I read one of these once that said, “I joined the Guild because Marsha Norman told me to” and that’s pretty much the case with me as well, so…end of story.
No, but really though, what drew me to the Guild and continues to do so is that I needed a gang. I remember attending a “Join the Guild” event at New Dramatists early in my career, and a panel of absolute knock-out luminary playwrights gave us the rundown on all the Guild’s services: contract review, career advice, a venue for play readings. And I thought to myself, “Huh, I don’t need that.” This was, admittedly, the product of young arrogance; I thought I was put-together enough not to need to join a formal body for playwrights. That, and I also didn’t have any upcoming productions, so I definitely didn’t need any contracts reviewed.
But the further I got into my career, the more I started to notice inequities and political factors that were influencing everyone’s careers—these issues of equity and theatre policy affecting all playwrights. Things like the complete lack of gender parity for play productions. Or, a disparity in opportunities for BIPOC writers. Or, major theatres taking an exorbitant percentage of writers’ earnings through arduous subrights clauses. Or, collaborators wanting to contractually participate in writers’ future royalty earnings without having to do any…um, what’s the word—writing.
And more often than not Marsha was at the center of a lot of these controversies, raising public awareness and trying to turn the tide, using the Guild as her platform. In essence, you could say she was running a gang.
This coincided with a budding political consciousness in me—a desire to speak out about industry issues and make sure that being a playwright is a sustainable profession (which, right now, it’s not). But I couldn’t really do that alone. If I ever had the fortune of landing a major off-Broadway production, it’s not like I alone (or even my agent) could turn around and tell the theatre, “Hey, f*ck your 20% subrights clause.” But collectively, playwrights could. Similarly, If I feel a great deal of rage toward theatres’ lopsided demographics in the way they dole out opportunities. It’s not like I alone could gather the data proving those inequities and broadcast it—fearlessly—to the field. But that’s what The Lillys did, led by Marsha and Julia Jordan, in an effort the Guild bankrolled.
So eventually, I joined the Guild, not because of their services, but because we are legion. The Guild says, “Your Pen Our Sword” and I’m gonna hold them to it.