Who do you write for? Chicago, New York, or LA?


Pirates of Penzance - The Hypocrites Theater in Chicago
Pirates of Penzance – The Hypocrites Theater in Chicago


I’m just finishing up my first year of the MFA program at Ohio. So far, so good. We had three mentors in for our end of the year festival from Chicago’s Goodman theater last weekend. As someone who moved here from Chicago after 11 years of acting, improvising, etc, I was thinking this week: Is it better to write for Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles? I’m talking about writing for theater for the first two, and TV for the latter. By New York, I am also including regional theater. For Chicago, I’m mainly talking about the vibrant non-Equity/Storefront scene.

This in-depth Atlantic article, about the lack of female playwrights on Broadway, addresses this question.

Is the problem that female playwrights are not “leaning in” because they assume their words will only end up in smaller venues? “There’s no reason why women should just accept the fact they are probably going to land off Broadway,” Rebeck says. “I believe they are leaning in, but meeting resistance.” Marsha Norman teaches at Julliard and says many of the female students see the statistics and the odds and are heading out to Hollywood to write for television. “That’s why TV is so good now,” she says.

I have been encouraged to write scripts with fewer characters so it’s more attractive for theaters to produce it. It’s good advice if my goal is to get on Broadway. Surely, that is the dream and goal of a lot of playwrights “ “I don’t think any playwright doesn’t consider Broadway when writing,” playwright Nell Benjamin is quoted. 

As someone from Chicago, I’m of the opinion that the heart of theater isn’t in New York, and it is definitely not on Broadway. So, if a playwright wants to support them-self financially and also not be restricted by Broadway and Regional Theater’s economic limits, what’s the best thing to write? In my case, I think it’s scripts with larger casts, and stories. This is two fold: 1) Equity and Non-Equity/Storefront Chicago theaters embrace scripts with larger casts (especially the Storefronts), are happy to produce them, and many times do it with national acclaim (August: Osage County; most Hypocrites productions, Ike Holter’s “Hit the Wall,” etc)

2) It mimics writing for TV, much more than writing a two or three person play.

And if you want to make money as a playwright, you’re writing for TV. (You can teach, but you’re probably going to be an adjunct, and that doesn’t pay squat.)

I like taking on all kinds of challenges, and doing what people say I can’t or should not do. This year I wrote my first year at Ohio is a 7-character play that bounces around in time. My next play will be linear and muscular, and have a female protagonist. I’ll try to limit the characters. Maybe. My goal is to write for TV, because I am going to leave grad school in my early 40s and I want to make a living and start (and support) a family. Personally, it seems to me the best way to do this is to write for Chicago, which in turn is writing for L.A.

Nothing is limiting any artist from writing fulfilling plays, stories, and characters. The question is: Do you want to put your livelihood in the hands of an archaic system of theater production? Or do you want to embrace cities and media that allow you to get your work produced?

Chicago all the way, baby.