on the topic of credit for playwrights

credit where it's due

I was reading one of the magazines that come with membership in assorted organizations*, admiring a glorious photograph of a recent production. Theatrical photographers have it good, I think, they must be aware enough to capture the moment but it’s already lit for them, already made-up and costumed, already in the right context.  And (as usual) I digress.

As I gazed at the rather long photo credit, it took me a minute to realize that it included the name of the play, the names of the actors, and the name of the photographer.

Oops.  Where was the name of the playwright?

Nope, not a mistake, but the business-as-usual of crediting, even in these magazines devoted to – and supported by – playwrights.  None of this, neither the production nor the photograph, would have happened without the playwright.

Why am I surprised?  Playwrights are often expected to pay submission fees that support the festivals – and sometimes the cash prizes – that supposedly celebrate them.  I say “supposedly” because those same playwrights, or the precious few who garner the reading or workshop or production, often don’t earn even the paltry 2-butts-in-seats** royalty commanded by working playwrights.  “But you should be happy that your works are being heard in the world!” and “We couldn’t afford to do it without you!” cry the managing and executive and artistic directors.  Which is kind of like celebrating Mother’s Day without ever mentioning or, God forbid, thanking your mother, much less making or buying her a gift; redefining it so that it’s about absolutely everyone *but* your mother.

Hang on, this didn’t start out as a diatribe about submission fees, I’ve already done that plenty of times <1> <2> <3>, etc.  The question here is, how do playwrights get the credit due us?

One portion of my committee duties for the ICWP 50/50 Applause Award is researching theaters worldwide, seeking out those whose current season has achieved at least gender parity – at least 50% of the produced plays were by women, and at least 50% of the season performances were of those plays.  One of my colleagues, who is researching New Zealand, discovered that the playwright’s name is almost never attached to that production’s Web presence, even in season listings.

At least in America, we’ve come that far – or almost, I’m fairly constantly emailing this or that theater in the Land of Cleve, reminding them that audition notices are construed as publicity in which that they’re contractually obligated to include the name of the person who wrote the play.  Not to mention, actual publicity that’s trying to get audience butts into seats.  But I’m making headway, as are all of the other grass-roots agitators for truth, justice, and the American way.  Oh, wait, that’s another digression but not too far, since Superman was a Cleveland fella fathered by two nice Jewish boys who went to high school with my dad.

So here’s my question: short of emulating Albee’s current habit of putting his own name into his titles, how might we receive the credit we’re due?  Much as I’d love to advocate a Lysistrata-type boycott, even I know that the “scabs” crossing the picket line would vastly outnumber the strikers.  And I’m kidding about loving a boycott, I’m all about inclusion.

Which is, shall we say, the topic of this article.  Inclusion.  Including the name of the ONLY person who was there when the page was blank.  What must we all do – not just the playwrights fighting for recognition, but all of us – to include the seminal artists in all instances of their own works?

*Dramatists’ Guild, Theatre Communications Group, League of Professional Theatre Women

**A Linda Eisenstein rule-of-thumb

©2013  all rights reserved


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