The Season of Reemergence cover of The Dramatist includes an illustration of a chrysalis hanging from a budding branch and emerging monarch butterfly
The 2021 New Media Survey Report

In 2021, The Dramatists Guild’s New Media Committee sent out a survey to the DG members regarding the state of digital performance. The mission was to collect data that could give us a preview into the lives of our writers during this strenuous, complicated but ultimately innovative time period. We as writers, and as individuals were challenged beyond our wildest imaginations; forced to dream up new ways of creating theater without the theatre itself. Isolated, we pushed forward; we found alternate routes of sharing, used technology to expand our global reach, and continued to do what we do best: create. Our questions in this survey ranged vastly and sought to understand the experiences of our members both at their core and big picture. How has this time period changed us? Is live streaming now a viable form of theatre?

  • stream at a concert in a hall without spectators
  • Bar chart displaying the results to "What was your overall experience with producing or rehearsing works online?"
    What was your overall experience with producing or rehearsing works online?
  • Bar chart displaying the results to "Rate how well the technology worked for your production. This includes rehearsals and workshop productions."
    Rate how well the technology worked for your production. This includes rehearsals and workshop productions.
  • Pie chart displaying results to "How many of your works were produced online last year?"
    How many of your works were produced online last year?

What work did we create in this time? How do we feel about it? Were we paid what we deserved? Was our work protected under contract? And what are the advantages/disadvantages to this virtual/hybrid world? The survey set out to find the answers—from 466 responses—these are the results.

Although the majority did produce work—70% of respondents produced at least one work in the pandemic—30% were unable to find opportunities, didn’t adapt their work to be virtual, or used digital platforms for readings and rehearsals only. The economic disparity of pre-COVID vs. during was stark. People were overworked, and underpaid; with 42.21% receiving less money for their work than in past years, and only 19.60% making more.

Of the respondents that produced work, 70% received a flat fee for their work, whereas 13.48% were given a percentage of box office. With theatres across the world closed, DG members got to the core of what mattered by continuing to share their work and reach audiences across the globe. Some writers found their way into digital theatre festivals, while others turned towards aural work like audio plays and podcasts. Writers learned that sound was fundamental to the production of theatre, and with the lack of opportunities in the pandemic, people took the reins over their own work. DG members streamed monologues, and short plays on platforms like Facebook and Instagram live, held Zoom readings, and made and produced their own content on YouTube. Members did not prefer digital performances but working digitally created an outreach like never before. Not only could writers work with directors, actors, and designers from all over the world, they too, could engage and witness work they would never have been otherwise able. This is a positive from the learning experience that will stay with as we slowly, and safely exit the pandemic lifestyle.

Our writers’ experiences of producing and rehearsing were varied. The good news? The responses were top heavy: on a scale from one to ten, 150 people rated their experience a six or above. Whereas 55 people fell under the average in the four and below mark. Fifty-nine people rated their experience a five, which was the leading response and an accurate representation of the median for this answer. There are a few reasons for this wide range. Those that understood technology, heard about digital festivals, or were steadfast in building virtual content, thrived. That being said: technology yields problems. Some artists do not have access to high-speed tech, or the ability to buy new equipment; likewise, the learning of new platforms is no small feat. Over 80% of responders are looking to learn about how other artists succeeded in making their work through screens. Furthermore, digital work punishes musicals; people struggled to audition singers or have performances that showcased them due to singing not being able to translate through a screen: voices cut in and out, tracks couldn’t sync up with singers, and people lacked the necessary equipment for sound to be crisp.

During 2020, 33.17% of members worked under a production contract. While writers struggled, DG stepped up to do what we do best: protect the work. The Digital Rights Agreement was created as a resource for writers to maintain their own copyrights in this new, digital theatre-driven world. Most did not know this existed—only 13% of writers used it—which brings us to the future. Find the Digital Rights Agreement here.

Moving forward, DG writers do want to continue to have online/hybrid modes for one huge reason: Accessibility. In over 150 responses, 60 people mentioned the word in their comments. Not only do writers, and witnesses get global access, but artists reach more people than they ever could before. With more affordability, and more shows possible a year, the theatrical space can become a more inclusive space. Anyone, anywhere can have access to a virtual show via their phone, tablet, or computer. In the future, writers are looking for the best strategies and tools to make that virtual work professional; and with our Digital Rights Agreement, writers can stay protected in theaters and out.

What virtual theatre lacks in intimacy, it makes up in outreach. So here-in-lies a lesson: when we lean into the innovation and work to evolve the definition of theatre, we thrive. Today, new forms of media theatre grow by the minute: audio theatre is flourishing, VR theatre is being experimented with, and theatre-on-demand is on the rise! If artists grip too hard to their roots, the process of digital platforms will remain foreign, frustrating, and unworkable. Dare to innovate.

As a community, we must be open and fervent in our venturing forward. How can we use the hurt and lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic to cultivate a global theatrical world? One where we have more collaboration, more accessibility, and where our work can be witnessed by all.

Stay innovative—and stay strong. The future is here, and we are here to help.

Maeve Ryan
Maeve Ryan

is a professionally trained performer turned writer. As a recent grad from New York University, she has studied globally in creative nonfiction, poetry, playwriting, and journalism. She is the sole recipient of the Bevya Rosten memorial award for writing at NYU this spring 2022. Her origins in creativity make her a verbal storyteller, with a particular interest in finding the vulnerable truths of humanity. She is the founder of SoHo Playhouse’s The Lighthouse Series and does freelance writing work across the world, most notably, in Dublin and London. She was the spring intern at the Dramatists Guild and hopes to uplift artists globally in this strenuous, unknown time.