Playwright Sue Mach was driving in her car, listening to NPR, when she heard author Paula Fass talking about her book Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America.
One story of 4-year-old Charley Ross, abducted in 1874, prompted Mach to write the play "The Lost Boy" based on the bizarre and tragic facts of the case. At the time, Mach was on sabbatical so she wrote the first draft quickly before "I put the play away for a long time," she said in a recent interview.
Flash forward two years to the deadline for the Oregon Literary Fellowships a program of Literary Arts that grants a total of $30,000 to writers with works in progress who need funds to take their projects to the next level.
For Mach to revise her play, she needed to hear professional actors read the first draft. She also needed a director to supervise the reading and an audience to provide feedback so she would know where the play was working and where it needed help.
Mach applied for a $2500 fellowship from Literary Arts and was one of 12 writers to receive funding. In August 2008, at Portland, Oregon's Hipbone Studio, she staged the reading under the direction of Gretchen Corbett with a cast of eight of Portland's top actors.
"The reading had a huge effect on the play," said Mach. "With good actors reading, I was able to hear it and hear when it fell flat."
Following the reading, which was open to the public, Corbett solicited audience reactions. Mach was especially interested to discover what the audience felt the play was about. Their answers enabled her to rewrite the play, which she is now sending out nationally in hopes of finding a theater to mount a full production.
Did the grant provide her with anything else? "A grant is also a boost of confidence," said Mach. "It says somebody read it and believed in it."
What advice does Mach have for the writer who wants to increase her chances of winning a grant? "First, a writer must understand what her project is and articulate it," she said. "For me, The Lost Boy was about the vulnerability of being a parent and the exploitation of that vulnerability. Everything I wrote in the play had to come down to that."
Mach also recommends being concise, writing in your own voice, having a clear idea of the cost of the project, and detailing exactly how the money will be spent even if the application doesn't specifically ask.
When she's not winning grants to support her dramatic productions, Mach is a full-time instructor at Clackamas Community College where she teaches literature, screenwriting, and playwriting. (For more information about her classes, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.) Over the course of her writing career, she has received many grants including six that have paid for readings of her plays.
Gigi Rosenberg's essays and how-to articles have appeared in the Seal Press anthology The Maternal is Political, Parenting, Writer's Digest, The Writer and on Oregon Public Radio. She receives rave reviews for the grant writing workshops she leads at NYC's Foundation Center and Chicago's Self Employment in the Arts. She has performed her monologues throughout the Pacific Northwest and now coaches writers how to give stellar public readings and write winning grant applications.