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Arts & Culture

At last weekend’s Playfest, Lee Blessing offered seven rules of success for playwrights

Live Active Cultures

Photo: Photo by Seth Kubersky, License: N/A

Photo by Seth Kubersky

“Have a trust fund. If you don’t have a trust fund, find out where you can get one [or] take a vow of poverty.” The share of royalties most playwrights earn is gradually eroding and the “financial picture will quite possibly grow worse and worse”; even a successful author like Blessing “can live comfortably in a hollow log.” If you want to make a living, marry someone who works and/or take a year off to write spec scripts and break into television, as his wife did.

Save the whales.

“Whales” are the wealthy patrons who make theater possible with financial investments or philanthropic donations (in this business, often the same thing). They “may get a little micro-managey” but artists must be patient and show them respect, “even if they are a pain in the ass. … There are ways to get around dilettantish meddling; there are not ways, generally speaking, to replace money.” Remember, “money talks and talent grouses quietly in the corner, making sure no one can hear it except other drunken artists,” so “render unto Caesar and all his rich friends; it’s how you’ll survive.”

Anything you write can be used against you.

“Playwrights can be ‘typed’ just like actors, and nothing sounds sweeter to a producer’s ear than a phrase like ‘a Neil Simon play’ or ‘a Wendy Wasserstein play.’” A consistent author whose style is a known quantity to audiences feels safer and “makes everyone’s job easier [because] people like buying well-known brands.” Writers like Blessing, who, “like Captain Kirk, actively explore different worlds and boldly go to different genres and styles” find their diversity is “largely an obstacle to success.”

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