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Friday, March 22, 2013

How Do Playwrights For the Amateur Markets Make Money or Bobby Keniston Takes Stock of His Relatively Young Playwriting Career

Note:  This is not me.  Not yet.

Greetings everyone, and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I am a playwright, director, actor and theater teacher.  Basically, I am a drama geek.  That is why I have this blog.  I write down my thoughts about theater on a given day and then wonder if anyone wants to read them.  I have been pleasantly surprised to find that the answer is yes, some people do. 

Today I am going to talk about a subject that I think will interest people more than many subjects I may talk about.  I tend to talk a good deal about the "craft" and have not talked too much about the actual "business" of theater.  So, today, I decided I would talk a bit about money.

Money.  Money.  Money.

Many people could joke that the title of this post very well could have been "Do Playwrights Make Money?" as opposed to "How Do Playwrights Make Money?"   In fact, when you have people at the top of the field like Tony Kushner running his mouth about how he can't make a living as a playwright (wonder if he would want to switch royalty checks with me), I guess it is a fair question.  Of course, Mr. Kushner does not write for the amateur market as I do. 

The late Tim Kelly, a very prolific playwright for the school and community theater markets, published over 350 plays in his life, and, when his career really took off, would have about 6,000 performances of his plays every year, all over the world.  His pieces were translated into dozens of languages.  He adopted the old quote and paraphrased it for the amateur theater market:  "You can make a living, but you can't make a killing". 

The reason so much of this is on my mind is that I have been taking stock or my playwriting career today.  A little more than three years ago, my very first play was accepted for publication.  No books out yet, no contract signed, just accepted for publication.  In the three years since (which have seemed to fly by), here  is where I am at:

--- 22 publications (including a contribution to an anthology of monologues, and co-author of a book of improvisation starters),
--- 80 productions of my plays
--- 140 performances of my plays
--- Productions of my plays in 36 states, as well as in Canada and Australia,
--- and unpublished play of mine represented the state of Maine at a New England Regional Festival for community theaters, where I won an award for Best Emerging Playwright

This looks pretty good listed out, I must confess, and I am proud, I truly am, and grateful for my successes. 

But let me make this clear:  I do not make a living from being a playwright. 

Okay, this may seem weird, but this blog is about education, so I'm going to share some stats with you, just so you know a bit about the money side of things as I have experienced them.  I will limit this to my published plays.  If nothing else, maybe this will make some people think twice before skipping out on paying royalties for producing plays.  I am going to limit this to my royalty earnings from the company with whom I have the most publications.  Again, this is neither bragging nor complaining--- I share these figures strictly for educational purposes.

EARNINGS SO FAR THIS YEAR (I will be getting more before the royalty period closes):  $928.17

Again, this is not a representation of all monies earned through playwriting, just my published plays with Brooklyn.  As you can see, there has been steady growth, but not exactly living wages, right? 

Here's how it works:  a school or community theater group wants to put on my play.  They pay for the rights to perform it.  A one-act play with this publisher costs $35 per performance.  For my early one-acts with Brooklyn, I receive $17.50 of that $35, for more recent ones, $21.  For more recent plays, I also receive 10% book royalty, or roughly $0.55 for the scripts sold.  

For a ten-minute play, the productions cost $15 to license, of which I receive $7.50.  Since, when ten-minute plays are performed for forensics competitions the royalties are waived, the books are sold in script packs of $12.50, for which I receive $1.25 for each script pack sold. 

So, first off, you might be thinking, "wow, he doesn't make very much."  But, in truth, I'm actually doing pretty well considering the age of my career, and considering I am primarily earning income from publications for the amateur markets.  Clearly, a playwright like Neil Simon, who once had 3 shows running on Broadway at the same time, was (and is) making far more cash than myself.  But, my career is steadily growing, my name and my work is getting out there,and, yes, my publishers, all four of them, work hard to get my plays produced.  I am very lucky. 

So how do playwrights for the amateur markets make money?  Simple--- volume.  The more productions, the more performances, the more money.  So, how do you get more productions? 

This is actually a simple answer, too. 

Time, hard work, and luck.

Yes, once in a while, a writer may come along who, for whatever reason, has a really big hit with their first play for the school or amateur market, get 200 productions a year from it, and receive a good-sized royalty check.  This does happen.  It has not happened to me (yet), but it can happen. 

For the rest of us, it is a matter of writing, writing, writing.  And, of course, the writing has to be good, at least good enough for publication.  And I feel I should let you in on a little secret that is very important to this discussion:  I have 22 plays published with four different publishers, and I still get rejected.  Not every new play is accepted by the first company I send it to.  I still have to make sure I'm writing good stuff, and, even if it is good stuff, it doesn't mean it is going to be published.  Maybe it's not right for a market, maybe the catalogue has too many "similarly themed" pieces, but, for whatever reason, I am not automatically published because I have some credits.  Granted, I think my work is considered perhaps a bit more quickly than it was when I didn't have anything on my resume, but that's only fair, isn't it?

But I digress.

The reason the publications are important is because the more publications, the more plays you are presenting to the public.  This means your name appears a lot more in the catalogue.  When your name appears a bunch in the catalogue, there's a good chance people are reading the synopsis and a better chance that they are ordering a perusal copy that will hopefully lead to a production.  The more production that are out there, the more press.  If you write one-act plays for high schools, you have to hope upon hope they are taking your script to a competition, where other schools from the state will see it, like it, and look up you other work. 

I hope this doesn't sound like I'm complaining about how I'm not making the big bucks (yet).  Don't get me wrong--- I do think playwrights have a very justifiable reason to complain, at least in the amateur market--- people lying about how many performances, being the bottom rung on a theatrical latter--- but, to me, at least, I think the system is tough but fair.  You have to work hard.

You have to write. 


Then write some more. 

I don't do a ton of networking right now because of my location, but, even still, the more I write, the more my numbers are growing.  And that's how it should be.  Are they growing as fast as I would like?  Well, I think most people wish they were making more money than they are... it's an expensive world, and, yeah, I would love to have better financial independence.  But, the fact remains, whenever I receive a royalty check, I get a huge smile on my face, because it is money I have in my hand that represents working on something I love, and this work somehow inspiring complete strangers to want to work on it too.

Thanks for reading this post.  Find out more about me by clicking the links below.  Until next time, please remember--- theater is not only a craft and an artform.  Theater is a sport.!/TheaterIsASport!/pages/Bobby-Keniston-Playwright-Page/148232788536601

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