The Playgoer: Actors & Creative Copyright

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Actors & Creative Copyright

Backstage's Andrew Salomon reflects on the repurcussions of the "Urinetown" directorial copyright controversy... for actors.

The controversy has left some actors...wondering what the legal wrangling might mean for a collaborative process that is the backbone of musical theatre — a process that other actors contend is suffering already, from petty backbiting to the reduction of out-of-town tryouts and New York workshop productions.

Furthermore, directors, choreographers, and designers routinely rely on actors' ideas to shape a nascent project; if each member of a creative team begins to codify, copyright, and profit from the visual signature of a show, how eagerly will actors contribute to the artistic process — particularly when there is no guarantee they will even have a role in the production, let alone share in its revenue?

Solomon broadens the topic in some interesting ways, including going back to the Chorus Line story--where the dancers who donated their life stories to the show continue have been shut out of the profit sharing of the big new revival, even though Michael Bennett provided something for them out of the original production.

But why stop there? As our theatre becomes more and more ensemble-based and less playwright-driven, will actors ever be able to claim any rights to content?

Think about even that beloved English genius Mike Leigh, who claims sole credit for all his scripts (both stage and film) even though he admits culling them from extended improv rehearsals. How do collaborative/collective ensembles from the famous (Theatre de Complicite) to the emerging (Nature Theatre of Oklahoma) deal with this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think Complicite usually credits the company as the playwright. At least, they do so on their original work, like Mnemonic. I would assume they share what would normally be the playwright's royalty. Who knows if they share the the royalties from sale of the script, though.

Alison Oddey has some detailed stories of how this issue has destroyed a few British companies in her book, "Devising Theatre."

-Dave Dalton