What Guild Membership Means to Me/Susan Birkenhead
The Dramatist-September-October 2013:
"Writing can be a lonely occupation. No matter how many collaborators I have, (and because I work in musical theatre, I have many), there is always the moment when I'm left alone with a blank computer screen, and the nagging fear somewhere within me that this time, I'll reach for the words, and they won't be there. Even when, by some miracle, they are, I still face a thousand uncertainties and missteps on the way to hearing that song sung, on a stage. People who don't do what we do-
who don't face the terrors we face daily-
who don't sacrifice precious time with family, or friends-
who don't know the solitary joy of having written something you know is really good, or the awful realization that something you've just spent three days on, and thought was brilliant, is really terrible-
Only those who have lived, and continues to live this life, can know what it takes to do it.
What a comfort it is then, to belong to a community of writers-a group of people who have been in my skin. I use the term, "community of writers', because that, for me is the single most compelling reason to belong to the Dramatists Guild.
I love the fact that this community of writers has seen to it that we have artistic control over our own work...because we've all, at one time or another, been forced to defend our work under pressure.
I love the fact that this community of writers has protected me in the past, and will continue to protect me, and my fellow writers in any and all business deals in the future...because we've all been tempted to 'give in' in the face of fierce negotiations, just to 'get the show on'.
I love the fact that this community of writers watches out for new members with the same fervor and commitment it reserves for its most famous and successful members...because we've all been new and hungry, and willing to sacrifice almost anything to get our work on.
I love the fact that this community of writers, through the Dramatists Guild Fund, is able to help members in distress in a quick and meaningful way...because we all know how precarious this life can be.
I love the fact that this community of writers feels a responsibility to 'pass the torch' to the next generation, and large numbers of us have become mentors to so many.
Most of all, I love the fact that we all know the real cost of "finishing the hat", yet we go back and do it again and again and again, because it's what we do.
When I was first asked to join the Guild many years ago, by a distinguished member, she said, "You'll love it! It's the best club in New York". Every now and then, I stop for a moment, and consider the giants who have been members. Cole Porter, Arthur Miller, Richard Rodgers, Tennessee Williams, Jule Styne, and on and on and on. Or I look around the Council table at the giants who still sit there, and I grow a little light-headed and think to myself, "I belong to this club.""