A Dramatic Concept: Theaters to Offer Playwrights a Free Seat

Rather than letting seats remain empty, theaters around the country will now allow Dramatists Guild of America members to take in a play for free. The idea is intended to enable struggling playwrights to take part in an important formative experience they otherwise could not afford.

If the world of theater didn’t have playwrights, we wouldn’t have the amazing stories that define the industry’s hugely successful productions.

Problem is, it’s incredibly difficult to make a living from writing plays—especially without a track record of success. And with theater productions (think Hamilton) surging significantly in price in recent years, it’s created an unusual situation in the drama world: Many budding playwrights can’t afford to attend a local production of a play.

Fortunately, members of the Dramatists Guild of America—a group that represents more than 7,000 playwrights, composers, and lyricists nationwide—are working on this issue. “Playwrights Welcome,” an initiative first announced in The New York Times on Sunday, will offer free last-minute tickets to productions at venues around the country.

“It’s a perverse irony in our field that most working playwrights can’t afford to actually go to the theater, and you can’t expect a generation of artists to master the craft if they can’t keep current,” noted Doug Wright, president of the guild, in comments to the Times.

Wright said that theaters commonly have empty seats, whether unsold or left open by people unable to attend, and playwrights, who tend to be enthusiastic about what’s happening on the stage, are good people to take over these seats.

Wright, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, came up with the idea with the help of Samuel French Executive Director Bruce Lazarus and fellow Pulitzer winner Marsha Norman.

So far, the guild has convinced 22 major theaters around the country, including three in New York City, to offer up seats to performances. In comments on the Samuel French website, the play-publishing firm emphasizes that this approach creates a situation that is mutually beneficial for playwrights and venues.

“These available tickets are ones that would otherwise go unsold; we firmly believe that no theater should give away a ticket that could otherwise be sold,” the firm states.

Norman provided the spark for the idea, which came about after she had a conversation with Lazarus about the issues facing playwrights. Lazarus heard her concerns loud and clear and, as the head of Samuel French, was in a position to help solve these problems. The firm also launched an app that allows Dramatists Guild members to read new plays through it.

“Without playwrights, there is no theater,” Lazarus told the Times. “Why not let them see a show for free, and out of that, maybe the idea for a new work comes, or they solve a problem at hand, or they’re inspired to create what we hope to be the next great American drama or musical?”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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