Full-time playwriting gigs are few and far between. Two Dramatists Guild members who have found a way to make it happen have done so through teaching playwriting in academia. Janet Allard is on faculty at UNC Greensboro and Jacqueline Lawton is on tenure track at UNC Chapel Hill.
The faculty positions take away the worry about paying the bills and still allow for creative scholarship. If a playwright is working at a supportive college or university, other perks can be found in the form of student actors doing workshop productions, participating in devised work development, and/or performing in fully staged productions. This needs to be done with full, official support of the college and the theatre department. It should also fulfill the needs of the students and the required learning outcomes for their respective theatre courses.
Lawton says of her experience that, “In January of 2015, I began teaching theatre at the University of North Carolina. It’s a tenure track position that includes working as dramaturg at PlayMakers Repertory Company. When I announced this news, I was told repeatedly that I had landed the dream job. In those early months however, in the midst of so much upheaval, I found myself asking, ‘Whose dream is this again?’ But three years in, I can honestly say that I’ve shaped this job into something resembling my own dream. The key has been writing grants that support creative research; collaborating with faculty in other departments; and workshopping plays at area universities. So, even though I still have to fight to protect my writing time, I have a job that offers financial stability and for the first time in a long time, I’m not worried about how to make ends meet. If this is indeed a dream, please don’t wake me up!”
Allard helps young playwrights through an annual playwriting contest, the NC Young Playwrights Festival. Serving as a talk back facilitator, Allard grooms playwrights in elementary, middle, and high school. This is in addition to teaching college-level playwrights at UNC-Greensboro. UNC-G theatre students also help with the playwriting contest, serving as actors and mentors to the younger students.
For anyone thinking that this career path might be a viable one for them, there are a few things to know. To meet requirements for accreditation, colleges and universities are required to hire faculty members with a master’s degree in the field in which they are teaching, or a master’s degree in another field with eighteen (18) hours of graduate credit in the field in which they are to teach. While earning a master’s degree is not needed to be a successful professional playwright, it is needed for academia.
The works of both Lawton and Allard have received many awards and productions. Because of their willingness to share their craft with playwriting students, they are able to influence future generations of playwrights thereby exponentially expanding their influence in the world. For those considering this as a career option, these two powerful women are laudable examples.