Playwright  What They Do

Just the Facts

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dotEnter the world of the theater -- and the fascinating role of the playwright. Without playwrights, or dramatists as they are sometimes called, directors would have nothing to direct, producers would have nothing to produce and actors would have nothing to act out.

"In every great culture, it is the art which survives the people and explains who they were and what they believed in," says Texas playwright Anita Ashford.

dotPlaywrights take written works or real-life themes and turn them into scripts. Sometimes those scripts are adapted for movies, radio or television. Playwrights are often looked at as the glue that holds a stage production together.

"A playwright writes plays to be produced by actors. The plays can be performed for audiences in theaters, in schools, in parks or in workplaces. Writing a play starts with discovering what it is you want to write about," says Shirley Barrie, a playwright.

dotThe next time you enjoy a play, you can safely assume a big part of it is because of a playwright's great writing and work behind the scenes. Playwrights are responsible for a lot of what you see happen on a stage. They perform a wide variety of duties in their jobs and have many responsibilities. Some of these include:

  • Writing dialog and action for plays
  • Selecting subjects and conducting research
  • Meeting with producers and directors
  • Adapting themes from various fictional, historical or narrative sources

dotPlaywrights also specialize in different areas. Some work only in stage plays. Others use their scriptwriting abilities to work in television, movies and even radio.

Because of their writing skills, playwrights often advance their careers by branching out into related fields. Some become copywriters, screenwriters, narrators, directors, producers or production managers.

Many playwrights split their work time between home and the theater. Most of the writing usually takes place at the home office, away from the theater. Playwrights are often at the theater when their plays are onstage, sometimes making revisions as the play goes on.

dotThe most common employers of playwrights are theater or production companies. Sometimes a playwright can find a job as a "playwright-in-residence" at a theater. In a case like that, you might get an office, and if you're lucky, maybe a guaranteed salary.

"Hire is not a word that is usually used for playwrights. Usually, they are freelancers -- that is, they work on a contract-by-contract basis for a number of different employers," says Barrie.

dotThere is no such thing as a typical workday for a playwright. Playwrights write their plays whenever they can, many squeezing writing time in between other part-time jobs. When a play is accepted to be produced, a playwright's workday usually takes on a different look. Then a playwright might spend a lot of time at the theater taking an active role in the production.

dotAshford has this advice for people thinking of becoming a playwright: "Join a local small theater group, even if you work behind the scenes. You'll learn, contribute, and the director will get to know your name. Then when you ask them to read your play, you already have their respect and attention."

dotOne thing about being a playwright -- it doesn't require any heavy lifting. A physically challenged person can easily do the job. The only thing essential is the ability to write and to think.

"Playwriting, like any other writing, requires long hours of sitting. You need to stand up, walk around and stretch every few hours. The only other thing you have to worry about is writer's cramp. No one ever died from that," says Ashford.

At a Glance

Craft entertaining stories for the stage

  • You can specialize in areas like stage plays or television
  • Most playwrights also work part-time jobs to make ends meet
  • Theater experience and writing skills are important