Not surprisingly, most playwrights (like most artists) do not make living from writing plays. Tony Kushner makes his living as a screenwriter, eventhough Angels in America is an established piece of the American theatrical canon (and he has also inspired a theatrical tribute, a sure sign of immortality). Terry Teachout, whose work I also have not seen, writes that the reason playwrights write is because you meet the "nicest" people in the theater and because of the audience's reactions.
Freeman's rebuttal (emphasis mine):
Honestly, I do like that I've met nice people, but as a playwright, that is not why I write plays. I also don't write plays because I really like sitting in the room and hearing the reactions (a luxury, apparently, that TV writers don't get?) I don't do it for applause, or to satisfy myself or feel the love of others. Frankly, the theater I like is usually a bit terrifying and difficult: the sort that makes people leave feeling unsettled, and not like they love you.
I write plays because they are the long-standing, traditional form of art that I've chosen for my medium. Does there need to be further explanation than that? Just because photographs exist, does that mean painters need to explain why they still paint?
I'm more inclined to agree with Freeman. People write, paint, play music, act, sing, are generally artsy for the reason that they cannot do anything else. It's a compulsion. Artists that I've spoken to say it's because they do not feel like they were meant to do anything else. "It feeds my soul." "I just fell in love and it wouldn't let me go."
As for myself, I wonder why the question of "Why be a playwright?" exists. It goes without saying. And for that matter, why engage in the arts and humanities at all? Why work in non-profit? Why am I a journalist? Why do anything that doesn't pay a salary or ensure financial stability?
I'm not even going to point to the sociological reasons of why art is important and keeps man in touch with his humanity, his compassion, spirit. Or that helping others is its own reward.
No, I'm more inclined to think that it's something more primal than that. It's a need to do devote your life to this thing because it's what you love and what makes you happy and what you feel like you're the most skilled at and what you felt like you were meant to do.
As a great man, my dad would say, "Making money is easy. The important thing is to do what you love. Money is not important."