"...the top five or so...earners - ...have...a fabulous portfolio of revivable plays that sit there like sushi revolving in a restaurant. They go around being constantly staged somewhere. The writer gets money every time the play is performed. You go on getting paid without having to write any more. But they are great artists. For most playwrights without that portfolio, it's very, very difficult." ~ quote from playwright Nicholas Wright in Robert Gore-Langton's article "the real cost of artistic immortality" published in The Telegraph in August 2002.
During the TV show Open House that aired earlier today on NBC, director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell of Kinky Boots looks for a home on Fire Island. Due to the success of Kinky Boots, he is now in a position to buy a home. In the Open House segment, he brings up the old theater adage - You can't make a living but you can make a killing on Broadway...
Hmmmm...I wonder - where did this saying come from? Who said it first?
After drooling over the Fire Island beach houses featured on the show, I quickly searched for the quote and stumbled on several interesting articles about the financial difficulty of making a living as a playwright. Just a few days ago, this was the topic of discussion in a NY Times article by Patrick Healy - Offering Playwrights a Better Deal. Playwrights do not usually get paid during the development and rehearsals of their work and are on their own when it comes to health insurance (a hot topic everywhere I go these days). The good thing though is that Playwright Horizon has introduced a model where they are going to begin helping their writers with these costs. And hopefully, other theaters will follow.
So who can the quote be attributed to? American playwright Robert Anderson, who in 1988 also said - It's never been more difficult to get a play done where a playwright can earn enough money to write the next play.