Nothing Like A Little Friendly Playwrighting Competition To Pass The Time In Isolation

A playwriters battle against boredom and for creativity.
A playwriters battle against boredom and for creativity. Image by L. Robert Westeen

Attention sports fans! Attention theater fans! Attention anyone looking for a competitive but friendly way to fill their isolation time. Cone Man Running Productions is here to scratch your itch with its bracketed War of the Words playwrighting competition. Pitting 16 playwrights up against each other to create a total of 30 audio plays, War of the Words will eventually crown one playwright the winner, as chosen exclusively by public voting.

“Like all of our peers, we ended up having to cancel our next three shows so we were at a loss creatively”, says Christine Weems, Founding Board Member Cone Man Running Productions. “We were trying to figure out something to do and my husband and I were watching a cooking show where they bracketed 16 chefs and had them go head to head, eliminating them down as they kept cooking these challenges until there was one winner. And we thought, why couldn’t we do that with audio plays?"

Recruiting a few friends, Weems did a few test runs with everyone’s home sound equipment to make sure the idea was possible. Could everyone record their parts separately and have it work? Could she edit it all together? Not only possible, she found out, but a fun and challenging distraction for her and everyone involved. Weems then put out the call on social media for actors and playwrights to participate.

What resulted was a mix of talents from all across the States and even beyond. “We have playwrights based in LA, Seattle, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and in Texas, we have artists in Georgetown and Fort Worth as well as writers in and around Houston”, says Weems. “And we just recorded a play where the actors were in Houston, San Francisco, and Singapore."

But back to the playwrights, which is where all this begins. The writing rules are simple. Everyone has 48 hours to write their play, no script is to be more than 10 pages long, no internal stage direction allowed, sound effects are welcomed, and the theme Weems chose for the first round is, making do, a notion that provided open interpretation.

“My biggest fear was that we were going to get 16 coronavirus quarantine plays”, says Weems. “A few of the plays offhandedly reference the situation we’re in, but most have nothing to do with being quarantined or a virus. We were so pleasantly surprised at the range we have in this first round - horror, sci-fi, rom coms, and domestic family dramas."

For her first-round effort, Houston playwright Adina Owen is offering up, Not a Sex Thing. "It's three characters, two of them are sisters and one is crashing at her older sister's place because she lost her bartending job. And she's trying to make money doing private video chat Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response sessions.” For the uninitiated, ASMR is a pleasurable tingling sensation in the head and limbs.

Owen who has participated previously in Cone Man’s 24-hour play cycle says this challenge was in some ways easier. “It was a nice balance between having a deadline and making sure I put pen to paper and didn’t procrastinate.

As for the technical challenges of working with actors who aren’t in the room with you, Owen was surprised to find that in some ways, this had its advantages. “One of the things that was great about this process was that I was able to finish a draft and then reach out to the actors and say, hey, do you mind hopping on a video chat and doing a quick read-through of the script?"

This meant that Owen had the chance to make some really helpful edits thanks to seeing her play in action before she had to submit.

Minneapolis playwright L Robert Westeen says that War of the Words has been a great opportunity to stretch his legs and gain a boost of creativity. His play, Our Home, is a family drama dealing with an estate situation. “I was thinking about all the tensions that are running high right now, everyone being cooped up with other people whether that be family or friends or perhaps a roommate,” says Westeen. “Although the play isn’t COVID based, it was in the back of my mind this idea of family and being cooped up.”

Moving on to the final round means a playwright will have written 4 plays in total, each with a different dictated theme but Westeen is undaunted by the prospect. "Y'now I think it's interesting", says Westeen. "I think it will allow me to either expand on an idea or play with a new theme, or maybe take an idea or a family or a situation and apply it to the changing themes."
The first pairing launched on Monday, April 13 and Weems plans to release 3 parings a week, with each being allotted one week of voting time. If all goes to plan, that means that a finalist will be chosen around mid-June.

“Right now, people are looking for content, so any way people can be creative and think outside the box is positive”, says Weems. “Is anyone going to listen to this, I don’t know, maybe not, but people are having a blast doing it and I think right now for our safety and sanity and health, people need to be doing the kinds of things that give them pleasure. So, I’m excited that we’re doing something that makes us happy and hopefully people will enjoy them and want to get involved."

Information on how to listen to War of the Words and vote for your favorite play can be found on and the company’s Facebook page,
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Jessica Goldman was the theater critic for CBC Radio in Calgary prior to joining the Houston Press team. Her work has also appeared in American Theatre Magazine, Globe and Mail and Alberta Views. Jessica is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.
Contact: Jessica Goldman