I don't much like reading fees. I think they're demeaning and discriminate against low income playwrights (and please, I don't want to get into one of those "but it's just ten bucks...if you won't invest in your career you shouldn't be doing it" arguments). But I just heard about a contest in Tyler, Texas, that's charging playwrights $30 bucks per play to be considered for a concert reading (hey! they supply chairs and music stands!). I mean...that's just bullshit. Sundance and the O'Neill's are one thing, but...Tyler Civic Theatre?
This is one I think is worth sending protest e-mails to. There's a certain point where playwrights have go whoa...screw you.
Had enough. I wrote to the Tyler Civic. Here's my letter:
Dear Tyler Civic Theatre Center:
I'm the author of over 30 plays, with works staged in Portland, Chicago, Los Angeles, Tampa, Austin, and in Canada and New Zealand. I'm a member of the Dramatists Guild of America and a member of Portland Center Stage's PlayGroup Playwrights Workshop. I've also been a finalist for the Oregon Book Award several times, a recipient of a Fellowship from the Portland Civic Theatre Guild, and my play "Liberation" was the recipient of a $15,000 production grant from the Flint Ridge Foundation. I have also been the producer of the Portland Third Tuesday Theatre program, which presented staged readings of 18 world premieres in 18 months, so I know my way around the world of production and its expenses.
More and more, playwrights are being asked to subsidize festivals and contest for which we are expected, often without further renumeration, to not only offer our work, which has an intrinsic monetary value, but to actually pay to have our work considered. The choice as to whether or not to pay such fees is up to each playwright; though, if you have a large body of work and have a meager income, as many writers do, the choice between entering and not entering a contest may mean the difference between buying medicines or food and having a shot at seeing your work staged. For a playwright of means, these fees are somewhat demeaning. For low-income playwrights, they are discriminatory.
Yet we struggle with five dollars here, ten dollars there. Recently, I learned, however, of your staged reading festival in which you are charging playwrights $30.00 as an entrance fee for essentially a concert reading in a small venue. I see no mention of financial payment to chosen playwrights. Given that your fees are higher than those charged for the O'Neill Festival or the Sundance Theatre Lab, I feel you have crossed the line into exploitation, and I would like to express my displeasure and disappointment that a professional theatre would choose to so disrespect the authors who they claim to be aiding.
Sorry. Too much money for too little gain. I'm certain you must be charging directors and designers for submitting their resumes and actors for submitting their headshots. No? Why not? Would that be unprofessional?
A time comes when a playwright has to say no. This playwright says no.
Co-Artistic Director/Resident Playwright
P.S.: This e-mail is being copied to Ralph Sevush, Executive Director of Business Affairs for the Dramatists Guild; Gary Garrison, Executive Director
of Creative Affairs for the Dramatists Guild; and will be posted on the New Play Network, a script development group I moderate on MySpace.
Hopefully the message gets to the playwrights, and the playwrights just say no. Realistically, the theater can shrug off Steve's letter as the pissed missive of one angry writer. What they can't shrug off is a lack of submissions to support their fest.
As long as playwrights are willing to pony up ridiculous fees like this, the practice will continue. If the well never runs dry, why would you stop going to the well?
We've been concerned about this issue for a while, and its getting worse. We're currently gathering info about the contests, festivals and other programs which require authors to pay a submission fee. The DG council plans to develop a strategy for responding effectively to this problem.
Thank you, Ralph. I appreciate the reply and that the Dramatists Guild is looking into the matter. If you don't mind, I'd like to post your response on the New Play Network group I moderate on MySpace. I think the playwrights there (and some of the literary managers and others who have contacted me privately) would be pleased to know the Guild's on the case.
Official word from The Dramatists Guild, as of yesterday. The author is Gary Garrison:
As of today, the Guild will no longer publicize calls for submissions that have a fee attached unless that fee is transparent (where does the money go and to whom) in the description to the reader. The subtext: it is not okay to charge a dramatist a fee to supplement a theatre or producer’s production opportunity. YOUR ART IS FEE ENOUGH!
I know all the arguments of why some theatres and producers position that they must charge fees: “We couldn’t afford to produce the event if we didn’t charge a fee. We have to hire readers. We have to publicize the event. We have to pay the actors and directors. We have to offer prize money . . .” I understand that, but theatres and producers are doing that on the backs of people that are more poor than they are! What?! On average, dramatists spend ten dollars to submit a play or musical anywhere in this country: printing, copying, postage, return postage, binders, envelopes. If a theatre or producer tacks on an additional $10, $15 or $30 fee, one submission now costs anywhere from $20-50, with no guarantees that anything will come of it. And yes, I know: there are no guarantees for anyone in the theatre. But all too often this feels like, “we’re not going to guarantee you anything, AND we’re going to charge you for the privilege of that, AND you’ll probably never hear from us, AND don’t expect any kind of critical reaction to your material, AND don’t expect notification of who, in fact, was chosen.” And if it’s not a money issue then it’s a spirit issue: it’s demeaning enough to submit your work to theatres and producers that you never hear from. To pay someone for their silence is too much to ask anyone.
Of course, the easiest thing (at least to me) is to make all fees transparent in the listings (Fee: $25; $10 for readers, $15 for prize money). At least then we can all start holding people accountable on some level. And you can decide if you like what you read. To be clear: we’ll publish a call for submission that explains how submission money is used (some producers do that now). And we’ll continue to publish the big four: the O’Neill, Sundance, Susan Blackburn Prize, Actors Theatre of Louisville with date reminders. But we will no longer list an opportunity that requires you pay a fee to be considered for inclusion.