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Monday, May 18, 2020

My 9th year sales


It was supposed to have been my best year yet. Over the last twelve months, I had not one but two new plays come out--a musical version of my top-selling play and my first foray into the ever popular pirate genre. Add to that the steady number of hits my other thirteen plays had been getting and I should have seen a tidy increase in royalties over last year.

Then COVID-19 happened.

Schools and community theaters started shutting down in mid-March and the number of new bookings went to zero practically overnight. Although I haven't seen too many cancellations, most of the performing groups are pushing their already booked productions into next year. And that means they're pushing back the payment of their performance fees as well.

As they should. Nothing is more important than keeping every single person healthy and safe.

But I'm trying to make a full-time living as a writer, and this whole mess just pushed that goal out another year or two. If I was 25 or 30, that wouldn't be a big deal. But I'm 57. And I'm not getting any younger.

So the year was a tough one. But not as tough as it could have been. While most of my plays showed a dip in productions, the musical had a very strong start and several older plays show surprising strength, which bodes well for their longevity in the school and community theater market.

My total number of productions for the year was 315, a 13% drop from the 361 I had last year and just slightly better than the 312 I had the year before that. That drop was entirely due to losing the last six weeks of the year, and if hadn't been for the COVID-19 crisis, I would have made it over the top.

For the third year in a row, my bestselling play was, of course, The Enchanted Bookshop. This year it had 121 productions, which is down from the record-breaking 156 I had last year but is a pretty good showing for an abbreviated year. And it's already got 27 productions booked for next year.

My #2 play for the year was Million Dollar Meatballs, topping You're Driving Me Crazy! for the first time. With its 32 productions, this restaurant farce is really proving to be an evergreen play, and I couldn't be happier.

One of my brand new works, The Enchanted Bookshop Musical, was #3 this year with 29 productions, an impressive number for a large-cast musical. Interestingly, although it was third in the number of shows, it was second in terms of revenue due to the additional royalties I get from the sheet music and CD sales. In fact, this musical and the play that inspired it generate more in royalties than my others thirteen plays combined. But perhaps the best thing about the show is that it got me two of my three new countries this year: Greece and India.

My #4 play was my collection of driver's ed shorts, You're Driving Me Crazy!, with 25 productions. That's a significant drop from the 39 shows it had last year and the high-water mark of 61 it had in 2016-2017, its first full year of publication, and is a much bigger drop than you'd expect from the quarantine hit alone. Recently, however,, Pioneer Drama Service has been promoting it as something that can be easily adapted to virtual theater (think Zoom) so, with any luck, things will pick up soon.

Most of the rest held steady or showed only a slight dip so I won't bore you with the details. But I do want to talk about Babka Without Borders, my quirky comedy set on the border of two mythical European countires. Although it only ranked #9 out of my 16 plays, it was by far my most improved play of the year, going from a big fat goose egg in its first year of publication to a respectable 11 this year. And to provide the icing on this coffee cake (ha! get it?), it also brought me my seventeenth country with a production in South Africa.

In their annual letter that accompanied the royalty check, Pioneer warned their playwrights to expect even fewer productions next year as large public gatherings are limited by continued social distancing requirements.

I hope we get a vaccine soon, for the health of theater as well as my pocketbook. But more important than those is the health of you, the actors and directors and crew members who make theater happen.

Be well. Stay safe. And keep the faith.

We'll get through this. Together.

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