September 4, 2008

Getting the Rights (or, on the Hegemony of Broadway)

There seems to be an ever increasing number of DC-area productions that have been cancelled of late, due to issues with securing the performance rights from the publishers.

In the past six months, WSC lost The Romans In Britain (worldwide rights had been frozen indefinitely due to an undisclosed reason, perhaps a West End revival or a film version), American Century Theatre had to scrap Harvey reportedly due to the rights being frozen for a national tour that never happened (much to the chagrin of my friend Brian Crane, cast as Elwood) and had started rehearsals for Deathtrap when they found the rights were frozen for a potential Broadway revival, and Ganymede Arts were refused rights for their proposed production of Sweeney Todd.

Spooky Action Theatre found out during their dress rehearsals that they didn't have the rights to do The Marriage of Bette and Boo (due to the recent NYC revival), the capper on a cavalcade of problems that plagued their production (a fraction of which was my doing, to my shame). After much begging and pleading, apparently to Christopher Durang himself, they were permitted to perform although they couldn't advertise or be reviewed.

Washington is 240 miles away from New York City, which depending on the situation is close enough or far enough; close enough that there are some NYC shows with sufficient cache to merit jumping on the Chinatown bus to go see, far away enough that NYC producers needn't worry about the drain on their box office from a smaller DC production.

Where there will always be the touristy plays (Phantom, Les Mis, Lion King, Producers, Spamalot and their successors) and the 'worth a bus trip' shows, (Daniel Radcliffe's penis in Equus, Ian McKellan's penis in King Lear, etc), most major cities - Chicago, DC, Philly, LA - have theatres that rival and occasionally surpass Broadway and Off-Broadway in talent, vision, and production values. New York City is still the capital of American theatre, but the hegemony of Broadway is in its declining days. These other cities shouldn't be so hamstrung; I challenge anyone at Dramatists Play Services Inc to demonstrate how the non-Equity production of Bette & Boo at a 99-seat community college blackbox theatre in Silver Spring, MD will have any effect whatsoever on the box office tallies of the Roundabout Theatre's revival. Find me one DC-area person who cancelled their plans to travel to NYC to see Roundabout's production when they discovered a much more affordable production in their own backyard. Find. Me. One.

It's not all NYC's fault; sometimes we do it to ourselves. There are the occasional challenges when two area theatres plan to produce the same play. DC's Keegan Theatre is currently touring Ireland with One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, but their plans to stage it at their home base on Church St on their return had to be postponed when Round House Theatre also announced Cuckoo's Nest slated for April 09. Round House apparently secured the rights first, and they're 'bigger,' so Keegan was forced to move Glengarry Glenn Ross into that slot. (UPDATE: the Keegan's AD, Mark Rhea, clarified the situation for me; see the comments below)

Thoughts? Solutions?


Scoopernicus said...

Having Seen Ian McKellan's penis, I'd say it was the most impressive thing about the show, though Sylvester McCoy was well-hung in a completely different meaning of the phrase.

Anonymous said...

Hi John, Keegan is in ireland at the moment touring Cuckoo's nest. I just wanted to clarify that we actually were never told who secured the rights for Cuckoo's Nest first, but keegan wasn't forced to move the show. I was asked to consider doing so and finally after much thought, agreed to the move. The royalty company was very appreciative and I am assuming Round House is as well.


John said...

Apologies and thanks for the clarification, Mark.