A Shoggoth on the Roof
July 15, 2003 3:37 PM   Subscribe

"A Shoggoth on the Roof," a musical theater adaptation of HP Lovecraft's work, was set to be staged this fall by Chicago's Defiant Theatre, but the production has been scrapped due to legal threats by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, the creators of "Fiddler on the Roof".
posted by starkeffect (22 comments total)

Since the adaptation is obviously a parody, which thanks to 2 Live Crew is protected speech, it seems that Bock and Harnick don't have a legal leg to stand on, but a small theater company doesn't have the money to fight it out in the courts, even if they're right. Perhaps it's time to organize a Parody Defense Fund?

By the way, be sure to check out the very funny mockumentary as well.
posted by starkeffect at 3:40 PM on July 15, 2003

It's sad - I have the CD, and I was sort of looking forward to seeing it.
posted by FormlessOne at 4:24 PM on July 15, 2003

Here is a legal question. Should they go ahead and perform the show and, as a result, get sued, wouldn't they get a court appointed attorney, or is that only for criminal cases?
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:52 PM on July 15, 2003

Yes, the court-appointed attorney is only for criminal cases.

I have a hard time seeing this as a parody of Fiddler on the Roof. It's perhaps a parody of Lovecraft, although I also find that dubious, but in any case Lovecraft isn't the one threatening to sue them. The fair use exception for parody doesn't mean you can just throw anything into your work as long as you call the result a parody. What aspects of Fiddler or Lovecraft are being ridiculed? Is the point of the work to comment in some way on the works being used, or just to be funny? Not every funny thing is a parody.
posted by kindall at 5:18 PM on July 15, 2003

Or, another legal question: what would happen if a bunch of other people, spurred on by this ridiculous litigation, ordered the libretto and music from the HPLHS, and tried to stage the play in several cities simultaneously?
posted by majcher at 5:20 PM on July 15, 2003

Bastards. Bastard unbelievers. Those two should know that they can't stop the Great Old Ones and their veneration. When R'leyh rises and the gulfs between the stars open, then shall they walk in glory!

Ia! Ia! Hastur!
Ia Hastur cf’ ayak ‘vulgtmm
vugtlagln vulgtmm!
Ai! Shub-Niggurath!
cf’ tagn!
Ia! Ia! Hastur!

(drools a bit)

Sorry, what were we talking about?
posted by Samizdata at 5:29 PM on July 15, 2003

AIIIEEEEE! The Goat with a Thousand Young!

....or something like that.
posted by jokeefe at 5:51 PM on July 15, 2003

I just exchanged a bit of email with one of the perpetrators, and it sounds like the Harnick and Bock lawyers have indeed put the kibosh on the production at the Defiant. Apparently, Fiddler is reopening on Broadway in September, and they have "promised to take all means necessary to keep Shoggoth off the stage". So, boo to them.

I think that it'd be great to see a crowd of HPL freaks in New York get into a big shoggoth costume or dress up as deep ones, and stage a mock protest outside the theater when it opens there.
posted by majcher at 6:05 PM on July 15, 2003

I'd say we summon some repellent monster to manifest during the opening night of Fiddler, but I was at a loss to know which one would be best.

Would Azathoth be overkill???
posted by Blue Stone at 6:33 PM on July 15, 2003

ah, lawsuit threats like this == free publicity. plus, since it's pretty obviously a parody, and therefore protected speach, I would think they are just going to go ahead and put it on.

after a few nice stories get printed
posted by badzen at 6:50 PM on July 15, 2003

badzen: Sheldon Harnick and his lawyers think otherwise... quoting from his letter:

Since neither Mr. Bock nor I are happy with the notion that this parody of "Fiddler on the Roof" might be done in a stage production, I called Music Theatre International, the firm which licenses productions of "Fiddler". What they told me is this. While parodies do enjoy a degree of copyright protection and recordings of them can obtain compulsory licenses, the same is not necessarily true of stage works... [T]hey would have to apply for a license from MTI in order to produce a live stage production. Such a license will not be granted.

So apparently you can write and record a musical parody, but you can't do a theater parody (?!) Pretty weak, but it all comes down to the fact that they've got money and the Shoggoth guys don't.
posted by starkeffect at 7:05 PM on July 15, 2003

It's sad - I have the CD,

Does that mean this CD is for sale someplace, or is it 'download only'?
posted by rough ashlar at 7:06 PM on July 15, 2003

You can buy the CD here.
posted by starkeffect at 7:07 PM on July 15, 2003

If it's more a parody of Lovecraft than Fiddler on the Roof, what if they changed the title, which really isn't necessary, and just kept the music? Perhaps they could work out a deal in that case. Sounds like Fiddler just wants to protect its future box office.
posted by Hildago at 7:07 PM on July 15, 2003

Unfortunately, I'm sure the Fiddler folks could probably then nail them on the music, as it is obviously the same (down to several decimal points) as Fiddler. This has happened before many times in the music industry.

So, we change the title, and we change the music. Then all the humorous charm is gone.

I think I need to send some Hounds of Tindalos their way...
posted by Samizdata at 11:29 PM on July 15, 2003

I agree that as far as theatre productions go, this just doesn't look very good. On the other hand, I find this zealously using copyright to guard against parody to be a bit absurd. I was just reading about Benjamin Franklin and the early colonial press in which satire and parody was elevated to a respected artform as long as it did not cross the line to slander.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:43 AM on July 16, 2003

Another example of how Musical Theater is going to hell in a handbasket. Nevermind that "Fiddler" is one of the most hackneyed shows to ever grace any stage. MTI makes a mint off of it though, so they can afford to stop this.

Cthulu thinks MTI would make a nice sandwich...
posted by tommyspoon at 6:24 AM on July 16, 2003

am i alone in wondering how well this would extend into a full-length play? after seeing clips on the website, it seems like it would wear out its welcome in fifteen minutes or so.
posted by pxe2000 at 7:56 AM on July 16, 2003

"What aspects of Fiddler or Lovecraft are being ridiculed?' (Kindall) - Well, I get that sort of chucks surrealist parody, and humour, out the window (defenestrates it, that is) Let me get that straight - the absurdist juxtaposition of works, or elements of cultural works, for the humour inherent in the juxtaposition is not parody - unless this amounts to direct and obvious ridicule of those works themselves. Hmmmm. Grrrrr.

Well, I guess te gustibus non disputandum est, eh? - but this is also a free speech question and so I wonder what the courts would think about the definition above. Humour police, anyone?
posted by troutfishing at 9:07 AM on July 16, 2003

*Flushes old copy of Stairway to Gilligan's Island down the toilet, peeks through blinds for signs of copyright police*
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:46 AM on July 16, 2003

Trout, Pink -

Nope. It's okay to parody as long as it's not on stage, apparently.

posted by Samizdata at 2:59 PM on July 16, 2003

Samizdata - Just don't parody in person, in the flesh?

Hmmmm (grrrrrr.........
posted by troutfishing at 8:58 PM on July 16, 2003

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