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Out & About: Shaker Bridge Theatre starts playwriting, opening line contests

  • Bill Coons, of Lebanon, founded Shaker Bridge Theater in Enfield, N.H. ten years ago. After reading a study that concluded 88 percent of plays that are produced are written by men, Coons decided to commit the entire 2016 - 2017 season to plays by women. The Mystery of Love and Sex, by Bathsheba Doran, will kick off the season, opening on October 13. September 16, 2016. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News file photograph — James M. Patterson

Valley News Calendar Editor
Published: 3/31/2020 9:15:36 PM
Modified: 3/31/2020 9:15:29 PM

ENFIELD — When I told my partner I was writing a column about a contest that asks people to come up with the worst first line of a play and would he like to offer a suggestion, he stared at me blankly.

“I’m not clever. I’m not a comedian,” he said.

“That’s your best try?” I asked.

Apparently it was. And, as he reminded me, I am supposed to be the creative one in this partnership and maybe I should look at the newspaper’s funny pages for inspiration. He had his own remote work to get back to.

Do you think you can up with something better? (You can. You so easily can.) Consider entering Shaker Bridge Theatre’s playwriting contests. One involves coming up with the worst first line of a play imaginable, which is due by Wednesday, April 15. The other is writing a 1- to 10-minute play featuring two or three characters inspired by your experience with the COVID-19 pandemic and submitting it by Friday, May 15. Entries must be submitted in a Word document by emailing

“I have no preconceptions about what kind of style it should be,” said Bill Coons, founder, producer and artistic director at the Enfield theater. “It could be serious, it could be a comedy. It could be absurdist. It could be a musical.”

After the plays are submitted they will be posted anonymously to the theater’s website where the public can view them. Members of the nonprofit organization will then pick which ones will be read during an event next fall. For the opening line contest, write a description of the setting, briefly describe the character and then write the worst opening line. The winner will receive a Shaker Bridge Theatre hat and the entry will be posted online.

“It’s not as threatening if you tell people write one line, write one line to a play,” Coons said. “But it has to be the worst opening line of a play. It takes the pressure off. You can’t do it poorly.”

After canceling the remainder of the theater’s season, Coons was trying to come up with ways to stay connected to the audience and supporters. He decided a playwriting contest would be a good fit.

“I thought why not have people use their current situation, whatever it is, as a catalyst for something creative?” Coons said. “In a sense it’s ‘let’s think about something else for a while.’ We spend most of our time thinking about how uncertain things are. Let’s just have some fun with something that goes in a different direction.”

Hesitant to go it alone? Coons is encouraging people to team up and work together. There are no age restrictions and people who live outside the Upper Valley can participate.

“As many different looks at this that I can get, I’m happy,” Coons said. “If a lot of people get involved with this, it kind of does keep the community aspect of this alive which is one of the things that I know I’m missing most.”

I’m pretty sure writing about the contest precludes me from entering, but I’m looking forward to reading the submissions when they’re posted online.

“Everyone’s perspective on this is so individual,” Coons said. “That’s kind of what a play is. You get to experience life from someone else’s point of view.”

Editor’s note: For more information, visit Liz Sauchelli can be reached at

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