When I was asked to write this essay, I assumed I’d joined the Guild somewhere around 1962, when my play Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You In The Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad was produced in New York. I was wrong. I joined in 1964. So why did I join then and not in ‘62?
One part of that was easy to answer. In those years the Guild’s real power came into play during negotiations of Broadway contracts, and since Oh Dad… was produced off-Broadway, I did not need the Guild back then. Or at least thought I didn’t. But why ‘64? I was writing a lot of one-act plays at that time, but they were being done off-Broadway. And I was two years away from beginning my play Indians, which would be produced on Broadway, but in ‘64 I had no inkling of that.
So, what made me join?
There was only one conceivable answer, and I know it’s right. I joined because I had come to understand by then who the members of the Guild were and been honored to meet many of them: Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Garson Kanin, Robert Anderson. And in the course of conversations I’d had with them, I’d come to understand what the Guild really meant to them. Yes, the Guild protected them, and they loved it. But in many ways, contract negotiations were the least of it. It was the linkage of one writer to another, and the power they felt by being a part of it all that mattered.
I joined so that I could be more directly connected to people whose work I revered and have been a member of it ever since.
The Guild today is far more inclusive than it was back then. Back then, theatre was seen as primarily Broadway-based. That is no longer true. It is not only vaster, but way more complex now. What the Guild offers its members now is far more than just contract review. It offers help, including free business advice, on everything connected to the writing and production of plays. But, to me, in many ways the most important thing the Guild provides is a direct connection to people who not only love that strange thing you love so deeply, the writing of plays, but a sense of family. By and large, contracts are easy (and when they’re not, the difficulties can be solved). The comradeship that comes with being a member of the Guild, and the strength that comradeship provides, is what I believe matters most. It did back in ‘64. And for me still does.