How to Become a Playwright: Education and Career Roadmap

Should I Become a Playwright?

Playwrights are writers who create stories that take place on stage. They develop characters who are then brought to life by actors, and the words they write, once performed, create a piece of art that can entertain, educate and move an audience. Writing can be a very solitary activity, and playwrights may spend many hours sitting in front of a computer. Travel might be required to meet with publishers or to participate in rehearsals.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field English, screenwriting, or a similar program related to playwriting
Experience Entry-level; playwrights may gain training on-the-job
Key Skills Writers need to be creative, have strong storytelling skills, and be disciplined enough to sit down and write on a regular basis
Salary (May 2014) $67,870 per year (Mean pay for all writers and authors)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Enroll in a Bachelor's Degree Program

Like all writers, playwrights look for a fresh way to tell stories and cultivate their ideas into a finished product. It is essential for playwrights to know the structure of playwriting, which includes writing dialogue, developing characters and integrating facts and information into the scene. A bachelor's degree program in playwriting or screenwriting can also teach aspiring playwrights the creative and technical aspects of theater through classes in acting, directing, drama history and literary criticism, lighting, scenery and costume design. In some programs, students may develop a script with a faculty member and have it produced by the college theater department.

Step 2: Write and Develop Scripts

While the theater community celebrates new visions and compelling work, getting a play to go from a script to a staged performance is an endeavor that requires enormous amounts of perseverance. It's important for a playwright to write, rewrite and write again to develop an arc of a story, improve character development and tighten up scenes. Having readings with actors, workshopping plays and participating in rehearsals will also help a playwright hone his or her craft.

Success Tip

  • Direct scripts. One way for playwrights to get their words on stage is to direct their own work. Not only can directing offer additional career opportunities, but it will give playwrights a chance to rewrite scenes and dialogue during rehearsal.

Step 3: Enter Playwriting Contests

Local theater groups often sponsor contests, which are a good way for a playwright to gain exposure. Although some contests may offer a modest cash prize, the greater benefit for playwrights is the opportunity to have their script included in staged readings; sometimes, the winning play is even fully produced.

Step 4: Consider a Master's Degree

Although not required for a career as a playwright, a master's degree has the added benefit of providing additional exposure to a wide range of professional opportunities and contacts. In addition to advanced courses in playwriting, collaboration with theater professionals is built into many programs and can involve working with professional actors, directors, and costume and set designers and contributing to readings and full productions.

Success Tip

  • Build relationships with theater professionals. Organizations like the Playwrights Foundation will offer a wealth of information on classes, workshops, script submissions and collaborative opportunities with other theater professionals. As an emerging playwright, you can also learn about fellowships sponsored by arts foundations that offer career-advancing stipends and grants.
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