As an organization formed to end the economic exploitation of theatrical writers, the Dramatists Guild has a heightened awareness of how all employees and independent contractors should be treated in any work environment. Those who work in the theatre industry, where people of disparate power must work closely, intensely, and intimately for prolonged periods to put on a show, are particularly vulnerable to predatory behavior. So, as the conversation in our industry continues around unseemly acts of unprofessional behavior and abuse, we wanted to take this opportunity to update our full membership about the steps that the Dramatists Guild has taken, and continues to take, to address the issue of workplace safety. We also wanted to remind you of the resources available to you, as Guild members, should you suffer harassment or witness the harassment of others.
DG Resources for Members
In furtherance of the Guild's policy to help make the theatre industry a safer place for all working in it, we modified our bylaws in 2018 to incorporate a prohibition against harassment by members, making it an offense that can result in a member's censure, suspension, or expulsion from the Guild. You can find that provision of the bylaws in Article IX labeled "Censure, Suspension, Lapsing, Bad Standing, and Expulsion of Members."
Because of the 2018 Dramatists Guild Bylaws revision, we established a hotline at (917) 267-0437, and an online incident form for reporting abuse or harassment in the workplace. We also created a resources webpage to provide Guild members with links to various support organizations, and similar social services, and legal resources to help members deal with this issue.
Steven Schwartzberg Grants for Mental Health and Wellness Provided by DGF
The Dramatists Guild Foundation (DGF) created the Steven Schwartzberg Grants in 2020 to provide financial support for mental health and wellness services for writers. These grants will provide writers with $1,000 towards mental health services through Advekit, an online therapy platform.
As DGF states, “Writers are the beating heart of theatre; they take us on journeys and inspire us to think. Taking care of the mental health of writers is part of keeping the theatre alive and well. The DGF is here to help."
The Actors Fund
We would like to remind you that The Actors Fund serves all arts workers in the entertainment industry, including composers, lyricists, librettists, and playwrights. If you find yourself in need of extra emotional support, due to anxiety, depression, stress, abuse, or trauma of any kind, we recommend that you reach out to the social workers at The Actors Fund.
We are members of the Coalition of Broadway Unions and Guilds, also known as COBUG, and we have established a working relationship with labor groups to deal with abuse between our members and those of the various theatrical unions and guilds. We continue to advocate for an independent entity to provide support and confidential advice to those seeking help and redress.
As a reminder to all our members, the Guild is a trade association and not a labor union. Why? Under federal law, playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists are NOT employees - we are intellectual property owners who license our property for others to use. Given our status as a trade association, taking certain types of collective action can expose us to anti-trust liability, so there are legal limits on what we can do or say as an organization. While we can warn you about unprofessional behavior, we cannot (for example) create, distribute, or enforce a "Do Not Work List," or encourage boycotts of any kind. Such acts violate federal law.
Fortunately, Congress seems poised to remedy our plight, and that of all other “gig workers,” in the new economy. The House has passed a bill called The Pro Act, which is now in the Senate, where it remains stalled by four pro-“business lobby” Democrats. The act seeks to revise the National Labor Relations Act by allowing independent contractors (like you) to take collective actions such as those we described, including collective bargaining for terms of employment, like health insurance and pension contributions. The law won’t make the Guild a “union” per se, nor make you an “employee” that does “work-for-hire” or otherwise change your tax status, but it would give us the exemption from anti-trust laws that we have sought for so long. Keep an eye out for more information from us on The Pro Act, and how you can support it.
Internal Action on Harassment
As an employer, we modified our contracts with the instructors we hire to teach for the Dramatists Guild Institute and have revised provisions in our employee handbook to reflect the evolving standards for dealing equitably with workplace harassment. We have also contracted with a conflict mediation company to make its services available to those on staff and on Council who request them.
In addition, we are finalizing a Code of Conduct for member engagement for both in-person and virtual events. This code provides our Regional Reps and Ambassadors (currently numbering over 100, in cities and towns worldwide) with the ability to maintain a constructive environment at events for all writers. We hope to foster a community in which we treat one another with integrity, civility, and decency. Please keep an eye out for an email update that will announce our new Code of Conduct's imminent availability.
Know Your Rights
You always have the right to say no if you do not wish to have a particular producer or non-profit theatre produce your work. No one can force you to say yes - not the producer, not the theatre, and not your agent. Towards that end, the Guild offers you a range of resources, including those described above, to empower you to make the best business decisions for yourself and for your future. For a full list of your business resources, please visit the DG website. To download an up-to-date copy of the Dramatists Bill of Rights, please visit the DG website as well. The final decision on your work is always yours to make. Let us know what more we can do or, more to the point, what we can empower you to do to make your life a little fairer, and your load a little easier to bear.