A cup of coffee in the morning, perhaps a glass of wine or a cold sparkling water after 6 pm; as writers these are the bare necessities, the tools to practice our craft. As we all know, writing is a solitary act, an emotional labyrinth through which we travel alone to find a new way of telling some truth or decoding the world around us. But, as I learned, through trial and many errors, this path can be hard without fellow travelers.
Many years ago, as a youngish writer I received that all important call, a major theatre in New York City was interested in producing one of my plays. Of course, it was a golden opportunity, and as such it was all too easy to say yes to an open door without considering the pitfalls of what lie beyond. In my haste to get my work onto the stage, I cavalierly signed a contract without understanding the depth of the hole that I was digging for myself. It was only after the production was a huge success, that I realized that I had signed away just about all of my rights to the play. Naïve, clinging to the optimism that’s essential to forging a life as an artist, I just assumed that I would reap the benefits of writing a popular piece of theatre that was crisscrossing the nation. However, reality was a sucker punch. I had written a play that became the most-produced play in America, the brass ring, and yet I could not surrender my multiple jobs because there would be little remuneration for my years of research and toiling by myself at a computer terminal.
Thankfully, there was an intervention. I was approached to join the Dramatists Guild, which, believe me, I should have done much sooner. The Guild staff took the time to carefully review my contract and discovered that, like many other playwrights, I was being exploited. I had a predatory contract, and not enough experience or knowledge to understand the creative ways in which I was being taken advantage of by my theatre colleagues.
Upon joining the Guild and becoming a member of the Council, I found a collective of artists with a shared goal, which was to create a space where writers feel protected, heard, and empowered. With the Guild’s guidance, and the fellowship of my colleagues, I was able to face down the powerful theatre and demand that I be released from this chokehold of an unfair contract. They emboldened me to stand up for my work and myself as a writer, and to fold advocacy into my theater practice.
Now, the first thing I tell my students is to join the Dramatists Guild, because in this quixotic industry we all need an ally, a champion, and a community.