Why I Joined the Guild with Kirsten Childs
  • Portrait of playwright Kirsten Childs by Dan Romer
    Kirsten Childs. Illustration by Dan Romer for The Dramatist.
  • Portrait of playwright Kirsten Childs by Dan Romer
    Kirsten Childs. Illustration by Dan Romer for The Dramatist.

I joined the Dramatists Guild after graduating from the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at New York University. I remember dropping off my application and feeling proud and excited that I was part of a group of writers who included such luminaries as Lorraine Hansberry, Micki Grant, Betty Comden, and Stephen Sondheim. Not long after joining the Guild, I was asked to write a song for a musical revue. I was over the moon upon receiving the contract; someone thought enough of my work to want to hire me! But I had no agent, and my only experience with legal matters was watching daytime small claims court cases. Because I was a member of the Guild, however, I had access to their legal team. Dana Singer was the lawyer to whom I brought my contract. She looked it over and said it wasn’t very good. Actually, she said it was one of the worst contracts she’d ever seen. I don’t know if it was the anguish or the desperation she saw in my eyes, but she did the best thing she could have done for a new writer who was determined to make her way into the business. Dana said – and I’m liberally paraphrasing, because whatever she said back in the day, I remember it being very gentle – she said, “Kirsten, this contract sucks. Bigtime. You’re only going to get chump change for this one production and nothing if it moves. But I’m not going to tell you not to sign it, because I know you’ll do something stupid to get yourself into the game if I do that. So, sign it. But before you send it, please, I beg of you, call the producer and ask them to throw you the bone of at least getting credit for writing your own song.” Sounded reasonable. So, I called the producer and made my request on the voicemail.

Never got a call back.

That taught me two things.  Well, it taught me more than two things, but I’m only going to put down the ones that don’t use bad language. The first thing it taught me is: it’s worth it to stand up for yourself, because if you don’t believe in your worth, who will? The second thing it taught me is the answer to that question:  If you don’t believe in your worth, who will?

The Dramatists Guild.

KIRSTEN CHILDS

wrote The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin (Obie, Kleban), Bella: An American Tall Tale (Frederick Loewe, Kennedy Prize Finalist, Audelco), Fly (with Rajiv Joseph and Bill Sherman), Funked Up Fairy TalesMiracle Brothers (Vineyard Theatre), Edge of Night (Playwrights Horizons Soundstage podcast series), and Family Portraits: Aunt Lillian (Vineyard Theatre).