First read 2019

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First Read, a new play development workshop and readings series, seeks first drafts of plays by trans and non-binary theater artists. Produced by ensemble theater company The Syndicate, First Read launched in NYC in 2018 with readings of three new plays by trans artists. Now, The Syndicate and collaborators aim to bring the success of the first festival to Chicago in 2019. Lead producers Hal Cosentino, Denise Yvette Serna of Pop Magic Productions, and Ellenor Riley-Condit will host the next First Read at The Martin- 2515 W. North Avenue- the week of June 10th – June 16th, 2019.

To learn more about the artists involved in the 2018 NYC festival, visit

Thanks to everyone who submitted - you can still learn more about the 2019 Chicago festival read our FAQ below.

Q: What’s The Syndicate’s deal anyway?

A: The Syndicate is an ensemble theater company that produces new plays by women, queer, and trans artists. As an international network, The Syndicate seeks to expand professional opportunities in the field for both our members and fellow artists. Our work advocates for diversity, both in how we tell stories and whose stories we tell.

The Syndicate launched First Read at IRT Theater in NYC in September of 2018. Because we have collaborators in both New York and Chicago, we want to bring the festival to Chicago in 2019. (That’s where you come in.)

Q: Why are you asking for plays by trans and non-binary people?

A: So glad you asked! One of the goals of First Read is to engage a community of artists and audiences that are interested in stories by, for, and about trans and non-binary people. The Syndicate is not seeing enough plays in the world that tell these stories, or enough artists of these identities that have the opportunity to develop their work and be paid for it. First Read is our effort towards making more of this work happen.

Q: Do I have to identify as trans/non-binary to submit?

A: Yes. Another of the goals of First Read is to connect trans and non-binary playwrights to trans and non-binary directors, actors, theater folx, audiences, and the greater queer community. While we are by no means the identity police, we believe very strongly in creating this space to center these voices. That does not mean that there will only be trans/non-binary people in the room (much of The Syndicate are cis women) but it does mean that these writers and their goals and communities are the focus of this room.

Q: Is there any genre or style of play you are looking for?

Nope! No preference will be given to any “type” of play. Anything is fair game as long as it’s a play- or even (dare we suggest) a musical?! If you’re working on something that wants be staged, we’d love to see it.  

Q: Does my play have to be about trans or non-binary identity, people, or issues?

A: We have no agenda about what we want First Read plays to be ‘about’. We’re hoping to bring together a group of artists for whom queerness and/or their trans identity is a central part of their creative work. Selected plays could (and hopefully will be!) very different in their style, tone, and subject matter. Though it would be great to have plenty of trans/non-binary/queer characters on stage, there’s no “requirement” there either. What we care about is creating a space where you can fully explore your particular interests as an trans or non-binary artist.

Q: How is First Read different from all the other festivals asking for my play submission?

A: If your play is selected, The Syndicate and our Chicago collaborators will work with you to figure out what you need to get to a reading-ready draft by June 2019.  We can help you find a director and a cast, or if you have folx in mind, you can bring them along! Maybe you already understand the structure of your play really well or maybe you need to chat with someone one on one to clarify some things...we’re available to be your first readers, your dramaturgs, or just a sounding board! We will also handle all the logistics around the reading like scheduling, marketing, and tech needs.

First Read takes a queer-centric, humanistic, community-building approach to the creation of new plays. We will set aside time during the week for discussions about the specific questions, challenges, and joys that come up for us as trans/non-binary/queer artists in the theater industry. Who knows we may even have a panel or two (gasp!). We will also set aside time for beverages and snacks because anyone who doesn’t is a monster.

Q: If I’m selected, what’s the time commitment?

You should be available for at least a few meetings either in person or online between April and May. We’ll also need you to be in Chicago and available for rehearsals, readings, and meetings from June 10th - 16th. The Syndicate is interested in bringing together a group of artists that want to dig in to both the plays themselves and the social, political, artistic context in which they’re made, so we would want you to WANT to hang out with us for as much of the week as possible. That said, we understand people have jobs, commitments, etc, and we wouldn’t require you to be free for the ENTIRE week in order to participate, but we would hope you could be at most events.

Q: How many plays will be chosen to develop?

A: We plan to choose at least 3 plays, pending further funding.

Q: What does “first draft” mean?

Part of the goal of First Read is to help you, as a playwright, figure out what the heck your cool play idea needs to become better. We want to help you do that in a room full of awesome people, so you don’t have to do it alone at your computer. We would like to see scripts that are in their initial stages of development and have not yet been produced. Your idea could be in the roughest-of-rough-draft stage, as long as we get the drift of what you’re up to.

Q: Will I be paid?

A: YES. The Syndicate believes that your time and creative work are valuable. Each writer will receive at least $150 for participating in the week of First Read. We are currently seeking funding to increase that stipend. We will also pay a stipend to all of our directors, actors, run crew, etc. No one works for free with The Syndicate.

Q: How large can my cast be?

A: As large as you want. No preference will be given to any particular cast size, although we encourage you to consider that we want to pay everyone without selling our personal belongings.

Q: Do I have to be based in Chicago to submit a play?

A: No, but The Syndicate unfortunately does not have funding for travel or housing at this time. Also, we VERY much want you to be able to be plugged into the community in which these readings will take place. To that end, we would prefer that you were Chicago-local or easily commutable.

Q: If my play is chosen, does that mean The Syndicate will produce it?

A: The goal of First Read is not for The Syndicate to find plays to produce for our own ensemble. Instead, we want to share the resources we have to help you finish a draft of your script and hear it out loud in front of an audience for the first time.

Q: What qualifies you to judge my play? How is this selection process fair?

A: No judgement here! And honestly, it’s not . The Syndicate acknowledges that art is subjective, that we all come to it with different life experiences, biases, and tastes. We do not consider ourselves the be all and end all of the “worthiness” of a particular script. If you are not chosen, that is not because your script isn’t great, it’s only because we are just a theater company of people doing our best to choose the plays that we want to see developed.

Q: You didn’t answer my question.

A: Our bad. Send us an email. We will respond within 3 business days.