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Tuesday, 26 July 2005



Are we certain that they have always secured rights?


I was also surprised that they got the rights to Gilman's GLORY OF LIVING, since a year ago, when Theater Alliance was producing BOY GETS GIRL (after their artistic director finally won his umpteenth battle with Studio and others to claim the rights for a show by a hot "new(ish)" playwright) the Gilman people then would not grant them rights to follow through with the Gilman reading series (Readings! Just readings!) that they were scheduling to accompany the production -- one of which would have been GLORY OF LIVING.



So I guess the question for Didactic is -- how on earth did you manage to wrestle rights from both Shepard and Gilman's agents?!? Impressive.


The perverse in me loves it when small companies pull off something like this. I can see the film in my head of how Studio or Woolly would do something as soon as I read a script. DC needs more "X Factor" companies, more productions that are surprises. Keep the companies that are getting fat and comfy on their toes.


Absolutely. As long as everyone is playing fair and obtaining rights.


They'd be bonkers to have done this any way but on the level. If the name Bart Whiteman doesn't ring any bells with Didactic, it sure as hell does with the companies handling rights, and they associate that name with DC. Flying under the radar is not so easy anymore.


The incident referred to was 20 years ago. Has nothing interesting happened in DC theatre since? There are two related facts being ignored by the people who like to lift sensational items out of context and play them as long as they can in the name of self-interest. First, small theatre companies almost always have some form of rights problem. It's a function of poverty. Second, theatre in downtown DC was flying under all sorts of radar, not just rights. Survival was the pressing daily issue. When someone finally writes the history of DC theatre, I hope they will get it right(s).


The point remains: It would be very unwise in 2005 -from a survival point of view - for any company to do a production of a play for which they did not have legal rights.


In theory, fine. No problem. In practice, not so easy all the time. It's a problem more than anyone would like to admit. It's also a problem for producing agencies that have no problem affording the rights payment. Downtown DC was a much more hostile environment in the 70's and early 80's than it is now. Rights were just one of a dozen survival issues facing anyone trying to make something happen there.


Securing the rights was a SURVIVAL ISSUE?

Sorry, no. Surviving is what you do in the wild. You don't go INTO the wild without securing the rights.

Suspending one's need to rationalize through cheap excuses...an optional value add on your next safari.


Hide behind a nom de plume and judge all you want. 14th Street in 1980 was the wild. A safari is someting rich people do when they want to venture into a rougher and more primitive environment - temporarily. Look, mommy, a real lion. The dilletante bohemian. It's different when you actually live there. If you want to pull one piece out of complicated puzzle and hack it around, be my guest.


Umm. Yeah, I'm sure the "14th Street in the Eighties" was a real Jeff Corwin Experience. Doesn't change the fact that, just as you don't venture out on safari without your Jeep and provisions, you don't mount a play without securing the rights. Really. This isn't an argument in intelligent circles. This is only an argument among people who look across the table at one another, dully intoning, "DUhh."


Okay, it was a wild time, desperate times called for desperate measures, etc. Some of us were even there. I recall some one acts by O'Neill done by Source in a space on 8th St in S.E. around 1978 or so.

"In theory, fine. No problem. In practice, not so easy all the time."

Easy or not, now you get the rights first, then you do the play, whether it's in the back room at Playbill or anywhere else. Because you will get caught if you don't. For one thing, now there's the internet and the minute Didactic gets the rights to something, DC starts typing! "Who are they? How did they do that?"

There is also more press than there used to be, just in terms of numbers of journos on a press list. In the 70's it was Dave Richards and Richard Coe, and just for fun, Faiga Levine.

Bottom line, the scrutiny now is such that today's companies, especially the small ones, can't operate as if it's the 80's.


Just making correlations here...

Theatrical practitioners circa 1980 mourning the good old days where they lived fast, played hard, and jacked over playwrights with nary a second thought.

Flash forward to now, where it seems 8 out of every 10 plays written sucks canal water.


Anyway, nice work forbears.


Again, for some people 14th Street was a safari. They could afford stocking up for the trip. And they could go home when the trip was over with some nice pictures and talk to their friends about their adventures in the wild among the natives. For others it wasn't that easy. I'm sure everyone now in polite Washington is completely above board in everything they do and say. They will never have to apply for and secure rights for a show put it in rehearsal, be about to open, and then have the rights pulled because a larger, richer theatre in town (intitials AS)wants to do the same show a year later, so they say, and are really worried about having their thunder and gravy train stolen by a no name upstart. All rights scenarios are exactly the same, aren't they?


You guys are just hiding below the radar down here in this month old post aren't you?

Good times, the 80s. Great hair and apparently lots of jeeps.


it is really interesting that bart whiteman is writing into this posting. and i have an honest question for you: as an artist how would you justify denying other artists not their deserved compensation for their work?

it is great to talk about how difficult it was to produce theatre with no money in a neighborhood that was tough... but your safari metaphor is an absolutely bizarre example of transferrence. as if your negligence and dishonesty toward other artists was the fault of suburban people coming to your neighborhood and your shows.

rights do not cost that much. most rights released to very small theatres are released as "amateur rights" and are totally commenserate with the amount of money you would make in ticket sales.

Joe Musumeci

No, for real? Is that really you Bart? How's TE treating you. Yeah, those were the days, weren't they... remember me? 1984-5? TD, Designer? Ahhh, the memories...


Big theatres can swing some big...uhhh...lawyers. That's the truth, and you know what, that's just the way it goes. I'm afraid that what the playwright wants, the playwright gets, and it's the playwrights prerogative to get his or her work placed with a company that can sell his product.

Believe me, an author is absolutely free to choose, at any time, to say: "No. Forget these arrangements. I really want my play to make it's debut under the auspices of this other company that has a budget of loose change and foodstamps."

And believe me, while it's possible that Big And Rich Theatre was merely playing tourist to the outre, as you suggest, you have to acknowledge that maybe that particular playwright felt that Small and Struggling Project simply. Did. Not. Have. The. Chops.

I know, I know. Tough lesson. But Small and Struggling can then opt to do one of two things. They can put forth their talent and prove through their actions that the writer made the wrong decision, or they can suggest that it's okay on principle to evade the law, advertise that evasion, and invite people to pay and witness the evasion.

I'm guessing that those in the latter camp don't make it very far.

You run a theatre company, it's always preferable to win and look good doing so. But I'd rather lose looking good than win looking bad. As a general rule, when you lose looking good, you can make Big And Rich pay the price for winning.

I hope for Didactic's sake that they secured the rights to Mr. Shepard's play. Frankly, though, I wouldn't stake much money that a theatre company whose name connotes smug know-it-all-ness has done the right thing.


To spacechimp: Who let the scold in? Imagine my surprise to see my life twenty years ago bandied about like it was yesterday. I keep looking for news from DC theatre a little more updated. You obviously don't know much about rights. They are not based on ticket sales. If that were the case, it wouldn't be such a problem. And believe me, I tried to get the rights people to see it that way, but they are a relatively inflexible crew. If you want to think I was negligent and dishonest with the millionaire artists we are really talking about, please go right ahead. I think I'll rest a few remaining laurels since I know first-hand what it was like for local DC theatre artists in the 70's and 80's in DC, and I think I can safely claim that I gave more of them a chance and more of them compensation (and none were milionaires) than just about anyone at that time. You also have completely misunderstood the safari metaphor. I was not a reference to the audience, but explaining metaphors is like explaining jokes.
To Joe: Yeah, yeah, and yeah. Joe's one guy we paid, not a lot, but we did what we could, and he created the best Parisian backdrop that the city has seen still to this day.


Funny story, and it's related:

Many years ago, a graduate student at a major university in central Virginia was selecting his thesis project, and he wanted to do THE ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST. However, when he applied for the rights, he was rebuffed by the licensing agency. A Big And Rich Theatre here in DC was staging the play around the same time.

"Still", the grad student reckoned, "I am two hours away from Washington. The play will be shown to the students and local retirement home hostages. Certainly, we won't be cutting into Big and Rich's business."

Figuring he had a case, he contacted Dario Fo's literary agent and pled his case. But the literary agent said his hands were tied. The agreement, having been made, couldn't be unmade by him. But not unsympathetic, the literary agent passed along the name and number of an attorney that represented Fo's interests. Maybe the attorney could help.

But the attorney, though equally sympathetic, nevertheless felt uncomfortable unringing the bell. The DC production was to be quite a big deal. But the grad student was determined. "What if I could get permission directly from Mr. Fo?" he asked. "Well," said the attorney, "Of course, that would trump everything. But it won't be easy."

And indeed it wasn't. Dario Fo is well known as a somewhat peripatetic man. With what little help the attorney provided, the grad student had an awful time tracking him down. At times, it seemed like he was two steps behind the playwright, calling a location mere days after he had left.

But the grad student was persistent, and at last, he ran the author to ground. On the phone: the great playwright. One chance to make his case. And so, the grad student pled as he had never pled before, laying out his reasoning, his logic, his hopes and his passion.

Fo, with reluctance, gently turned him down. "I'm sorry, but I cannot help you."

The grad student begged. He pleaded. He threw himself on Dario's mercy. Still, the author would not relent. He was very nice about it, but he wanted the production at Big and Rich to happen, and he wanted to geographic exclusivity to which the arrangement entitled him.

Finally, the grad student broke down, and exclaimed: "Really! Mr. Fo! What kind of anarchist are you, sir?"

To which Fo replied: "Not a very good one, I'm afraid. I just want to make a buck."

So, the moral of this story is this. When a rabblerouser like Dario Fo opts to show his work in the wealthy house instead of with passionate true believers, small companies should perhaps not expect better treatment from other playwrights.

So just stage CAN'T PAY WON'T PAY or something. Again, make the winner pay the price for winning.


Funnier still is the fact that Mr. Fo's buck making capabilities would not have been hurt at all by granting the student his request, so Fo cut off his buck-hungry nose to spite his face. His bucks probably would have been enhanced by the spread of his name by whatever means necessary. (Virginia is not exactly known as deep Fo territory.) There is the distinct possibility that some people might have made it a point to see both productions. Comparative viewing is really the best way to develop an ability to critique theatre. I can commiserate with the student's plight, but he also had it easier than some producer's in the sense that it was a thesis production. There was little at stake other than a grade. He was not in a survival fight. Endless productions of CAN'T PAY WON'T PAY won't exactly cut it in the wild or pay the electric bill. (Did you write it? Can I get the rights?) We had plenty of winners, too, but that, as it turned out was part of the problem. People with the clout couldn't stand the successful competition, so they looked for ways to make a difficult task harder.


Isn't it the case sometimes that a Big and Rich Theatre (oh, will someone start a theatre with that name, pretty please?) has the foresight to have papers drawn up saying there'll be no competing productions within a certain amount of time within a certain geographical radius or some such legalese? So, in theory, if Mr. Fo had said yes to the tenacious student, he possibly might've been reneging on the original contract, thus, in effect, cancelling the Big and Rich Theatre's production completely. If so, I, for one, can't fault him his decision.

And, um, does anyone know where the Millionaire Artists hang out and if they're taking applications? (Although, a million today sure ain't what a million used to be.)


You think an MFA thesis isn't a survival fight?

Um...ha. That's what everyone who's never been to graduate school says. Obvs.

It is the nature of entities that sell products to seek advantage. Eliminating competition is certainly one way of doing so.

Nevertheless, the final word on where a play gets shown is the playwright. If the rights to a play get pulled from Company A to the benefit of Company B--that's the author's decision.

CAN'T PAY WON'T PAY is also by Dario Fo.


To DCeiver: Been through the graduate school thesis production survival fight, thank you. Yes, different survival fight and very familiar with that one, too. If you are on the elimination end of the business food chain, why would the world expect that you would face the prospect of digestion without a howl or two? Pardon the gaps in my knowledge of Fo's body of work. I haven't done any productions by him. I was responding to the way you used the title. I would have to assume that anyone wanting to produce that particular play might have to go through a similar rights hassle, or does he give that one away free?
To luckyspinster: It's a stretch to call a thesis production a hundred or two miles away a "competing production." Had another professional company across town wanted to provide a dueling production of the same play simultaneously, then perhaps someone might see the need for some form of restriction, although I can remember once when DC had three dueling Hamlets. It created a significant media buzz, and I don't think one production suffered because of the other two at all. It was possible because Hamlet is in the public domain. Whatever is being "protected" by the rights machine probably doesn't really need the protection. It is often a money pump for the granting agencies and generally a means of protecting the artistic egos of the larger fish. They don't want the press to say: "These guppies over there are doing it better." That's what hurts, not the money.

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