I heard about the Guild when Lynn Ahrens came to speak to my first-year class at the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Writing Workshop (side note: we really need a better acronym for this workshop. B-MILE? LE-WOW?). Anyway, it was 1999 and I had just made a life-changing discovery: If I wrote something down that made a little sense, possibly rhymed, and was set to music, I could call myself a lyricist. And I was madly, passionately caught up in the first blush of love—with the workshop, with my collaborators, with the first-year assignments and, most importantly, with the newfound rush of writing something—anything!—and having it (maybe?) land with an audience. People could sing what I wrote, and other people might laugh? Oh, brave new world that had such possibilities in’t!
So imagine my surprise when Lynn Ahrens, writer-chick-hero-extraordinaire, started listing some issues that we first-years would face downstream. I had never heard the term subsidiary rights, but it seemed odd that I might have to give them away to a potential collaborator before we’d had a single rehearsal. I had never really considered what I would do if an actor purposely decided to stray from the script or lyrics I had written, or if a director did not like a change I wrote in previews. And I had never ONCE considered the stresses of negotiating with powerful corporations over ownership of and compensation for these songs I’d begun to write that felt like extensions of myself. Good Lord, I hated conflict—that’s why I’d spent most of my life singing! But there was Lynn, the genius who birthed “Interplanet Janet,” telling me that if I planned to follow this path, I would face every one of these issues. Well, F*#k. But then she said that we, as writers, had some leverage in these matters if we became members of the Dramatists Guild.
So, I did what Lynn told me to do. I joined. Now, thanks to the Guild, I’m given rights and respect as a writer for which I never had to fight. I know I’m always welcome in the rehearsal room. I know the words I put on paper are the words that will be performed. I have an army of geniuses past, present, and future that invisibly stand beside me through tough negotiations with powerful producers. And as a member of the Guild, I know if an issue should come up, the Guild would have my back. So, creating drama can stay as drama-free as possible. And that allows me to hold onto the young, delicate love I first discovered in 1999: the joy of writing something and having it (maybe?) land with an audience.