There's an e-mail going around, purporting to be from Chris Durang and Marsha Norman, urging fellow playwrights to boycott the O'Neill Playwrights Conference.
Why? Because, according to this e-mail:
"... from now on, the O'Neill Board is determined to demand a percentage of the playwright's subsidiary income IN PERPETUITY from any play accepted for presentation at the O'Neill.
'This means that for four days of rehearsal, and a presentation with actors using scripts, you will owe them a permanent percentage of your income from that play. This is so patently unfair, and so clearly against their own mission statement, that we can only assume they have lost their minds, or perhaps decided to think of themselves as commercial producers instead of the generous, helpful organization they used to be, devoted to playwrights and their work."
Tboy's first reaction: This has gotta be a hoax. Or an outdated relic--revived through the same e-mail magic that keeps long-debunked urban myths coming constantly to our mailboxes--of the meltdown at the O'Neill two summers back.
So he phoned Wendy Goldberg, the ex-Arena Stage lieutenant who's running the O'Neill now. She was just getting off a plane at La Guardia, and promised to get back to him. Coupla hours later, she did. And whaddya know:
"This is the first time I have seen this email. I have not been contacted about this directly by either Chris or Marsha. I am concerned that something like this was sent out before talking to me or to our Executive Director or Board Chair for that matter. Before I comment, I do need to speak to them. However, for the record, the O'Neill does not ask for any subs rights. We did not take any last year, we have not taken any in 42 years and we will not be taking any this upcoming summer."
So, hoax? Possibly. Tboy hasn't yet heard back from Durang, and is still digging for contact info for Norman.
But wait. Goldberg has more to say:
"It is true that there was an attempt to ask for sub rights, [but] that clause was taken OUT of the contracts. There is a discussion on the table about how artists can give back to the O'Neill for the support the O'Neill has provided over history to countless writers, but we haven't moved very far in that conversation, mainly because of everyone's schedules. We are open to suggestions from artists who care about the institution.
"Again, I want to stress that NO ONE contacted me or anyone at the O'Neill before sending this note. "
So maybe not a hoax. Maybe a case of miscommunication. Maybe Durang and Norman heard some garbled news, brought out the big guns, and shot from the hip.
Or maybe the "discussion on the table" has been more heated than Goldberg (always a diplomat, she) is letting on, and somebody's decided to start having it outside the O'Neill. The letter (the full text is reproduced in the PDF image at right; click to view) goes on to suggest just that: "Many of us have tried talking to them, and they are not listening. So we are taking this step ..."
Either way, it's a startling thing for a Tboy to hear on a Saturday afternoon, when he's just trying to have a cup of coffee and a brownie. (Full disclosure: He attended the O'Neill's critics program in the summer of 2002.)
He'll keep you up to date as he learns more. Goldberg says she's trying to reach Durang and Norman, and is confident it'll turn out to be a miscommunication. Meanwhile, she says, the O'Neill is accepting submissions for the 2007 conference.