AAPEX Interview with literary agent KATE NAVIN re Getting an Agent and Alice Childress — AAPEX Interview , Alice Childress , Kate Navin — AAPEX

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

AAPEX Interview with literary agent KATE NAVIN re Getting an Agent and Alice Childress

Literary Agent Kate Navin of the Abrams Artist Agency has, as one of her clients, the estate of renowned author Alice Childress. Navin is anxious for folks to know Ms. Childress' wonderful plays, so I asked her to tell us about them. And since I had the cahnce to talk to a real live AGENT, I queried her about what it takes to get one:

I started working for Flora Roberts, Inc., which represents Alice’s Estate and her works, about 5 and a half years ago. About three years ago, we were approached with the possibility of getting her adult novel, A SHORT WALK back into print. Since then, I’ve fallen in love with her writing and have been quite active in looking for opportunities for her work. We do many things on Alice’s behalf: contract negotiation, reprint requests, provide biographical material and actively pursue opportunities for her writing.

I truly think all of Alice Childress’ plays should be re-examined. She really tried to write honestly about her race – but also of all people that she referred to as the “have-nots” of society. Most plays aren’t extremely dated and all that I’ve read still have themes that hold up to today’s culture. She was also the first African American woman to have a play professionally produced and an important part of the history of theater.

That said, I think TROUBLE IN MIND is one most producers would find a good pick. It’s a really funny play that ends up taking you on a great emotional journey. Alice pulls in the drama in a very subtle way and a very real way. It tells the story of Wiletta Mayer, a seasoned black actress who has never been given a lead role. She’s now been cast as the lead in a Broadway production, directed by a white director, who reminds the entire cast how lucky they are that someone was willing to work on a “black play”. In the end, there is a plot point that doesn’t quite ring true to Wiletta and she asks for a re-write to make it more honest. The director refuses and she has a difficult choice to make because, as we all know, someone else will certainly do it.

Then there’s the drama behind the producing of TROUBLE. When the play originally opened Off-Broadway it was a huge success. Alice won the Obie award (first woman to do so) and it was optioned immediately for a commercial transfer. The Broadway producers then asked Alice to re-write the ending of the play to make it a bit more “upbeat” and to paint the director in a slightly better light. A very ironic request seeing as this was a play about staying true to life in the theater. When she couldn’t make the play work to their satisfaction, the option was dropped and the play did not transfer.

In addition, WEDDING BAND – a play about an interracial couple – is relevant for today’s conversation about tolerance. And WINE IN THE WILDERNESS, while the dialogue is somewhat dated, talks about class and the perception of women specifically. WEDDING BAND and WINE IN THE WILDERNESS have both been published and are available for licensing through stock and amateur companies – WEDDING BAND is with Samuel French and WINE is with Dramatists Play Service. TROUBLE IN MIND is not published and anyone interested could get in touch with me for more information, kate@dandkartists.com. Hopefully it will be published soon! And there are several others happy to go on to anyone interested.

Finding An Agent

Finding an agent is the million dollar question. I think the best way to find an agent is through personal connections – fellow writers that have representations, producers and lit managers. Lit Managers are often in contact with all the different agencies and I know that when I get a recommendation from them it’s because they know my taste and it makes sense. You should also have a canon ready – not just one play. Not every theater is right for every play and you should have a couple to choose from. That allows an agent to really think about a strategy to “introduce” you to the American Theater.

Then the timing should be right – and that’s the tricky part. Readings are a good idea but I know that personally, I don’t go to a ton of readings because my schedule doesn’t allow it. But, even though I prefer to read hard copies in my “free” time, a reading invitation will sometimes push me to ask for the script. Also, patience is really important. I know that it’s a frustrating process, but following up too many times or being too pushy might make you seem difficult to work with and turn someone off. If someone agrees to read the script, let that happen and let them get back in touch. Unless it’s been months and months and months – then a gentle follow up isn’t a bad idea.


Abrams Artists Agency
275 Seventh Avenue
26th Floor
New York, NY 10001

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