The Young Dramatists Issue 1
Dramatist’s Bill of Rights: Artistic Integrity

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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7. Artistic Integrity

It was to be my big Broadway debut, a staged reading/investor audition of my brand-new musical. The fast track to that moment was surreal: eighteen months from first draft to workshop to opening night in Los Angeles. I’d believed in the show from the beginning, even when my collaborators weren’t so sure, but when one prominent LA critic wrote “Lightning strikes twice for Larry Dean Harris,” and audience members began circling back for seconds, we knew we had something.

Our original producer was also our director. Her money paid for that first New York reading with the big Broadway star. We only had 45 minutes, so I carefully cut the two-hour show down to its essence with most of the time allotted to songs. I used spare exposition to fill in the plot blanks, so the story made sense.

But when I arrived in New York for the first rehearsal, the producer informed me she’d edited her own “director’s cut. The reading was essentially a bunch of songs with a few jokes. Not much story. At all. We didn’t land a single investor. And I never got to hear my version. A mistake I’ll never make again.

Larry Dean Harris
Larry Dean Harris

co-founded the LA-based Playwrights 6 in 1999. His play Stage Moms was selected for the 2016 Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival. He currently produces the Silver Lake and Palm Springs storytelling salon Strong Words and serves on the Guild’s Council.