The standard unfair practices of the period included:
- Manuscripts that were held by producers indefinitely;
- First Class production conditions (cast, director, length of contract) that were wildly inconsistent;
- Royalties that varied constantly, with prompt payment virtually unenforceable;
- Producers charging a 10%-15% premium to ticketing agencies to provide them with the best tickets, and then not pay royalties on the additional revenues;
- Producers making unapproved and arbitrary changes to scripts;
- A lack of protections for authors regarding a producer’s duplicitous activities (e,g., no oversight over accounting and payment procedures, no approvals over assignments, no availability of arbitration, etc.);
- The use of “house writers,” who were employed by companies and paid a salary while their shows were produced, and then the company owned and controlled the play, with no authorial control or future compensation.
- While new writers were particularly vulnerable to these conditions, even more experienced and successful writers were plagued by these inequities.
The Guild Is Born
And so The Authors League was created in 1912, with a subcommittee for dramatic writers established in 1915, becoming The DG in 1919. By 1926, the membership had authorized a strike in order to establish a Minimum Basic Agreement, promising to withhold work from producers who would not sign it. Negotiations ensued with a newly formed Producers League and an enforceable contract the (MBA) resulted and was signed that year. The contract, called the MBA, provided for:
- Authorial ownership of copyright;
- No changes in text without permission;
- Approvals over artistic collaborators;
- Right to be present; and
- Control over dispositions of subsidiary rights, including film rights.
The Dramatists Guild of America is the national, professional membership trade association of theatre writers including playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists.
The Guild was established for the purpose of aiding dramatists in protecting both the artistic and economic integrity of their work.
We believe that a vibrant, vital, and provocative theatre is an essential element of the ongoing cultural debate which informs the citizens of a free society; and that if such a theatre is to survive, the unique, idiosyncratic voices of the men, women, trans and non-binary artists who write for it must be cultivated and protected.
Dramatists are viewed by the law as property owners who license the use of their property, rather than employees entitled to collectively bargain for the conditions of their labor. To that end, we maintain model contracts for all levels of productions (including Broadway, regional, and smaller theatres) and encourage our members to use these contracts when negotiating with producers. These contracts embody the Guild’s overarching objectives of protecting the dramatist’s control over the content of their work, ensuring that the dramatist is compensated for each use of their work in a way that will encourage them to continue writing for the living stage.
In addition to our contract services, the Guild acts as an aggressive public advocate for dramatists’ interests and assists dramatists in developing both their artistic and business skills through our publications, which are distributed nationally, and educational programs, which we sponsor around the country.
Since 1919, our mission has been to provide our members with education, advocacy, opportunity, and community. We carry out our mission by:
- Maintaining, for use by our members, a contract that is applicable to first-class productions in the United States;
- Formulating other forms of model contracts and offering business advice to our members, including information about industry standards, copyright, and free expression;
- Promoting and protecting the interests of authors in their works, including their rights of property, artistic integrity and compensation, and the conditions under which those works are created and presented;
- Working with theatrical institutions, schools, governmental agencies, nonprofits, and commercial entities, to educate them on the rights that dramatic writers have in their works;
- Creating programs and publications to educate dramatic writers, in order to help them develop their craft, enhance their understanding of the theater business, and expand their professional opportunities; and
- Speaking out as an organization, and through our individual members, on issues that affect the role of dramatic authors in the theatre and in society in general.
In fulfilling our mission, we recognize that much of the creative work of authorship is undertaken in isolation, so we foster a sense of union and community among our members in order to enrich, inspire and empower them to advocate for themselves, for their work, and for each other.
In this way, Guild members come to realize that if we do not advance together, we do not advance at all.
Playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists often struggle professionally in theatres throughout the country, and even on Broadway, due to the wide-ranging demands and expectations imposed on them by their producers (and other collaborators) which are presented as “standard” terms. It is essential, therefore, that dramatists know their rights.
In order to protect their unique vision, which has always been the strength of the theatre, dramatists need to understand this single fundamental principle: they own and control their work. To ensure this ownership and control, we recommend that any production involving a dramatist incorporate a written agreement in which both the producer and the writer acknowledge certain key industry standards. To the end, The Dramatists Guild maintains a Bill of Rights that is available to members, non-members, theatres, producers, agents, and managers.
The Guild is governed by a board of directors (Council) elected from its membership. These writers, in various stages of their theatrical careers, meet monthly to decide policy for the Guild. Our current Council President is Amanda Green, Vice President is Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Secretary is Kristoffer Diaz, and Treasurer is Christine Toy Johnson.
Past presidents have included Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Moss Hart, Alan Jay Lerner, Robert Sherwood, Robert Anderson, Frank Gilroy, Peter Stone, Stephen Sondheim, John Weidman, Stephen Schwartz, and Doug Wright. Visit our Council and Staff page for a current list of our council members.