WGI Theatre Questionnaire
Bearing in mind the principles established over the years in the UK and Ireland, we are keen to know what your experience as a writer of Theatre in Ireland has been in recent times.
We have sent you a brief questionnaire by email via Survey Monkey, which will take just 3 minutes to complete. Unless you choose to provide your contact details at the end of the survey, your responses will remain anonymous and confidential.
“In the old days, getting a play on wasn’t easy, but it was simple. You’d send a play off to a theatre, and, if they read it, they might decide to put it on. The production would be cast, designed and marketed largely without your input. If the director felt like it, you might attend the read-through and a late run, to check on what changes had been made in your play. After it opened you’d get some money, in the form of a percentage of the box office. In the 1970s and 1980s, all that changed. In the UK, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB), a new Theatre Writers’ Union, negotiated binding, minimum terms agreements with – first – the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Court”. (David Edgar, WGGB, 2016)
Similarly, in Ireland, the Society of Irish Playwrights, SIP, (Now WGI, the Writers Guild of Ireland) was established (1969), and agreements were negotiated on behalf of playwrights with the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s National Theatre, The Irish Theatre Company, (and with Radio and Television). SIP, was assisted in negotiations by Irish Actors Equity, and by its affiliation with the trade union group SIPTU. In the UK agreements were negotiated with the rest of the building-based Theatre sector, and finally with independent, non-building based touring companies.
In Ireland and the UK these agreements gave playwrights an up-front commission fee (or an option fee if the play wasn’t commissioned) as well as a royalty. It guaranteed the playwright the right to approve or prevent any changes in their play, to be consulted over the choice of directors and actors, as well as over casting and marketing, and to attend rehearsals.
Over the last couple of decades, particularly in the UK but also to a lesser extent in Ireland, things have got more complicated. Encouraged by the Arts Councils, expanding literary departments came up with schemes to develop young playwrights in particular, including seed money schemes, attachments, mentoring, readings, workshops and scratch productions of various kinds. There is a growing number and variety of co-written plays, and playwrights are increasingly working outside theatres in the community and in schools. None of these forms of development fitted within the existing agreements, and playwrights found some aspects of them irksome and even exploitative. On the other hand, these schemes were designed in good faith and led to many more new plays being done, particularly over the last decade or so (in the UK new plays have overtaken revivals in the repertoire).
In order that playwrights can get their plays on, but also get the best deal for their work, WGI wish to collaborate with our members, particularly those working in Theatre, to review existing agreements and produce a set of guidelines which will be relevant to the needs and experience of playwrights currently working in Ireland. The idea of these guidelines would be to inform and arm playwrights and their agents, but also to help theatres and companies to get the best out of playwrights. As we seek to preserve and improve our agreements, we hope that theatres will, in collaboration with us, endorse and implement our recommended guidelines.
Please let us know of your experiences of the Theatre-playwright relationship – where it goes right and where it goes wrong. We intend to set up a working committee for playwrights and would welcome volunteers to help us with this work. The questionnaire has been sent to you by email via Survey Monkey. We would be delighted to hear from you and greatly appreciate your time in completing this survey.