Saturday, December 26, 2020

Writing by the Numbers 2020

2020 began with research on Campobello Island, New Brunswick

It's time for my annual summary of writing/work stats. This exercise is useful for me because it builds some accountability into a work life that doesn't have much overall structure or supervision.  

2020 has been a particularly difficult year for everyone, and people in the arts have been especially hard-hit, with performing arts venues closed across the country since March. In September, I detailed many of the 2020 losses in my career  in this post, and they haven't changed a lot since then. The basics are that I lost many productions and possible commissions and royalties of more than $30,000. This was going to be a big year for me and my writing and producing.

I have been luckier than many. My immediate family has stayed healthy, my wife was able to keep her job, and I've continued to write and research on several new commissions. Still, a look at this year's numbers is certainly bracing when compared to previous years.

We're fortunate that the arrival of the new vaccines promises a return to normal life and theater again, perhaps even in 2021. But we've still got some dark days ahead. It's unclear when live performance venues will be able to re-open in the coming year.

So, here are my numbers, for what they're worth.

My writing/life stats for 2020:  

Number of Productions/Readings:  14 (12 productions, 2 readings) 

These were of 16 different plays, including 1 full-length script. Most of these were streaming performances.

Number of Performances:  21.  This includes published plays.

Previous Years productions and 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.

Estimated Audience for 2020:  1,607 total

Previous Five Years audiences:

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. Companies don't always give me the audience report, so I estimate the best I can.)

Reaching audiences is my most important goal and task, more than making money or getting famous--I want my work to engage with audiences. The number of people my work reached in 2020 was down 90% from the previous year. (2020 sucked.)

Working to publish these plays was a great way to remember the fun we had in 2019.

Books sold:  76+

Previous Years of book sales:

2019:  35
2018:  77
2017:  40+
2016:  60+
2015:  350+
2014:  78

This year's number is a little misleading because Mount Auburn Cemetery and I gave away a bunch of copies of the new Mount Auburn Plays book, so more than 100+ copies of my books entered active circulation this year.  I'd hoped that with people stuck at home due to the pandemic, they would buy more of my novels to read, but the uptick was disappointingly small.

Total:   56 (down from 64 last year)

queries for plays:  0
play scripts submitted:  56 (Last year I sent 62)

I'd hoped to send out 100 scripts but didn't even come close. As soon as things shut down in March, it didn't make much sense to make submissions, because most places were struggling to stay afloat. A bunch of streaming-only opps came up later in the year, but few of them were of interest to me. I was also really busy working on commissioned plays. More and more of my time is spent on Plays in Place projects these days.

I got to spend a week at the National Winter Playwrights retreat in Grand Lake, CO, right before the pandemic (with many cool writers, including Molly Horan and Bess Welden).

Writing output:

I definitely leaned into my writing this year, and as productions dried up, I had quite a few writing projects that needed to be completed. 
  • Wrote a lot in my journal.
  • Wrote Beloved Island: Windows on Campobello, a new site-specific one-act
  • Wrote the first draft of Scipio's Balcony, a commissioned full-length site-specific play
  • Wrote a short adaptation on commission for New Rep
  • Wrote Echoes, a new audio play commissioned from the Huntington Theatre Company
  • Wrote the first draft of a new audio play for Lyric Stage
  • Began research on a series of new plays for the National Park Service
  • Edited and helped publish The Mount Auburn Plays book.
  • Wrote an article on the Seven Devils New Play Conference for American Theatre

Plays watched:  30 (saw 39 in 2019)
Movies/TV series watched:  44 (30 in 2019)
Plays read: 14  (23 in 2019)
Books read:  24  (19 in 2019)

I saw a lot of plays before March and watched some streaming shows. I have to confess that I find it a challenge to go back to my office in the evenings to watch a play on my computer, after spending most of the day at my desk. I'm more likely to watch a show on Netflix or something on YouTube down in the living room with my wife.

Patrick's writing $$ for 2020

Gross Income:  $14,162
published plays performance royalties:  $351
play production royalties:  $175   
film projects:  $0  
play commissions:  $11,350   
teaching/coaching: $1,985   
my books:  $80.34
Prizes/fellowships: $0     
Plays in Place: $0

misc. (essays, panels, editing, other): $100

Expenses:  about $5,822  (includes mileage expenses)  

Net Income:  $8,340  (before taxes)

Past years:

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

Clearly 2020 was a rough one, with my lowest net income since 2015 (though I don't have to look back far to see when my writing made very little money). If I compute my net hourly wage, it was about $6/hr. Which is a reminder to take on projects that I enjoy, because otherwise that money could easily be replaced by a minimum-wage job doing just about anything else.

For 2021, my theoretical goal is to have net income from writing be at least $12,000. With the pandemic shutdown stretching into spring, that goal seems unattainable. There's a good chance my income will be lower in 2021 than in 2020, because it will take a while for new projects to get online, as the pandemic gradually fades. This year Plays in Place took a big hit (income down about 90%), and I was forced to invest my own money in it to keep it afloat. Next year will likely be another tough one, but prospects look potentially good for 2022.

The audio production of Echoes by the Huntington was one of my highlights of 2020.

Here are my time stats for 2020:

Total working time: 1,882 hours    total transit time: 218.5 hours

Time spent on writing :  1,382 hours   
  • actual writing and research:  580 hours (new record!)
  • reading for work (not project research):  21 hours  
  • play attendance:  55 hours 
  • rehearsals/writing meetings:  189 hours  (includes teaching/consulting.)
  • marketing and admin:  176 hours  
  • Seven Devils Board Work: 36 hours 
  • Dramatists Guild: 106 hours    
  • Plays in Place:  200 hours 
  • Transit time for writing projects: 78.5 hours

Time spent on Home Renovations/Real Estate: 519 hours

  • Renovations and repairs to current house:  230 hours
  • Fixing up place in Northampton: 289 hours
  • Transit time for these:  140 hours

Here's how my time was spent in past years:

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 hours.  (I didn't break out rehearsals from desk writing time in 2011). My kids were a lot younger back then.

Setting a new personal record for writing/research time was a big boost. You can see that my rehearsal and production (Plays in Place) hours were dramatically lower this year, by hundreds of hours. The work on the houses provided some important mental balance and tends to be paid back in the long-run, when the properties are sold (my net hourly return on this kind of work is typically more than $25/hour).

I worked as hard as I could and tried to say as safe and sane as possible. It's painful to ponder some of these stats, but I feel like I did the best I could. I'm curious to see what the next year or two brings--when I look at my slate of committed and potential projects, it's actually a little overwhelming. I think some good, big things might lie in the future.

I hope you all have a productive and prosperous 2021!  Happy New Year!

Creating this space in our old barn in Northampton was a fun challenge this year.


Emma Goldman-Sherman said...

Thank you so much for sharing, Patrick. It's so helpful to see what an actual working playwright actually manages to make and how you spend your time. I am trying to track my own, and this is a wonderful guide! I still have to add it all up, but it will not come close to yours! Happy Holidays! Emma

Patrick Gabridge said...

Thanks, Emma! Tracking really helps me a lot to stay focused and motivated. Happy Holidays!

Unknown said...

Wow, Patrick! You are an inspiration! And thanks for everything you do on behalf of your fellow playwrights. The Binge has been a great help this year.
Wishing you all the best in 2021.

Emma Wood said...

I'm in awe of your motivation and record keeping skills Patrick! Thanks for being a guiding light in a dark year. Stumbling upon the binge was one of my year's highlights. I wish you well in what will no doubt be a difficult year.

Patrick Gabridge said...

Thanks, Emma! I'm so glad that you've been enjoying the Binge. I find it such an important and supportive community.