I Signed on the Dotted Line.... I Think

Today I got a package from Dramatic Publishing, the company that published the The Theory of Everything and handles the play's performance rights. (By the way, if you do not own a copy, shell out $6.50 right now and buy one online. If you need a list of awards the play won or copies of Singaporean fan mail I got because of it or rave reviews that my review monkey compiled, then bend over and I will shoot them over to you through a pipe.)

Apparently, the publishers lifted three monologues from the play and shoved them into Editor's Choice: Audition Monologues for Men and Editor's Choice: Audition Monologues for Women. I guess I approved this some months ago, but, man, I don't remember. Am I really supposed to keep track of these things?

People are surprised to hear that I don't have an agent. They wonder how I've managed to get eight plays produced, snag over a dozen productions, and drum up multiple commissions and grants all by myself. Well, first of all, it takes motivation, e.g., "No agent's gonna get 10 percent of my money!" Second of all, it takes a little bit of savvy, e.g., "Hmm, I think I'll send my play to someone." (You'd be surprised how many playwrights I know will finish a play and then just let it sit on their computer for months and even years.) People talk, word travels, self-confidence grows. And sometimes you get surprises like, "Oh, my work is in a book. That's cool. I wish I remember signing that contract. By the way, where are all my contracts?" And then I tear my house apart. But instead of finding complicated legal documents, I find my entire collection of Fantastic Four comic books. And I think, "Forgetting ain't so bad," because everyone loves surprises.


  1. people should follow your advice...seriously

  2. I keep wanting to write a treatise about being an artist, and perhaps someday I will. Oh, yes, I will.

  3. By the way, don't forget to bring pictures of your hot sons.

  4. So does that mean you do your own contracts, or do you hire a lawyer?

  5. Yes, I do my own contracts.

    Most contracts are pretty standardized nowadays. From theater to theater across the country, agreements are essentially the same.
    You can find many standard contracts online, get them from the Dramatists Guild, bum them off friends of yours who work at theaters, or pick up Dana Singer's "Stage Writers Handbook: A Complete Business Guide for Playwrights, Composers, Lyricists and Librettists."

    After a while, you'll figure out stuff that's important to you to have in agreements and keep shaping new contracts until you have one that's standard just for you, whether it's for commissions, performance rights, whatever.

    Again, it takes a little effort on your part, but it's really not all that mysterious. And it would benefit you anyway to learn more about the business and know what every paragraph means too. Become your own expert.

    If millions of dollars are being thrown around and if you're going to Broadway, at that point you can have a lawyer look at it in case you're not completely comfortable.

    My main point is that writers get into their head that they need an agent for this to happen or that to happen, or they need a manager or their career will go nowhere. That's just not true.

    Ask 12 different playwrights, and they will tell you 12 different things about how they got their break, how they do business, how they circulate their materials, how they land productions, etc.

    Trust yourself.

  6. i just read your comments.. and am laughing.

    in nyc, i'm always asked to bring a photo of my hot daughter to gatherings...

    now, this.

  7. Thanks for this. It helps to hear this from someone who actually gets his work done. I'm a little weirded out by the whole agent system anyway, particularly after a recent conversation with one. It was pretty problematic--and if you really want to know the details, I'm happy to share in private.

    Anyway, thanks!

  8. E-mail me! I wanna know!

    Also, in many instances, it's not in an agent's best interest to be on top of promoting a playwrights' work. There's little money in it for them, unless you're working Broadway or unless they think they can steer you into some film and TV work. I'm not knocking agents. But they've got to eat. So they spend most of their time going to where their bread is buttered.

    I have a playwright friend who recently closed two sucessful productions (it's not who you think), and I was asking said playwright about where the plays were going next because I could really see one of them in particular doing very well on the regional circuit. I was told that the playwright's agent wasn't doing anything with them. The playwright would be better off pounding the pavement personally for two main reasons: (1) just because you have an agent doesn't mean that that agent is anywhere near as compelled as you are to move your career forward, and (2) it is far better for you personally to establish relationships with literary departments and artistic directors at theaters than to have your agent exclusively deal with them.

    If you want a playwriting career, know that theaters produce plays, yes, but they don't have relationships with them. They have relationships with playwrights.