Interesting article about a play at Clarion univ
This could be the tip of a REALLY big iceberg. . .
My guess is that the licensing agreement included a requirement that it be performed as written and no changes be made without written authorization - including ethnicity.
From the article & accompanying video, it seems as if the Director was familiar w/ the playwright and his intent for his material to be opportunities for Asian actors - why was this production even chosen?
Yeah…I feel sorry for the kids, but I can’t help thinking “If you have a student body that’s predominantly white, why choose a play that requires minority actors?” It doesn’t make sense to me.
I just KNOW this is going to explode in my face: So why was this particular school given the initial rights to produce that show in the first place? Music Man was written in time when only white males could be leading men at main stage venues. And the story takes place in a time and place where only a white male could “be” that character in that town. Does that mean that an HBC should not have permission to mount Music Man as production if they felt there was a benefit for students or audience undoing so? Should an all-female HS be denied the opportunity to produce The Crucible because they may not have enough boys come out for the “male” parts? Shouldn’t “theater” be about sometimes pushing boundaries and having “others” walk in someone else’s shoes? I get that a playwright has the right to have his/her work produced as it was originally envisioned, and perhaps in a “professional” theater environment the production should be held to the “letter AND the intent of the law”. But at a school there are often objectives outside of producing “a perfectly mounted” show. If a playwright does not want that possibility to occur, then maybe rights should not be granted to begin with. And an opportunity for an “enlightening” piece to be worked on and presented - in a place that may not otherwise give it “the light of day” - is lost. Let the fireworks begin. . .
@mombwayboy … no fireworks from me! ;
But I did want to address this …
Now I obviously haven’t seen this licensing agreement for this particular production - but he (the playwright) does get to call the shots here. And the licensee has the right to agree - or not agree. If the school knew about the Asian requirements beforehand and chose to skirt the issue in the hopes of not getting caught, well … that’s on them.
In a perfect world the color, gender or race shouldn’t matter - but sometimes, it IS an integral part of the story and exceptions shouldn’t be made. Take Hairspray for example - even if the agreement doesn’t state specific race requirements (and I don’t think it does) if your school or community is composed of 100% white actors, you should probably look for a different show to produce.
Just my two cents …
It was drummed into my d from day 1 at her high school that a theatre artist always:
- First and foremost, always respects the rights of the author, especially any and all terms of the license granted to perform the work and the stipulations on the way in which the work is to be performed.
- Formally requests any exceptions and does not perform the work with any exceptions unless they are granted in writing.
- Thoroughly reads and analyzes the work to be produced so that, among other things, the author's intent with the work is clear.
- Researches the historical and cultural background of the work so that the context can be clearly understood.
@mom4bwayboy, IMO there’s a difference between “in the time period of the piece, minorities wouldn’t be in these position, BUT the musical’s story has nothing at all to do with race” (i.e. “Music Man”), which to me CAN be cast color-blind because it doesn’t affect the story, vs. something like “Hairspray” in which race IS part of the story, so casting all-white makes no sense.
I’m not familiar with the play in question, but if the materials for it clearly stated that it is meant to be done with an all-Asian cast, and that was specified in the licensing agreement, then I don’t understand why they picked that play. If it was NOT mentioned or specified anywhere, then that’s a different story. But if it’s THAT important to the playwright, I can’t imagine that it WASN’T mentioned at all. Do licensing agreements have “out” clauses that specify under what specific conditions the playwright can legally rescind his permission?
In a similar vein, this fall Kent State did a production of “the mountain top” which was double cast, and brought enormous controversy because one of the actors playing Martin Luther King was white.
The plot thickens - the following article and the associated comments provide more background on the situation. Apparently (if the comments are to be believed) there was a distinct lack of communication and/or miscommunication between the school and the author about what the licensing terms were and what use the school was going to make of the script:
Yes. If you breach any one of the terms in the contract, it’s immediately null and void.
@EmsDad … thanks for posting that!
But, if it wasn’t in the licensing agreement, the playwright doesn’t have ground to stand on AND Clarion could potentially sue him for any monies they’ve lost in the process.
Methinks that going forward Suh will revise his licensing agreement.
(I’m not a lawyer. Nor have I ever played one on tv. Though I do know several people personally who have been in Legally Blonde the Musical.)
If you look in the comments section of the article @EmsDad posted, you’ll find this:
Here’s my question: if there was never an agreement, who cashed the dang check for the $500?
The whole thing sounds like it’s a mess.
What I really don’t understand is how at the college level, the director/professor thinks it’s okay to NOT perform the play as written - and turn it into a musical nonetheless? I’m not even talking about the race issue here - licensing agreements are typically VERY detailed and they go over everything from how many performances are allowed, to how and to who credit should be worded on any marketing material, to how any deviations from the material should be handled. Unless whatever they signed was so loosey goosey that nothing was covered at all.
We’ve now heard from the author and the school - I’d like to hear what his agent or licensing company says about this boondoggle.
I think the university director is clearly at fault. It seems they just sorta blew off the technicalities so to speak. Someone dropped the ball obviously and it appears there was no follow up from spring until October when they made contact with the author again
Ugh! Either the director dropped the ball and didn’t read the agreement thoroughly and/or didn’t communicate effectively; or the playwright didn’t include sufficient casting stipulations in the agreement in the first place. I honestly can’t tell from the articles who is at fault; and it sounds like maybe the agent is the one who dropped the ball.
In any case, it’s the students I feel for. They are in no way responsible for this debacle and they’re the ones most hurt by it. Hopefully, they all learn a very important lesson from this mess that they can use in their careers going forward.
I guess they are actually learning two lessons: Make certain that when entering into a contract or signing a written agreement that you examine it thoroughly. And, if you become a playwright, be careful to include all your demands in the contract/licensing agreement.
According to the playwright’s FB post (which KaMaMom pasted above), the director never even SIGNED a licensing agreement. She originally contacted the playwright saying they were just working on the piece as classwork, and invited him to come talk with the students. He had other commitments and couldn’t come, but didn’t mind them working on it as classwork. Then months later, she said they were doing it as a musical. He wrote back to specifically ask if this was going to be an actual PRODUCTION or just classwork, and specifically asked about the casting choices regarding ethnicity, but she didn’t answer. It wasn’t until shortly before the production was to open that he saw pictures online of the cast, and THAT’S when he got upset. His agent contacted the director, who admitted that the playwright had asked about the casting, but said, “When you asked, I hadn’t cast the show, and then I forgot.” And there was no signed licensing agreement.
So, IF the playwright’s story is true, then I think the director is the one who didn’t follow through with proper licensing procedure and communication. I feel really bad for the kids, though.
The university did sign the agreement and assumed that the contract was in force once they sent in the agreement and the $500 payment. The check was cashed, but the agent says she never received the contract. :-?
I will also take back my earlier statement on the Director changing the play to a musical - seems the playwright knew and approved the composer.
After reading more info on this whole debacle, I think the agent is really the one who dropped the ball. But it’s interesting that Suh says that he inquired and was told that the agreement was never “fully executed”. Why would he use that phrasing? Why not say he simply did not sign the contract? He apparently gave his approval on a composer … there are still some holes in the entire matter.
If I had to read between the lines, and took all the additional info into account, I would say there was a contract that was signed by all parties. But there is a technicality that is allowing Suh to say it was never “fully executed”. Maybe an inital missing, or a rider that wasn’t singed. And it also doesn’t seem that there was a stipulation on casting - I mean, if there was, it would be so simple and Suh would say the contract terminated the second they violated the ethnic casting provision.
I am spending way too much time on this. But it’s fascinating to me.
A very interesting mess with volleys flying back and forth in the media (even in the London Daily Mail!):
I am not an attorney, but I believe that in Texas and other states where Verbal Contracts may apply, if you agree to do something or offer a permit to do something, accept and cash a check, and the other party sends you a signed contract, then (under circumstances like this) you very likely have a legally binding agreement in place, whether you sign the contract or not. The verbal agreement and the check are usually enough, you don’t even need to have been sent a contract.
While the students may be disappointed right now, I hope they come to value this experience. It is teaching them a great deal about copyright, respect for the authors, sensitivity to cultural issues, etc. Also, they got to do the work on the show, regardless of failing to perform for an audience. They will have a greater, more personal understanding of the creation of new works going forward. There are lessons for all schools to learn through this debacle. Our kids have matured in a world where they think everything they find on the web or elsewhere is free for them to use as they please–free music downloads and movie downloads have become their expectation and most students feel completely entitled to take them, regardless of copyright or respect for the originators. They should realize that “free” has a price–creators, whether of music, scripts, or other original material, will stop creating if they do not get paid and if they do not get respect.
Even pros sometimes get into trouble with stuff like this (d and I were getting into the car to go to this show when the theatre sent an email saying the show had been cancelled):