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January 4th, 2016 donnahoke


There is no submission fee. Likewise, there is no pay or no prize money.


Have you seen this, this new disclaimer on play submission opportunities? Stated boldly as though there is actually some sort of correlation between not charging a fee and not paying royalties? As if this is so logical that if we see these two things linked in a sentence by the word “likewise” (I’m pretty sure I’ve also seen “therefore”), we’ll surely understand that if we’re not paying, well, hell, how can we possibly expect them to pay?


Except the “logic” in that suggests an erroneous conclusion that submission fees are the only way that playwrights can expect to get paid. I really hope nobody believes this. Even if you send a play, don’t believe it for one second.


Consider this employment ad:

Looking for a hard-working, reliable person. New home construction, additions, garages, decks, and remodeling. Contact Derek at 555-123-4567. There is no fee to call Derek; likewise, there is no salary.

Image result for work for free images


Now, I know most of us don’t consider playwriting a job, per se, but isn’t that because it’s nearly impossible to earn decent money from it? It more likely could be a job if we were getting paid for it more often, but, more than that, what galls me about this new language is the disingenuousness of it, the attempt to make it seem like we’re in this together.


But when we see these words, it assuredly means we are not in this together. Worse, the offending theaters really don’t want to be. There are people getting paid in this festival; it’s just not the playwrights. And why? Because the theater doesn’t have to. Because this has become the norm. Because they subscribe to this crazy logic and think we do, too. And I’ll say something else that might be controversial: it feels a lot less abusive to me to pay a fee to an opportunity that is using the money to help fund the winners’ travel, development, etc. than to pay no fee to one that pays everyone except the playwright. No fee does not equal awesome opp.


Today, Greg Waters posted on the Official Playwrights of Facebook: Theaters. Create a utility bill for writers. Budget $50 for it every month. If you start to think of us like lights and water, you can afford a royalty or a contest prize annually. You simply don’t want to. Stop apologizing and just do it.


What a message to spread! Maybe Greg read the same call for plays, one of an increasing number now offering the no fee/no royalty “apology.” Full disclosure: Because the opp that triggered this post accepts produced plays, I did submit, but I have implemented a decision to no longer submit unproduced plays to ten-minute festivals unless the festival meets one of the criteria listed in this blog post. I see more and more discerning decisions coming, especially now that the Dramatists Guild has released its Best Practices Guidelines for Festivals. With these guidelines, I encourage everybody to use them as personal guidelines for where to submit, and also send them, along with polite letters, to theaters that don’t comply. There is strength in numbers, and we are going to need numbers for this revolution.


Not every festival that isn’t best is unacceptable, but, increasingly, I find that many are.  If there is anything I’ve learned this past year, it’s that there is no shortage of people/theaters willing to take advantage of playwrights. I’ve only been a playwright for eight years; I’ve been learning as I go, too. And what I see is that it’s getting worse, not better, thus the need for the guidelines in the first place.


Here’s the silver lining: there is something heartening about the rise of this apologist language, even it’s proffering an explanation that simply isn’t true. The very existence of an apology, the theaters’ need to express one, means that they’re hearing the rumblings, they’ve become aware that this is something that needs to be addressed, that their behavior is something they need to make an excuse for. The problem is their excuse makes no sense, which means we need to keep on them until they begin to address the no royalties issue in a different way.


I recently had a play produced at a very tiny theater, where I was told, when I inquired about royalties, “we’ve never paid local playwrights royalties.” Never. I said surely they could afford seven percent of the box office and, when asked, the board agreed. It’s now an ongoing policy at that theater to pay playwrights seven percent of the box. NOBODY EVER ASKED.


I got accepted to two ten-minute festivals recently, and for both, I asked how much the royalty was. They asked how much it should be, and they paid it. Another person contacted me about adding my play to their set list when the visited several facilities; I said that if were being used regularly, I would need to be compensated and she said she completely understood. People will always take what they can get for free; that doesn’t mean they don’t think it has value. It doesn’t hurt to ask. We need to ask more. Make it your new year’s resolution to reevaluate your personal submission policies—and to start asking.



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Playwrights, remember to explore the Real Inspiration For Playwrights Project, a 52-post series of wonderful advice from Literary Managers and Artistic Directors on getting your plays produced. Click RIPP at the upper right.

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  1. 1 Michael Wilmot said at 10:56 am on January 4th, 2016:

    It boggles my mind that some theatres try to argue against paying royalties. I can understand them trying to avoid royalties by simply ignoring the requirement to pay.. I don’t agree with it, but I do understand that everyone will try to get something for nothing. What I can’t understand though is arguing against something they are legally required to do! Maybe I’ll just walk into one of their shows claiming I don’t have any money, therefore why should I be required to buy a ticket.

  2. 2 Michael Wilmot said at 11:02 am on January 4th, 2016:

    Oh.. and one more thing!! I once had a play accepted at a small east coast amateur theatre. When I quoted the community theatre royalty rate I was in formed that they made very little money and all the playwrights they work with “contribute their scripts for a full production”. They went on to say “…in this area most playwrights pay theatres to produce their scripts.”

    The mind boggles.

  3. 3 donnahoke said at 11:06 am on January 4th, 2016:

    Whaaat?? Where is that? What do they mean?

  4. 4 Don Goodrum said at 12:09 pm on January 5th, 2016:

    I agree with you completely, Donna. The fact that theatres are becoming so strident in their insistence that charging no fee gives them the right to offer no pay for our work is definitely an indicator that they have heard our complaints and know that we have a point that they don’t want to acknowledge. I had one producer explain to me that it was more important to pay actors and directors since they were there every day and were vital to the over-all production, whereas the playwright was “out of sight-out of mind” for most theatres, having already finished our work long before the theatre got it’s greedy hands on it. This idea that a production is payment enough; that we should be so grateful for their willingness to produce our play and risk their reputation on it’s success, is ludicrous and would not be accepted by any other industry, so why do we? Do galleries tell artists that they won’t charge them to exhibit their work, therefore they shouldn’t expect to be paid if the gallery sells any of said work? Nope. Do concert halls offer musicians a place to play and then try to convince them that the opportunity to perform was the payment for the performance? Uh-uh. I know that the DG is moving more and more into a collective bargaining position on our behalf, not so much in terms of the actual negotiations, but in terms of setting forth concrete rules for those negotiations, but I’d hate to think we’re going to have to unionize to get fair treatment.

    For myself, since my schedule is so busy between two full-time jobs and trying to write for me to have ample time to both write and submit to the same extent the rest of you do, I push the publication route for my YA plays and one acts and save the submitting for the adult full-length plays that need productions to be published. I realize a lot of you feel like this is limiting, but at least I know that when I do get a production, I also know that I am going to be paid for it.

    It works for me.

    Happy New Year to you all…

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