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Book Review: The New, Improved Playwright’s Survival Guide

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The New, Improved Playwright’s Survival Guide: Keeping the Drama in Your Work and Out of Your Life delivers practical advice in a self-deprecating, non-threatening, straight shootin’ package. Gary Garrison is the cool mentor most young playwrights wish for and although he claims that his book is no magic pill, a reader, upon finishing The Guide, will re-enter the playwright’s world with a box of tools, an instruction manual, and a spare pair of wits.

Author/playwright/actor Gary Garrison is the head of playwriting at the Department of Dramatic Writing at Tisch School of the Arts and the former National Chair of Playwriting for the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival. He makes no apologies for his salty language, his Southern sass, or the painful truths he reveals. Nor should he.

Part I encourages writers to use their own lives as material, teaches them to win the battle against the inner censor, and stresses the importance of tasteful self-promotion. A playwright must decide for himself what success means for him, find a hero, and move beyond the past professional hurts that can sabotage a burgeoning career. Part 2 delves into staged readings, getting an agent, and the nuts and bolts of dramatic structure, play submissions, résumés, and writing a synopsis. Part 3 contains a short essay on etiquette (no, theatre folk are not excused from having good manners) and a gentle, firm letter to writers’ loved ones, asking for their support.

The New, Improved Playwright’s Survival Guide is smart, sharp, and kind. Garrison’s generosity is evident in his willingness to share his biggest mistakes with a community that is simultaneously small, fierce, and potentially unsure. Anyone familiar with the theater world and the entertainment industry at large knows the non-linear nature of the playwright’s life, the next step remarkably vague, the path painfully unclear. Since the first edition of The Playwright’s Survival Guide, Garrison has added three new essays and tweaked and updated the rest. To the beginning playwright or the writer looking for practical steps towards success: this book’s for you.

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