The Young Dramatists Issue 1
Dramatist’s Bill of Rights: Ownership of Incidental Contributions

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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2. Ownership of Incidental Contributions

One of the reasons I’m in love with theatre is that it’s so intensely collaborative. In rehearsal, particularly when I direct my own work, my policy is: the best idea wins, and there are no bad ideas. That best idea can come from anyone in the room—actors, director, designers, stage manager, running crew. Early in rehearsals I want everyone to freely explore the script without worrying that they’ll be wrong, or judged, or unsupported. It’s that playfulness that allows the most exciting work to happen, and even though I wrote the play, I’m always surprised by what gets discovered in the room.

I can encourage that freedom because I know that the script is ultimately mine. As much as other artists bring to the work, they are still interpreters of the work. If those artists had future rights to the script, financially or authorially, I couldn’t welcome that contribution. I would have to say, day one of rehearsal, “We must do the play exactly as I wrote it, so there’s no confusion down the line.” What a terrible loss that would be, for everyone involved. Artists, audiences, the development of the play—all profit from the author’s rights to incidental contributions.

Deborah Zoe Laufer
Deborah Zoe Laufer

’s plays have been produced at Steppenwolf, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Cleveland Playhouse, The Humana Festival, Everyman, Primary Stages, EST, and hundreds of other theatres around the world. She is a graduate of Juilliard, an alumna of the BMI Advanced Musical Theatre Workshop, and a DG Council member.