Flutterby™! : A Piece of the Action

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A Piece of the Action

2006-11-19 19:49:49.883244+00 by petronius 3 comments

The frenzy over Intellectual Property is not confined to Hollywood or giant media companies; it has now arrived in the musical theater. According to the Chicago Tribune, a recent unprofitable production of the musical play Urinetown has run into trouble. The promoters properly paid the composers and writers their fee for rights to the play. However, a lawyer representing the original director of the New York version claims that his client has a separate interest in the staging and choreography, which was allegedly stolen by the Chicago group. Oh, and somebody else owns the logo for the play. No papers have been filed yet, and since the Chicago production failed to make even a blip on the vibrant local performance scene they probably won't, but now producers at dinner theaters and regional venues are scared.

The article states that some production contracts forbid the restagers from making major changes to the show, like changing the gender of characters. Of course, the look and feel of certain spectacular shows is why people attend. Imagine Lion King without those giraffe-men, Les Mis without the turntable, or Miss Siagon without the helicopter. Or maybe we should imagine what could be created without those icons. Modern dress and radically reworked productions have kept Shakespeare vibrant for half a millenium; is such possible for Chorus Line?

[ related topics: Theater & Plays Writing Law Copyright/Trademark ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2006-11-20 15:12:17.628891+00 by: Dan Lyke

I havew to admit that I have to look at some of these rights Gordian knots with a certain amount of glee: If this plays out in a positive way then we're seeing the destruction of a popular culture: It'll be enough cheaper to put on a local production that the national (or international) branding will be replaced.

Alas, what I think this really means is that the big entertianment companies will simply do "work for hire" with the creation of their big shows, and we'll see the middle-ground squeezed out.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-11-20 15:25:26.986449+00 by: petronius

The real issue is that what makes musicals valuable properties is not necessarily the music or the book, but the overall spectacle. The Lion King is an average Disney musical, but Julie Traymor's staging is astonishing, the opening scene is one of the greatest theatrical experiences of my life. And that is what is being sold: the overall experience, not the work on its own merits. I've seen Shakespeare done on a bare stage with everybody in jeans and t-shirts, but somehow I think the Jacques Brel approach wouldn't work with Cats. Old Will works no matter how you stage it, while Andrew LLoyd Weber doesn't have the horsepower.

Of course, I'm not sure Weber ever claimed to be so great. Shakespeare was popular culture in his era, and there is a lot that was put on at the same time that is forgotten. The IP wars operate on a pretty short timescale.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-11-20 16:13:21.237571+00 by: Dan Lyke

I guess I've not been into the big spectacle much. My most recent big show was "A Chorus Line", to which my previous exposure had been a TV commercial 25 or 30 years ago. I admit that, because of that commercial, I was waiting for the backflip in the middle of "That I Can Do", but that was a show that could have been put on with all sorts of different staging.

And even "Cats" has room to just be the songs and reworking the staging, I've no idea if the traveling version of "Les Mis" I saw ten or fifteen years ago had anything in common with the Broadway staging, but I'm pretty sure there's no way you could take "Starlight Express" and change it much at all. Not that there's any profit in that last one.

Which kind of comes back to: If you're a producer of such shows, it's going to be a necessity to get contracts for the rights of all of the aspects of a show on the first showing. And if you're a writer or composer, you need to be setting up contracts which make sure that subsequent stagings can happen from before the very first staging opens.