A View from the Bank: Playwrights Sick of Being Stiffed Finally Get Paid

The difference between Arthur Miller and the playwrights of today? For one thing, they're not doing Marilyn Monroe. For another, Miller got decent coin for what he did in his day, as one of the few prominent guys who did. Now, playwrights have to fight for their cash where they can get it.

Luckily for them, some of the massive, corporate-subsidized theaters of New York are giving them a break by not usurping up to forty percent of the playwright's royalties. The New York Times' Patrick Healy, after citing a Theater Development Fund study noting the average working playwright as earning only between $25,000 and $39,999 in yearly income from their work, got some, ahem, money quotes from the artistic directors of two of New York's largest theaters. The Public Theater, which Healy notes has an operating budget of $19M a year, will now forfeit $75,000 in royalties from shows mounted elsewhere instead of taking 10 percent of all royalties, AD Oskar Eustis astutely noted:

"The playwright needs the money more than the Public does."

Astute. And from Todd Haimes at Roundabout Theater, which has a $52M operating budget, and had been taking up to 40 percent of the playwright's royalties:

"In talking to the artists, we realized that the question really came down to them wanting to feel a sense of ownership over their work, which I absolutely understand."

If by "ownership" you mean "a little more than half," sure. And easy words for these guys to say, especially seeing as how -- interestingly omitted from Healy's piece on the matter -- they're paid quite handsomely.

Producer Ken Davenport once noted on his blog some of the (well documented, publicly available) extravagant salaries of theater execs around town. And then one blogger dug them up.

These are non-profits, for the record.

Eustis's salary couldn't be dug up then, but his executive director at the time, Mara Manus, made $276,074. Looks now like Eustis made at least $260,000 in 2008. Meanwhile, Todd Haimes clocked in at $672,228. So, yeah, one could reasonably say the playwright could use the money more than the Public -- or the Public's leadership, or the Roundabout's leadership -- does.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]


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