Money Talks: How Playwrights Earn a Living

It’s a common myth that ‘successful’ playwrights make a living  from writing plays. This idea can make us feel like an impostor as we trudge to faithfully to an unrelated day job; but the fact is, even the most “successful” playwrights tend to supplement their incomes with other jobs, from teaching to other types of writing to different careers altogether!

Whilst it might not be ideal that writing plays isn’t the most lucrative of jobs, it’s sometimes good to know that you’re not alone. So, in this blog series, we’ll be chatting to playwrights to find out how they earn a living. We hope that by uncovering your stories, we’ll be helping to promote equality in the Arts, albeit in a small way.

In the first post of the series, we talk to Birmingham based, award winning playwright, Matthew Gabrielli…

“After finishing university I had a string of different jobs bar work, barista, shops and libraries, whilst I made theatre work on the side, often this was unpaid or profit share, which often cost me more money than I’d ever make.

Juggling writing, producing and sometimes directing plays and having a full time job, was starting to take it toll. It felt pretty deflating, because a lot of opportunities at the time were 18 to 25 so I had this idea that if I hadn’t gotten a full time writing job by 25 I’d failed (this in hindsight is a ridiculous thing to think). I decided to quit the writing and focus on a “proper” job.

I made a conscious decision to get a job in the industry. Although I thought I was quitting playwriting, I didn’t want the years and time I had spent making theatre to go to waste, so to speak, so I went after arts jobs.

The first job I got w as a paid internship as an administrator for an arts organisation, learning about arts marketing, event management and fundraising.

I built on that experience and this eventually led to me getting a job as Fundraising and Marketing Coordinator at a local theatre company.  Even though I wasn’t earning a living from playwriting I was working in the industry, making useful contacts and learning practical skills such as ACE applications and developing marketing campaigns for theatre shows.

The job is 4 days a week, Monday to Thursday so that gives me Friday to focus on my writing,   I tend to do a small bit of writing every day, sometimes it might be breaking down a plot on the bus to and from work, or trying to type up a couple of pages of dialogue when I first get home from work. Then I can spend a couple of hours on Friday putting it all together.

Having a job I’m passionate about, also lead to a burst of creativity and  as well as my day job I’ve also started to earn a living from my writing.  Last year I won Masterclass’ Pitch Your Play 2018 and had a rehearsed reading in London at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, working for a theatre company meant I was given flexibility and support I hadn’t had in other jobs, which meant I was able to make the most of the opportunity.  I was also able to use skills I learnt from my day job  to apply for funding from University of Birmingham, collaborating with a researcher writing a play inspired by Greek myth for young people. I’m also at the beginning of writing my first Arts Council England project grant application for my own work.

I’m lucky that my day job is in the theatre industry I feel I’ve benefited and learnt a lot which has helped me pursue my career as a playwright.”

Find out more about Matthew Gabrielli here, or on Twitter @mr_gabrielli

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