Why I Joined the Guild with Jeffrey Sweet
  • Illustration detail of Jeffrey Sweet
    Illustration of Jeffrey Sweet by Dan Romer for The Dramatist.
  • Illustration of Jeffrey Sweet
    Illustration of Jeffrey Sweet by Dan Romer for The Dramatist.

I was seventeen, a freshman at NYU, and new to New York. I saw an off-Broadway musical called Now is the Time for All Good Men in Greenwich Village and happened to be at a performance when the co-author (who was also the female lead) was scheduled to talk to people after the show. After I asked a craft question, she suggested I stick around for a private word. I did. Gretchen Cryer said, “You’re a playwright?” I said I hoped to be. And she said, “You’re going to want to join the Dramatists Guild.”

Initially I wanted to be a member of the Guild just as an index of having, as they say, made my bones. But I got an education in what the Guild was about when I stumbled into a post assisting the late Otis L. Guernsey, Jr. on the predecessor to this magazine, the Dramatists Guild Quarterly. Getting assignments from Otis to cover events was an education in its history and an introduction to the range of its concerns and activities.

I was lucky to be around to share the excitement as the Guild shifted from primarily offering support to Broadway-based writers to embracing those working in regional and off-off-Broadway venues. Since I was doing most of my work in Chicago and with non-profit New York companies, I wanted to be part of addressing issues that arose there. I ran for and was elected to Council.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working on a number of committees and projects. Among my memories are partnering with Gloria Gonzalez to set up the first “meet the directors” meeting, compiling the first directory of regional theater markets (on a manual typewriter yet), and joining with Arthur Kopit to bring to a vote a motion that led to the Guild joining the internet age. (Okay, I’ve been a member more than 40 years.)

Along the way, it was a pleasure to meet so many of the people who had inspired me to attempt this line of work. I arrived when it was still possible to be introduced to Sidney Kingsley, Eubie Blake, Jerome Lawrence, Ruth Goetz, Tennessee Williams, Garson Kanin, Ruth Gordon, Al Carmines, Arthur Miller, Marc Connelly, and Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. Add to this list the extraordinary artists I see at current Council meetings. In meeting after meeting, they advocate for the rights and opportunities of others around the country. Those who sit at the tables once a month in the Mary Rodgers Room likely will never meet most of their far-flung colleagues, but the passion the Council puts into supporting fellow dramatists moves me every time.

And honestly, you’re never the same after Edward Albee passes you a note containing a wry comment. (As if he would make any other kind.)

Jeffrey Sweet
Jeffrey Sweet

is the author of a book on dramatic technique called The Dramatist’s Toolkit and a member of the Dramatists Guild Council. Based in Chicago and New York, his plays include The Value of Names, Flyovers, The Action Against Sol Schumann, and Court-Martial at Fort Devens, and Kunstler. His work has won Jefferson, Audelco, and Outer Critics Circle Awards, and “Best Plays” citation and prizes from the American Theatre Critics Association.