The Young Dramatists Issue 1
Dramatist’s Bill of Rights: Approval of Production Elements

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.

To protect their unique vision, which has always been the strength of the theatre, dramatists need to understand this fundamental principle: you own and control your work. To ensure this ownership and control, the Guild recommends that any production involving a dramatist incorporate a written agreement in which both the producer and the writer acknowledge certain key industry standards. Collectively, we call these ten basic points the Dramatist’s Bill of Rights.

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8. Approval of Production Elements

It was the early 1970s and I had not joined the Guild, and so I had no idea about my rights as a dramatist. I had just had a show open off-Broadway to excellent reviews and then had gotten news that there would be a production from another producer in Chicago. I thought, “How nice,” not knowing that I had the right to approve (or disapprove) of the creative elements. They were out there on their own in Chicago and I was simply going to attend opening night. So, I went to opening night and there before me was a show that was utterly unrecognizable. My witty musical comedy had turned into a deeply ponderous tragedy with moody lighting, lethargic tempi, and various interpolated sequences of lugubrious modern dance. Not a laugh all night. I was horrified and, needless to say, the reviews reflected my horror.

But I had learned my lesson: if there is any production of your piece that you care about—first class or licensed—be sure to exercise your right to approve the creative elements.

Gretchen Cryer 
Gretchen Cryer 

is best known for writing and starring in I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking it on the Road. She has written eight other musicals with composer Nancy Ford which have won the Obie, the Outer Circle Critics Award, and the Drama Desk Award. Gretchen is also a recipient of the Ed Kleban Award. She was inducted into the Off-Broadway Hall of Fame in 2020 as a Legend of Off-Broadway, is President Emeritus of the Dramatists Guild Foundation, and serves on the Dramatists Guild Council.