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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Director's Copywright

Before I get to restating the union today, I'd like to send any readers over to Isaac Butler's passionate "gut response" to a NY Times piece about creative control issues between writers and directors. Here it is.

My gut responses to what Isaac is saying here are as follows:

I think it's sort of amazing that directors, who are a nearly unstoppable force in the rehearsal room, and omnipotent in many smaller productions behind the scenes, are essentially getting less recognition after a production or in the press than they would like for what is being deemed "their contribution."

And while the best directors offer more than contributions (I'm thinking more along the lines of "solutions"), it is obviously a slippery slope. What if, for example, you want to produce Arsenic and Old Lace and you've got a script that says "Two Old Women Walk Downstage Left." If you, as a director, simply have them walk down-stage left, are you using the orginal staging? Should you have to put the performers upstage left to avoid paying for rights?

And what about actors? Should the Marlon Brando estate receive royalties every time a lumbering oaf does an imitation of him in "Streetcar Named Desire?" at a local community theater?

The question here is, as Isaac says, authorship. And proof of authorship is where rights come into effect. One reason playwrights have a great deal of creative control in the theatre is that they are the creator of the very thing being worked upon by others. The principle is, as I understand it: "If you build something, it belongs to you. If others use that thing, they should pay for the right to use it."

If they take that thing and create something entirely new...well...then we're going to have to sit down and hammer out exactly how new it is.

If we move towards copywrighting interpretation (I staged the play this way, I spoke the line this way) we are about to enter a legal limbo from which we will never be pardoned.

That being said, there is one theme emerging lately (it's also been discussed recently on the nytheatre i) which is that directors seem to be up to their eyeballs in frustration with their recognition in the theatre.


parabasis said...

Hey Matt,

That's what I was trying to get at by "reasonable" vs. "unreasonable" in terms of people's demands. It seems to me that if someone does essentially a copy of your staging and interpretation, you have some right to get recognition (and money) from them for doing so.

However, your example of two old ladies down stage left or whatever is a perfect example of what would be an UNreasonable enforcement of these rules.

WHat this also comes down to (And you're right) is that directors make enormous contributions to (Especially debut productions of) plays, and recognition of that, in the press, in theater brochure writing, in audience appreciation, whatever, is minimal. And what the NYTimes article makes clear, the Dramatist's Guild would like it to stay that way.

I didn't get into theater directing for recognition... I would've stayed with acting if that was my primary reason for making art... but to have your ideas credited to someone else or ignored is still... well... annoying.

MattJ said...

my response is over on Theatre Conversation...

Devilvet said...

Composer - Conductor

Playwright - Director

The conductor has intrepretive control, and even has rights to recording of his/her performances...but has not rights to the notes on the page and any honest comparison to their production choices to another conductors is subjective at best.

Aside from blocking...to my mind this situation sets a precedent that playwright/director situation can emulate.