What Does “Your Pen. Our Sword.” Mean To You? by Christine Toy Johnson & Kevin Duda
In November of 2017, we were so excited to get an offer from a producer of a small theatre in the Midwest to do the world premiere of our play, Diary Of A Domestic Goddess. We had already been given a licensing deal and, in recognition of the world premiere, intended to give a percentage of our future earnings that reflected the industry standard to this producer.
We knew there would be a negotiation process with the producer and decided that, because we would accept “industry standard / minimum,” we didn’t need to involve a lawyer. What we didn’t foresee was this producer countering our offer over standard royalties. As in: they didn’t want to pay them. Nor did they want to give us the right to casting/creative team approval—all of which we told them was standard language in Dramatists Guild agreements. They agreed that we could attend rehearsals, but the director had final say in all things and instead of a guarantee they would give us 2% of the net profits.
In no universe did this sound like a fair or prudent deal for us to take. We were prepared to walk away but felt we should get some advice from the Guild first. Enter Ralph Sevush. We are so grateful to Ralph for giving us his insight on how to counter, and for pointing out how we were protected by another clause that we had included (and that should be in every agreement) that stipulated no changes in the play could be made without our permission. We went back and told the producer that we would agree to the (tiny) fee they offered, but since there would no longer be monies guaranteed to the authors, we would remove the future percentage clause.
Spoiler alert: the producer did not like this compromise one bit. However, instead of countering again, they pulled the plug on the production entirely, telling us that they hadn’t expected to have to pay royalties and without the licensing package, had “lost the passion” to produce our play.
This was heartbreaking on so many levels. But with the Guild’s advice, not only were we able to negotiate in good faith, we were given the back-up of our entire community. Standing up for our rights may have cost us that production, but not the production that we think the play really deserves—nor our dignity.
Learn more about what Your Pen. Our Sword. means HERE.
CHRISTINE TOY JOHNSON is an award-winning writer, actor, and advocate for inclusion. Her writing has been developed/produced at such places as the Roundabout, the Barrow Group, the O’Neill, Village Theater, Crossroads, Weston Playhouse, Prospect Theater, and the Meryl Streep/Iris Writers Lab. Proud member of the DG Council. www.christinetoyjohnson.com
KEVIN DUDA is an original cast member for Beautiful – The Carole King Musical and The Book of Mormon on Broadway. On TV, he can be heard as Timmy on Nickelodeon’s Sunny Day. As a writer & producer, he is developing projects for the theatre, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Hallmark, UniversalKids and more.