The Young Dramatists Issue 1
Dramatist’s Bill of Rights: The Right to Be Present

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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9. The Right to Be Present

You always have the right to attend casting, rehearsals, previews, and performances.

At residencies, artists of other disciplines always seem awed to know I attend auditions and rehearsals. Their surprise likely comes from stereotyped notions of the film industry and its dispensable screenwriter. Otherwise, why would it be shocking that the playwright is an active participant in the decision-making process regarding her own play?

Once, in opposition to the director’s wishes, I and the other writers of a short play project insisted we attend a rehearsal. I found my words unchanged, but a radical stage direction had been added that completely subverted my intentions. I suppressed my screams and calmly corrected the situation.

That I could insist on attending (and correcting) is a right I generally take for granted. If not for the standards established and defended by the Dramatists Guild over the past century, we’d all be the cliché my residency mates presumed.

My favorite directors don’t require my insistence. They want me at auditions and rehearsals—sometimes every rehearsal, perhaps more than I bargained for. But I oblige, grateful for the entreaty from a collaborator who is respectful of my right to attend and aware of everyone’s privilege to be in the presence of the originator-artist whose labor is the reason we are all here.

Kia Corthron
Kia Corthron

’s Tempestuous Elements will premiere at Arena Stage in 2023-24. She was awarded the Dramatists Guild’s 2021 Horton Forte Award and 2020 Flora Roberts Award. Her second novel, Moon and the Mars, was released in 2021.