Welcome To Your Future
A glossary of terms for the young playwright
By John Morogiello
Some months ago three plays of mine were blessed with simultaneous productions: two in the D.C. are, where I currently live, and one in that great mecca of the modern theatre, Buffalo, New York. The result of these productions was more pre-show press than I had ever received. While I was not exactly hounded by the press, I was certainly more than poodled, submitting to more interviews in a two-week period than I had experienced in a lifetime of searching for employment. A curious happenstance of my relationship with the fourth estate was that, invariably, each reporter asked me the same question: What advice did I have for the young playwright?
This gave me pause.
What did they mean by the "young" playwright? I was thirty-two years old. Wasn't I a young playwright? When had I crossed the threshold from youthful writer and revolutionary to aged dramatist and dispenser of useless wisdom? Perhaps, I flattered myself, they weren't implying that I was an old playwright, but that I was a successful playwright, fully cognizant of how my power was achieved and willing to bestow the secret formula for attaining theatrical godhead upon whatever puny mortals held subscriptions to their paper. After dreamy reflection, this seemed unrealistic. An amateur production in Gaithersburg, Maryland was hardly the definition of success.
What further rankled was the definite article "the" which preceded "young playwright." Did this mean they thought there was only one young playwright in all of Christendom? Hardly likely. Perhaps they had someone specific in mind to whom they referred to by nickname, much in the way rock star Prince is now called The Artist. Conceivably someone fresh out of grad school and personally known to every local reporter in Washington could have been listing himself below the title as "The Young Playwright," but this conclusion, too, struck me as dubious.
Struggling with this far longer than necessary, I eventually chalked it up to hyperbole. Unable to headline the article, "Local Nobody Pens Farce," the writers were compelled to imbue me with undeserved sagacity. So in each interview, when the question of advertising the Y.P. inevitably arose, I answered it with something which at the time I considered glib and witty, but which not a single reporter retained for the final article.
That should have been the end of it, but the question persisted: What advice did I have for the puerile dramatist? And I'm afraid the answer that came was nothing. There isn't a single piece of advice I or anyone could give. If a person is determined to write plays, that person has already ignored the only really useful piece of advice he or she will ever receive. What I can do, however, is provide the young playwright with a glossary of common terms, a grounding in the basics of working in the contemporary theatre.
actor (ak' ter), n. chain-smoking caffeine addict who knows your characters better than you do.
agent (a' jent), n. person who thinks you're so fabulous you need not have your calls returned.
development (blak' hole), n. process in which a paying audience views paid actors, under the tutelage of a paid director, read a script by an unpaid playwright.
dramaturg (biz' y bod' y), 1. n. person of nebulous talent with academic pretensions who is not quite the director and most certainly not the playwright. 2. v. to fully believe in your own omniscience.
festival (hu mil' i a' tion), n. low-budget productions using second-rate directors and amateur actors in which the playwright does not get paid. Just what is particularly festive about this remains unclear.
grant (man' nah), n. 1. agreement wherein the playwright puts aside what he wants to write in order to write what the government wants him to write. 2. a bargain with the devil. 3. a source of income scheduled for elimination.
Hollywood (hak' town), n. 1. retirement spot for people who have made enough money to stop writing for the theatre. 2. land of performing monkeys.
professor (loo' zer), n. job you publicly disdain, but privately realize is your only hope of earning a living in this dungheap of a world.
royalty (il lu' sion), n. amount the playwright gets paid, traditionally ten percent of the box office. See the playwright's royalty balance sheet below.
strong coffee (muth' erz milk'), n. 1. a nutritious vegetable broth traditionally consumed in a lieu of actual food. 2. what you will eventually die in a puddle of.
So, there it is, young playwright: your whole grim existence in less than a thousand words. If it sounds a little like I'm trying to deter you from your chosen path, you're right. I am. Stop writing this very instant. Once you're out of the way, there will be all the more opportunity for me.
Playwright's royalty balance sheet
A TEN-WEEK RUN Off Broadway could yield a gross royalty of $160,000 (500 seats x $40 per seat x 8 shows per week x 10 weeks x 10 percent). Subtracting the various fees playwrights encounter produces a balance sheet that looks like this:
less 20 % agent's commission______________________________32,000
less 10 % discovery fee to regional theatre____________________16,000
less 16 % dramaturg extortion______________________________25,600
less 15 % self-employment tax______________________________24,000
less 12% federal income tax________________________________19,200
less 8% state/local income tax______________________________12,800
less 5% unsold tickets______________________________________8,000
less 1% complimentary tickets_______________________________1,600
less six weeks living expense in New York City_________________20,000
less beverages (see "strong coffee")____________________________799
would leave a net royalty of___________________________________$1
Don't spend it all in one place.
I love you baby...