How to Become a Playwright


Learn the Basics of Playwriting

Playwriting is an ancient artistic expression that began to take shape as early as 4000 B.C., but theater, as we know it today, started in Ancient Greece with playwrights like Sophocles. Theatrical performances have certainly changed since the tragedies that were presented in Greece at festivals of Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility. However, the role of the playwright remains the same – to develop stories that are brought to life by actors and actresses on the stage.

The main responsibility of the playwright is to develop scripts for theatrical productions. In addition to coming up with the concept for the story and crafting characters’ dialogue, playwrights also make suggestions for the theatrical set design and develop stage directions for the actors to follow throughout the performance. But, developing plays requires more than just effective writing skills. Playwrights must be able to envision and communicate important details, like the way characters look and behave so that actors can accurately bring these characters to life for the audience.

Most playwrights, like other types of writers, work alone when developing a play. After the play is complete, they can submit their work to a theater company, and if it is approved, they will see their play produced on the stage. Playwrights who are already involved with a theater company or active in the local theater community may also work with actors and directors in a process called collective creation, where everyone works together to research a story and develop the script. The playwright will then revise and shape the rough draft into a final production. Playwrights will also sometimes work with a dramaturg, who is responsible for managing the production’s literary aspects and providing helpful feedback to the playwright. Theater is a collaborative art, so it is important that playwrights can work closely with others, and be able to take advice and constructive criticism.

Like other careers within the world of theater, there is a significant amount of competition in the playwriting industry. Playwrights who want to be successful need to refine their skills and develop their talent while working hard to network and get their plays in front of the right people. Though it may take time to get your first play produced and see your work come to life on the stage, there are other opportunities that you can take advantage of to learn valuable and relevant skills that will guide you in your work as a playwright.


Develop Your Writing Skills

Nearly any skilled writer with a passion for theater can become a playwright. However, there are a few key skills that you need to refine if you want to be successful in this competitive industry. The ability to write well and tell engaging, impactful and creative stories are the most important skills that the aspiring playwright must develop and improve. Often in theater what is not being said is just as important as the dialogue, so it is vital that a playwright is able to visualize scenes and characters and communicate this information clearly in the stage directions. Playwrights also need to have the discipline to write for long periods of time on a regular basis and take a script from the initial drafting stages all the way to the production of the play.

Playwriting can take many forms, depending on the writer’s overall vision. Typical play formats include comedy, tragedy, historical, satirical, and farce. Some plays include multiple scenes and complex stage directions, while other plays take place in one setting and consist of mostly dialogue. Playwrights typically write full-length plays that are one hour or longer with two or three acts, but shorter plays are also performed across the globe that can be as short as ten minutes and can include only one performer. Some modern productions also incorporate music, dance, and other multi-media as part of the performance.

There are a few ways that playwrights can improve their craft. One of the best ways to become a better writer is by writing on a regular basis and bringing your drafts to workshops. Workshops allow playwrights to get valuable feedback from others in the theater community who may have important insight on how to improve the work.  Workshops can also answer questions, like what are the different theater spaces playwrights write for, story structure and development, manuscript format elements and page layout, title page, cast page, musical numbers, and act/scene elements, setting, dialogue, lyrics and stage direction, and transition events.

Another way that aspiring playwrights can improve their skills is by gaining experience in theatrical productions. By learning the roles and responsibilities of each person that goes into creating a performance, playwrights are better able to understand the way their work fits into the overall production. Of course, it is also important that aspiring playwrights watch many different kinds of plays to expose themselves to various techniques and approaches to playwriting.

Though becoming a playwright does not require formal training or a university degree, seeking specialized education can help you strengthen and refine the skills you need to become a successful playwright. Not to mention, getting a degree or attending theater workshops can help you network to meet people in the field, gain valuable experience working on productions, and find the time, space, and motivation to write on a regular basis. Earning a degree in Theater Arts, Creative Writing, or English can help you develop your skills as a writer and theater professional, while also offering you the opportunity to collaborate with others. In addition to two- and four-year undergraduate programs at private and public universities, aspiring playwrights might also consider courses and workshops offered by local theater companies that also offer valuable skill-building exercises and networking opportunities.


Build Your Portfolio

Like most creative professionals, playwrights should have a strong writing portfolio. Since there are many approaches to writing and many different types of plays, no two playwriting portfolios will be the same. The key to developing a strong portfolio is choosing the best pieces that can showcase your talent, skill, and style, as well as your progress. The playwriting portfolio is not only helpful in demonstrating your abilities to others, but it can also help you organize your finished work to make for an easier submission process when you are ready to submit your work to theater companies or for competitions.

Building a personal brand is important for any type of writer, including the playwright. Developing your brand can help give you a better understanding of how to market yourself and describe your work when networking or submitting pieces to theater companies. Your personal brand and unique writing style helps set you and your work apart from everyone else. Before developing your personal brand, you should work to understand who you are as a playwright and what you hope to achieve with your work.

Networking is also a very important part of finding new opportunities within the theater industry and growing as a professional playwright. By building contacts within the professional theater community, you can find new opportunities to collaborate and submit your work. Playwrights can attend theater conferences to meet others in the field and stay up-to-date with the latest techniques and approaches to playwriting. Many playwrights also find some of the best networking opportunities in their local theater community by working on local productions, joining writers’ groups, or attending community theater workshops and classes. By building strong connections and fostering relationships with other professionals in the field, you can create a wealth of new opportunities to learn more and get your work out there.

Playwrights who attend college can also gain valuable experience by taking advantage of internships and apprenticeships while in school or after graduation. Additionally, they can learn and develop lasting relationships with professors, who can become mentors and advisors. The relationships and experience gained early in your career can do much to boost your career and help you become successful as a playwright.

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