The Young Dramatists Issue 1
Welcome to the Young Dramatists 2023 Edition
Multicolored graphic letters spelling the word WELCOME

Define “young” however you wish. Whether by age, experience as a professional writer, or even a novice to the business. Whatever your relationship to the word, ignore it. The term you should pour all your attention into is that of dramatist—one who writes for the theatre.

What a fabulous and insane choice you’ve made—to use words and music as pathways to experience for the benefit of collective transformation. Theatre as a form of expression is a singular experience. There is nothing like it. It is a holy and special place where we gather and dream together, and you, the playwright, composer, lyricist, or librettist, are its very foundation. Everyone in the theatre builds upon your labor. Without it, there is no industry, but becoming a professional dramatist is a serious act. How does one go about it?

First, it is vital that every dramatist understand their profession. But what does it indeed mean to become a professional playwright, composer, lyricist, or librettist? The word professional has three meanings: to be a part of a profession, one’s main occupation for income rather than a hobby, and lastly, one skilled or competent in a particular activity.

Many perceive the second definition as the primary catalyst to genuinely owning the word professional, but I believe this is incorrect. As a dramatist, one can (and should) make income from various sources—teaching, writing in different mediums, licensing, or another occupation altogether—none of which diminishes your competency or status as a dramatist. Some writers work more, some less; you’re still a writer.

I offer a fourth definition of my own: a professional is one who becomes competent in a skill by studying a craft, the business of how to sell and manage the byproduct of such craft, and engages in the practice of building a career of it.

You become a professional the instant you understand how to create the conditions to negotiate the best deal possible for yourself, resulting in remuneration and a production that deems your intellectual property viable in the market.

Second, you must take yourself seriously. If you do not, then why should anyone else? In the effort to be seen, we often say “yes” too fast, agreeing to terms or conditions that hurt us and all the writers who come after. Be not afraid. When someone is interested in producing your work, it is not a favor or act of kindness. It is a business deal where all parties should benefit—and not solely at your expense.

Sometimes it feels as if nothing is expected from you in the industry but a script, score, and the word yes. And sometimes, yes is the answer. But you need to ensure yes is YOUR answer. Not an answer forced or guilted upon you but one you can fully own in strategizing how to navigate any particular negotiation or collaboration. You can only partake in these actions if you treat yourself as vital to the experience of creating theatre, not a guest in it.

This first-ever Young Dramatists edition is meant to serve as a gift to all those who delight in dreams of being a writer for the theatre. Do not dream—do it. The musings, advice, and inspiration shared throughout this guide are meant to provide you with a path. You are about to walk a road cleared for you by the advocacy of every dramatist that came before. You are not alone.

Treat people well (yourself, above all). Be not afraid. Ask questions. Be curious. Learn definitions. Have courage in your negotiations. Join the Dramatists Guild. Get comfortable with contracts. Learn to say no. Take joy in saying yes. Take your time. Never sign anything at the behest of others (and contact us first). Use Guild services (especially our unsigned contract review and business advice services). Redefine what success means to you. Sign collaboration agreements (even with your friends). Ask for what you need. Know thyself.

And whatever your age, take yourself seriously, advocate for yourself, and advocate for each other. Always.

Emmanuel Wilson
Emmanuel Wilson

, a playwright, is the Executive Director of Creative Affairs and Membership at the Dramatists Guild. He manages member service and programming for America’s professional playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists. Emmanuel also oversees the Guild’s industry outreach, strategy, and communications. He is the proud parent of Faith and Imani Wilson. #PayWriters