Why I Joined the Guild By Robert Lopez
I joined the Dramatists Guild in 1997, straight out of college. Why? Because honestly, I knew absolutely nothing about the business I wanted desperately to break into. I had lots of questions. How do I get my work seen? How do I meet producers? Directors? Collaborators? How do I avoid getting taken for a ride? And, not that it’s important to me, but does getting paid ever enter into all this?
I had questions and the Dramatists Guild had answers. On my very first musical, a NY Fringe Festival show, my collaborator and I realized we needed some kind of contract drawn up, but neither of us had agents or lawyers. I called up the Guild, and they explained what we were looking for was called a “collaboration agreement” and they sent me a standard form that afternoon.
I went to countless panels at the Guild. Those I couldn’t attend in person I read transcripts of in The Dramatist magazine, which I read religiously. Having access to that accumulated wisdom was helpful in that it gave me all kinds of hints, ideas, tips, and anecdotes—but also because I knew the door was always open. I didn’t have to worry that somewhere, important info was being communicated to young writers and I was missing it.
Also—and I might not have admitted this at the time—I wanted to feel a part of something. Writing can be lonely and scary. But having a card in my wallet that said, “Dramatists Guild member” made me feel good. Like if someone pointed a finger at me and said, “loser,” I could pull out my card and say, “dramatist.” So many writers I admired belonged to the Guild—both fellow unknowns, as well as all the famous ones I aspired to be like—and now I had a card to prove I was among them.
When I was lucky enough to have shows on Broadway, I realized that writers occupy a real place of power at the bargaining table. The APC confers true control, preserves ownership, and guarantees a fair and sizable slice of the profit onto writers, something unheard of in Hollywood. This sort of power is not the kind I would have been able to negotiate for myself. I am not by most accounts a terrifying or commanding presence. None of us could have negotiated such favorable terms on our own. It’s when we come together to join forces that good things like the APC are achieved.
The Dramatists Guild is one of those places it’s easy to take for granted. It’s always been there, doing its thing, looking out for us.
But being on the Dramatists Guild Council in recent years has made it abundantly clear to me that the Guild is not something we can take for granted. In fact, in 2017 so many our beloved cultural institutions feel like they are vulnerable. I continue to serve on Council and to pay dues to the Guild because I benefitted from the services they provide—and because I want others to have the same experience I did.
I joined the Guild for what it could do for me. I stay in the Guild for what it can do for us.
ROBERT LOPEZ is an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winning songwriter. Works include Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon, Disney’s Frozen, and Pixar’s Coco. He and his wife/collaborator Kristen Anderson-Lopez both serve on the Dramatists Guild Council and live in Brooklyn with their two daughters.
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