Do you dream of being the next Shakespeare or Stephen Sondheim? If you have a love for theater and a story (or two) that you can’t keep in your head any longer, then a career as a playwright might be for you.

There’s more to life in play writing than coming up with a good narrative, though. Here’s a rundown of exactly what skills and background you need to find your way in this competitive industry, along with a few tips on where to find the best jobs as a budding playwright.

What Is a Playwright?

It’s right there in the name: A playwright is a person who writes plays. That includes both musicals and dialogue-only productions. 

You might be curious about the spelling of this profession. Play writing is one of the oldest forms of literary expression, with the first recorded plays written by the Ancient Greeks. The word “playwright” dates back to at least the early 1600s. It comes from the old English terms “pleye,” which was used for drama or applause, and “wright,” or craftsman. 

So when you’re play writing, you’re crafting a dramatic story. But isn’t that what authors do too? Yes. But the job of a playwright is to come up with a story that can be told in front of a live audience using actors, sets, and props. Once the script has been written, a playwright will often stay heavily involved in the rehearsal and staging process as the story comes alive.

What Does a Playwright Do?

In many cases, a playwright works independently and isn’t employed by a single company in order to produce regular work. That means that what you do on a day-to-day basis as a playwright is really up to you. 

Even so, there are a few crucial parts of the general playwright job description that every aspiring dramatist will work on. These usually include:

  • Creating original theatrical scripts from scratch, including research, editing, and rewriting in the same way an author would put together a book.
  • Pitching to theater producers and directors to turn your work into a real-life production.
  • Collaborating with creative teams during rehearsals and performances to make adjustments to the script and help the director provide instructions to the actors.

The actual writing part of playwright jobs may only be around 50-60% of the work you do. Finding people to help stage your play and investors to fund the performances or lease theater space will take up quite a bit of your work time. But when you see your words being performed by talented thespians, it’s all worth it.

Depending on the type of plays that you’re interested in writing, it’s crucial to be aware of plays that already exist and what audiences want to see. Ultimately, your responsibility is to provide the theater company with a script that will sell tickets and engage their audience. Part of your work time should be dedicated to reading and watching other plays to help you get your own creative juices flowing.

How to Become a Playwright

Degree and Education Requirements

While there aren’t any specific degrees that can give you a shortcut into the industry, there are academic paths that can help when you’re thinking about how to be a playwright.

Theater degrees or drama degrees aren’t only for those who want to act. You’ll have the opportunity to study some of the world’s best pieces of dramatic literature and gain a deeper understanding of what makes a great play. By studying scripts and key details like structure, dialogue, and stage directions, you’ll learn the skills that you need to write your own material.

Creative writing and English literature degrees can also be beneficial paths into a career in play writing. Best of all, many colleges will give you the opportunity to take classes or even minor in theater or drama alongside your degree, giving you the best of both worlds.

During your degree program, you’ll have exposure to plays in all kinds of different genres. Not only will this help you to narrow down the type of work you’re interested in writing yourself, but you can also pick up different techniques that can feed your own creativity and help you to stand out as a unique and original playwright.

Experience Instead of a Degree

Like many creative professions, playwright jobs don’t always require an academic background. Since you’re likely working for yourself, there aren’t formal job qualifications that need to be met, and you’ll simply be judged on the quality of your work, rather than your background.

Networking and working with as many people in the theater industry as possible is going to be incredibly beneficial. Whether that’s volunteering with your local community theater or finding an internship with another playwright or production company, this industry is all about who you know. 

But ultimately, there’s no way around this fact: You need to write. Write as much as possible and share your work with people in the industry that you trust to offer honest and helpful critiques. Consider joining a writing group in your town or city so that you can meet other playwrights and actors in your area. There are also writing competitions that you can submit your plays to, with many giving you the opportunity to have your writing reviewed by notable names in theater. 

While the connections that you make during college can lead to mentorships and introductions within the theater industry, with hard work and dedication, there are plenty of alternative paths to gaining experience on your own.

Get Your Creative Writing Muscles Working

Creative Writing Bootcamp: Start a Brand New Story

Average Playwright Salary

You’re probably wondering “how much does a playwright make?” It’s a valid question, but it’s almost impossible to answer. After all, Lin-Manuel Miranda is probably making significantly more these days than he did before Hamilton became a hit.

Generally speaking, the typical salary for writers in the United States is around $67,120 or $32 per hour. But since most playwrights are freelancers, what you decide to charge for your work is up to you. If your play gains interest from big-time producers, or there’s even talk of adapting it into a television show or film, you can easily earn into the six figures.

You may also find work in a less traditional form with a more consistent income. Colleges, art nonprofits, and festivals often hire playwrights as “artists in residence.” This type of position will usually pay a fixed stipend or wage to the writer on the condition that they provide their expertise as a teacher or mentor while working on their next project.

Jobs as a Playwright

Freelance Playwright

The vast majority of playwright jobs are freelance, and many writers, at least at the start of their careers, will produce their plays on the side of another job. It’s not uncommon to moonlight as a playwright while working front-of-house in a theater, as a drama or English teacher, or in some other creative occupation.

Since you’re not working for one employer, how you choose to spend your working time is up to you. You’ll likely be working alone or with a writing partner to research and put together your scripts before pitching them to theater companies and producers. 

Once you have some experience behind you and a string of successful plays, you may be hired by a theater company to write a play specifically for them. This is known as a commission. In this case, you may have less creative freedom and a brief to follow, but you’ll also have a guaranteed fee paid to you once you hand over the final script. 

Writer in Residence

A writer-in-residence position is usually with an academic institution or creative arts program. These are most often temporary roles for six to 12 months. What you do every day will be down to the specific position and who’s employing you.

In many cases, you’ll be required to teach or provide training to up-and-coming artists in your field—in this case, theater. You’ll use your experience to help educate and inspire the next generation of playwrights, all while having some time in your schedule to work on your own creative projects. 

Working as an artist-in-residence is a great career path for playwrights who want a slightly more stable income. You’ll need to have some extensive experience behind you in order to qualify for these positions, so taking the time to network and get your name out there is essential. But once you’ve snagged one of these jobs, the future opportunities are plentiful.

Write the Next Great Play (and Your Future Career)

As with many creative jobs, trying to get into the theater industry can seem daunting. But with a dedication to your craft and a desire to keep building your skills, anything is possible. 

So keep putting pen to paper, and maybe one day, we’ll be watching some of the best actors in the world bring your vision to life on the stage. 

Learn From the World’s Best Writers

The Art of Creative Writing: Eternal Lessons from the Past

Written By

Holly Landis

  • Click here to share on Twitter
  • Click here to share on Facebook
  • Click here to share on LinkedIn
  • Click here to share on Pinterest