If you’ve ever sat in the audience of a play you really enjoy, you’ve probably wondered who wrote the play and how they got paid for it, or maybe you didn’t. Either way, playwrights get paid in many ways, including royalties and other fees, such as commission. So, how much commission do plays pay?

Plays commissions in the US tend to pay around $3,000-$5,000 commission. However, the commission fee can differ depending on the playwright, and the situation. Additionally, plays can pay around 6% – 10% of gross ticket sales to playwrights.

The rest of this article will discuss the differences between a commission and non-commissioned play, how much money the average playwright makes, and the different ways playwrights get paid. So stick around.

What Is a Commissioned Play?

Plays come in two types, including commissioned and non-commissioned. While these two types of plays are pretty much the same, the main difference is how playwrights receive payment. So, what is a commissioned play?

A commissioned play is when companies pay some of the fees to playwrights before the play is written. The commission fee can vary depending on the company. However, most fees range from $3,000-$5,000 or can even reach up to $25,000 if the play or playwright is well-known.

Commissioned plays are essentially a financial commitment. Paying playwrights before the play’s written ensures that playwrights receive money for their time and the upcoming work they will accomplish. 

What Is a Non-Commissioned Play?

A non-commissioned play is when companies pay playwrights for a play that is already written. Playwrights are typically paid a share of the profits from the ticket sales, after the show is up and running. 6-10% of total ticket sales would not be unusual.

The amount playwrights receive for non-commissioned plays depends on several factors, such as the playwright or the play itself. Additionally, if the play’s production is successful, the amount playwrights receive could increase significantly.

Who Might Commission a Playwright To Write a Play?

A company or theater might commission a playwright to write a play. The more established a playwright is, the more companies or theaters will reach out to them. Additionally, a playwright can have a literary agent or publisher get their work published or publish it themselves.

It’s important to note that many playwrights are also producers, so producing their own work is more accessible in this case. However, if a playwright isn’t a producer, they are more likely to work with an agent to find roads to production. If they are seeking publication of their play, they may also seek an agent.

How Much Does the Average Playwright Make?

Although being a playwright is sure to be a fun and exciting job, it might not always pay the bills. Unfortunately, for many playwrights, this is often the case.

For people who write a play, but do not get to the point of achieving a professional production, they may receive little or no pay. It is common for playwrights to enter ‘profit share’ agreements with others in order to stage a work without having to pay everyone involved full professional rates. In this way, everyone involved in a production will work on the understanding that whatever money is generated will be shared equally.

For professional playwrights, those at the top end of town will be earning big money. If a play sells $2 million worth of tickets then they will likely receive 5-10% of that, which is $100,000 – $200,000. Plays can generate far more than this however – some plays run for years, even decades! Remember as well that a play can be performed in multiple places at the same time, all around the world.

Additionally, how much the playwright works, or how many plays they write, can add to how much money they make, and the success of those plays can significantly increase the salary of a playwright.

How Do Playwrights Get Paid?

Playwrights are often paid through royalties. Royalties are a playwright’s primary source of income, as the number of sales sold increases the number of royalties the playwright receives. However, playwrights can also be paid through commission, acquisition, and delivery fees.

There are various ways playwrights can get paid, which, for commissioned plays especially, is essential to break down. While not every playwright will receive all of the payments I’m going to mention below, they typically will receive the money in one way or another, whether bundled together with another payment or paid separately.

Let’s now talk about the various ways playwrights get paid.

Commission Fees

As I’ve already discussed, the commission fee, or the payment given to playwrights before writing the play, is a significant sum of money for playwrights. This sum typically ranges from $3,000 to $5,000, but it can be up to $25,000 or more for more established playwrights. 

Royalties

Another way playwrights earn money is through royalties. The royalty payments differ depending on the theater or company itself, as the percentages of royalties playwrights receive aren’t always the same.

The royalties received are based on the percentage of the gross sales. So, if the play is exceptionally successful, playwrights can receive a significant sum of money from royalties.

However, most playwrights receive around 6% of the overall box-office gross sales.

For example, for non-commissioned plays, the theater Playwright Horizons offers a $12,000 advance against royalties. So, if the playwright receives around $15,000 to $20,000 total for the play, they will receive $12,000 against 6%.

However, theaters such as the Royal Court Theater, located in the United Kingdom, pay playwrights flat 10% royalty.

Delivery Fees

The delivery fee is the money playwrights receive for delivering the play. While delivery fees can vary, they’ll most likely be around the same amount. For example, as of 2012, the Royal Court Theater paid $4,864 for the delivery.

Additionally, delivery fees are given to playwrights, along with commission fees, even if the theater doesn’t showcase the play.

Acquisition Fees

The acquisition fee essentially gives the company using the playwright’s work the right to use it. 

Therefore, whether the company decides to use the play or not, the playwright will still receive the acquisition fee, along with the commission and delivery fees.

The acquisition fee is $4,792 at the Royal Court Theater. However, every company will differ, and some acquisition payments may be included within other payments or fees, depending on the company’s policies and the playwright.

Final Thoughts

For commissioned plays, plays in the US usually pay around $3,000 to $5,000 upfront. While this amount can vary depending on the company and the playwright, it’s the average commission fee. Playwrights will also usually share in a percentage of the box office sales, also known as royalties.

However, for non-commissioned plays, royalties alone are the primary way playwrights make money on their plays.

Categories: Playwriting