Written by Liz Richards
August 31, 2016
I’ve been doing it out on my blog, fyeahgreatplays.com, for a while now, so it seemed only natural to migrate here in a more official Advice Columnist capacity. I’ve freelanced as a stage manager around New York as well as regionally, I’m a member of Actor’s Equity and a total contract junkie, and I occasionally cohost a podcast on theater and performance (Maxamoo).
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Should I spend $10k on tuition for a playwriting degree or spend a fraction of that on seeing more theater, buying plays and other books, practicing and teaching myself?
One of my producer friends once said that theater is one of the only professions where you can wake up and decide you’re in it. A doctor will have a very hard time if they suddenly start calling themselves a doctor and open up an office. (Or at least a very dangerous time.)
So yes, you can be a playwright without going to school for it. You can write like mad, read and see everything, and work on your own. But I also think that going to a school and surrounding yourself with like-minded, driven people can help you challenge yourself in a way that’s hard to do on your own. It’s less about the prestige or reputation you can gain from a specific university program (though sometimes connections made through colleges can be invaluable), and more about being constantly pushed and challenged in a structured environment bent on getting the best out of you they can. There’s a freedom to experiment in the collegiate environment that is sometimes harder to find in the real world: you have performance space, prop, costume, and scene shops with archives at your disposal, and most importantly, the time to work things out on your own you often aren’t afforded in the real world of producing.
I’m not saying everyone has to go to college. If you can afford it, it’s a wonderful resource. If not, there are plenty of previously mentioned ways to create your own education. You can form your own weekly writers’ groups, meeting to read and give feedback. Find your favorite collaborators and play with them. See lots of shows and read lots of books. Make your homework reading the trade papers. There’s more than one way to get your work onstage.