There is no submission fee. Likewise, there is no pay or no prize money.

Have you seen this, this new disclaimer on play submission opportunities? Stated boldly as though there is actually some sort of correlation between not charging a fee and not paying royalties? As if this is so logical that if we see these two things linked in a sentence by the word “likewise” (I’m pretty sure I’ve also seen “therefore”), we’ll surely understand that if we’re not paying, well, hell, how can we possibly expect them to pay?

Except the “logic” in that suggests an erroneous conclusion that submission fees are the only way that playwrights can expect to get paid. I really hope nobody believes this. Even if you send a play, don’t believe it for one second.

Consider this employment ad:

Looking for a hard-working, reliable person. New home construction, additions, garages, decks, and remodeling. Contact Derek at 555–123–4567. There is no fee to call Derek; likewise, there is no salary.

Now, I know most of us don’t consider playwriting a job, per se, but isn’t that because it’s nearly impossible to earn decent money from it? It more likely could be a job if we were getting paid for it more often, but, more than that, what galls me about this new language is the disingenuousness of it, the attempt to make it seem like we’re in this together.

But when we see these words, it assuredly means we are not in this together. Worse, the offending theaters really don’t want to be. There are people getting paid in this festival; it’s just not the playwrights. And why? Because the theater doesn’t have to. Because this has become the norm. Because they subscribe to this crazy logic and think we do, too. And I’ll say something else that might be controversial: it feels a lot less abusive to me to pay a fee to an opportunity that is using the money to help fund the winners’ travel, development, etc. than to one that takes the plays, pays actors and crew, and pockets the profit without sharing any with the playwright. No fee does not equal awesome opp.

Today, Greg Waters posted on the Official Playwrights of Facebook: Theaters. Create a utility bill for writers. Budget $50 for it every month. If you start to think of us like lights and water, you can afford a royalty or a contest prize annually. You simply don’t want to. Stop apologizing and just do it.

What a message to spread! Maybe Greg read the same call for plays, one of an increasing number now offering the no fee/no royalty “apology.” Full disclosure: Because the opp that trigged this post accepts produced plays, I did submit, but I have implemented a decision to no longer submit unproduced plays to ten-minute festivals unless the festival meets one of the criteria listed in this blog post. I see more and more discerning decisions coming, especially after the Dramatists Guild releases its Best Practices Guidelines for Festivals. When those guidelines come out, I encourage everybody to follow them, send them to theaters that don’t comply, and use them as personal guidelines for where to submit. There is strength in numbers, and we are going to need numbers for this revolution.

I know it will be hard to not submit to a festival just because it doesn’t have the DG seal of approval (I’m the first to admit old submission habits are hard to break!) but consider that that will mean it’s a festival that’s taking advantage of playwrights — and if there is anything I’ve learned this past year, it’s that there is no shortage of people/theaters willing to take advantage of playwrights. I’ve only been a playwright for eight years; I’ve been learning as I go, too. And what I see is that it’s getting worse, not better, thus the need for the guidelines in the first place.

Here’s the silver lining: there is something heartening about the rise of this apologist language, even it’s proffering an explanation that simply isn’t true. The very existence of an apology, the theaters’ need to express one, means that they’re hearing the rumblings, they’ve become aware that this is something that needs to be addressed, that their behavior is something they need to make an excuse for. The problem is their excuse makes no sense, which means we need to keep on them until they begin to address the no royalties issue in a different way.

I recently had a play produced at a very tiny theater, where I was told, when I inquired about royalties, “we’ve never paid local playwrights royalties.” Never. I said surely they could afford seven percent of the box office and, when asked, the board agreed. It’s now an ongoing policy at that theater to pay playwrights seven percent of the box. NOBODY EVER ASKED.

I got accepted to two ten-minute festivals recently, and for both, I asked how much the royalty was. They asked how much it should be, and they paid it. Another person contacted me about adding my play to their set list when the visited several facilities; I said that if were being used regularly, I would need to be compensated and she said she completely understood. People will always take what they can get for free; that doesn’t mean they don’t think it has value. It doesn’t hurt to ask. We need to ask more. Make it your new year’s resolution to reevaluate your personal submission policies — and to start asking.

Please follow me on Twitter @donnahoke or like me on Facebook at Donna Hoke, Playwright.

Playwrights, remember to explore the Real Inspiration For Playwrights Project, a 52-post series of wonderful advice from Literary Managers and Artistic Directors on getting your plays produced. Click RIPP at the upper right.

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To read the #365gratefulplaywright series, click here or the category listing at upper right.

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