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.