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Little Shop of Horrors closed (but not for renovation)
July 1, 2011 8:19 AM   Subscribe

"On Saturday June 18, 2011, representatives from the licensing agency came to watch our production. I met them before the show and explained the reasons behind my actions and that I understood the consequences. The cast was also prepared. We could have restored the production to the original script, we could have canceled the show and left them to wonder, we could have faked a medical emergency or technical failure – believe me, all of these scenarios crossed my mind. In the end, we chose to be honest and share the production we had created." Artistic director Nick A. Olivero writes an open letter to the theatre and arts community discussing the recent forced closure of his show, Little Shop of Horrors, at San Fransisco's Boxcar Theatre Company.

“We were like bank robbers who kept robbing banks,” he said (in an interview with The Bay Citizen's Culture Feed Blog).

Many members of the theatre community were surprised by Olivero's statement and his frank, mostly unapologetic tone. It's prompted discussions on theatrical copyright on Twitter, Facebook, and various theatrical blogs. Composer Jason Robert Brown weighs in on the American Theatre Wing article and refers back to his previous blog entry on copyright issues (previously on Metafilter).
posted by Thin Lizzy (127 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I understand wanting to protect the integrity of your creation, but I'm always surprised to see creative types discouraging creativity. Especially when it appears to be well intentioned and done well.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 8:30 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now I'm just really curious what the changes were like.
posted by Brainy at 8:32 AM on July 1, 2011


Wow, I'm surprised/appalled at this. If he hadn't gotten (and paid for) the license, he would certainly have been sued for violating copyright, even with his adaptations. Yet he's not allowed to adapt under the terms of the license. There's got to be some sort of room for fair use within exclusive copyright.
posted by yarly at 8:36 AM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


but I'm always surprised to see creative types discouraging creativity

What's confusing to me is that I've seen other shows that do this sort of thing at the community theater level, generally with the agreement of the license holder. Why wasn't the structure of the show discussed with the license holder way way back at the beginning of the process, rather than at the end?
If ‘we’ can collectively agree that William Shakespeare was the greatest playwright of all time, yet every producer, director, actor, and playwright deems it appropriate to cut and revise his work, then who is to say that any other writer shouldn’t be edited as well?
Shakespeare is dead, and has been for a long time. There's nothing to protect from infringement.
posted by muddgirl at 8:40 AM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


FTA: "Jay Irwin, a reviewer from Seattle who writes from BroadwayWorld.com attended Saturday June 18th. He wrote, “Boxcar Theatre has taken a pretty standard show and shown what ingenuity and innovation can do to make it that much better.”"

And the licensing company showed us what copyright and lawyers can do to make the world a worse place, all in the name of the Holy Dollar.
posted by pla at 8:42 AM on July 1, 2011 [17 favorites]


They should have put a pixelization filter over the stage.
posted by kmz at 8:42 AM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I hope that this prompts someone to put together a list of similarly EULAed-to-death plays and musicals. People are so obsessed with preserving their "brand" that it's fucking insane. You have to give people some wiggle room--they're supposed to be artists, remember--instead of reserving the right to fly in and shut them down as if they were a McDonald's franchise that gets nuked by the corporate office for using an unauthorized supplier of coffee creamer.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:43 AM on July 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


I see my point is made in the comments on that piece several times. Here's a particularly apt bit:
Emma Rice’s production of “Brief Encounter,” presented on Broadway last season after an enormously successful run at her own Kneehigh Theatre in the UK, adapted the screenplay of Noel Coward’s film by blending it with an earlier play of Coward’s, several Coward songs, puppetry, projections, and a miraculous array of visual gestures. She was not thwarted in her desire to do this, she simply asked permission and presented her ideas to the rights-holders. This company that works out of a series of barns in Cornwall is not better positioned to do this than a well-reviewed small theatre company in the Bay Area.

The problem that Nick doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge is that the words “LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS” are what sold his tickets. He needed the authors’ work in order to do his job of making wonderful, thrillingly creative theater out of it. But to suggest that those authors shouldn’t be allowed to collaborate (by their approval) in his process is grossly unfair.
posted by muddgirl at 8:44 AM on July 1, 2011 [23 favorites]


Oh wait, my apologies, I meant "ARTISTS GOOD, LAW BAD."
posted by muddgirl at 8:44 AM on July 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


Theater director creates drama. Who would have figured?
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:44 AM on July 1, 2011 [13 favorites]


In my experience, theatrical rights licensing agencies are some of the biggest jerks out there when it comes to this stuff. There are certainly many strong reasons to protect the integrity of the playwright's work, but given the ever-increasing copyright term, it's increasingly impossible to re-imagine and reshape existing canonical works to advance the state of the arts. There has to be some kind of balance.
posted by zachlipton at 8:45 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


From Jason Robert Brown's comment: "The problem that Nick doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge is that the words “LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS” are what sold his tickets...writing something new is a risk. Doing “Little Shop of Horrors” is less of a risk, because somebody already wrote that for you and proved that it worked."

I understand his point, but it's also interesting to combine some of the previous takes on the story with some new ideas added. Is the concern that somebody would go see this new production, not like it, and then assume they just don't like Little Shop of Horrors? Would the Boxcar Theatre Company have had a bit more latitude of the title was altered to alert potential audiences that this isn't the same production that's been around for years? Something like "Little Shoppe of Different Horrors" or "The New Horrors Found in the Little Shop" or L.S.o.H. "Not Your Father's Little Shop of Horrors"? It seems like in this era of mash-ups and deconstructing cultural icons there would be a way to pull this off where the interests of everyone involved are protected.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 8:45 AM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


See also.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:46 AM on July 1, 2011


I remember getting into an argument with a friend in college over whether or not a production of a (I believe) Beckett play was right or wrong to place the setting in a post-apocalyptic New York subway station, when the original had no instructions for the set. I argued that the director had not changed the words at all and that the set, while not immaterial to the meaning of the play, did not harm the presentation at all. (I believe I was taking a death of the author approach, that the meaning of a work should be dictated by those presenting and receiving it, but it's been so long.) She maintained that the change in set drastically changed the meaning of the work and should not have been done.

The resolution she told me about I thought was eminently just and fair- a full page statement in the program by the author saying he disagreed with the setting and thought that the play was butchering his work.

Honestly, I think something similar should have been employed here, too. Every production of a show shouldn't attempt to be a cookie cutter copy of every other show. I don't know what the changes are, and like Brainy, I wonder what they were. But that doesn't matter. I understand that the director broke the agreement and appreciate his blunt honesty about it. Despite that, I think that there should be a way, another form of agreement, some sort of change in copyright law that allows innovation within the setting of a play.
posted by Hactar at 8:48 AM on July 1, 2011


The thing that makes Brown's point ridiculous is that the original Little Shop of Horrors is a work that fell into the public domain . It is almost certain that Oliveros could present a non-musical Little Shop of Horrors using the same story without any licensing concerns whatsoever.

I didn't see the production, but from the articles above and independent reviews, it sounds like Olivero's only sin here was to integrate elements of the original public domain work back into a derivative work he licensed, and then change the setting to the location the production was taking place in.

The contract between the licensors and Oliveros may well have put stipulations on how the production was to be presented. But man, that really does seem stifling to complain about the specific modifications that were made. "My god, they've recontextualized our songs to take place in 2011 San Francisco. CALL THE LAWYERS!"
posted by eschatfische at 8:49 AM on July 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Now I'm just really curious what the changes were like.

Ditto. It modifies Little Shop with input from Rocky Horror? Could be awful, could be brilliant. I hope the director's script gets mysteriously leaked somehow.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:49 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I grew up around the theater and at one of the theaters my mom was working at oh so many years ago they had bought the rights to Godspell, but the brilliant-in-her-own-mind artistic director of the theater and director of Godspell decided to make some changes and then ended up completely rewriting the play into a new wave religious service. At release the local theater reviewers didn't review it on the grounds that it wasn't a play, but a church experience. It had nothing to do with Godspell, and from my recollection wasn't that well written, didn't have a strong narrative and didn't make sense.

The connection being the rights house actually gave back half of what they had paid, only keeping a portion because they had found out so late or something. THe nightmare of the whole thing was the director made all the changes so late in the game that the posters, ads and tickets all said Godspell. Lot's of unhappy people about that one.
posted by djduckie at 8:53 AM on July 1, 2011


Disclaimer: my husband is the director of a theatrical rights agency.

I actually think what this guy did could have been brilliant. But legal rights are legal rights. Did he try and get permission? If he did, and was told no, that's sort of the end of the story, unless he wanted to go the parody route. If he is that talented a writer, he should WRITE SOMETHING.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:53 AM on July 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


I was all on-board until I read the link

I took elements from the original 1960 film version of Little Shop of Horrors directed by Roger Corman and combined them with the original 1982 off-Broadway musical as well as the 1986 film version. I borrowed from Rocky Horror Picture Show and wrote bits of dialogue myself to help blend the material seamlessly. These changes prompted many to buy tickets, garnered us rave reviews and sold out houses.

So he just helped himself to the work of other people--work not in PD? Writing his own materials is fine, but did he get permission from the other writers?
posted by Ideefixe at 8:54 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Would the Boxcar Theatre Company have had a bit more latitude of the title was altered to alert potential audiences that this isn't the same production that's been around for years?

This is certainly part of it. Imagine that I buy the license to reprint a new edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling, but I actually print a mash-up of the original work and my own fanfiction on the sensuous nature of magically linked wands. Doesn't J.K. Rowling have the right to protect the integrity of her IP?
posted by muddgirl at 8:55 AM on July 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ah dang, this is thorny. It sounds like it was an incredible show, and it also sounds like pulling the plug was the prerogative of the license holder under present law, right or wrong. As a performer who is also a writer, I'm rather conflicted on this matter.

The troupe I've been working with this summer is presently facing a controversy of its own - some of the founders want to make it an ironclad rule that we do only original or public domain works which we can remix as we please, others don't want to limit themselves to only a certain pool of scripts. But it sounds like it's possible to pay a licensing fee and still be limited in terms of what one may do with a copywritten script.

Looks like I've got a conversation starter for tonight's pre-opening week cast party at least ...
posted by EatTheWeak at 8:56 AM on July 1, 2011


What's confusing to me is that I've seen other shows that do this sort of thing at the community theater level, generally with the agreement of the license holder. Why wasn't the structure of the show discussed with the license holder way way back at the beginning of the process, rather than at the end?

I don't know the details of what happened in this case, but in general, the answer tends to be "no" unless you're a big enough name to maybe push it through. Keep in mind that for Little Shop, Ashman, the book writer, has been dead for 20 years. For many classic works still in copyright, the decision comes down to an army of lawyers, licensing agents, and the playwright's family, who might be bickering amongst themselves as to what to do.

It's not an issue of money–most theaters pay amply to license the works they perform–, but it's very often impossible to remix works like this at all.
posted by zachlipton at 8:58 AM on July 1, 2011


Would the apologists for this feel the same if, say, they bought an iPad that some distributor decided to change/improve/modify, or went to a movie that a distributor decided to recut?
posted by Wordwoman at 8:58 AM on July 1, 2011


Is the concern that somebody would go see this new production, not like it, and then assume they just don't like Little Shop of Horrors?

Yes, or they'd love the new production, and have totally out-of-whack ideas about what the play is about, so that the next guy to put it on in a relatively straightforward way gets a pissed off patron.

As others observed, "Little Shop of Horrors" is what sold the tickets. The brand itself was important in the production, which is why they bought a licence. The value of the brand is damaged not just for the rights-holders but for anyone else who might try to use it.
posted by fatbird at 8:58 AM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't understand why a musician can pay royalty fees and then sample or adapt a song, but a theater can't. Any IP mavens able to explain?
posted by yarly at 8:59 AM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't understand why a musician can pay royalty fees and then sample or adapt a song, but a theater can't.

I'm pretty sure both scenarios are possible, with permission of the original author and a LOT of $$$.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:01 AM on July 1, 2011


muddgirl : The problem that Nick doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge is that the words “LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS” are what sold his tickets.

Yes and no.

As a regular theatre-goer, I don't ever expect to see a live version of the movie. I don't even count on recognizing the work as similar to any mainstream productions of the same.

So the name may have conveyed "fun musical" rather than "tearjerker", but beyond that, the audience likely had no expectations whatsoever about its fidelity to Official Version X(tm).
posted by pla at 9:03 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


On the one hand, this is appalling. Theater is by nature an interpretive medium, not a fancy 3D projector. Rightholders have an obligation to share their work, and receive compensation for sharing their work. This "protect the brand" bullshit is antithetical to art and human endeavor.

On the other hand, it's kind of neat to have outlaw art - music and now theater that can only exist underground, because the powers-that-be would shut it down because its artistic license clashed with the corporate license.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:03 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a one-time theatre major, I've seen (and done) a few "mash-up" shows (before the term "mash-up" existed). One of the single greatest theatrical productions I have ever seen combined classical Greek plays, scenes from '50s sitcoms, and interviews conducted by the actors with their families.

I've also seen any number of plays set in non-conventional places and times to put a new spin on the original work. This is often done in a way that is sympathetic to and harmonious with the original. It's a legitimate artistic approach to mounting a production of a familiar show. So I applaud the creative impulse behind the production.

However, when you're a legitimate theatre selling tickets to a production, there are rules you need to follow when you do that sort of thing. Those rules are there for a reason. And the reason is not to suppress artists, it's to protect them.

Would the classy move have been for the licensing agency to approve a re-imagining of the show? Quite possibly (and I'm curious how much input the show's writers, as opposed to the writers' lawyers, have in these calls). As a fan of art, I generally support policy that is conducive to new art being created. But I also support an artist's ownership of their work: Menken & Ashman deserve to have their names on a piece of work they created, and they deserve to not have their names affixed to productions that alter the work beyond their intentions.

Ultimately, this guy's response sounds to me like someone who's so in love with his own precious artistry that he doesn't give a damn about something so quaint as "rules" or "rights". And now it seems like he's playing the artist martyr and maybe even hoping to get some viral internet publicity out of it. He may have conceived of a great post-modernist theatrical multimedia extravaganza whatever, but that alone doesn't give him veto power over the people who created and own the damn material.
posted by DiscountDeity at 9:04 AM on July 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't understand why a musician can pay royalty fees and then sample or adapt a song, but a theater can't. Any IP mavens able to explain?

One of the interesting quirks of music licensing I discovered recently is that while there are compulsory licenses for musical works, musical-theater works are exempted. No one can stop you from covering Justin Beiber's latest track, but they can stop you from covering Andrew Lloyd Weber's.
posted by nomisxid at 9:06 AM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


If they wanted to make these sorts of changes to the show, they could probably have sought and gotten approval from the rights owners. But they didn't even try. This point is made in some of the comments on the article page.

This reminds me of when I was a Northwestern theater student. I don't remember all the details, but one of the student production companies was doing the musical "Chess," which had a bit of a messy history in its transfer from concept album, to London production, to New York production. The student group opted to make their own revisions, making the show more like either the original album or the London version (I forget which - in either case, they were ditching the New York version). The licensing company got wind of this and tried to shut them down, but as I recall, the kids in charge of the show actually managed to get Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus themselves on the phone and thus got approval from the actual composers. And the show went on.

(On the other hand, a couple years later, a modern dance/performance art troupe led by a Northwestern professor, tried to do a modern dance interpretation of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and got shut down by Albee himself because he's a dick who refuses to allow a word of his scripts to be altered.)
posted by dnash at 9:07 AM on July 1, 2011


Olivero pre-concedes Brown's point.
These changes prompted many to buy tickets, garnered us rave reviews and sold out houses. It was certainly these changes that caught the eye of Playbill.com who wrote a compelling article regarding my concepts.
Right. The changes prompted people to buy tickets, precisely because they were "changes" to a known quantity. If Olivero had written similar material from scratch and never invoked the name "Little Shop of Horrors," then nobody would have bought tickets.

I have zero sympathy for Olivero, and I don't understand anybody whose response to this story is, "THE MAN is stifling creativity!" Read Olivero's letter. He is savvy and knows the economics of his business. It would be unreasonably naive to read his comments about budgets and breaking even, and simultaneously to believe that he chose to work with a known quantity rather than create from scratch solely for artistic reasons. No, he was trying to sell tickets.

He says, "I don’t believe I have ever had an original idea. I think I make other ideas my own." That's fine. You can definitely be artistic within those parameters, if that's your limitation. But if that's the case, then maybe you're not in a position to be making pronouncements about whether everything should be "free to use and in public domain." You have just declared yourself (1) to have a financial interest in having things be "free," and (2) incapable of being on the other side of the fence and having created something valuable that another Olivero might want to use.
posted by cribcage at 9:08 AM on July 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


My lady is in the SF Theater scene and knows folks on that production.

First, Nick is a guy who no one would give a job to in Bay Area theater so he started his own company. That should be your first hint.

Second, He could have requested the license required to make creative modifications. There are some hoops you have to jump through but its not impossible. He didn't.

Third, Nick doesn't do original work, Box Car does familiar work that puts butts in the seats. They performed 'Clue' a while back lifting the entire performance from the movie. Did he pay for Clue? No. Did he pay for Rocky Horror songs for LSoH? No.

Lastly, after he knew the heat was coming on and made the cast rush rehearse LSoH from the script verbatim, told them to perform it from script the Saturday when the Licensing Agency was going to be in attendance and then he skipped town. The cast flipped out and told him if they 'fake' a normal performance they'll be liable too. Over his objection performed the play that was promised to the audience, and were subsequently shut down.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 9:09 AM on July 1, 2011 [40 favorites]


So the name may have conveyed "fun musical" rather than "tearjerker", but beyond that, the audience likely had no expectations whatsoever about its fidelity to Official Version X(tm).



Ordinarily, you're totally right.

However, having seen several versions of Little Shop, it's generally pretty standardized. In my experience, If you know the show, you know more or less what you're probably going to see.


In fact, I vaguely recall hearing that the licensing for that show is particularly rigid: i.e., the Audrey II puppets and perhaps the set need to meet specific design specifications (so the plant will be played by a familiar-looking puppet rather than a little guy in a green make-up and jumpsuit standing in a flower pot (which is what happened in the decidedly low-profile student-produced version I was in in college).

Has anyone else heard this? I might be misinformed (or imagining things).
posted by DiscountDeity at 9:12 AM on July 1, 2011


First, Nick is a guy who no one would give a job to in Bay Area theater so he started his own company. That should be your first hint.

Third, Nick doesn't do original work

etc. etc.

Is there a need for these ad hominem rumor-mongering attacks here (on a first-name basis and in bold type, yet)? I mean, maybe the guy is the biggest asshole on the planet, right? Does that have remotely anything at all to do with the discussion of the merits of what he did or didn't do?
posted by blucevalo at 9:14 AM on July 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


Ah, well then. This is much less thorny after having read MiltonRandKalman's comment. Sounds like Nick is one of the General Custer types that theater seems to attract, directors that develop a habit for leading their casts into disaster. Got a few of those around here too, sadly.

I'm curious about this part especially: Second, He could have requested the license required to make creative modifications. There are some hoops you have to jump through but its not impossible. He didn't.

I'm woefully ignorant of copyright law - does this mean there's such a thing as a "remix license," as it were? Can you speak a little more about the hoops one must jump through to obtain such privileges on a copywritten work?
posted by EatTheWeak at 9:16 AM on July 1, 2011


DiscountDeity- I think that if there are to be puppets, they have to conform to some exact specifications. I'm not sure if they can shut down a play for not renting the right puppets, but I think they could if the play rented the wrong puppets. At least that was the impression that the technical director gave me in high school when my school put it on.
posted by Hactar at 9:17 AM on July 1, 2011


while there are compulsory licenses for musical works, musical-theater works are exempted.

Ok, so then this is a question of the rights holders exploiting their bargaining power in negotiating the licenses. But why couldn't it be a derivative work?
posted by yarly at 9:19 AM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is there a need for these ad hominem rumor-mongering attacks here

I'll concede my first point as frivolous.


As to my second. It does when he write a 'I'm a victim' open letter to the community. Let me reiterate, depending on the performance you can request a license for a broader creative interpretation of the material. He chose the vanilla straight from the script license.

He was either too lazy, too cheap, didn't care or not experienced enough to know better. Box Car has a bad habit of this, and they finally got busted.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 9:20 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


He says, "I don’t believe I have ever had an original idea. I think I make other ideas my own." That's fine. You can definitely be artistic within those parameters, if that's your limitation. But if that's the case, then maybe you're not in a position to be making pronouncements about whether everything should be "free to use and in public domain."

I think you may be missing a key fact here. He was paying the licensing fees. This is not like illegal downloading; he was respecting copyright. He was between a rock and a hard place -- he can neither make his own unlicensed adaptation, nor can he adapt the licensed version. (Unless he could argue it was a derivative work, which I'm not totally clear on how that works.)
posted by yarly at 9:24 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


(On the other hand, a couple years later, a modern dance/performance art troupe led by a Northwestern professor, tried to do a modern dance interpretation of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and got shut down by Albee himself because he's a dick who refuses to allow a word of his scripts to be altered.)

What about this makes Albee a dick, exactly? The guy presumably spent quite a bit of time and creative energy crafting the show and the scripts, etc. Why should he let some schmo tinker with his hard work and vision, and yet still benefit from the reputation of his hard work (which reputation might potentially be decreased by the tinkerers)? As others should be quick to point out, it's not like Albee has a monopoly on the overall concept. Do the modern dance interpretation and call it something else.
posted by slkinsey at 9:25 AM on July 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


Is there a need for these ad hominem rumor-mongering attacks here (on a first-name basis and in bold type, yet)?


It's called "drama" for a reason.
posted by DiscountDeity at 9:25 AM on July 1, 2011


you can request a license for a broader creative interpretation of the material.

Yeah, but this license probably doesn't have to be granted. That's the problem here.
posted by yarly at 9:26 AM on July 1, 2011


At least that was the impression that the technical director gave me in high school when my school put it on.

Schools and colleges are exempted from performance license as they are considered 'non-commercial' performances.

Lemme also explain why they performance is restricted to the script. If you go see Phantom of the Opera and the community theater decides to do the entire performance naked on rollerskates and it bombs people are going to start saying its a terrible musical. If you wanna do a play naked on rollerskates, write your own damn play, but don't mislead the public in thinking they're coming to a well-known musical called Phantom of the Opera.

You have to get your changes approved so the public doesn't get confused by your interpretation vs. the original story.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 9:27 AM on July 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, but this license probably doesn't have to be granted. That's the problem here.

..and if the license isn't granted, he has every right to use the version in the public domain (which is very good, IMO), or to write his own horror play about an alien plant from outer space. Neither of which he did.
posted by muddgirl at 9:28 AM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


blucevalo: To be fair, the bold-face portion ("Nick doesn't do original work") is something Olivero himself admits ("I don’t believe I have ever had an original idea. I think I make other ideas my own."). And yes, I think that part is key to the discussion. It provides insight into why he didn't simply create from scratch, and it indicates a likely bias into his statements and actions vis-a-vis copyright law. What he did here, he does often. That's relevant.

he was respecting copyright. He was between a rock and a hard place

I think that's off for a variety of reasons that are discussed above, but I definitely don't think it can be squared with Olivero's own comments: "I entered into an agreement. I knew those terms and I knowingly broke those terms. ...I will create, for the time being, within the confines of the pieces of paper we sign." (Emphasis added.) This guy ain't a victim. He doesn't even really claim he is. Not really.
posted by cribcage at 9:31 AM on July 1, 2011


While I'm generally sympathetic to mashups and creative interpretation, as a writer, I'm also aware of the other side. I had a script performed in Australia and the director wrote me saying that they were running over their allotted time (it was being filmed for CATV) and could she make some cuts. I said yes, and sent her some suggestions. Later I saw the TV broadcast and realized she had ignored my comments and simply removed one of the characters.

I considered that a mutilation of my work, and felt that anyone who saw it would misunderstand my intent as a writer. (First world problem, I know). However, as someone who is just starting out, my ability to get performances depends on people seeing my work. If it's simply a bad production that's one thing, but if the director changes what I wrote, that's really not acceptable.

OTOH, when I'm dead they can do whatever the hell they want.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:34 AM on July 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


If you go see Phantom of the Opera and the community theater decides to do the entire performance naked on rollerskates and it bombs

Acceptable however with the other Andrew Lloyd Webber opus, Starlight Express
posted by zippy at 9:37 AM on July 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


I explicitly state in my scripts that characters names can be changed, dialogue can be altered, songs can be rewritte, excised, replaced. I ask that is the changes are dramatic, my credit be changed from "by Bunny Sparber" to " based on a script by Bunny Sparber," or Bunny Ultramod, or whatever name I use for my script.

Theater is a collaborative medium that benefits from invention. Plays are worth remounting because new artists can provide new interpretations, not because they are movies that must be done in exactly the same way, despite having a new cast and artistic staff. Requiring your play to become a waxwork show does not protect it, it subtracts artistic input, and rhis never makes for better theater. So what if somebody does a bad production? It will last three weeks and then be forgotton. Ans, trust me, they can do a bad production whether they follow your script exactly or not.

This violates the collaborative spirit of theater, and shuts down invention. It may be the law, but it's a stupid law that makes theater a standardized product, rather than the ongong experiment it should be.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:38 AM on July 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


Hold on a sec. There's a Broadway touring company doing West Side Story where some of the dialog and even songs, "I feel Pretty" in particular, are in Spanish. I know this was done without the express permission of the previous director, so why hasn't that been shut down?
posted by Gungho at 9:38 AM on July 1, 2011


How much latitude does the director have when licensing the show?

Is it OK to translate the script to another language without special approval?
Can you do all of the songs in country or hip-hop style?
Could you omit the songs entirely and have the lyrics spoken as dialogue?
Could you do the script verbatim, but have the cast all wearing C3PO costumes?
Could they have Chimps perform the play with actors offstage doing the voices?
What about an all-male cast with the female parts being done in a kooky Monty Python voice?
What if all of the actors mumbled. Is that OK?
Could you do a speeded up version so it sounds like one of those old FedEx "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight" commercials?
Could you perform it at water park where the audience is required to watch from a pool?
Could you do the play exactly as written, but really fucking loud with lots of reverb and strobe lights running the whole time?
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 9:44 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was in agreement until he started talking about covering exit signs and blocking fire exits. Hey asshole, your art is not more important than peoples lives.
posted by nestor_makhno at 9:44 AM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


What's confusing to me is that I've seen other shows that do this sort of thing at the community theater level, generally with the agreement of the license holder. Why wasn't the structure of the show discussed with the license holder way way back at the beginning of the process, rather than at the end?

I think that case is something that squeaked by because it's community theater, which is perceived to be more of a "glorified amateur" thing, and the FPP is a case of a professional theater, which is a whole different ball of wax.

I can see so many sides of this, because: a) I work in theater, and I know exactly how collaborative it can be, and b) I'm also a writer, and I know exactly how hard you sweat for things when you write them. But I'm coming down on the side of the legal team in this instance.

Here's why.

Look at it this way -- say you have this fantastic crab cake recipe that you have made up and perfected. Everyone who tries it goes crazy over it. Now suppose that a friend asks for a copy, so she can serve it at an upcoming dinner party -- one she's invited you to -- and you're touched, so you give it to her.

But then when you get to the dinner party, she confides in you that she substituted tilapia for the crab "because it was on sale," she used Old Bay seasoning instead of the fresh herbs you used and selected specifically for the flavors "because using Old Bay was easier," and instead of the sauce you came up with yourself from scratch, she used some basic white sauce "Mom taught me how to make once." But then as all the guests are sitting down, she jokes to everyone, "now, if you don't like this, blame Sandy over there, because this is Sandy's recipe!"

I'm sure you can agree that no, this is no longer your crab cake recipe because it's been changed quite a bit. Which would be fine if she was just serving it without comment. But that last joke, in which she specifically identifies it as "Sandys' Crab Cake recipe," is where she crossed the line -- she is claming that something NOT yours, IS yours, and thus is shifting the responsibility for what it is back on to you.

THAT'S what flipped things for me. If Nick had called this show anything other than "Little Shop Of Horrors," he may have gotten away with it -- he admitted to making changes, but he still was using the "but it's Little Shop of Horrors!" claim. Even if you make some changes to something, but still claim it's "Little Shop of Horrors," people will assume the changes you've made are minimal at best (the equivalent of using dried herbs rather than fresh, say). Nick did the equivalent of swapping out the crab for tilapia and still claiming "this is Sandy's crab cake recipe, blame Sandy if you don't like it." The creators had every right to step in and say, "this is not my [crab cake recipe] any more and please stop saying it is."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:49 AM on July 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


What if she had said "it's based on her recipe?"
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:51 AM on July 1, 2011


I explicitly state in my scripts that characters names can be changed, dialogue can be altered, songs can be rewritte, excised, replaced. I ask that is the changes are dramatic, my credit be changed from "by Bunny Sparber" to " based on a script by Bunny Sparber," or Bunny Ultramod, or whatever name I use for my script.


Yes, exactly: these are permissions that you specifically choose to grant. If I were to write a play, I would probably say the same things.

The problem is Olivero apparently believes that every playwright should be forced to allow (or, at least, not be allowed to say "no" to) what you have chosen to allow.
posted by DiscountDeity at 9:52 AM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


How much latitude does the director have when licensing the show?...

You may have been kidding with some of your questions, but they're intriguing and I'd like to answer:

In practically everything you've raised, yes, a director can do those things, because those all relate to staging and stage craft rather than plot and script. Some of them are weird, but...not too much weirder than I've seen actual directors do.

The only exceptions you may find are a) the translation, because an existing translation may also exist, and b) if you're doing anything by a playwright who's particularly anal about what his shows look like (I'm looking at you, Samuel Beckett). Most playwrights are not quite so anal about the staging of their work. The script, though, tends to be something else again.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:53 AM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


What if she had said "it's based on her recipe?"

That'd be different; just how different I leave it up to finer legal minds than mine to ascertain. I'm not seeing that Nick said it was "based on" LSOH, though, but that it WAS LSOH.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:54 AM on July 1, 2011


How much latitude does the director have when licensing the show?

Its stated in the license info

Responsibilities of the Producing Organization

During rehearsals, the director or producer may find that some changes are required to make the show work in their theatre. Or they may feel making "minor adjustments" to a show (such as changing the gender of a character or changing the name of a town to give it local significance) is inconsequential to its integrity, or believe they have the right to"experiment" with the authors’ intentions as an expression of their artistic vision.

This is not the case.

When you are granted a performance license, by law the show you license must be performed "as is." You have no right to make any changes at all unless you have obtained prior written permission from us to do so. {emp mine} Otherwise, any changes violate the authors’ rights under federal copyright law. Without prior permission from MTI, your actions may subject you to liability - not only to the authors, but also to us - for breaching the terms of your license agreement, which clearly forbids you to make any changes or deletions. Occasionally, new versions of shows are created when the authors or someone the authors have approved reconceives the piece.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 9:54 AM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I explicitly state in my scripts that characters names can be changed, dialogue can be altered, songs can be rewritte, excised, replaced. I ask that is the changes are dramatic, my credit be changed from "by Bunny Sparber" to " based on a script by Bunny Sparber," or Bunny Ultramod, or whatever name I use for my script.

And I applaud you for it. But the same rules that let you do that let someone else say "You must buy an extended license for modification" or "you may not alter this work." And, well, I actually agree with that. I'm very strong on copyright in the abstract, and in many of the concrete forms that it exists under today -- including the idea of "copyleft", where you can allow certain power of copyright to not apply without completely giving up all rights on the work you created.

I will elide the argument of copyright terms, which, while I have strong opinions on*, have no bearing on this. The issue is the same if copyright terms are 5 months or 500 years, the issue is "what powers does the creator of a work have while the work is under copyright?" and the power to control how a copyrighted work is performed is one of those.

The director didn't ask for and receive remix permission. He asked for permission to perform the work as written, was given it, and then remixed it, but the title implied that it was the unaltered work.

I don't blame the license agency -- which, after all, is an *agent* of the copyright holder -- for considering that a violation of the license. I would have shut him down too, under the "eriko dick" standard.† And, of course, if he then negotiated remix rights with the holders of the LSoH and RHPS copyrights, then I'd be all for him presenting his prodcution, and even making several metric assloads‡ of money on it.



* Variations of the word "fuck" appear repeatedly in that opinion.

† Most easily described as "you're being a dick, stop it."

‡ A metric assload is .783 imperial assloads.
posted by eriko at 9:55 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think that it is very unlikely that the licencing and copyright industry will die at the hands of modern technology. Society isn't oriented that way at the moment.

What artists can do, if they want to disrupt this beast, is to destroy its power to extract value out of their works. They can do this by being more synthetic in their creative efforts, and generating more artworks without obvious reference to past work.
posted by melatonic at 9:56 AM on July 1, 2011


Thanks EmpressCallipygos - the question was serious but I used exaggerated examples to see how wide the net could be. I know it's not a black and white issue, but I was wondering where the pendulum might actually be.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 10:00 AM on July 1, 2011


I was wondering where the pendulum might actually be.

Depends on the author or script, each performance is going to have different allowances, what is black and white is the need to ask for permission first. Changing the setting of Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf to Manhattan isn't going to fly, but making Martha a non-smoker isn't going to get you a Cease and Desist.

If you're a director and you have some radicalized vision of LSoH you're better off just collaborating with a screenwriter and creating an original piece that's vaguely based on the original content. As long as you don't sell it as LSoH, and its far enough away from the performance you're inspired from, you're golden.

But if you're going to make some minor/major edits to the script, you'd better go back to the author or agency and say, "I wanna the plant to be Darth Vader, but still call it Little Shop of Horrors. We cool?"
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 10:11 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I wanna the plant to be Darth Vader, but still call it Little Shop of Horrors. We cool?"

Don't give George Lucas any ideas.
posted by kmz at 10:23 AM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think that

a) the director got the results he earned by violating the express terms of the license

b) I really, really wish I'd gotten to see this
posted by Zed at 10:26 AM on July 1, 2011


Hold on a sec. There's a Broadway touring company doing West Side Story where some of the dialog and even songs, "I feel Pretty" in particular, are in Spanish. I know this was done without the express permission of the previous director, so why hasn't that been shut down?

This was a big deal when it opened, but it was done by Arthur Laurents, who wrote the original script. It's possible that he needed permission from the Leonard Bernstein Office and Sondheim (who wrote the music), but that's something Laurents can get where virtually anyone else would have failed.

The Bernstein Office is especially fickle about defending and protecting Bernstein's legacy. I can't discuss specifics, but suffice it to say that they were quite vicious after the production had already closed when a certain fully-licensed production by a well-known university performed Mass according to the script and score, but made minor tweaks to the orchestration to accommodate the musicians and equipment available (nothing that doesn't happen all the time). Lawyers were all over that one all right...

And it's sad because Mass is actually a really good example of what we're talking about here. It's a beautiful and amazing work: legend has it that when it premiered at the grand opening gala of the Kennedy Center in 1971 (Bernstein wrote it as a memorial to JFK), the audience sat in stunned silence for a long pause before bursting into a endless standing ovation. It's also an incoherent wreck of clashing musical styles and a mess of a plot. The show is a diamond wrapped in a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in bacon. (mmm bacon) It doesn't get performed all that much, partly because it never quite worked and partly because it's a royal pain to perform (you need a large choir on stage, plus a separate children's chorus, plus dancers, singers, and all kinds of other nonsense).

Anyway, Mass could actually make a great revival today. It's certainly as relevant now as ever. As I discussed in last month's meandering comment: "Mass features America circa 1971, pained in grief, division, and confusion as the nation undergoes a [metaphorical] collective crisis of faith. We question how to go living on as the holy trinity has caught the last train for the coast and it seems like there's nothing left worth celebrating." But, in my humble opinion, a new Broadway production couldn't possibly work without rewrites and structural changes. It's an interesting work on its own to be sure, but there's enormous potential to remix and re-imagine it.

But that simply cannot happen unless one of two things happen: Mass goes out of copyright or the Bernstein Office decides you're at least as brilliant as Leonard Bernstein. The former won't happen until around 2060 by my quick calculations, and the latter is awfully implausible unless Mr. Bernstein is resurrected. Until that day, they are going to do what lawyers do best, which is to protect their assets. It certainly makes business sense and ensures that Bernstein's name is preserved exactly as Lenny left it, but it's a darn crappy way to advance the arts and culture.
posted by zachlipton at 10:31 AM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


MiltonRand actually is more accurate than I when it comes to how much leeway a director has.

There may indeed be more playwrights that have very particular requirements for their show, or for things you shouldn't change -- but if they're passionate about something, they'll spell it out in the licensing. Changing the setting of a play -- setting Barefoot In The Park in Tibet, for instance -- is kind of dicey territory, so it's worth a check with the legal team; but a playwright may not care too much about that. Same too with gender-bending for the casting, if it's an especially "big-name" play.

Where you put the audience, what costumes you put on everyone, the lighting, etc. are all generally accepted as being the directors' choice. Some playwrights may indeed put conditions on that (I called out Beckett, because he is notorious for stating that no one can change a single thing), but most don't.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:37 AM on July 1, 2011


If a writer is interested in a director fucking around with his work, he works in Hollywood. The pay is more, but so's the heartache.
posted by incessant at 10:38 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think your comparison with a recipe is interesting, EmpressCallipygos, as you can't copyright recipes. I'm of the opinion that a script is pretty much that -- a recipe for a play that will one day be.

I spend a lot of time reading scripts, many of them quite good, and know that they are unlikely to be produced, because the requirements of the script are so spelled out and so specific that it is going to be very difficult to find a theater that is a good match for the script, and can fulfill the demands of the script. No matter how excellent a script is, it's very easy to make it unproducable.

In the meanwhile, the nearly incomprehensible Hamletmachine gets produced all the time, because it is open to many different interpretations -- in fact, requires them. I have repeatedly found that playwrights who understand and respect the necessity of collaboration in writing a script get produced more often. In fact, now that my plays are written to be intepreted and reinterpreted, I get produced all the time, whereas half of my more traditionally written, writer-as-auteur scripts have never been produced, and I expect never will.

The "writer's words are sacrosanct" approach to theater developed sometime in the past hundred years. And with some scripts, it's probably the best approach. But it's a pretty poor model of creation when a writer writes some words and then a thousand people are invited to help bring them to life. It ignores the possibilities that exist when you give those thousand people an opportunity to be a collaborator, rather than some hired hand, brought in to build the exact blueprint you created.

If a writer is interested in a director fucking around with his work, he works in Hollywood.

If a writer doesn't care to have a director fuck around with his work, he should probably not work in a collaborative field.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:46 AM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you get the rights to make a movie of LSoH or whatever else, can they legally restrict you in the same way?
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:46 AM on July 1, 2011


If you get the rights to make a movie of LSoH or whatever else, can they legally restrict you in the same way?

The film version differs significantly from the stage version, including changing the ending. They could try to restrict the changes, but good luck.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:49 AM on July 1, 2011


The "Beckett in the subway" anecdote is an example of a workable solution to what I regard as an overly proprietary attitude on the part of the author. However, the problem, such as it is, of bad productions' damaging the brand of a big-name show, is in large part self-correcting, I think. In other words, lousy productions generally don't run and, by extension, these failures tend to discourage similar experiments.

So long as the text proper (i.e., the words and the music) are intact or at most only lightly cut, then in general I think authors, and especially authors' estates, should stay out of directors' hair. It's difficult to communicate in an across-the-desk discussion exactly how the visuals of a production are all going to come together to begin with, and besides that, not every director knows before rehearsals start exactly how all that coming together is going to happen: sometimes there are flashes of inspiration, happy accidents, input from a performer that completely changes a director's mind about how he sees the work. And from this experimental basis can come some very wonderful theater. (And, it should be remembered, the possibility of some truly dreadful theater: that risk is part of the bargain.)

My field is opera, where the original creators have mostly been dead for decades or centuries, and where most of the works have passed into the public domain. And yet, even here there is a raging controversy over "author's intentions," what Mozart, for example, if he magically could be transported in time to the 21st century, would think of a production of his Entführung aus dem Serail set in a modern big-city brothel and ending in a Tarantino-style bloodbath.

That question, I think, is absolutely moot: Mozart is not the audience for this production, and even if he were able to leap the centuries, he would not have the cultural experience of the rest of the production's public, i.e., to have seen and Entführung for decades. (And, for what it's worth, changing the visuals is no more "disrepectful" of Mozart than the Met did in cutting two short arias and substituting two very long ones for Cecila Bartoli when she sang Nozze di Figaro there.)

Something of the same attitude should apply to a still-incopyright work like Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf: the audience seeing it today is not the audience going to the first production on Broadway nearly half a century ago; for one thing, practically all of them have seen the Taylor/Burton movie and the experience of that film is going to inform their reaction to what's happening on the stage. As such, I think the director has as much responsibility to make something novel and unexpectected of a familiar text as he does to pay honor to the letter of that text.

This Little Shop of Horrors farrago is a different kettle of fish altogether, and it sounds like the director was trying to pull a fast one and now is sorry he got caught. There's nothing artistic about either of those situations.
posted by La Cieca at 10:49 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't give George Lucas any ideas.

Not worried, he hasn't had one in decades.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 10:53 AM on July 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


David Mamet refused to allow a production of Oleanna with same-sex actors.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:55 AM on July 1, 2011


As others observed, "Little Shop of Horrors" is what sold the tickets.

I've seen this comment quite a bit. What are you basing it on? This is an old, old show that most theatre-goers have already seen.

On the one hand, this is appalling. Theater is by nature an interpretive medium, not a fancy 3D projector. Rightholders have an obligation to share their work, and receive compensation for sharing their work. This "protect the brand" bullshit is antithetical to art and human endeavor.

Ditto. I'm surprised to see anyone defending the rights holder here.

"I wanna the plant to be Darth Vader, but still call it Little Shop of Horrors. We cool?"

Absolutely. It seems like with our modern informational infrastructure, brand confusion should no longer be a real concern.

If a writer is interested in a director fucking around with his work, he works in Hollywood. The pay is more, but so's the heartache.

Between Heaven and Hell There's Always Hollywood!
posted by mrgrimm at 10:56 AM on July 1, 2011


I spend a lot of time reading scripts, many of them quite good, and know that they are unlikely to be produced, because the requirements of the script are so spelled out and so specific that it is going to be very difficult to find a theater that is a good match for the script, and can fulfill the demands of the script.

*snerk* You're ahead of me -- many times the technical requirements I've read are things that would either just be plain prohibitively expensive, or which break laws of nature.

Then again, there's usually a hell of a lot of other things going on wrong in those cases, but hey.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:57 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


many times the technical requirements I've read are things that would either just be plain prohibitively expensive, or which break laws of nature.

There seems to be a fad in scripts for writing impossible stage directions. On one hand, I find it somewhat entertaining. On the other hand, do you want your play produced or what?
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:58 AM on July 1, 2011


> As others observed, "Little Shop of Horrors" is what sold the tickets.

I've seen this comment quite a bit. What are you basing it on? This is an old, old show that most theatre-goers have already seen.


You know, a lot of people look forward to watching the "Charlie Brown Christmas" special or "It's A Wonderful Life" every year, even though it's something they've already seen. Lots of people also go to see different versions of Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet even if it's something they've already seen.

But "Charlie Brown's Christmas" or Hamlet is precisely what they expect to see. If they turned on "Charlie Brown's Christmas" and saw that someone had tacked in an ending in which Linus suddenly breaks out a Pokeball and shouts, "TREEBO! I CHOOSE YOU!" and a giant mechanical Christmas Tree Transformer emerged and kicked Lucy's ass, audience members would be....distraught, I would imagine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:00 AM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


So what is it about theater, as an art form, that entitles its rights-holders to MORE post licensing creative control than other art forms? As far as I'm aware, in music and visual art, the purchaser/licensor can do what they want with it, as long as they've paid up. Note: I am not looking at the consumers perspective (e.g., that the consumer will be fooled by a play advertised as Little Shop of Horrors, when it's not really) unless there's something special about theater that makes this different than for other art forms.
posted by yarly at 11:04 AM on July 1, 2011


Not all author are completely rigid dicks about their stuff. Back in the 80s I staged a production of "Baby" by Maltby/Shire, and for various reasons --being in the round among them-- I rewrote many of the segues, adding dialogue and even verses/lyrics as I felt needed. Then Maltby made a surprise visit one night --apparently he had just cease-and-desisted another production up in New York and was on the prowl. We were terrified, but did the show as we had been doing it, expecting to be shut down immediately after.

On the contrary he gathered us together after the performance and gave one of the most touching, heartfelt speeches I have ever heard about the show being like his child and how worried you get about your child out in the world and how great it was to see people respecting your child and treating it properly. I still have his autograph on a program I've never gotten around to framing. It helped that we had significant staging problems we needed to solve and that everything was kept in the exact same tone and character as the rest of the show.

On the other hand, if we'd asked to make those changes we probably would have gotten a no...almost any inquiry about a script results in a no. For instance, I don't know if it's true now, but it used to be that MTI did not want the script of West Side Story performed as it is in the movie. They reversed two songs in the movie and it made a lot more sense than the stage version. In fact, the only time I've seen it performed in the stage version way is a group that made the mistake of asking not to and then were ordered not to change it. Sometimes forgiveness is a better option than permission.
posted by umberto at 11:05 AM on July 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


If they turned on "Charlie Brown's Christmas" and saw that someone had tacked in an ending in which Linus suddenly breaks out a Pokeball and shouts, "TREEBO! I CHOOSE YOU!" and a giant mechanical Christmas Tree Transformer emerged and kicked Lucy's ass, audience members would be....distraught, I would imagine.

That's . . . that's awesome.
posted by brain_drain at 11:07 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]



So what is it about theater, as an art form, that entitles its rights-holders to MORE post licensing creative control than other art forms? As far as I'm aware, in music and visual art, the purchaser/licensor can do what they want with it, as long as they've paid up. Note: I am not looking at the consumers perspective (e.g., that the consumer will be fooled by a play advertised as Little Shop of Horrors, when it's not really) unless there's something special about theater that makes this different than for other art forms.



I would imagine it has something to do with the fact that theatre is that rare art where there can be no "definitive" version. In music, the original record will always exist, no matter how much you remix. In art, the original image will always exist, no matter how much you collage. But a theatrical production really only exists as a temporary (Cats notwithstanding) entity that is a unique marriage of the script and the individual production. Without an "original", it is probably in the playwright's interest to make sure that whatever form the final product takes is reasonably close to what they created. Just my best gues, IANA(C)L.
posted by DiscountDeity at 11:09 AM on July 1, 2011


Sometimes forgiveness is a better option than permission.

And other times it costs a lot more.
posted by cribcage at 11:09 AM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


So what is it about theater, as an art form, that entitles its rights-holders to MORE post licensing creative control than other art forms? As far as I'm aware, in music and visual art, the purchaser/licensor can do what they want with it, as long as they've paid up.

I'm not so sure that's the case. I think Duchamp got a lot of flak when he did this, for instance. And U2 weren't to happy about this. In both of those cases, that was a visual or a music artist who took someone else's stuff and made big changes, then tried to sell it again; the original artists (or their estates) were similarly put out.

Also, I'm not clear what you mean by "purchaser" in terms of music -- are you talking about the person buying the CD and doing their own mashups in their living room? If that's the case, it's not quite analagous to being a licensor.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:12 AM on July 1, 2011


There seems to be a fad in scripts for writing impossible stage directions. On one hand, I find it somewhat entertaining. On the other hand, do you want your play produced or what?

Boy is that the truth. I attended a reading last week where the person being the stage directions turned to us mid-Act 1 and said something very like:
'Joseph crosses UR. A dim wash illuminates the ocean, tossing violently in the purpling skies. The waves are like iron scallops, flecked with rusty foam. A few gulls circle aimlessly. A particularly large wave washes over Joseph's feet and he jumps back, surprised."
I seemed to be the only person in the room who found this amusing. Why so serious!
posted by umberto at 11:14 AM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


There seems to be a fad in scripts for writing impossible stage directions. On one hand, I find it somewhat entertaining. On the other hand, do you want your play produced or what?

....You're assuming that the playwrights in these particular instances are aware that their stage directions are impossible. I'm not entirely convinced that's the case.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:15 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


In music, the original record will always exist, no matter how much you remix. In art, the original image will always exist, no matter how much you collage. But a theatrical production really only exists as a temporary (Cats notwithstanding) entity that is a unique marriage of the script and the individual production. Without an "original", it is probably in the playwright's interest to make sure that whatever form the final product takes is reasonably close to what they created.

Yes, but doesn't the original play always exist in written form as the script (book + stage directions)? And these days, on film, certainly? Plus, a play can be restaged infinitely, so it's not like staging it once with adaptations actually harms the "original." Conversely, (at least in the US), you can buy the only copy of visual art and destroy it or turn it into something else, as far as I'm aware. And with compulsory licensing of music, I think the rights-holder is obliged to let the buyer do whatever she wants with the original.

Also, I'm not clear what you mean by "purchaser" in terms of music -- are you talking about the person buying the CD and doing their own mashups in their living room? If that's the case, it's not quite analagous to being a licensor.

I guess I mean licensor.
posted by yarly at 11:18 AM on July 1, 2011


So what is it about theater, as an art form, that entitles its rights-holders to MORE post licensing creative control than other art forms?

Theatre isn't a special case here. Rights-holders can license faithful productions, or they can, separately, license permission to adapt. If you want to do the latter, you shouldn't get the license for the former.

If this director had gotten the latter license and the right-holders had threatened legal action because they didn't like some detail of the production that hadn't been forbidden by the terms of the license, I'd be insisting the rights-holders were wrong. But he didn't. So I'm saying the rights-holders were well within their rights.
posted by Zed at 11:19 AM on July 1, 2011


And U2 weren't to happy about this. In both of those cases, that was a visual or a music artist who took someone else's stuff and made big changes, then tried to sell it again; the original artists (or their estates) were similarly put out

This is different from what I'm asking about. In the U2/Negative land case (at least from what Wikipedia says!) Negativeland never licensed the U2 song or logo, but just took it and claimed fair use.
posted by yarly at 11:21 AM on July 1, 2011


I live a few doors down from Boxcar Theatre.

MiltonRandKalman: "Nick doesn't do original work, Box Car does familiar work that puts butts in the seats. They performed 'Clue' a while back lifting the entire performance from the movie. Did he pay for Clue? No. Did he pay for Rocky Horror songs for LSoH? No."

That's increasingly true, but it's not how they started. Their first show on Natoma Street was called "BigCo," and they billed themselves as a sort of writer-performer troupe. The past year - with Little Shop, Clue, and three Tennessee Williams plays - seems to have been an intentional turning point. Next year, they'll be doing three Sam Shepard plays, which I'm excited about. That's the kind of thing they do well.

One thing about the production that no one has mentioned is that the first song and scene were performed outside, so they blocked off the street every night, and everyone in the neighborhood has had "Down on Skid Row" stuck in our heads for the last three months. And the music starts just as the evening line at the soup kitchen next door is dwindling down.

MiltonRandKalman: "Lastly, after he knew the heat was coming on and made the cast rush rehearse LSoH from the script verbatim, told them to perform it from script the Saturday when the Licensing Agency was going to be in attendance and then he skipped town."

Is this true? That's kind of the opposite of the version he tells in the letter.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:21 AM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Conversely, (at least in the US), you can buy the only copy of visual art and destroy it or turn it into something else, as far as I'm aware. And with compulsory licensing of music, I think the rights-holder is obliged to let the buyer do whatever she wants with the original.

Technically you may be right, but I'm fairly certain that if someone did something like buy the only existing copy of Guernica and then burnt it in effigy, there would be rather a strong public outcry at the very least.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:22 AM on July 1, 2011


or they can, separately, license permission to adapt.

Yes, but my point is, the rights-holder is not compelled by the law to grant permission to adapt. AFAIK, when it comes to recorded music, they have to allow the license.
posted by yarly at 11:22 AM on July 1, 2011


On the other hand, if we'd asked to make those changes we probably would have gotten a no...almost any inquiry about a script results in a no. For instance, I don't know if it's true now, but it used to be that MTI did not want the script of West Side Story performed as it is in the movie. They reversed two songs in the movie and it made a lot more sense than the stage version. In fact, the only time I've seen it performed in the stage version way is a group that made the mistake of asking not to and then were ordered not to change it. Sometimes forgiveness is a better option than permission.

I directed "West Side Story" two seasons in a row in the 1980's at the same summer stock venue - same sets, costumes, everything but casts; essentially, the show went into hibernation for eleven months. Both years, management applied for a waiver to swap "Cool" and "Krupke." The first year, the waiver was granted; the second year, it was not...

That specific event aside, the guy from Boxcar is a making something out of nothing for publicity's sake. He's not kidding when he says in his letter, "I never had an original idea." There's no way around the fact that a professional would have not only known that this was reckless and possibly company-destroying, a professional would have done their fucking job, which is to execute that the author(s) create. You want to make some performance-art-bullshit-melange of a recognizable and very popular musical, an unrelated musical, and an black and white film in the public domain? Get the rights, and do it right. Otherwise, you're just a pretentious "artiste".
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 11:25 AM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh. Now I see that the Bay Citizen article does mention the outside staging:

Among the sins Boxcar Theatre committed against “Little Shop” was incorporating elements of the 1986 movie into the production and staging scenes on the street outside their theater at 6th and Natoma Streets.

Is this implying that the staging was one of the "sins" that led to the closing, or just a writerly flourish?
posted by roll truck roll at 11:28 AM on July 1, 2011


Wow. We must have a lot of "artists" in the crowd, the reactions here really do surprise me. I would have expected a much more "free to adapt" view on the Blue.

True story - I once went to - I'll call it a "play" for lack of a better word - a play with a recognizable name (I honestly don't remember the name, but something I had heard of). Something legitimate. Something I expected to have a reasonable narrative structure.

I then spent the next 45 minutes watching a half-naked man wander aimlessly around a crowded (with random junk) stage, occasionally stopping to abuse an out-of-tune piano or poke at some random crap under some other random crap.

I can't say I enjoyed it, but y'know, I also wouldn't say that it shaped my opinion of its namesake in the least (hell, for proof of that, I can't remember the name).
posted by pla at 11:34 AM on July 1, 2011


AFAIK, when it comes to recorded music, they have to allow the license.

It's music that's the special case here, and the degree of adaptation granted by the compulsory license is pretty limited.
There is no requirement that the new recording be identical to the previous work, as the compulsory license includes the privilege of rearranging the work to conform it to the recording artist's interpretation. This does not allow the artist to change the basic melody or fundamental character of the work.
posted by Zed at 11:37 AM on July 1, 2011


So what is it about theater, as an art form, that entitles its rights-holders to MORE post licensing creative control than other art forms?

Theater is a bit unusual in that the end result is legally a combination of the playwright's literary work (and the composer's score if it's a musical), the director's instructions, and the designers' creative output (designers typically own the rights to their designs and license them to the production as part of their contract). The actors' work is obviously a major part as well, but there's no copyright in acting for fairly obvious reasons. All of these parties come together to produce a show. That's part of what makes theater so wonderful: it's an incredibly collaborative endeavor in which everyone pitches in with their unique contributions to produce a whole much bigger than the sum of its parts.

But that's a fairly unique situation in the arts, which leads to some interesting intersections with copyright law. When a screenwriter sells a screenplay, they pretty much sign away creative control in exchange for compensation and credit (as determined by an incredibly complex WGA credit system). This happens because screenwriters tend to be lone nerdy guys negotiating against massive Hollywood studios. Playwrights, on the other hand, keep their rights and license them one production at a time as they or their agents see fit. Plays don't happen unless everyone involved agrees.

The closest analog to this situation is in music, where you have a songwriter and a performer. However, Congress long ago recognized the unusual nature of this situation and created a compulsolry license, which basically means that anyone can pay a set rate for the right to perform covers of the vast majority of songs out there. Want to start a Beatles cover band and perform their songs for compensation? You don't need Yoko Ono or anyone else's permission. That doesn't apply to theater or any other kind of creative work though, so you need the playwright's cooperation, or that of his agent, to do anything with a play.
posted by zachlipton at 11:38 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I then spent the next 45 minutes watching a half-naked man wander aimlessly around a crowded (with random junk) stage, occasionally stopping to abuse an out-of-tune piano or poke at some random crap under some other random crap.

Sounds like you wandered into my apartment by accident.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:39 AM on July 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


I won't speak for anybody else, pla, but I think the difference is (our assumption would be) the director of that production of the well-known-but-forgotten-now-play secured a license do exactly what they did. Hell, I've done that. But I can authoritatively say I've never gotten an "as-written" performance license and then butchered the hell out of the piece, which is what the Boxcar guy did. There's no question of "artistic license" or integrity or anything else here - it's unprofessional behavior, and was specifically prohibited by the contract the company signed. The story just ends there...
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 11:40 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


zachlipton, thanks for saying what I think I was trying to say far more coherently and knowledgably than I could have.
posted by DiscountDeity at 11:41 AM on July 1, 2011


Is this true? That's kind of the opposite of the version he tells in the letter.

This person could have embellished and/or mistaken Nick's attendance. Nick claimed he was there, and his alleged absence was mentioned specifically because the castmember said it was bullshit and felt he left them hanging in the wind.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 11:41 AM on July 1, 2011


Wow.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:43 AM on July 1, 2011


Nick's attendance or non-attendance wasn't the issue for me. Moral support is nice, but it wasn't going to change the outcome.

What shows lack of integrity was asking the cast to quickly rehearse the original material and pretend that was the musical they were doing the whole time for the sake of the licensing agents. If agents found out they were being duped the cast could have gotten nailed too.

Some theaters have been known to do a blackout (fake a power outage) when you know shit is going to happen, but this was worse.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 11:56 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I then spent the next 45 minutes watching a half-naked man wander aimlessly around a crowded (with random junk) stage, occasionally stopping to abuse an out-of-tune piano or poke at some random crap under some other random crap.

Ah, yes. That was the worst production of The Miracle Worker I've ever seen.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 12:02 PM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


There seems to be a fad in scripts for writing impossible stage directions. On one hand, I find it somewhat entertaining. On the other hand, do you want your play produced or what?

There seems to be a lot of plays here in Hollywood that were once screenplays that no one wanted to buy that have been quickly re-written for the stage in a way that completely disrards the limitations of theater. That's sort of the pits. On the other hand, I don't really know what Carol Churchill intended a production of The Skriker to look like, and will probably never see it staged well, but the play in and of itself is still pretty cool impossible stage directions and all.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:08 PM on July 1, 2011


*Caryl Churchill, dammit.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:09 PM on July 1, 2011


Mac wellman writes impossible stage directions. I asked him about it once and he said that whenever he wrote "a man come in stage left from a blue door with a red wig" it would always be a women coming in stage right from a yellow door with a pink wig. But if he wrote "a thing flies down and lands on his head," it's always exactly right.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:11 PM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some theaters have been known to do a blackout (fake a power outage) when you know shit is going to happen, but this was worse.

Or you can just do this because no one really feels like performing that night. Years ago, I worked on a show (and I'm certainly not naming names here) where we had a Sunday night performance that absolutely no one wanted to do. I think it was Super Bowl Sunday or Oscar Night or something like that, but there were only two people who had pre-purchased tickets (which was unusual, the show was selling decently well), we had already done a matinee that day, the weather was beautiful out and no one wanted to be indoors, and we were fairly far into the three-week run. Everyone involved just agreed to call it a night and move on, so we shut everything down and headed out.

Of course, the two people who bought tickets showed up and wanted to see the show. We told them the ventilation system was broken or made some other such excuse and apologized, but apparently they were going out of town and couldn't come another night. A little while later, pretty much the whole company wandered out to see a movie and we ran into the couple outside. We felt pretty bad, so the cast wound up doing a scene in the park just for them, complete with ad-libs to reflect the changed setting.

And that, my friends, is the story of a true performance that never happened.
posted by zachlipton at 12:12 PM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mac wellman writes impossible stage directions. I asked him about it once and he said that whenever he wrote "a man come in stage left from a blue door with a red wig" it would always be a women coming in stage right from a yellow door with a pink wig. But if he wrote "a thing flies down and lands on his head," it's always exactly right.

for a couple years I did some volunteer ajudicating for New York's Fringe Festival. One year they got an application which consisted of a single page letter describing their show in question (instead of the full application, script, video of a past production, and etc. that most other applicants usually submit). Among the many improbable things they required for their set was a mud puddle onstage, which they also required to evaporate over the course of the 60-minute play, at a very specific rate.

We passed on that show.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:19 PM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Back in college, when I fancied myself a playwright, I used to have stage directions that made little sense/were practically impossible to stage. The fun part, for me, was then to see how the director, actors and designers would interpret this. It is a collaborative process, after all. Of course, very few of these plays were ever produced.
But I do think part of the collaborative process is for the director to be able to change certain things in order to make it work for their particular production. Sure, that could be me just being lazy and not committing to a vision, but I was thinking of folks like Mac Wellman or Richard Foreman who give the audience and the director just enough to play around with and do with what they will, while still retaining their authorial voice.
This situation, though, just doesn't sound like the same kind of thing. The director is saying the man is trying to censor his vision, when it reads more like he was just too lazy to go through the right channels to clear said vision.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 12:26 PM on July 1, 2011


We passed on that show.

And thereby deprived New York audiences of the thrill of witnessing my "Swan Lake, the Modern Marrionette Musical," which they so richly deserved... Philistines.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 12:28 PM on July 1, 2011


On the other hand, I don't really know what Carol Churchill intended a production of The Skriker to look like, and will probably never see it staged well, but the play in and of itself is still pretty cool impossible stage directions and all.


When I was in college, my theatre department did that show.

It looked very, very strange. Awesome like you read about. But strange.
posted by DiscountDeity at 12:39 PM on July 1, 2011


The "impossible stage direction" thing, while trendy, is something I really like and I think directly ties into this discussion about intellectual property. If we disregard cases where the author actually doesn't know any better (like the mud puddle example) what an impossible stage direction says to me (a designer) is "I don't know if this is possible if taken literally- maybe it is, but I expect you to come up with your own solution that is appropriate for your venue and production. It should feel like this." That is an awesome, collaborative stance to take. So maybe after that you hire Ricky Jay to consult on your theatre magic like they did in the Broadway version of Angels In America, or maybe a guy just throws a handful of pink glitter and steps behind a curtain like we did at NYU. Either way Mr. Lies disappears and the work is original to the production and organic.

Once you start giving dimensions and design ideas about what Audrey II can look like, you are taking the work of one designer and handing it off to be copied. I don't know what the exact terms were for Little Shop of Horrors or if the production paid the designer to give up all rights (and credit, which seems weird), but I know I've seen a lot of Little Shops- they all had puppets that looked the same and I've never seen the original designer credited for their work (but I have seen an awful lot of other names credited under "puppet design".) I sincerely hope they worked out a deal but I think theatres need to do a better job getting the word out to smaller companies and community theatres that copying the Broadway or movie design is not design and should ideally not be done or at least be appropriately credited if you must.

But back to the question of stage directions- I think we're just now acknowledging that there's a similar problem when companies, particularly Samuel French, the biggest offender, publish versions of scripts where they add in stage directions from the original production that the author never specified and they look identical to the stage directions the playwright did specify. They only recently stopped publishing groundplans, prop and costume lists- essentially saying to theatre companies who didn't know better, "Hey, here's how to do this show. You have everyone's blessing to use this information." Except that the original designers were never compensated for that information or credited when their designs were used over and over. The impossible stage direction is sort of an elegant solution for writers in this way- write what's necessary for the scene for you and let other people figure the rest out.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 1:03 PM on July 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Your set may infringe upon the 32 inches that is legally necessary for wheelchair accessibility (even though in your history you have never needed to accommodate such a patron).
What the fuckety fuck? This is his example of evading silly bureaucratic regulations? As if wheelchair-bound patrons aren't real people, they're just imaginary entities that are used to justify pointless regulation? (ha ha! who ever needed to accommodate a person in a wheelchair? What a ridiculous idea!)

Plus what nestor_makhno said about fire exits. Holy shit, this guy's a horrible human being.
posted by edheil at 1:17 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow. Reading the letter, I was struck that I felt he sounded like a dick. Then I read that he apparently wanted the cast to collude to deceive the rights holders and that's worse than I thought.

Look, everyone who's like OMG THEY MIGHT HAVE COVERED AN EXIT SIGN or ASSHOLES BLOCKING THE WHEELCHAIRS -- nearly every person who does theater has at one time performed or worked in a space that was, at best, not to code. Usually it endangers the actors and staff more than the patrons, if it endangers them at all. Community theater work, while spat upon and looked down upon by a certain class of artist, endures a helluva lot more of this where I come from than pro or semipro outfits. So be outraged if you like, but the most productive thing to do if this outrages you and you support theater in your community is to support it MORE. Money cures most of these ills.

There is a certain character around the ATL nonprofessional theater scene who no one is sure whether he always pays his rights. No one can really tell -- some of the rights houses post the stuff online and some of them, to my knowledge, do not. There's really no way to catch this guy, but we don't deal with him. Not paying rights, or doing shit to get shut down, is a slippery slope and it can taint everyone you're working with. It sucks to find out you're involved in a show that the rights aren't paid on, or a show that doesn't have the "creative license" bit worked out with the right people.

Then again, my theater company does almost nothing but Shakespeare and other quote unquote "dead white guys" not only because we can do whatever the hell we want, but also because we don't owe money up front for the privilege of doing the show. We made that choice. This guy seems to have made his. I don't feel sorry for him, and he's lucky, probably, that all they did was shut down the show.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:32 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have an idea for a musical about a diminutive hooker who plies her trade in malls, waiting for guys coming out of the hardware store with their power tools. The show will be called THE LITTLE WHORE OF SHOPPERS.
posted by binturong at 1:40 PM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


binturong, as long there's a half-naked man walking around aimlessly, I'm there.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 1:56 PM on July 1, 2011


Plus what nestor_makhno said about fire exits. Holy shit, this guy's a horrible human being.

Theaters, especially smaller ones, screw around with exit signs all the time. It's not a good thing, but it happens. Heck, I'll admit that I've disabled exit signs in the past to accommodate a production, though I'll usually tape a colored gel over the sign instead to at least keep a dimmer light visible.

Here are the situations off the top of my head where I've done that. One was with a show that featured live video: there was a camera operator on stage filming an actor and the image was projected on two large screens that made up part of the set. During rehearsals, the camera would frequently pick up the bright green exit sign of a door backstage in the background, which looked terrible and was also out of place for the period and setting of the show. The door was backstage, everyone knew where it was, and this was a student production. Sign disabled, and we moved on.

The other case involved a blackbox theater that was normally used end on, e.g. audience enters through doors on the long side of the room, seats are on risers to their left, stage area to their right. For this show, the decision was made to use an unusual configuration: audience enters through the same doors, walks across the stage space to the seats on risers on the opposite side, and sits facing the doors they came in. All was great, except the scenic and lighting designs for the show now featured three bright exit signs pointed directly at the audience throughout the production. It could have been an interesting choice for a production of No Exit, but it really wasn't working. After some debate, we disabled the exit signs, kept the bright emergency lights above them that automatically turn on in the event of a power failure or fire, and trained the cast, crew, and house management on procedures in the event of an emergency to open all the doors (the only doors in the room, and the same ones the audience entered through), ensure that all the lights were on (this was supposed to happen automatically with the fire alarm) and direct patrons to the exits.

I'm not happy of either situation, but what exactly do you propose? It's not something I would ever do lightly and without consultation with everyone involved, but I don't think it rises to the "horrible human being" level.
posted by zachlipton at 1:59 PM on July 1, 2011


It sounds like it was an amazing production.

When you arrange for rights for a play (as others have said) its made pretty clear that you don't have the right to change the production/"violate authorial intent"/whatever. Its a pretty simple matter to contact the licensing company and ask for a waiver. They either grant it or they don't.

Getting busted by the licensing company, though, no matter what stupid shit you pull in a production, is fairly unusual (hence our hearing about it here). There's probably hundreds of under-the-radar productions of fairly big-name musicals with unreported radical changes produced every year. If you just imagine high school productions of, say, "Little Shop" where they cast twenty back-up singers instead of three to accommodate all the kids who wanted to perform, you can probably find a violation of authorial intent being performed within 100 miles of you.

A legitimate theatre company (and we are talking about a legitimate theatre company) should know about things like copyright law and licensing agreements - just as they should know about tax law, liquor ordinances, fire codes and neighborhood parking regulations. To not know these things, and risk closure of your show over them, is short-sighted. Violating them doesn't doesn't make you a great artist - it makes you a poor manager.

Though, to be clear, it sounds like Mr. Director is both a great artist and, at least in this regard, a poor manager.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:30 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of the interesting quirks of music licensing I discovered recently is that while there are compulsory licenses for musical works, musical-theater works are exempted. No one can stop you from covering Justin Beiber's latest track, but they can stop you from covering Andrew Lloyd Weber's.

It's not Andrew Lloyd Webber that's being protected by this. It's the rest of humanity.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 4:08 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


nomisxid: " One of the interesting quirks of music licensing I discovered recently is that while there are compulsory licenses for musical works, musical-theater works are exempted. No one can stop you from covering Justin Beiber's latest track, but they can stop you from covering Andrew Lloyd Weber's."

?
posted by roll truck roll at 4:17 PM on July 1, 2011


I'm not happy of either situation, but what exactly do you propose?

In all seriousness, I would expect the company to come up with a legal, safe solution or modify the design to accommodate the exit signs. Call your fire marshal- there are ways to cover exit signs that will be approved. Off the top of my head The Drowsy Chaperone and Play Dead have both done this recently in New York (where the fire codes for theatres are notoriously strict). Thinking about it, I'd probably give the same advice to the subject of the post too. Never assume you're the only one doing something and you have to break the law to do it. Ask around- there are probably people who have done it before and found ways to get what they want artistically and solve the problem safely.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 4:52 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Speaking as a playwright, I'd be seriously pissed off if someone staged one of my plays and changed it significantly from what I had written without bothering to ask permission.

Call me crazy.
posted by kyrademon at 5:35 PM on July 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


So what is it about theater, as an art form, that entitles its rights-holders to MORE post licensing creative control than other art forms? As far as I'm aware, in music and visual art, the purchaser/licensor can do what they want with it, as long as they've paid up. Note: I am not looking at the consumers perspective (e.g., that the consumer will be fooled by a play advertised as Little Shop of Horrors, when it's not really) unless there's something special about theater that makes this different than for other art forms.

It's kind of like the play is a recipe for the final product. You certainly wouldn't expect a publishing house to fuck with their reprinting of some author's story, just as much as you wouldn't expect Independent Bottling Company of Yukon to change the formula for Pepsi because it suited their aims. Or a Starbucks licensed re-press of some Lite-FM song to suddenly be pitch-corrected a step and a half higher.

Brands are important, both to the owner/creator, and to the consumer. If I see "Title of Play", I expect to see that play. If I see "Title of Play, as reimagined by SnootPlayCo", I know I'm getting something different. If we respect creators of works, we have to respect their control of their works.
posted by gjc at 6:49 PM on July 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


kyrademon: and yet this happens to musicians all the time, there's nothing we can do about it legally, and yet we keep going somehow, and are even happy to hear implausible covers of our work.

As long as you're getting compensated and the resulting work is correctly labelled so the audience isn't getting ripped off, I fail to see what your beef is.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:18 PM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


yarly writes "I don't understand why a musician can pay royalty fees and then sample or adapt a song, but a theater can't. Any IP mavens able to explain?"

Because when these things were being pounded out it was in the interests of big labels to have compulsorily licences available and not in the case of theatre.

EmpressCallipygos writes "If Nick had called this show anything other than 'Little Shop Of Horrors,' he may have gotten away with it -- he admitted to making changes, but he still was using the 'but it's Little Shop of Horrors!' claim."

He should have called it NOT Little Shop of Horrors with the visual branding composed of Little Shop of Horrors overlaid with a huge rubber stamp NOT complete with rubber edge box bleed. He would have go sued for infringement but he might have made a parody defence fly or at least been able to leverage it to arrange a licence.
posted by Mitheral at 1:00 AM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mitheral: " He should have called it NOT Little Shop of Horrors with the visual branding composed of Little Shop of Horrors overlaid with a huge rubber stamp NOT complete with rubber edge box bleed."

I'm imagining the opening theme song with a 90s-style "NOT!" shout at the end of each line. That would be awesome.
posted by roll truck roll at 1:09 AM on July 2, 2011


"As long as you're getting compensated and the resulting work is correctly labelled so the audience isn't getting ripped off, I fail to see what your beef is."

I'm not sure I got across what I meant by "significantly changed". Every theatrical production of a show is different, often in wildly disparate ways, and that's fine. Great, even. But if you're doing a completely different show without asking permission to do so and calling it my play, I don't care if I've been "compensated". Don't say it's my play if it isn't.

In fact, theater has by custom and tradition developed a set of fairly clear and reasonable guidelines regarding what kinds of things are permissible to change at will and what kind of things require permission. I find it baffling if that is not true of music.

Someone could really, say, pay you to cover your song, then without consulting you record something with a completely different (and for the sake of argument, let's say terrible and offensive) melody, harmony, tempo, set of lyrics, and point, with no recognizable trace of your song, then list it on their album as "LUPUS_YONDERBOY'S SONG" by Lupus Yonderboy (adapted by Some Other Guy), and ... you have no issue with people thinking of that as "Lupus_Yonderboy's Song"?

Because if you're just talking about someone "doing a cover", there are innumerable ways that is acceptable in theater, and this guy simply overstepped those bounds. If there really are NO bounds in songwriting that could be overstepped in such a way ... well, I do consider that weird and kind of a rip-off of artists, yes.
posted by kyrademon at 2:46 PM on July 2, 2011


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