Charlayne Woodard: Dramatist’s Bill of Rights
Yellow rectangle with black and white typographical art reading 8: Approval of Production Elements and 9: The Right to be Present



These rights are über important to me. Actually, I took them for granted because for the longest time, I was never denied these rights. Never. But there’s a first time for everything. The mistreatment snuck up on me.

Right from the start of rehearsals I was never notified nor was I invited to production meetings with the designers. The director was making the all-important decisions about my play, and I’d find out, after the fact. Needless to say, I was dissatisfied with the results. So, friends, be vigilant. Speak up right away.

To add insult to injury, my director refused to meet with me to discuss the work on that day’s rehearsals and also vehemently discouraged rewrites during previews. Who does that?

Inevitably, because certain cast members were intimidated by my presence (really?), I was asked to stay away from rehearsals for “a few days,” thus allowing the cast to “play” without the playwright’s critical gaze! With a smile, I said, “There are certain hurdles that go along with the rehearsal process. Y’all will just have to leap over this particular hurdle, because I am not going anywhere.”

Mind you, this was said with a smile. We still had three more weeks of “collaboration” to get through.

Personally, as an actor, I love to work with the living playwright in the room. That way I can go directly to the mountain for clarity and answers to any question.

I was working on a Lynn Nottage play, Fabulation or, the Re-education of Undine. Lynn was there for every rehearsal. At the end of the play, she wrote a magnificent monologue. But the moment before was giving me a problem. I needed a “way in” to the monologue. I asked Lynn if I could just change…

Lynn politely interrupted my question with her soft voice, “Just do what’s written, please.”

Mind you, this response infuriated me! Instantly, I was overcome by a hot rage that ran from my toes to my neck hairs. Immediately, I fed that rage into the moment before and found my way into the monologue. Every night on stage, I looked forward to that moment before, that catapulted me to the play’s end. And to this day, I thank God for Lynn Nottage for being present and her simple request to just “do what’s written.”

Charlayne Woodard

Dramatist’s Bill of Rights

8. APPROVAL OF PRODUCTION ELEMENTS – You have the right to mutually approve (with the producer) the cast, director, and designers (and, for a musical, the choreographer, orchestrator, arranger, and musical director), including their replacements. This is called “artistic approval.”
9. RIGHT TO BE PRESENT – You always have the right to attend casting, rehearsals, previews, and performances.

Playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists often struggle professionally in theatres due to the wide-ranging demands and expectations imposed on them by their producers (and other collaborators). It is essential, therefore, that dramatists know their rights, which the Dramatists Guild established in 1926 and has defended ever since.  

Charlayne Woodard
Charlayne Woodard

is an actor, playwright, two-time Obie award winner, and Tony award nominee. Acting: originated roles for playwrights including Brandon Jacobs Jenkins, Jeremy O. Harris, Suzan Lori-Parks, Lynn Nottage; Theresa Rebeck; George C. Wolfe. TV: (series regular) Pose; (recurring) Anne Rice’s The Lives Of The Mayfair Witches; Animal Kingdom; In Treatment; Prodigal Son; Sneaky Pete; Law & Order SVU; ER; Chicago Hope. Film: Glass; Unbreakable; The Crucible; Eye for An Eye. Playwright: The Garden; The Night Watcher; In Real Life; Neat; Pretty Fire; Flight; Phenom.