The Perils Of Playwriting

Alena Smith considers them:

In his 2009 study Outrageous Fortune: The Life and Times of the New American Play, Todd London, artistic director of the playwrights’ advocacy organization New Dramatists, reaches a bleak conclusion: “Financially speaking, there is no way to view playwriting as anything other than a profession without an economic base.”

Data collected in London’s book, culled from the top tier of American playwrights (those who “have gone to leading schools, gained entrance to competitive playwright centers, had productions on major stages, and won prestigious awards”), and who on average are between 35 and 44 years old, shows that only 15 percent of playwrights’ incomes actually come from writing plays. So, if a playwright makes $30,000 a year, that means their actual playwriting (including commissions, productions, and publications) garnered them just $4,500. And this level of income is typical for the writers surveyed: as London reports, “The average playwright earns between $25,000 and $39,000 annually, with approximately 62% earning under $40,000 and nearly a third making less than $25,000.” …

In 21st-century America, playwriting cannot be thought of in earnest as a rival of screenwriting. In reality, it is more like a barnacle clinging to it. If not for the fact that so many writers can and do earn an actual living in Hollywood, and thereby subsidize their occasional foray into the theater, many of the plays written since, oh, the advent of the talkies, let’s say, would never have existed.