Why Be a Playwright in L.A.? 5 Writers Share Their Reasons

A scene from Padraic Duffy's play Puzzler
A scene from Padraic Duffy's play Puzzler

The pay stinks. Hollywood is more glamorous (and pays more). And Broadway is 3,000 miles away. So why be a playwright in L.A.?

That's the question posed by our theater issue this year, which comes out just in time for our theater awards on Monday.

Check out Steven Leigh Morris' main story in the issue, looking at three generations of L.A. playwrights, plus a story about Alexander Woo, a playwright and writer for True Blood.

But to get you started, below are five answers to our question, from five L.A. playwrights:

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5. "I'm a native. Grew up in Tarzana. Did theater in high school and college. Went to Princeton, came back here to do TV, was a production assistant, but quickly traveled away from TV, back to theater. I don't feel passionate about other forms -- I feel my sensibility matches up with theater. I've done short films where it doesn't translate. ... I've been lucky enough to find theaters I call home. ... Most playwrights are search-ing for a home." --Padraic Duffy, who writes primarily for Sacred Fools Theatre Company and Theatre of NOTE

4. "I'm of an age that I don't think this is going to be a springboard into something else. I do it because you can get produced here -- for little money. I have great fun in Los Angeles doing theater. Most of the people I work with tend to do [theater here] because it's their craft, their enjoyment, and if there's an element that might springboard them to something else, so be it. But the intrinsic value is what drives them -- and so many of the world's great actors are here." --John Rafter Lee, a playwright and voice-over actor who came here from England

3. "I had no luck in terms of sending a script out and getting it done. ... Here it's such a community, getting things done [is] so much about who you know. ... They want to know you as well as your work." --Leon Martel, who worked in L.A. for decades as a playwright and composer

2. "I'm a founder of Chalk Rep [a company formed by graduates of UC San Diego]. I've had three full productions and have had a hand in pro-ducing all of them -- I have not yet found a situation where I've been able to submit a play or hand it over for production. Chalk is incredibly supportive of my work, and that's been my home as a playwright. The [Black] Dahlia also co-produced one of my plays. For me, the only route into production I have found is to really know a company, get a foot in the company and do some of the legwork of production: For Chalk, I do marketing, run the website, help out with casting, the hiring of artists. I've not had to fund my plays, have not spent my own money, and I haven't been paid. But I could not be happier artistically." --Ruth McKee, playwright and literary manager at Black Dahlia Theatre

1. "My genius producer on two plays, Suzie Dietz, is primarily L.A.-based. ... Writing for three seasons on a TV show (great for WGA [Writers Guild of America] healthcare and paying off playwriting debts) kept me in L.A. for a few years after starting [the play] Queens for a Year in Pier Carlo [Talenti's playwriting] group [at the Mark Taper Forum]. But to answer you frankly, in terms of playwriting: I'm not. Remaining in L.A., that is. I got a place in Brooklyn last year and have returned to living in New York to work on projects there. My car and half my library still live in L.A." --T.D. Mitchell, playwright and TV writer (Army Wives)

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