Okay, here’s what happened. I’d been offered a commission from a prestigious theatre company in Chicago for a play that I really wanted to write. I had already mapped out most of it in my head and knew what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. And this particular company was enthusiastic about my proposed script. Then the contract arrived. It was substandard in several ways, but where it truly came up short was subsidiary rights. They wanted a lot of my earnings for a long time, even if they only produced my play in their studio space. This was 25 years ago. I was still green, but not that green. My play Earth and Sky had just been produced off-Broadway and I knew what was reasonable to ask for in terms of future revenue. So, I went back to these people and suggested the same numbers I’d agreed to for a show that got me a film deal, a TV deal and a major award. And they wouldn’t budge. Not an inch. So, I had to decline the commission, though it pained me to do so.
A few weeks went by and I got a phone call from Andrew Farber, who was then Executive Director of the Dramatists Guild. He had somehow heard about the fact that I’d walked away from this offer and asked me to tell him my side of the story. I did and when I got done, he said, “You need to join the Guild.”
Now I had heard about the Guild previously and had been invited to a meet and greet they put together in Chicago shortly after I’d moved to this city to carve out a life in the theatre. I was impressed by their presentation but couldn’t figure out my connection to what seemed like a rather elite club in Manhattan. And then for three summers at the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, I’d poured over back issues of The Dramatists Guild Quarterly when I should have been rewriting my various scripts.
I took Andrew’s advice and joined and have never looked back. Being a part of the Guild gives me the opportunity to belong to something bigger than myself that serves the interests of all dramatists, whether or not they are members of the DG. And I still have a copy of that unsigned contract to remind myself why it is sometimes important to reserve the right to say, “No.”