Tuesday, May 2, 2023

The Other Writers

By law, dramatists are forbidden from unionizing. The PRO Act would make things better for dramatists, but still not allow us to form a union.

Writers for television and film are treated differently. They have union, and the Writers Guild of America, both East and West, is currently on strike, largely over issues related to streaming content.

When streaming services began, writers accepted very little for their work, since nobody knew if online delivery of video content was going to be feasible in the long run anyway. The WGA agreed to allow content providers to experiment, which paid off with companies like Netflix making huge profits. The writers? Not so much.

According to the WGA, "The studios have taken advantage of the transition to streaming to underpay entertainment industry workers, including writers in every area of work." This complaint has been echoed by actors, who receive far less money in residuals when their work is streamed versus when it airs on television or is released on DVD.

These issues could potentially effect playwrights as well, since COVID-19 shut down so many live performances and forced theatres to produce plays online. My own play Kew Gardens was supposed to be performed live last year by Actors' Theatre in Santa Cruz, but ended up being streamed instead. The push for streaming theatre isn't necessarily a bad thing, and can improve access, as when Passage Theatre in Trenton made my adaptation of A Christmas Carol available for people to stream.

The problem is that corporate interests are insisting on ever greater profits at the expense of the people who actually create entertainment, whether in the form of plays, movies, television shows, or features and series created specifically for viewing over streaming services. The WGA is standing up because they have to do so. The current system simply is not sustainable.

While in Midtown today, I came across a group of picketers on Fifth Avenue. Writers and actors stood together, protesting the intransigence of studios who refuse to alter agreements created when streaming was in its infancy.

As a dramatist, I'm not a member of a writers union (and legally can't be as a playwright). However, I support the WGA in their fight. If the writers lose this one, we will all lose.