Playwright jobs(Also known as Dramatist, Theatre script writer)
A playwright is the person responsible for writing dramatic material for the purposes of performance within the theatre. The script is the blueprint for creating a dramatic production. A script for a play is the road map to creating a successful and complete theatrical production. The playwright will take an original concept or idea and use dramatic devices such as storytelling and the creation of dialogue to turn the concept into a complete story. The script is then given to the production company, who will hire cast and crew to enable them to develop a full production. Sometimes, the playwright's involvement in the creation process will end with the transfer of the script to the production company. In other cases, the playwright may be asked to remain with the production as a production assistant or technical director to enable a successful interpretation of the dramatic script. A playwright will need to immerse themselves in the work of others, keep informed with current events which may have implications for their story concepts and generally see as much theatre as possible. It is a competitive industry with a lot of talented people who are struggling to be noticed. The job is largely freelance, and most playwrights will supplement their income from commission of their plays with a day-job or teaching work in dramatic circles.
SalaryContrary to common belief, playwriting is not particularly well paid. The Writer’s Guild recommended minimum for a full-length stage play (70+ minutes) is around £6,500. That might sound like reasonable remuneration, but the creation of material might represent 6-12 months work, and most playwrights realise that they cannot live on commissions alone. A dramatist would need to take on four commissions a year to make a salary comparable to the national average, which is an impossible workload for most writers. There is also nothing legally enforceable about that amount, so many theatres elect to pay less. TV writing work does pay a lot more, but the trade-off is that the writer is not entrusted to write their own dramas without doing many years of hard work churning out soap opera episodes or similar beforehand.
- Work to deadlines to deliver good quality, original dramatic scripts.
- Rewrite as per critical feedback on creative ideas, from “dramaturgs” (sometimes called ‘script editors’) to directors and actors.
- Collaborate with the production team to turn the ‘map’ (play script) into something for actors to follow.
- Be open to working in groups without getting defensive about their own work and the ways it can change.
- Responsibility to know what other plays are out there, both currently and historically, and to keep updated on current affairs.
- The playwright's ultimate responsibility is to their audience. The writer must have something interesting to say, and say it in a unique way.
QualificationsPlaywrights trade on their writing ability, so there are no formal academic demands. However, an A-level equivalent in English or Drama can be helpful for equipping the playwright with the technical knowledge and observational ability which will enable them to write at a high level. In terms of “informal” studies or certificates, there are many groups and short courses which seek to serve the aspiring playwright in giving them the technical ability with which to succeed. Often the best course of learning is to see as many plays as possible, and to study the written or dramatic work of other writers.
- A strong grasp of English and grammar is requisite.
- A good analytical mind helps the playwright dissect the dramatic work of other writers.
- A good understanding of storytelling and dramatic arrangement are crucial in putting together a strong script which is marketable.
- The ability to self-promote and be pro-active with one's own time is also paramount.
Working ConditionsMost playwrights work from home, and so the working environment can be as chaotic or as calming as desired. Some choose to journey to places of particular interest or stimulation to trigger the motivation to write dramatic prose or story ideas, whereas other writers will only find distraction and noise outside of their own writing environment. Many need to fit their writing around other more “normal” job commitments.
ExperienceSome writers are phenomenally successful and receive several high-profile productions a year, while some spend their entire careers making a low-profile living in smaller venues, community settings, working outside London or in a specialised field like writing plays for children. Some writers move abroad, into TV, or academia. Many have another ‘main’ job and only occasionally write plays. A lot of the paths to personal development in this arena will depend on where the playwright's priorities lie, the sort of work they wish to produce and for whom.
Fin Kennedy is an award-winning investigative playwright and teacher of playwrights. He is currently developing a play for Birmingham Rep and a piece for the 2011 Brighton Festival.