Pay to Play

With feedback from business friends, associates, The Dramatists Guild and other theatre professionals, Heartland Plays is doing its best to work out kinks in our contract so that more playwrights will feel confident signing with a publisher with an unproven track record.  In return, Heartland Plays will continue to offer opportunities for playwrights whose work is sledom seen or not seen enough to the totally unproven whose work have never been seen on a stage at all.  Most of the playwrights who have been submitting plays to us have substantial production history and yet they aren’t making money from their work.  That is because theatre is one of those professions, aside from the cream at the top, where almost everyone is working on a shoestring and almost no one is paid to play.  A slim few are rewarded the true value of their time and talent and the public thinks they should have access to all forms of art for free or next to nothing.  After all, it’s not essential to life, is it?  I see theaters advertise all the time for new plays for festivals and they are quick to add that there is no compensation to playwrights but a great opportunity…  Interns bust their chops 24/7 at professional theaters so they can name that company on their resume… Artists are asked time and time again to do workshops, seminars, presentations at schools and in classrooms and perform free in front of audiences who have paid or not paid to see them.  It doesn’t seem to matter that most of these artists, writers, actors, and directors have thousands of years among them in training at colleges and universities and professional theatre programs.  Its all supposed to be free.  Not.  Publishing is one way a playwright has to earn compensation for his or her work.  Okay, so even that’s not guaranteed.  But it has its possibilities.  There are tons of community theaters around the country that don’t have the resources to pay the higher royalties for Broadway plays and they can be matched with quality plays that just didn’t happen to make it to the top for any of a million reasons, some of which are time, resources, contacts, location and luck.  And then there are university theaters who aren’t afraid to take risks.  There programs are not as tied to ticket sales and driven more from the desire to challenge their students.  Community Theatre and Educational Theatre pay royalties for the work you see on stage.   In other words, they pay to play.  And their audiences pay to play.  Small bills, perhaps, but enough to keep their volunteer staffs and student work force going.  Will a new play at your local theater or college make it to Broadway and earn its author hundreds of thousands of dollars with a multi million dollar film contract?  Probably not.  If that’s the goal, and why not, then hold that play tight.  If one plays all his or her cards right, it just might make it to the top.  A publisher will only get in your way.  If you’ve shopped your play around, gotten some good reviews, a number of free productions and you still haven’t garnered an agent in New York or LA, then publishing is a reasonable consideration.   I directed Tennessee Williams’ “Small Craft Warnings” for a Graduate Repertory Theatre in Florida.  Almost no one has ever heard of that play yet everyone knows “The Glass Menagerie.”  They are both quality work and yet only one hit the mother lode.  Publishing allows you to earn on what you’ve written while you’re still shooting for that one that really pays off.  And why not?