Are You a Writer in Need of Funds? The Dramatists Guild Foundation Is Here to Help

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Photo Source: DGF

For nearly 60 years, the Dramatists Guild Foundation has been providing financial support to theater writers who need it—and in 2020, boy have they needed it. The Foundation’s original intent for this year was to dole out a total of $200,000, but when the pandemic struck, that number went out the window. Thanks to organization and support, the Foundation was able to provide $1 million in funds to theater writers. But support is still necessary, which is why there will be a virtual benefit on Dec. 21, featuring the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Stephen Sondheim, Heidi Schreck, Nathan Lane, and more. Here, executive director Rachel Routh explains DGF’s crucial mission, and how any writer can ask for money—and get it. 

For those who don’t know, what is the Dramatists Guild Foundation?
The Dramatists Guild Foundation is a national nonprofit serving writers at all stages of their careers. Our founding program was emergency grants, which has really flourished, I suppose is the word, this year. We've definitely been putting it to use. DGF was originally founded in 1962 by Alan J. Lerner who wrote “My Fair Lady,” among other works, and he had achieved this great deal of success with that show and realized that, obviously, writing is a very difficult profession, and you don't always achieve monetary success even if you achieve critical success. He wanted to give back to other writers so he and Richard Rodgers and all these amazing writers at that time set up the Dramatists Guild Foundation. Emergency grants was the [initial] focus, and over the years it's transitioned; the presidential leadership has transitioned and it’s now led by both writers and prominent business leaders from all different fields, who believe in writers. Through all of their support and our work, we've been able to grow from just emergency grants to other programs that support writers through education, through a free rehearsal space—when we're allowed to go back to rehearsal spaces, of course. 

How have the emergency grants come into play during the pandemic?
When it was founded, it was a couple thousand dollars a year, there weren't that many requests, it wasn't as well-known. As we've grown the organization and become more national so that we can reach writers all across the country, we started getting more and more requests. We had really tried to work on it strategically—to be able to give out $200,000 in 2020 was our strategic goal. But when COVID hit and quarantine happened, obviously writers’ jobs in the theater and also writers’ jobs outside of the theater, all of their extra income and their gig work disappeared. We just got flooded with requests. So now in 2020, we've given out over a million dollars so far this year, which is five times what we had planned. But as soon as this happened, we understood what our role needed to be in our community, in the theatrical community, and we had always been a place where writers knew they could turn if they needed help, and this was certainly the moment where they needed somewhere to turn. So we stepped up, and the team on the staff, the team on the board, everyone committed to doing everything we could so that we could fill every eligible request that came to us. And we've been doing that since March 12.

How does a writer in need go about actually receiving funds?
They just go to and there's a little button at the top that we added during this to make it very easy. They click on “apply for emergency grants,” and there's an application that you fill out. We tried to keep it short while also doing due diligence, but they just fill out that application, they'll get a response, they'll get any followup questions. And then every writer who is applying to us right now will get support. If you are a playwright, lyricist, librettist, composer, you will get support from DGF if you apply for an emergency grant.

In your words, why is it so crucial to support theater writers specifically?
All of us right now are turning to the words and notes and stories of writers to provide comfort for us in this time, and to provide humor and joy and togetherness and to just try and make sense of this world. Writers have always been doing that for humanity. Writing can almost be seen as a public service. It's these people who are so gifted at interpreting the world around them, and then sharing it with others in a way that can make them feel something that is just so beautiful, and I think that’s why it's really important to support writers and to support, especially, the new generation of writers and writers who maybe have been writing but haven't been given the same opportunities. We really need to lift up those writers and hear those stories so that we can be a more thoughtful society, and so that we can help understand one another. Writers also help imagine what can be. They can imagine a better future that other people can't. I know that I personally look to writers and artists to find hope and joy and what the future could look like.

Tell me about the upcoming benefit on Dec. 21?
The Write in the Dark benefit is on Monday, Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. Eastern, and it will feature writers who, like I said, have kind of taken a moment in our society and they have turned it into song or they have turned it into plays. We wanted to just give everyone—other writers, audiences—a chance to go back and feel a little bit at home in their stories and songs for one evening. The evening itself is free to watch, we thought that was really important because of everything that's happening in this world right now. But if people are able to donate and they do have the means, it’s to support our emergency grant program, which goes to support writers who are in deep need. We’ve supported every eligible request that has come to us, and again, we’ve given out over a million dollars this year, and we anticipate that that need is going to continue in 2021. This is a fundraiser to support the emergency grants to come, and every dollar raised on the 21st will go directly to emergency grants and go directly in the hands of writers.

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