to stage the dramatic voices of our time. Besides, with the news being as biased and corporate-controlled as it is, maybe future generations will look to these plays to get a more accurate and honest portrayal of our times.”

Winter hopes this competition will help the winners grow as playwrights and go on to be published.

“I’d like to see them getting their works published,” said Winter. “But there’s more to hope for than just that. Having a play produced can really help a dramatist to further revise his or her work. When they see it under the lights with all of the costumes and effects, they’ll quickly learn what works and what doesn’t.”

Anyone is eligible to enter a submission, according to Winter.

“We only charge $10 per submission, and anyone who wants to submit a play can,” said Winter. “There are only a few requirements. It needs to be a full-length play that is intended for a college cast and audience, and it cannot be published. Previous productions of the play are OK. All rounds of judging are blind, so there is no bias in the selection process.”

Winter encouraged playwrights to submit to the Inkslinger Playwriting Competition.

“If you’re a writer, check out for more details,” said Winter. “There’s still time to submit this year. If you’re a student who wants to get involved in an Inkslinger workshop or production, you can contact me at [email protected]