Wright says the trouble with playwrighting is the money, or rather the lack thereof. Even with his successes, he has to "pay the mortgage writing scripts for Hollywood." (One movie script became the film Quills, named best film of 2000 by the National Board of Review.) Playwrights, he says, often are paid last - and when a play is struggling to break even, "it's not unusual for the playwright to be asked to defer income."

Why doesn't he stop writing plays, then? "I'm addicted. I've been addicted since I was a little boy and my parents put me into a jacket and tie and took me to see Life with Father at the Dallas Theater Center.

"There is one remarkable thing about playwrighting: We have absolute authority when it comes to how and where our work is presented. That's not true in film, because the studio owns the script. People will always write plays, because you get a sense of yourself as a genuine author. I will always think of myself as a playwright first."

Other marquee names: John Patrick Shanley (Doubt), Martin McDonagh (The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Pillowman)

Margo Lion

She was in bed, sick with a cold, watching John Waters's film Hairspray, about a "pleasantly plump" Baltimore teen in 1962, when the lightbulb came on: This could be a great Broadway musical. Nearly five years after its opening, the show is still selling 10,000 tickets weekly, and that right there is what makes Margo Lion different. An independent Broadway producer (she raises money to launch a new show by picking up the phone - and with a $10 million average budget for a new musical, that's a lot of calling), she has the job of coming up with the unexpected. Lion excels at it, and she got into the business in 1977; her shows - including The Wedding Singer and The Crucible - have since accumulated 19 Tony Awards and 29 Drama Desk Awards.

It hasn't always been easy for her to raise money. When she wanted to produce Jelly's Last Jam in 1992 - a play that takes place somewhere between heaven and hell, in the Jungle Inn, where singers and dancers take jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton on a tour of his life - she had to mortgage her apartment and put a prized piece of art up as collateral. Jelly's Last Jam won three Tonys, ran on Broadway for more than a year, and helped position Lion, 61, as somebody whose tastes translate into hits. "When we decided to do Hairspray, we raised the money in six hours," she says. "If you show the appropriate people the material you want to produce, you will probably raise the money you need."

Hairspray repaid its investors in nine months, says Lion, and that's about as fast as black ink flows on Broadway.