John Weidman asked me to.
The matter came up when I was signing a contract for my first Broadway-bound musical High Fidelity. Suddenly my collaborators and I had to make a choice: were we going to be DG members or not? I didn’t see the advantage. The DG hadn’t helped me along the way in the years it took to get to this first big break, so why should I join now when I would be asked to pay an assessment on money I earned if/when this show went to Broadway? I’d just borrowed money from my new agent to buy holiday gifts for my family. True, the Guild had fought for the terms of the contract I was signing – but that was long ago.
Still, I somehow felt I had to. My late father Adolph Green had been a Council Member for years, one of my collaborators was already a DG member, and did I mention John Fucking Weidman—Assassins! Pacific Overtures!—called himself and asked me to join? So I did.
By the time the musical I co-wrote, Hands On A Hardbody, closed on Broadway, I still wasn’t sure why. I reluctantly paid assessments to the Guild on a show that took seven years to get from the page to the stage (not a remarkable length of time) and ending up losing me money. It was my second show on Broadway that season. For a few months there, my career was on fire – but after both shows closed in that same season, I was ice cold. I couldn’t get hired for or come up with a project idea to save my life. My agent stopped taking my calls. Then the DG reached out to let me know that my co-composer Trey Anastasio and I were the recipients of that year’s Frederick Loewe Award for Outstanding Composition. They reached out again and asked me to run for Council.
At a time when I wondered if my career was over and doubted I had anything to offer (aka for most writers, any given Tuesday), I felt the DG reaching out to say, “We see you. Your work has value. Your experiences can help other writers.”
Winning awards isn’t everything—thank God—but the recognition of my peers, nay, many of my sheroes and heros whose talent and voices I revere, eased the sting greatly. I ran for Council and took my seat at the table, pinching myself to be part of this incredible community.
I was privileged to collaborate with DG President Doug Wright on Hands On A Hardbody. Unusually good tempered, gentle, and diplomatic, I have only seen him fearsome on two occasions: one was when a potential vocal arranger for our show casually informed us that they considered themselves a collaborator and thus would be asking for a piece of the writer’s share. Doug responded with a bracing and righteous reading of the riot act that was a wonder to behold. That vocal arranger was on the next bus out.
The second time was at a misbegotten regional premiere of Hands On A Hardbody. At the theatre’s invitation, my husband and I went to opening night. From the opening number through the end of the Act One, I was increasingly dismayed to see songs chopped up, re-arranged, re-assigned to different characters, incidental music cut and new music added, lines excised or delivered by other characters, etc. At intermission I walked numbly outside and called Doug. By the time the curtain thankfully came down, Ralph Sevush and John Weidman had joined him and were crafting a letter to the offending theatre. (Incredibly, the director cornered me after the production to defend his unauthorized changes. “You have to admit, it works better!” I didn’t.) Unfortunately, the changes he made were too great and numerous to rectify, and we ended up having to shutter the production. The Guild was there every step of the way.
That righteous belief in the importance of the writer’s work is the essence of the Dramatists Guild. Our words, our lyrics, our music, our voices matter. Theatre writers give up so much for the privilege of having ownership and authority over our work. And those rights are worth preserving and fighting for.
It was at that time that I truly understood why I joined the Guild: to honor the strides made by the writers who came before me, protect our fellow writers today and in the future, and protect this difficult, maddening, rewarding, essential craft we love.
Recently, Emmanuel Wilson, current Interim Director of Creative Affairs, put it succinctly: the DG exists to end the exploitation of the writer in American theatre. I want to be part of that.
And John Fucking Weidman!