Death of the Playwright in the 21st Century

I am no longer taken aback by the response I receive when I answer the inevitable probing question at networking events, “So what do you do?”

“I’m a playwright,” I respond proudly, if not a little wearily because I know what’s coming next?

“You mean like for theater? (chuckles and a slight frown). “You must not make a lot of money.”

“I don’t write for the money,” I reply softly.

They gasp, offended at such an absurd notion in this day and age; and off they go enveloped in their air of disdain for the noble, but financially poor playwright.

True, so very, very true!! The life of a playwright in the 21st Century is far from being a noble, prosperous profession it was in the times of Shakespeare or even the early 20th Century. There are no agents beating down your door, proclaiming you the next Miller or Wilde. Large Broadway houses are not shelling out thousands, if not millions, to bring to the stage the works of an unknown playwright who has not won prestigious awards – or even if they have. And this is so because the financial risks are too high these days with competition coming heavily from television and film, oh, and now the Internet.

Let’s face it! The days of patronage for a playwright are over. 21st Century playwrights must be their own producers, agents and therapists. So why be a playwright, then? I ask myself this question every time I board a Greyhound bus to New York to see one of my plays performed in an Off or Off Off Broadway festival. The truth is – and as old fashioned as it may sound – it’s where my muse has directed me.

I do not write for money. I write to breathe. I write to tell the story. I write to speak – if only to an audience of 5 or 35 people. And now, I am opening myself up to teach others how to write – how to embrace their muse and the stories that come with it. Why do such a thing? Because somebody has to, so why not me? See a need – fill the need, right?

But let me make this clear, the playwright of the 21st Century will only survive – emotionally and financially – if we embrace the harsh truth that no one is looking for YOU. Networking, publishing and self-producing are the keys to success for the playwright. You must come out from behind your computer screen and be the face of your brand – build the brand – market the brand.

Yes, long gone are the days when we can just write the story, send it to the producer and then just show up at the theatre to see the finished product. Dream big, we must. But we must also be strategic and surround ourselves with knowledge and wisdom if we are to survive and continue the tradition of playwriting.

Tell the story, dreamer. Tell the story. Whether it’s to a 30 seat theatre or a 300 seat theatre, it must be told.


Want to take your work to the next level? Have a story idea you feel will make a great play? Send me an inquiry for private consultation for “From Your Head to the Page to the Stage.” I will share my knowledge and experience with you to help you take your work to the next level in this private session.

About rebekahpierce

Rebekah L. Pierce is an award-winning and bestselling socially conscious author and playwright whose work primarily focuses on contemporary women and family. She is also the founder and CEO of The Pierce Agency, LLC, a literary and publishing services agency whose mission is to assist aspiring and emerging authors and playwrights bring professionally edited and designed works to the market. To learn more about her work, visit and
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2 Responses to Death of the Playwright in the 21st Century

  1. Ey Wade says:

    Your feelings as a playwright are the same as those of an author. It never ends, it is like the spark that wakes the brain. The blood that flows through your body. The oxygen that makes it rich and fulfilling, the muscles, sinew, bones that give you life and energy to reach out pick up that pen or pencil and bleed your life unto that paper. That is being a writer.
    I hope you get a lot of students.

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