Building a Sustainable Theater: How to Remove Gatekeepers and Take Control of Your Artistic Career

Chapter 13: Why You Should Consider Having a Playwright

We’re in the realm of “opinion” here, I guess—it’s certainly a suggestion, not a "rule." Nevertheless, I think there is a good argument to be made for having at least one playwright as a member of your company. But the same rules apply to them as to everyone else in the company: playwrights need to do more than “just” write plays; and like anybody else in the company, they need to have purchased a full share. Their primary skill should be writing plays, and the commitment of the company should be to producing everything that they write. No, I don’t mean “give everything they write a staged reading,” or a workshop, or a production if the play is “good”—give every play they write a full production immediately. Period.

British playwright Alan Ayckbourn is a brilliant example of this in action. He served as Artistic Director for the Stephen Joseph Theater for 37 years and over his career he wrote 89 full-length plays not counting one-acts and plays for children! Despite his prolific and noteworthy career as a playwright (he’s won several Olivier Awards and Tony Awards, and has been nominated for many more), he has been quoted as saying, “I always consider myself as a director who writes rather than a writer who directs, because directing takes up so much of my time.” In fact, he’s directed over 350 plays in his career. Even after stepping down as AD after developing health problems, he continues to write and premiere his plays in Scarborough under his own direction. I’d take Ayckbourn on my team any day.

Some reasons why I suggest considering a playwright as part of the company:I’m sure you can think of other reasons as well. For instance, it never hurts to have someone in your company who writes well, and in fact their secondary skill might be writing marketing copy and press releases. The point is that, because of the way that theater students are educated in high school and college, combined with the direction that institutional theaters have gone over the past fifty years, they often forget that there are living, breathing, creative playwrights in the world, not just scripts you get from an agency or some anthology. Having them working with you can add a great deal to your viability as a company.

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