Young Dramatists


"A life in the theatre is about the daily dedication to your craft, of being open to new ways of working and thinking, and to new ideas. It is the daily putting of pen to paper, fingers to keys, releasing dreams, conjuring new worlds and surprising yourself, as you (hopefully) will surprise others. Then you repeat it. And repeat again."


- Stephen Flaherty, composer



In the effort to guide and inspire the next generation of theatre writers, the Guild is actively engaging with writers ages twelve to 25 to better prepare them for a life in the theatre. We are therefore thrilled to announce the official launch of our Young Dramatists program. From a new printed magazine aimed at young writers, to teen playwriting classes taught through our very own Institute of Dramatic Writing to working with young playwright and composer programs, as well as high schools, colleges, and universities across the country, we aim to build relationships with young theatre writers everywhere. We hope this webpage will serve as a foundational resource for young playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists for many years to come.

The Young Dramatist Issue: A Guide to Help Aspiring Writers Become Professional Artists


The Young Dramatists Issue (2023 Edition) serves as a primer on the business of writing for the theatre. It is the first and only magazine of its kind, geared towards informing and empowering young theatre writers. No matter your age, you're never too young to view yourself as a professional playwright, composer, lyricist, or librettist.

As DG Co-Executive Director Emmanuel Wilson notes, "a professional is one who becomes competent in a skill by studying a craft, the business of how to sell and manage the byproduct of such craft and engages in the practice of building a career of it." Check out this special issue to discover the significance of The Dramatist’s Bill of Rights, receive encouragement from theatre writers across the country, and more!

Submission Opportunities and Resources for Young Dramatists


#DGuKnow that some of today's most prolific playwrights and songwriters began their writing careers when they were your age? There are plenty of submission opportunities all over the country for middle school, high school, college, and graduate school students. You can submit your work for feedback, attend writing programs, obtain prizes, and receive public presentations of your work. But the process of finding the right submission opportunity can feel overwhelming, especially when you're just starting out. That's where we come in! The Dramatists Guild has compiled a database full of submissions opportunities AND published a full directory of theatres, agents, festivals, contests, workshops, retreats, and other important industry info. It's now easier than ever before for you to send out your work. To expedite your submission strategy, check out our database of deadlines and resources.

Playwriting Workshop for Teens


It's never too early to start honing your craft! The Dramatists Guild Institute offers year-round playwriting courses for teenagers, including our popular workshop with Crystal Skillman. DGI's teen courses help young dramatists learn the tools necessary to become empowered professional theatre writers: Discover different writing techniques and creative methods to help you approach your work. Find out how to give and receive open, empathic feedback with your peers. Take control of your career and start advocating for yourself as a theatre writer. Whether you've written a monologue for yourself, a ten-minute play for a competition, or a full-length play just for fun, the DGI will help you discover your voice as a young writer, so that you are ready to make your mark in our ever-evolving theatre industry.

Notes to a Young Dramatist


Writing can sometimes feel like a solitary task, but you are not alone. You are part of an ongoing continuum of professional theatre writers. The more established writers whom you admire today were once in your shoes. They know what it feels like to be just starting out and they want to share some of their hard-won knowledge with you. The musings, advice, and inspiration offered throughout this guide are meant to provide you with a path. You are about to walk a road cleared for you by the advocacy of every dramatist that came before you.

As a professional theatre writer, you have a built-in community. The Dramatists Guild is here to support you and to remind you that (in the words of our former President, the late great Stephen Sondheim) "No one is alone."

  • Maury Yeston, composer

    I know what is in your head. I was there. Here’s some well-intentioned advice.




    Write. Write it down. And work on it. When I entered my freshman year of college, I told the head of the music department I wanted to be a composer. He said “Write music. Guaranteed, if you do, you’ll be a composer.”

    I don’t mean to be glib, but that’s the everything of it. The art of writing cannot really be taught, but it can be learned by writing. All the interviews you will do later in life when you are successful and famous—about how you write, your process of generating music, the interaction with words—those questions are based on a false premise. You don’t write because you want to, or try to, or make yourself do it. Writing is not something you do. It’s something you are. Musical ideas occur to you in your head. You think in music. It is an involuntary impulse. But, simply put, will you write it down? Work on it? Learn from it? Attach it to words? Give it a dramatic context? Study harmony? Counterpoint? Analysis? History? Learn the craft? Will you be so ambitious, or compulsive (or well-balanced), that you can overcome the personal embarrassment of showing your work to the world? That’s up to you.




    Study. Please. If you only know three chords, you will write three-chord music. Beethoven studied. In his student textbook, he read a section called “How to Write a New Sonata.” It said “Take a sonata. Take the bass, write a new upper part. Take your new upper part, write a new Bass.” Remember where Bebop came from? Brand new genius upper lines superimposed over the chord changes to “How High the Moon.” The past will teach you. Learn from it.

    In addition to harmony, I recommend species counterpoint. Why? Because you are writing music for the voice, to be sung in a theatrical work, and that means melody. And a melody is a sequence of tones perceived as an entity. You don’t perceive the whole until it comes to an end, whereupon you retroactively understand and evaluate what you have already heard coming before. And it all connects in time. All good melodic lines share similar characteristics of well-formedness. They are propulsive, elastic, have a shape, a sense of climax, and a tension that resolves to a feeling of completion at the end. Species counterpoint is a laboratory wherein you can teach yourself, through experience, how to make such lines. So many attempts at melody are really successions of notes that sit on the tops of changing chords that your fingers find (for you piano-writers). But these are not melodies. They are the desire to write melodies. Sing your melodies, independent of accompaniment. The best ones carry within them their own harmonic structure and sense of wholeness and intelligibility. Examples? “Always”, the Beatles’ “Yesterday”, “La Vie En Rose,” “La Ci Darem La Mano,” “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin,” “Happy Birthday,” “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad.” Hum them. You’ll see. Now hum yours. Does it do that?




    Listen. To everything. And everyone. Don’t worry about your personal style. You are already you. Nadia Boulanger is reputed to have advised her students: “Never avoid the obvious.” What is obvious to you may well be non-obvious to the rest of the world. What you hear will influence you, and you will filter it through your personal impulses. Don’t try to be different. In the end, trying to make yourself interesting only makes you less so. And open yourself up to sensing reactions to your work and evaluate accordingly. Your first idea is not necessarily the best one.




    Rewrite. The art of writing is the art of rewriting. All the fruits of your study will come into play when you get down to work. First…write. Get it down. Anything. Then you can get to work and make it better. How? See paragraph two above.





    Learn to set words. Words first. That’s the way it started. The Florentines found out, in the 1590s, that the Ancient Greeks had sung their tragedies, so they applied their fortuitously expressive new Italian musical style to the theatre and created opera. You are doing the same. Learning to set words will help you avoid having to wedge ideas and phrases into a predetermined tune that you are married to. Of course, lightning will sometimes strike, and you will come up with a marvelous, lucky, and dramatically apt melody that a lyricist can adorn with words. But, be open to finding the premise of the song first, and that means words, because you are musicalizing a story. We are singing onstage in a form of impassioned speech because we are too filled with emotion to do otherwise. Frank Loesser, who always wrote lyrics before music, said that songs often happen in musicals where exclamations happen in language. Some songs even begin with an exclamation: “Oh! What a beautiful mornin’!”; “Why can’t you behave?”; “Embrace me…” (you get the idea).




    Develop a musical metaphor. A musical theater song is often underlined with a specific accompaniment figure, or vamp, that will capture the essence and content of the theatrical intention that is meant to be acted—a musical metaphor of the lyric. The theory behind this notion is quite old. Descartes, in 1649, laid the groundwork in a little-known treatise entitled “Les Passions de l’Ame(The Passions of the Soul). Though an idealist, he needed to find a way of connecting the physical world to the immaterial world of ideas, and so he implied an answer to the question: How does music (external physical world) affect our emotions (internal mental states)? In his theory, he suggested that emotions are generated within us by “animal spirits” (esprits animaux) and that, by implication, the specific motion of a musical figure may resonate with these “spirits” to create an equivalent and corresponding Emotion in our souls. Not great science, but that kind of thinking supported an entire era of Baroque musical effect through figuration, from Rameau through Bach and beyond. Modern examples? Schubert’s “Erlkonig”, Sondheim’s opening vamp to Sweeney Todd, my own “Simple” or “Be on Your Own.” The accompaniment provides, in each case, an indelible musical image that defines atmosphere, emotion, and point of view.




    Have patience. Lehman Engel used to say “cream rises to the top.” Good work exerts its own pressure to be heard. Do your work. Make it good. There is always room for it. Believe me, no one has ever complained that there is too much good music in the world. We are all waiting to hear yours.


    Originally Published in the January/February 2005 issue of The Dramatist

  • Aleshea Harris, playwright

    “My advice to you is to find joy in the journey of being a writer. There is no destination. I don’t believe one ever “arrives.” I think that as makers, we continue to use those difficult parts of our lives to soften the road for someone else. It is challenging but if you’ve decided that you are a writer, you understand that it is worth it.” 

  • Deborah Brevoort, playwright/librettist

    “When I started out, I got one success for every 100 things I applied for. Today, twenty years later, my odds are a little higher. I get about four things for every 100 I apply for. Receiving all those rejections is hard. How did I deal with it? I continued to submit. And I wrote the next play. From that I have built a wonderful career. You can too.”

  • James Anthony Tyler, playwright

    “My advice is to simply keep going. Keep writing, keep submitting, keep seeing shows, keep reading plays, keep sup-porting fellow playwrights, keep studying the craft of playwriting, keep studying the business of playwriting, when you fall down, get back up and just keep going!”

  • Christine Toy Johnson, playwright/lyricist

    “Our job is to be open to receiving inspiration and open to expressing it clearly and with authenticity. Our job is not to put other people’s rejection of our work on a pedestal, as if to lift it up higher than our own voices.”

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer/lyricist/librettist

    “Figure out how to make yourself understood. And make sure you're all writing the same show… that process of being in the room and collaborating is key.”

    Duologues: A Conversation with Jeanine Tesori & Lin-Manuel Miranda” from The Dramatist November/December 2007

  • Tom Kitt, composer/lyricist

    “What’s remarkable about Stephen Sondheim’s music is the character at center of the composition. It’s not just music for the sake of music. It’s music to be dramaturgical. It's music to be challenging. It's music to be complex. It’s music to awaken.” – Tom Kitt, composer/lyricist

    Sondheim: The Man, The Mentor, and His Music" at NYPL on October 17, 2022

    "How do you follow in the shadow of genius? How we take these lessons, and make them our own, and express ourselves in a way that will do justice to the example but also carve out our own voice? It’s always a work in progress.”

    Sondheim: The Man, The Mentor, and His Music” at NYPL on October 17, 2022

  • Stephen Sondheim, composer/lyricist
    1. “The main thing [Oscar Hammerstein] taught me was that it’s content that counts. It’s what you say rather than how you say it, and clarity of thought, making the thought clear to the listener.” – Stephen Sondheim, composer/lyricist

    1. “How the lyrics work with the music affects their clarity of expression. When a phrase of music comes to an end the lyric should come to an end, otherwise it sets up a conflict in the listener’s ear. The lyric should match the music with a comma, a semicolon, a period, or just the completion of a phrase.” -Stephen Sondheim, composer/lyricist

    1. “True rhymes are often disdained as unemotional and self-conscious by young writers today, especially pop writers. But I would claim that true rhymes are more effective in the theatre. They make the jokes funnier and the points sharper. They’re also more satisfying to the ear.” -Stephen Sondheim, composer/lyricist

    1. “I find it useful to write backwards, and I think most lyric writers probably do, too, when they have a climax, a twist, a punch, a joke. You start at the bottom of the page; you preserve your best joke to the last; the ideas should be placed in ascending order of punch.” -Stephen Sondheim, composer/lyricist

Do You Know Your Rights as Writer?


Playwrights, composers, lyricists and librettists often struggle professionally in theatres throughout the country, and even on Broadway, due to the wide-ranging demands and expectations imposed on them by their producers (and other collaborators) which are presented as “standard” terms. It is essential, therefore, that dramatists know their rights, which the Dramatists Guild established in 1926 and has defended ever since.  

In order to protect their unique vision, which has always been the strength of the theatre, dramatists need to understand this single fundamental principle: they own and control their work. To ensure this ownership and control, the Guild recommends that any production involving a dramatist incorporate a written agreement in which both the producer and the writer acknowledge certain key industry standards known as The Dramatists Bill of Rights.

Need Help Reviewing a Contract?


The Guild's Department of Business Affairs is committed to educating writers about business and legal standards in the theater industry. The staff lawyers in Business Affairs can review unsigned contracts and advise on a wide range of matters including options, commissions, royalties, copyright, collaboration, trademark, rights of privacy, rights of publicity, defamation, so-called “life-story rights,” and agents. It can also provide guidance, and follow up on complaints regarding theatres, producers, publishers, agents, attorneys, festivals, and contests. Business Affairs also provides constructive comments to government and business leaders on balancing institutional tradition in the face of necessary innovation. Toward this end, the lawyers at the Guild track U.S. and worldwide theater business trends, advise members on immediate business concerns, and draft statements reflecting the Council’s position on issues of national import.

While the Guild’s purpose is to advocate generally for playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists, it does NOT represent individual members. With respect to this limitation, Business Affairs aims to give each individual member the tools necessary for successfully managing the business of being an author. As such, the lawyers in Business Affairs will not contact any non-members on an individual member’s behalf, nor will the lawyers analyze a contract that has already been signed or draft language for any member’s agreement. Start your conversation with Business Affairs today. Business Affairs is working hard for you. If you have an idea for a feature that you’d like to see, please email us. We’d love to hear from you.

Not a Member? Join today and learn how membership in the only trade association for playwrights, composers, lyricists and librettists can serve your career. The Dramatists Guild provides low cost or free memberships to students.

How Does Copyright Work?


"Copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship as soon as an author fixes the work in a tangible form of expression. In copyright law, there are a lot of different types of works, including paintings, photographs, illustrations, musical compositions, sound recordings, computer programs, books, poems, blog posts, movies, architectural works, plays, and so much more." -

Copyright is the law of the land passed by Congress and overseen by the United States Copyright Office. The law exists so writers can profit from their work, enabling them to keep creating new work that will eventually belong to everyone. The Copyright Law thus recognizes that writing is valuable work and contributes to the artistic legacy of our country. Copyright Law makes it illegal to use, without permission, the original work of an author for his/her/their lifetime plus 70 years.

Copyright is to writers what patents are to inventors. Copyright is intellectual property. If you have written it, it is your property exactly as if you built a car; if anybody stole it, you would call the police. If they wanted to borrow it and paint it, they’d have to call you first and ask or else you would call the police when you heard they painted it a bright red. Writing is property created and owned by the author and protected by the author’s copyright.

Let Talk About Money


Discover strategies for how to successfully navigate the financial challenges of being a theatre writer! Guest edited by DG Executive Director of Creative Affairs Emmanuel Wilson, the Money Issue of The Dramatist covers topics from deal memos to per diems and everything in between.

Our Compensation panels with leading industry professionals explore how and when writers get paid throughout different stages of the production process, from commissions to subsidiary markets. CPA Elaine Grogan Luttrull offers financial tips and resources for dramatists, and answers many of the financial questions that come up for theatre writers throughout their careers. And the Guild's own Business Affairs team defines important financial terms that all theatre writers should know, including "advances," "per diem," "option fees," and many more!

It's time for theatre writers to start having open conversations about money, so that you can confidently make the necessary financial decisions to bring your career to the next level. After all, the more you know about the industry standards, from both the creative and business perspectives, the more informed and empowered you'll be when it's time to get to work on your next project.

Read the Money Issue online, free of charge, through Tax Day (April 18, 2023)!

Collaborating as a Student


Collaboration is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a playwright, composer, lyricist, or librettist. Writing can sometimes be a lonely task but when you write a work for the stage, you get to join forces with other creatives to bring your words to life. However, disagreements will inevitably occur when multiple people, with different priorities and perspectives, are invested in telling a story together. If you are co-writing your show with other writers, that adds another element of complexity to the process.

Student writers often have the added challenge of being obliged to share their work in progress, and reveal their collaboration dynamic, to professors who might have the power to grade their work and/or decide whether to champion this team for opportunities in the future. A musical theatre writing team might have an advisor who is more knowledgeable in one medium (book, music, or lyrics) than in the others, even though they are supposed to equally support and guide all members of the writing team.

Nevertheless, there are ways to safeguard your interests and your work throughout your collaboration, so that you can focus on the creative aspects of writing together, instead of on the logistical complications. Whether you are a playwright collaborating with another playwright, a musical theatre songwriter collaborating with a bookwriter, or two students collaborating on a thesis musical together, we encourage you to check out the Dramatists Guild collaboration agreements for plays and for musicals.

No matter where you are in your career trajectory as a professional writer, the Guild can advise you on how to navigate the nuances of your collaboration and provide you with model agreements to help protect you and your work.


Career Training Webinar: How to Collaborate as a Theatre Writer in Grad School or College

Discover what joint authorship entails, how to legally adapt a published work, how to use collaboration agreements, and more! Our career training video is free for all to watch.


Working Together: A Compendium on Non-Authorial Collaboration

The most prominent concern currently confronting playwrights, composers, and lyricists writing for the theater today remains the notion of “non-authorial” collaboration and the burdens that such collaboration may impose on dramatists. By “non-authorial collaborators,” we mean all the folks working on your play whom you do not consider to be your co-author, including actors, producers, designers, directors, and dramaturgs. 

This document is part of a suite of resources designed to help playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists. Visit Business Affairs Resources to learn more. Only active members of the Guild may view, download, or help desk articles. The Dramatists Guild provides low cost or free memberships to students.

Download a Collaboration Agreement for Musicals

Form agreement for collaboration between authors writing a musical. It is in the best interest of parties to enter into a collaboration agreement early in the creative process, to avoid potential difficulties that could arise at a later time.

This document is part of a suite of resources designed to help playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists. Visit Business Affairs Resources to learn more. Only active members of the Guild may view, download, or request sample contracts. The Dramatists Guild provides low cost or free memberships to students.

Download a Collaboration Agreement for Plays

Form agreement for collaboration between authors writing a straight play. It is in the best interest of parties to enter into a collaboration agreement early in the creative process, to avoid potential difficulties that could arise at a later time.

This document is part of a suite of resources designed to help playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists. Visit Business Affairs Resources to learn more. Only active members of the Guild may view, download, or request sample contracts. The Dramatists Guild provides low cost or free memberships to students.

Devised Theatre Contract: Collaboration Agreement Solely Between Writers

This model should be used when all of the participants in the devised process are writers (alternatively, “ensemble members”). The Devised Theater Committee and Business Affairs Department are proud to announce the availability of four contract models designed specifically for devised theater, a Collaboration Agreement Solely Between Writers, a Preliminary Agreement to Participate, a Collaboration Agreement Between Writers and Non-Writers and a Devised Theatre Production Agreement. Accompanying the contract models is an innovative Devised Theater Resource Manual, which includes, among other things, an explanation of legal principles, discussions about craft, and a glossary of terms.

This document is part of a suite of resources designed to help playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists. Visit Business Affairs Resources to learn more. Only active members of the Guild may view, download, or request sample contracts. The Dramatists Guild provides low cost or free memberships to students.

How to Adapt Another Author's Work


Learn about best practices for adapting existing material into a play or musical, in order to avoid infringing on someone else's intellectual property! There's been a lot of talk about copyright infringement in the news lately; the Guild wants to ensure that you are informed, empowered, and set up for success in your own creative work.

DG Executive Director of Business Affairs Ralph Sevush and DG Director of Business Affairs Jessica Lit answered questions at a live DG Career Training Event titled: A Bridgerton Too Far? A Q&A with the DG on Adaptations, Copyright Infringement, and Fair Use. The session covered questions pertaining to copyright infringement, adaption, general intellectual property law, and more.


Affordable or Free Ways to Join The Dramatists Guild


If you are a student currently enrolled in a college, university or certificate program, but also engaged in or exploring writing for the theatre, you should join the Dramatists Guild. You may be currently rehearsing a student production of your work or actively working with collaborators a new script or score. Don’t wait until you have a contract or feel accomplished enough to join. You should join as early as possible in your career. We understand that joining any union or guild is a financial commitment so we devised multiple ways for students of any age to join.


Student Discount for Students Engaged in Any Field of  Study

DG offers a student discount for any one of our member levels. Students receive a 50% discount* on dues for the duration of their education. Active students must meet the requirement for their respective level and provide  proof of enrollment (a transcript or a letter of verification on school letterhead.)

*Note: Any member produced on Broadway pays assessments instead of annual membership dues. Visit our Broadway information page for further details. 

Free Memberships for Students Studying Dramatic Writing, Playwriting, Musical Theatre Writing, or Music Composition

By joining through our First Year In program, you’ll receive membership free of charge* for each year of your degree or certificate program and also the first two years after you graduate. The program is open to any student enrolled in a undergraduate, graduate or certificate program focused on training theatre writers.

*Note: Any member produced on Broadway pays assessments instead of annual membership dues. Visit our Broadway information page for further details. 

Free Membership through Participation in Partner Programs

DG provides no cost memberships through our Community Works Initiative. We partner with organizations that help widen the very definition of what it means to be a dramatist. 

Collaborating with programs such as Concord Theatricals' Off-Off Broadway Festival, #ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence,  Blackboard PlaysHarlem 9National Queer Theater50 Playwrights ProjectVoices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA)The Thespians SocietyNew DramatistsThe 24 Hour PlaysThe Kennedy CenterDGF Fellows, National Queer Theatre and various other organizations we reaffirm our commitment to help every theatre writer in any way that we can.