Saturday, December 30, 2023

Writing by the Numbers 2023


Writing by the Numbers 2023

Nathan Johnson in Revolution's Edge, photo by Nile Scott Shots. 
Revolution's Edge ran for 14 weeks at Boston's Old North Church

This year was a huge step forward. My work as a writer and producing artistic director of Plays in Place was intensely busy. We worked on projects in various stages of development with the National Parks of Boston, The Lyric Stage Company of Boston, Historic Beverly, MassBike, Old North Illuminated, Historic Northampton, Harvard Law School, and Old New-Gate Prison & Copper Mine (State of CT).

Plays in Place reached more than 2,500 audience members with productions and workshops at five sites. And we were involved with producing and developing more than ten plays of various lengths.

In doing so, we worked with a lot of theater artists:
8 playwrights
5 creative producers
5 directors
51 actors
4 stage managers
2 sound designers
8 musicians
2 photographers
1 costume designer

I wrote two new historical site-specific plays that we produced with Plays in Place. Revolution's Edge ran for 14 weeks (42 performances) at Old North Church in Boston, and will return again next year for 10 weeks (40 performances, June 7-August 10). My play The Optimist's Razor was part of a series of three one-acts we produced at Historic Northampton, Pulling at the Roots,  (along with plays by Talya Kingston and Jasmine Goodspeed). The run this summer sold out super fast and the show will return in June 2024.

Plays in Place is engaged with more than half a dozen projects right now, including a series of plays about 19th Century cyclist Kittie Knox (which will include real bikes). Our big news is that my play, A Light Under the Dome, got permission and funding to be produced in the Senate Chamber of the Massachusetts' State House, August 13-16, 2024! This is part of the Suffrage in Black & White project for the National Parks of Boston.

I continue to be grateful to have found this creative niche. Our production partners and audience members continue to love what we're making, and I get the privilege of working and having fun with a diverse and energetic creative team.

Outside of PiP, my number of productions was way up from last year, though still not up to pre-pandemic numbers yet.I was super excited that my full-length Drift, finally had a production at the LAB Theater Project in Tampa this fall, and I was able to travel there for some rehearsals and performances. 

My short Christmas play, Santa Doesn't Live Here Anymore, had a ton of productions, in English and Spanish, and on stage, streaming, and as an audio play. A production of it directed by Kenneth Castillo won Best Script and Best Play at the Brisk Festival in Los Angeles.

I love this poster for one of the audio versions of Santa Doesn't Live Here Anymore. You can listen to it here

As always, I share these numbers with the hope that others will do so, too, and aspiring writers (aren't we all) will get some data points about the writing life and business.

The cast, director and SM for Drift at the LAB Theater Project in Tampa 

My writing/life stats for 2023:  


Number of Productions/Readings:  43 (39 productions, 4 readings). 

These were of 26 different plays, including full-length scripts, in 18 US states (double last year's states)  and 3 countries (US, Korea, England, plus my first show in Guam!). Several productions were audio versions of plays on radio and streaming.

Number of Performances:  141.  This includes published plays.

Previous Years' productions and performances:

2022:  18 productions and readings, 33 performances
2021:  26 productions and readings, 60 performances
2020:  14 productions and readings, 21 performances
2019:  46 productions and readings, 310 performances
2018:  42 productions and readings.  259 performances.
2017:  48 total.  227 performances.
2016:  40 total. 106 performances.
2015:  49 total. 151 performances.
2014:  44 total. 123 performances.

Gabe Levey and Myka Plunkett in The Optimist's Razor, directed by Brianna Sloane. Photo by Frank Aronson.

Estimated Audience for 2023:  7,293 total

These numbers are way up from last year, which is very exciting. I'm still pretty far from where I was pre-pandemic.

Previous years' audiences:

2022:  1,760
2021:  3,300
2020:  1,607
2019: 12,077
2018:  11,424
2017:  13,092
2016:  6,000
2015:  11,578
2014:  13,411

(For published plays I estimate low--40 people/performance. I don't track plays used by students in competition, so the actual number is higher. )

Distant Neighbors is being published by Original Works 

My novels have all been out for a while now, so sales are tiny (the smallest yet.)

Books sold:  8
Previous Years'  book sales:

2022: 22
2021:  15
2020:  76
2019:  35
2018:  77
2017:  40+
2016:  60+
2015:  350+
2014:  78


Most of my marketing time is spent securing new Plays in Place projects, which leaves little time for other submissions. The Playwright Submission Binge remains an important support that helps make sure I take some time to market my non-PiP work.

Total:   45  (down from 105 last year)

queries for plays:  2
play scripts submitted:  43 

Carpentry projects provide a good break from writing and theater work. This year my wife and I built a murphy bed!

Writing output:

This was a good year for new scripts, writing three pieces on commission.
  • Wrote Revolution's Edge, a new historical site-specific play for Old North Church (Plays in Place commission).
  • Wrote The Optimist's Razor, a new historical site-specific play for Historic Northampton (Plays in Place commission).
  • Wrote The Great Disappointment Part 1, a new historical ten-minute play. 
  • Wrote the first draft of Kittie Knox play, for a series of bicycle historical site-specific plays (Plays in Place commission)
  • LOTS of research on new historical projects.

I expect 2024 to be mostly about research and revisions, though I am working on a new short magic play with Evan Northrup for the Boston Theater Marathon. I have a LOT of historical reading to do for potential commission projects that I'm hoping will materialize in 2024/2025 leading to 2026 productions.

Plays watched:  26 (saw 27 in 2022)
Movies/TV series watched:  51  (48 in 2022)
Plays read: 10 (12 in 2022)
Books read:  25 (29 in 2022)

The team that workshopped A Light Under the Dome at the MA State House in August. In 2024, we'll stage a full production there.

Patrick's writing $$ for 2023

Gross Income:  $22,765
published plays performance royalties:  $391
play production royalties:  $2,195   
film projects:  $0  
play commissions:  $12,535   
teaching/coaching/consulting: $740   
my books:  $14
Prizes/fellowships: $0     
Producer work for Plays in Place: $6,890
misc. (essays, panels, editing, other): $0

Expenses:  about $13,000 (includes mileage expenses)  

Net Income:  $9,765 (before taxes)

Past years:

2022:  Gross income: $22,025  Expenses: $7,095  Net:  $14,930
2021:  Gross income:  $11,394   Expenses:  $5,866  Net:  $5,582
2020:  Gross income:  $14,162  Expenses: $5,822  Net:  $8,340
2019:  Gross income:  $19,511  Expenses:  $7,500  Net:  $11,761
2018:  Gross Income: $23,192  Expenses: $14,227  net:  $8,965
2017:  Gross Income: $31,343   Expenses:  $9,715  net:  $21,628
2016:  Gross Income:  $25,857  Expenses: $11,472  net:  $14,385
2015:  Gross income: $8,662  Expenses: $4,979  net:  $3,682
2014:  Gross income:  $7,974  Expenses $5,580  net:  $2,494
2013:  Gross income:   $7,767  Expenses:  5,758  net:  $2,029
2012:  Gross Income:  $3,844  Expenses:  $2,808  net:  $1,063
2011:  Gross Income:   $2,638   Expenses:  $4,665  net:  $-2,027

My income stayed steady from last year. My commission income was up by 50%, which is excellent. I took in a lot less for teaching and consulting (down $3K, which is fine). I make money from my Plays in Place work with a combo of commissions, royalties, and producer fees. This year, I've got four co-producers helping me manage projects, which is essential, but it also means that the pool of producer dollars has be split into more shares. (We're learning that we need to charge more, so that we can all be paid more fairly for the many hours we spend.) I spent a LOT of time on the road, which is why my expenses were super high this year.

I think I have a shot at staying steady, income-wise, in 2024, but it won't be easy. I will have MUCH less commission money, but I should do okay from royalty and producer money.

Plays in Place  Boston Co-producers Katherine Shaver, Jess Meyer, Jazzmin Bonner and me,
Such a great team!

My time stats for 2023:

Total working time: 1,904 hours    total transit time: 260 hours

Time spent on writing stuff:  1,597 hours   

  • actual writing and research:  421 hours 
  • reading for work (not project research):  12 hours  
  • play attendance:  56 hours 
  • rehearsals/meetings/consulting/teaching:  108  hours  
  • marketing and admin:  96  hours  
  • Seven Devils New Play Foundry Board Work: 60 hours
  • Transit time for projects: 260 hours

Time spent on Home Renovations/Projects : 307 hours

The playwright team on Pulling at the Roots: me, Jasmine Goodspeed, and Talya Kingston (who is also our Western MA co-producer).

I put in an extra 200 hours of work over last year and traveled a lot more (100 extra hours) to do it. I spent 55 days on the road for Plays in Place, plus 8 days in Florida for Drift rehearsals and performances. (63 days on the road is also why my expenses were so high this year.) I spent an additional 250 hours on Plays in Place work (not counting writing/researching/revising plays). 

My travel time might decrease a little bit this year (maybe). I hope to keep finding ways to share the workload with my co-producers so that I can stay sane and have time with my family and fix up our barn. 

It was a big deal for me to surpass my annual writing hours goal of 400 hours, despite all the producer work and travel. It's important that I keep finding the time to write, read, and think.

How I spent my time in past years:

2022:  1,700 total work hours.  1,340 writing hours (409 writing/18 reading/44 play attendance/130 rehearsing & meetings/127 admin & marketing/27 Seven Devils/Plays in Place 585.  167 in transit.  365 hours on home renovations & real estate.

2021:  1,698 total work hours. 1,358 writing hours (480 writing/11 reading/48 play attendance/189 rehearsing/156 marketing/27 Seven Devils/37 Dramatists Guild/9 Media Work/ 451 Plays in Place.  157 in transit.  339 hours on home renovations/real estate.

2020:  1,882 total work hours. 1,382 writing hours (580 writing/21 reading/55 play attendance/129 rehearsing/176 marketing/36 Seven Devils/106 Dramatists Guild/200 Plays in Place.  78.5 in transit.  519 hours on home renovations/real estate.

2019:  2,119 total work hours. 1,619 writing hours (394 writing/31 reading/83 play attendance/375 rehearsing/210 marketing/11 New Play Alliance/79 Dramatists Guild/437 Plays in Place.  294 hours in transit.  500 hours on home renovations/real estate.

2018:  1,905 total works hours. 1,905 writing hours (546 writing/30 reading/89 play attendance/553 rehearsing/373 marketing & admin/41 New Play Alliance/110 Dramatists Guild/164 Plays in Place).  282 hours in transit.

2017:  2,018 total work hours.  1,338 writing hours (371 writing/23 reading/468 rehearsing/347 marketing/129 New Play Alliance and Dramatists Guild)+680 hours on house renovations

2016:  2,096 total work hours. 1,223 writing hours (416 writing/28 reading/438 rehearsing/274 marketing-admin/67 New Play Alliance)+873 on house renovations.

2015: 1,596 total work hours.  1,035 writing hours (262 writing/52 reading/295 rehearsing/303 marketing-admin/123 New Play Alliance) + 561 on moving and house renovations

2014:  1,556 total work hours. 1,426 writing hours (452 writing/109 reading/342 rehearsing/396 marketing/127 New Play Alliance) + 130 hours farming.

 2013:  1,898 total work hours.  996 writing hours (394 writing/308 rehearsing/294 marketing)  + 902 hours farming

2012:  1,630 total work hours.  896 writing hours.  (386 writing/278 rehearsing and meeting/231 marketing)   + 734 hours farming

2011: 818 writing/work hours.  My kids were a lot younger back then.

That's it. I hope these are useful or interesting to you. Perhaps this can serve as a cautionary tale--I put in a lot of hours and took home a very small income. Or perhaps an inspiration, that it's possible to create engaging work for a big range of audiences and get to work with cool people and get paid (not a lot) to do it.

Thanks for reading. 
I hope you all have a productive and prosperous 2024  Happy New Year!

Evan Turissini and Brooks Reeves in Revolution's Edge, photo by Nile Scott Shots

Here are some links to other end-of-year posts by my playwright friends:

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Revolution's Edge opens June 15

 My newest project, Revolution’s Edge, opens June 15. Check out the video trailer below for more info about the show.

This exciting examination of the intense pressure cooker of pre-Revolution politics, faith, and family opens June 15 and runs through September 19 at Old North Church in Boston. Performances will be Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, at 5pm.

You can buy tickets here.

Check out our spiffy video trailer:

Revolution’s Edge takes place on April 18, 1775–the day before the Battle of Lexington & Concord–and centers on the interaction between Loyalist Minister Mather Byles Jr., Cato who is enslaved by Byles, and ship’s captain John Pulling. Byles has just resigned his position, and Pulling is an ardent Patriot about to hang signal lanterns in the steeple that night. On the brink of war, these three fathers of young children search for information to help navigate the treacherous times unfolding around them.

I wrote the script, Alexandra Smith is directing, Christina Beam will design the costumes, and Jess Meyer is lead producer on this project. Our actors are Brooks Reeves as Byles, Nathan Johnson as Cato, and Evan Turissini as Pulling, with Eric McGowan and Shifty Celestin as understudies. This is a Plays in Place project.

If you’re in or near Boston this summer, I hope you’ll check it out. (Or pass it along to people who are.)

If you’re curious about the history or process, I did an interview on the Hub History podcast. You can listen here:


Friday, January 13, 2023

Survey of Submission Binge Playwrights - 2022 Activity


At the end of every year, I like to tally up my writing numbers for the year (here's the post for 2022). This habit is shared by various other members of the Playwright Submission Binge, an online group dedicated to marketing for playwrights that I started back in 2003. A bunch of us share our numbers to the group, and it's fun (especially for a numbers guy like me) to see how we're all doing.

In the past, I've undertaken surveys of Binge members to see how active they were in particular "Binges"  (a "Binge" is a bi-annual challenge that the group takes to see if they can each send out a play a day for 30 days). I ran previous surveys in 2017 and in 2011, which mostly told us us how active people were in the "Binges" and a bit more about their writing lives and demographics.

This year, as people were doing their year-end tallies, I thought it might be fun to capture stats for 2022 numbers for members of the group. The questions were a little different from previous surveys (so we can't compare them directly), and the numbers compiled are estimates that tell us a bit about how this subset of playwrights fared in 2022 and how much they were getting their work to theatres and audiences.

A caveat on the results: 110 playwrights who responded are members of the 1,300-member Binge group. This is not a random sample of the group, or of the playwriting community as a whole. These number reflect information only about the people who took the time to respond to the survey. 

By its very nature, The Binge attracts writers who are serious about getting their work out there. Almost all members have been produced, most of them published, and many earn some income from their writing. I'm not sure that it's possible to draw large lessons about the field from this survey, but perhaps there are some to be found. Definitely worth a discussion.

This time around, I did not request demographic info and all responses were anonymous, recorded over a 10-day period. I intentionally kept the survey short, so that more people would be likely to complete it. I might do this again next January, and I've been getting plenty of suggestions for additional questions. If you have suggestions, please put them in the comments below.

Let's take a look at the numbers.

Number of respondents:  110

Question #1:

How many scripts did you submit in 2022? (3 scripts to the same venue count as 3 submissions)

Total: 8,309 scripts median 57.00 scripts average: 76.23 scripts

Question #2:

How many in-person productions did you have of full-length plays or musicals in 2022?

Total: 100 Median: 0.00 Average: 0.92

Question #3:

How many in-person productions of one-acts and short plays or musicals did you have in 2022?

Total: 529 Median: 1.00 Average: 4.81

Question #4:

How many in-person readings did you have in 2022?

Total: 167 Median: 1.00 Average: 1.53

Question #5:

How many virtual (Zoom or other platform) readings and/or productions did you have in 2022?
Total: 248
Median: 1.00
Average: 2.28

Question #6:

About how much money did you earn from your playwriting in 2022?  (includes royalties, prizes, commissions, but not teaching. This is gross income, so before expenses.)

Total: $126,539.91
Median: $200.00
Average:  $1,150.36

Question #7:

Forms response chart. Question title: Did you travel to see any of your shows produced or read in 2022?. Number of responses: 110 responses.

Question #8:

Forms response chart. Question title: Do you currently have any productions or readings scheduled for 2023?. Number of responses: 109 responses.

Question #9:

How many years have you been a member of the Binge?

Total:  610 years
Median: 4.00 years
Average 5.54 years

I wish that we had numbers like this pre-pandemic, as they might show us whether writers are having a harder time placing their work.

Some thoughts I have:

These playwrights submit a lot of scripts. More than 8,300 total submissions is a LOT of plays sent out. Notice that the average and mean are pretty close--there are definitely some over-achievers in the group, but most of the writers are sending out a lot of work.

It's very hard to get a full-length production. Most people who replied had zero in-person full-length productions.  (Many writers don't write full-length plays.) Given the state of the pandemic this isn't surprising. It's always been hard, and my sense is that it's much harder than it used to be.

However, this group did reach audiences. If you add up all the public performances-productions and readings, online and in-person, you come up with 1,044 productions and readings. That's a lot of actors and directors and audiences who are engaged with this work.

Income is highly imbalanced in our field. On the plus side, this group collectively earned more than $126,000 from their plays. But you can see a big gap between the mean ($200) and the average ($1,150), which shows a likely imbalance. In this case, the mean is $200, which means that half the list made $200 or less. Only 6 people who responded earned $5,000 or more from their plays in 2022. Which is not a surprise--most playwrights earn most of their livings from teaching or other sources.

It's a tough business, no doubt about it.

Mostly, I come away with a renewed appreciation of how dedicated and hard-working my fellow writers are to their art and craft. They are optimists at heart, and they are reaching audiences. Those are good things. I'm excited to see that in January, two-thirds already had a production lined up for the coming year.

Thanks very much to everyone who responded to the survey!  I know there a bunch of ways to improve it for next year, but I'm glad we gave this a try.