I really don’t like that pay transparency isn’t a thing in theatre. No one likes to talk about money and it feels very pushed under the table. Lately, a couple of playwrights have asked me about their rates because they’re not sure what to charge. I’m not saying my rates are perfect* but below is my usual breakdown
For colleges and universities:
I’m pretty flexible with colleges and universities. If it’s a specific department, for full-lengths, I usually asked for $50/performance or 10% box, whichever is greater. As part of this rate, I also offer a workshop. If it’s a student-led club, I tend to offer my plays rights-free. They just have to ask first. I have not charged colleges and universities for 10-mins plays but again they need to ask for permission.
For readings at professional theatre companies
For readings, my go-to rate is $50/performance. Again, this is pretty flexible based on operating budget and what their standard pay usually is. Note: this is just for rights to use the play. If they ask me for my time (talkbacks, present at all rehearsals), this rate goes up.
For performances at professional theatre companies with an operating budget less than $500k
For performance, my rate for full-lengths is $80 for the first performance and $50 for all consecutive performances OR 10% box, whichever is higher. (If the company is a nonprofit, you can look up their operating budget.) I don’t have a set rate for 10-min play or one-acts but tend to start at $40/performance and negotiate from there.
For performances at professional theatre companies with an operating budget more than $500k
First, I like to ask what their standard agreement is and base my rates on that. If they don’t have one, my rates for full-lengths are $100 for the first performance and $80 for all consecutive performances. I don’t have a set rate for 10-min play or one-acts but tend to start at $50/performance and negotiate from there.
For play workshops and festivals (as in the purpose is to edit the play and present it)
These feel the most flexible so it varies so much. I typically wait to see what they’re offering and make up my mind from there. A note:
(1) If pay is less than $50, I will not attend rehearsals or a talkback nor will I edit the play. It’s an as-is situation
(2) If pay is less than $200 but the expectation is that I will edit the play as part of the workshop, I will not sign a contract that says I have to be at all rehearsals and the talkback. I will check my schedule and if there’s an opportunity to make money elsewhere, I will do that.
(3) I like to think of my playwright-rate as $20/hr. So if you want to work on the play ($50) + you want my time (8 hrs, $160), then that’s $210. Which is how I got to the “unless it’s at least $200”
For workshops, classes, and speaking events
This also greatly varies and depends.
$50/hr + $50 charge for prep and materials is still a good metric for me. If it’s a college workshop and it’s one day, I go by the hours + expectations. If it’s a class that is more than one session, then I say $75/session + $25/materials/session so a three-week session with one class per week would be [(75 x 3) + (25 x 3)] = $300. If they can pay more, great! If not, depending on the situation, I can be flexible.
If it’s a full semester, I ask for what my adjunct rate was: $1000/credit hour.
Pay equity is becoming increasingly more important to me, especially in the pandemic. If the budget is up to me (and it has been a couple times), I will advocate that everyone gets paid the same even if it means a pay cut to myself.
There have been a couple of virtual readings where I learned they planned to pay the playwright (me) but not the actors. I have in those circumstances taken a pay cut so that the actors can be paid. At least twice I’ve “donated” my stipend back to the company so that they could pay the actors. I don’t want to make a habit of that because I should be paid for my work too. So it really depends on the company and the play they choose moving forward.
If it’s a play that I feel never gets produced and/or no one is getting paid, I will sometimes waive the rights. But that’s at my discretion. (Suggestion: watch my NPX page for new uploads. If it’s relatively new, I’m more likely to say yes to working less than the rate. So for a play like Abortion Road Trip or WIWP, I’m not going to say yes to working for free. For Dear Helena, I might. It just depends.)
Working for free: I’m really not about this. Something that get said a lot last year was “Well we’re a new company and we can’t afford to pay.” I started a theatre company in 2020, too. And if we couldn’t afford to pay everyone, we canceled the show. And I only did my plays because I donated rights to my company. So I know it’s possible and that excuse doesn’t fly. For every show we did, we paid everyone. Did we pay a lot? No, we paid them pennies but it was at least something. If paying everyone is not part of how you start out, you’re doing it wrong. Especially in a post 2020 world.
Pandemic reality: There were things I said yes to last year that I would’ve never said yes to before because I needed every single penny I could get to survive from June – December after being furloughed and then eventually leaving my “safety net” job. Some of those contracts will haunt me as I move forward but I had to say yes to eat. Hopefully, that situation doesn’t happen again but if it’s for survival, yeah, sometimes I have to say yes when I don’t want to.
*I’ve been told my rates are too high by a lot of folk and too low by a lot of folk. This is really just a starting point. If a company can afford to pay more, great! If not but I admire the mission of the company or have a great relationship with them, I can be flexible. In my humble opinion, I think my rates are super fair.