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Oct 7, 2006

an Email I received

Dear Juilliard Mafia,

We are writing to warn you about a development at the O'Neill Playwrights Festival, a situation so serious that we can no longer recommend that you send your scripts there, and hope to discourage you from mentoring or assisting them in any way. The problem is this - from now on, the O'Neill Board is determined to demand a percentage of the playwright's subsidiary income IN PERPETUITY from any play accepted for presentation at the O'Neill. This means that for four

days of rehearsal, and a presentation with actors using scripts, you will owe them a permanent percentage of your income from that play. This is so patently unfair, and so clearly against their own mission statement, that we can only assume they have lost their minds, or perhaps decided to think of themselves as commercial producers instead of the generous, helpful organization they used to be, devoted to playwrights and their work.

They tried to demand this participation from two writers this summer, but were thwarted by efforts by the Dramatists Guild, and the agent for two of the writers, John Buzzetti. Both writers said they would

pull their work if this provision was attached and the O'Neill backed down, saying that since no warning was given, it wasn't fair to ask for the percentage. But last month they announced they would be demanding the percentage from the writers whose work was accepted this summer.

We urge you not to submit your scripts to the O'Neill. We urge you to talk to your agents about this, and not participate in any way. We are afraid this is the beginning of the end for an institution we have all admired and cherished. This is part of a disturbing trend in "development" organizations, where playwrights are increasingly expected to pay for their productions, in spite of the fact that those organizations raise money and get grants claiming that they exist to help playwrights. More and more, it's looking like those organizations exist to support themselves, not their writers. In this regard, beware of any contest that charges you more than $15 to apply, because that's about what readers are being paid these days.

Over and over again in class, we urged you to get over feeling grateful, and defend yourself in situations where you sense you are being taken advantage of. So this is just us saying it again. Do not give your work away, and do not pay somebody to produce it, and

do not grant rights that are excessive. Do not encumber your work with percentages to people who think they deserve them just because they recognized you were good.

Please pass this information along to anyone you think could use it. The only way to impress on the O'Neill the insanity of what they are doing, is to deny them the plays that they need. Many of us have tried talking to them, and they are not listening. So we are taking this step, and encouraging all writing teachers in America to contact their students in the same way.

All our best,

Chris Durang and Marsha Norman


Anonymous said...


Don't know what's crazier - what the O'Neill is doing, the tone of the letter or that it was written by Durang and Norman.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I got the email as well. I'm *so glad* I got it before I sent my work out.

O'Neill had a problem back in 2003/2004, which I covered for my theater column. I don't know what the deal is with them. Maybe somebody over there thinks they should get a raise.

Seriously, $35 submission fee to read my work? Sheesh.

Jaime said...

1. That's insane.

2. O'Neill readers don't get paid anything, so the idea that your submission fee goes to readers at all is, well, wrong. Sadly.

3. While, in terms of the O'Neill, I think the letter's right, it isn't always correct to say that development should garner no rewards. I know a dramaturg who's been developing a musical, with the writers and a director, for a year and a half. When it gets a life, he gets nothing. And yet it never would have been in a position to be produced with out his (sizeable) input. Of course, you can't give everyone a piece of the pie, and this isn't the same situation as an institution giving four days and two readings, but it's just another side of the issue. A very fuzzy, tricky issue that, for purposes of strengthening the argument against the O'Neill's move, might have been oversimplified by the letter.

hpmelon said...

Hey Adam,

Theaterboy is currently reporting on this one and trying to get to the bottom of it...


The info he is getting is a tad different.

Anonymous said...

I've been told by Wendy Goldberg that this is not true - that this was briefly on the table in May 2006 but then quickly pulled. Whether one believes that version of events - or that it was pulled in response to this outcry - it's no long the policy at the O'Neill.

The person in charge of fundraising at the O'Neill is incompetent and should be fired. While the larger probelm is a dearth of arts funding, she is not up to the task, and I think that the blame for these perennial large-scale embarrassments to the OPC can be largely be laid at her feet.

Adam Szymkowicz said...

Jaime brings up an important point. are freelance dramaturgs expected to work for free? Or would they get sub rights from the playwright. I think if the playwright brings in this person to help, the playwright has some obligation. If they belong to a theatre, then they are perhaps salaried. It's hard to say. I know there are director and companies that want sub rights. If there was only more money for everyone perhaps this would be less of a concern.