Now that we have the internet, you would think we would be able to figure out what theatres are referring to when they require a play to be submitted in "standard stage play format." For the last three years at least, the top Google search link brings up an undated pdf called "Standard Stage Play Format," attributed to Gordon State College, which is a Georgia state school. Before trying to answer my formatting questions, I'd never heard of Gordon, which on closer look offers an Associate degree in Theatre, nothing more. Yet this document makes some pretty bold declarations about formatting.
"This standard format immediately tells a producer/script reader that the playwright knows something about submitting plays. “How good could the play be if the playwright doesn’t even know the basics of formatting?” they will ask. Unfair, yes... but the way your script looks is the first impression you make."
The document outlines detailed specifications -- beginning with paper size, black ink, and, most importantly, Courier 12pt font -- "No exceptions (You'll quickly discover that standard play formatting is stubbornly rooted in the days of the typewriter.)"
Is it really?
Since my writing software used this "standard" as a template, I have been using it for years. But I kept wondering, why Courier? It's the least easy to read of the standard seriffed fonts. Personally, after years ago reading scripts in a theatre's literary office, it drives me batty.
It turns out there is a very good reason for using Courier, other than the fact that theatre art mostly still resides back in the days of the typewriter. At one point, it was determined that one 8 ½ X 11 page of dialogue in Courier 12pt is roughly equal to one minute on stage. Eureka! A "ten-minute play" should consist of approximately 10 pages. Unless of course one or more of your characters wants to talk for several pages uninterrupted, or they are under the influence of methamphetamines, or both. Or you have an entire page of stage directions, that might take ten minutes, or might take thirty seconds. How about a preponderance of long pauses in your writing? Do you write like Harold Pinter? Or Tennessee Williams? I've determined for this that six "Pinter pauses" are equal to 15 "beats"...
Yes... the one page per minute is a rough estimate. And yes, you fit a small bit more text in a page of Palatino 12pt than you do with Courier. But if it's all "rough" why follow an outdated "Standard Stage Play Format"? There's really no way of telling how old that Gordon College document is.
One day I discovered a submission guideline that asked for standard play format according to the Dramatists Guild. As far as I can tell, you cannot view the Dramatists Guild guidelines online without becoming a member of the guild. It also seems, from reading other posts, that it may change somewhat from year to year. So pay your annual dues! If you're not a member, you'll have to piece it together. Or, apparently they have been working with Final Draft writing software (affordable to screenwriters in the industry, but not most playwrights) to develop an industry standard.
BroadwayEducators.com claims that their version, based on the Dramatist Guild's, is "the industry standard". Here is a link to the Samuel French "Formatting Guide" which differ somewhat from the one based on the Dramatist Guild version. And, they are somewhat confusing, as the sample provided does not entirely match the description. Also, keep in mind that Samuel French is a play publisher, not a producer.
But! Holy Moly! Whichever one is the "industry standard", they both recommend a "readable font... such as 12 point Times New Roman"! Finally, we have let go of the typewriter. I know there are some of you diehards out there that think it's nifty to write on a typewriter; it maybe gets the creative juices flowing, but honestly... time for a change.
What should that change be? Basically, the most important thing is consistency, which means:
- One easily readable 12pt seriffed font throughout (Palatino, Times New Roman, etc.); and
- Margins and indentations, for each of the six or more elements that could appear on a page in a play, remain the same. If you all-cap the Scene Heading once, it should be done all the way through. If you parenthesize Stage Directions (a current case of contention) do so throughout.
A person reading the play should be able to visualize the action as it will appear on stage, rather than how it looks on the page, whether it's a typographical gem, or a complete disaster.
Here are some helpful links to guide your way:
- The Gordon College "Standard Stage Play Format"
- Samuel French Playwriting Resources page
- Samuel French Specs & Sample page
- Broadway Educators.com Script Formatting page
- Broadway Educators.com "Industry Standard" sample page (unfortunately without specifics)