Jacqueline Lawton, 33
Salary: She’s earned $200 for a 10-minute play and $500 to $3,500 for one-act or full-length plays.
What She Does:
Lawton writes plays about love. She’s completed 30 — some of which were developed and produced at the Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage Festival and the Source Festival — and she has two more in the works.
Writing is only a small portion of playwriting. The job also involves research — which Lawton conducts online and by watching films, plays and people — and getting the play produced. If you don’t have an agent who handles marketing (Lawton doesn’t), you can self-produce your shows by finding a venue and amassing a production team and cast, Lawton says. One way to get a site is to pay to join an event such as the Capital Fringe Festival. The other is by invitation from a theater seeking proposals for plays to show.
Either way, the grunt work is on the playwright. “You’re doing everything — you’re doing marketing, you’re doing box office, you’re raising the money,” Lawton says.
For “Deep Belly Beautiful,” which she co-produced in 2009 at Flashpoint, she recruited three friends to design the set and costumes. She also leased rehearsal space and created playbills.
“What’s hard about being an artist is you’re truly at the mercy of who likes your work,” Lawton says.
Would You Want This Job?
To do this job, it helps to have a “dual personality,” Lawton says, “of being able to work singularly with a vision … but then also to collaborate with a director who is going to mold and shape actors and tell your story, and with designers who are going to bring out the set, lights, sound and costumes.”
It’s a lot of work for little pay. “There’s not a lot of money in the work that anyone does in theater, unless you’re on Broadway,” she says.
Lawton supplements her writing income by working as artistic associate and resident dramaturge at the African Continuum Theatre Company and as a teacher at the University of the District of Columbia and Montgomery College. She also is director of new play development at Active Cultures Theatre in University Park.
How She Got the Job:
At the University of Texas at Austin, Lawton earned a master’s in playwriting in 2003 and two bachelor’s degrees in 1999, one in radio, television and film and another in theater and dance.
In 2004, she moved to Baltimore to work at Center Stage as the education associate. The next year she joined the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Co. as a dramaturgy intern. She’s also had stints at the Shakespeare Theater Company and Arena Stage.
How you can get the Job:
Getting a degree in playwriting provides a structured place to learn and practice and a network of contacts, but it’s not necessary.
For those who choose to pursue a degree, local universities such as Catholic, Gallaudet, George Washington, Georgetown and Howard offer programs. To get into playwriting without a diploma, Lawton recommends making contact with local theater companies and seeing lots of plays.
Photos by Jason Hornick