dramatist guild of america

New Year, New Goals, New Shows

2016 has come to a close and 2017 has begun. In the past I’ve talked about how I’ve wanted to spend the new year blogging more, writing more, producing more content. I think I write a variation of this blog every year. this year, the goals are the same; blog more, write more, create more content.

Lets look at what I’ve written in the past year though. I adapted my play  #JohnDoe from podcast format to stage format and had it performed by my local theater, Hays Community Theater, in late April/early May. You can watch these (not very well recorded but still) performances on my YouTube page.

In late May/early June I worked on three new short plays; The Suicide Club (based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson), A Knack For Living (a play set in the old west), and Moonlight (based on The Moonlight Road by Ambrose Bierce). At least two of these will be performed in the upcoming season of Sherri’s Playhouse, heard on the podcast Chatting With Sherri (the same podcast where Murder At Home and #JohnDoe premiered). In addition, I wrote some new 10-minute plays including Thoughts And Prayers in response to the Orlando shooting in June, which was performed in Kalamazoo, MI.

In December, I started work directing a new play for Sherri’s Playhouse as well, Sherlock Holmes and the Terror By Night Train. I came up with the story, my writing partner wrote the script, and I added in additional material. I’m really proud of this cast and can’t wait to share this story with you. It’s coming January 29th.

What does 2017 hold for me? I’m hoping to get Warning Shots, my monologue for young female actor, into the hands of some students for forensic competitions this year. I’d also like to get Superstar, a 10-minute two-hander, into some students hands as well. Both of these are available here on my website, along with some other free scripts. I’m working on an adaptation of the medieval poem The Owl And The Nightingale,  that I think would make for an interesting contemporary political themed piece.

Other goals include getting #JohnDoe into other theaters, seeing more productions of Tom Sawyer and Allie in Wonderland, getting a production of my adaptation of A Christmas Carol and continue writing about the arts and arts advocacy as needed.

So here is to more blogging, more writing, more content creation in 2017 (it probably won’t happen by the way 😉 )

Playwright Advice

This morning I woke up to the sun shining through my window, my cat, Puck, sitting at the foot of my bed, giving me the most puckish smile you can imagine and my phone buzzing. I sleep with my phone near me. It serves as my alarm clock and is a lot easier to ignore when I don’t want to get up. It cuckoos instead of BUZZESSSS if you get my drift.

I open up my phone and scroll down through the notifications I got in the night. Weather updates, a paycheck deposited in my banking account, some new emails. As I always do, I opened up my emails and began filing through them when one caught my eye. A friend of mine, a fellow writer and playwright, had emailed me. Not unusual (in fact I hope to be working with him on some things soon) but always exciting. I open it up and see that a play he had written, and based on a true event, had received some extremely positive feedback from the family of those the play was about. In fact they expressed an interest in producing the play in their town as part of an upcoming summer celebration. Exciting news! But he also wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. The play (or rather musical) he had written had been for his school and he hadn’t been through any kind of submission or publication process and he wanted to know “what do I do?”

This is not the first time I’ve gotten this kind of question, either through Facebok, Twitter, or my email. “I’ve written a play, what do I do?” And if I’m getting these questions, what about the big name playwrights? So I’m going to write today about what to do once you’ve written a play and have a producer interested in producing it. And if you know me, you  may see some things that I advise about but don’t personally do. This is a case of “do what I say, not what I do.” Bad attitude, but when I bend one of these “rules” or suggestions, it’s because I have a good reason.

The most important thing you should know, after your play is written, what your rights as a writer are. The Dramatists Guild of America has a very well reasoned, and thought out “Playwrights Bill of Rights.” to me these aren’t hard rules that you have to follow, but what is your right as a playwright. If you choose to ignore them, the drama police aren’t going to come knocking on your door, but you may be shooting yourself in the foot.

No one (e.g., directors, actors, dramaturgs) can make changes, alterations, and/or omissions to your script – including the text, title, and stage directions – without your consent. This is called “script approval.”
You have the right to approve the cast, director, and designers (and, for a musical, the choreographer, orchestrator, arranger, and musical director, as well), including their replacements. This is called “artistic approval.”
You always have the right to attend casting, rehearsals, previews and performances.
You are generally entitled to receive a royalty. While it is possible that the amount an author receives may be minimal for a small- to medium-sized production, some compensation should always be paid if any other artistic collaborator in the production is being paid, or if any admission is being charged. If you are a member of the Guild, you can always call our business office to discuss the standard industry royalties for various levels of production.
You should receive billing (typographical credit) on all publicity, programs, and advertising distributed or authorized by the theatre. Billing is part of your compensation and the failure to provide it properly is a breach of your rights.
You own the copyright of your dramatic work. Authors in the theatre business do not assign (i.e., give away or sell in entirety) their copyrights, nor do they ever engage in “work-for-hire.” When a university, producer or theatre wants to mount a production of your play, you actually license (or lease) the public performance rights to your dramatic property to that entity for a finite period of time.
You own all approved revisions, suggestions, and contributions to the script made by other collaborators in the production, including actors, directors, and dramaturgs. You do not owe anyone any money for these contributions. If a theatre uses dramaturgs, you are not obligated to make use of any ideas the dramaturg might have. Even when the input of a dramaturg or director is helpful to the playwright, dramaturgs and directors are still employees of the theatre, not the author, and they are paid for their work by the theatre/producer. It has been well-established in case law, beginning with “the Rent Case” (Thompson v. Larson) that neither dramaturgs nor directors (nor any other contributors) may be considered a co-author of a play, unless (i) they’ve collaborated with you from the play’s inception, (ii) they’ve made a copyrightable contribution to the play, and (iii) you have agreed in writing that they are a co-author.
After the small or medium-sized production, you not only own your script, but also the rights to market and sell it to all different media (e.g., television, radio, film, internet) in any commercial market in the world. You are not obligated to sign over any portion of your project’s future revenues to any third party (fellow artist, advisor, director, producer) as a result of a production, unless that production is a professional (i.e., Actor’s Equity) premiere production (including sets, costumes and lighting), of no less than 21 consecutive paid public performances for which the author has received appropriate billing, compensation, and artistic approvals.
Rather than granting the theatre the right to share in future proceeds, you may choose to grant a non-exclusive option to present another production of your work within six months or one year of the close of the initial production. No option should be assignable without your prior written consent.
The only way to ensure that you get the benefit of the rights listed above is through a written contract with the producer, no matter how large or small the entity. The Guild’s Department of Business Affairs offers a model “production contract” and is available to review any contracts offered to you, and advise as to how those contracts compare to industry standards.
Now some of these are regarding professional theater (like casting approval) and like I said, none of these are “set in stone” that you HAVE to do, just what you’re entitled to and are designed to protect you. However I think that the MOST important ones are “getting a contract”, “ownership of Incidental contributions”, and “ownership of intellectual property”.
The goal of every playwright should be to be produced (publication is a secondary concern) and these are designed to protect you as a playwright. Follow them or ignore them at your own risk.