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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.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Subsidiary Rights for Smaller Companies?

Garrett Eisler goes into the thorny subject of subsidiary right here. As always, a great post and good thoughts.

The whole subject makes me think about (as always) the world of Off-Off Broadway and how most of the smaller companies, where a large amount of new work is developed, often expects very little from playwrights and are extremely generous with time, resources and money. Playwrights tend to be very protective of their small piece of a small pie, which is reasonable. I think that larger companies, with big endowments and subscribers, likely get very little return in a real way from a 40% cut of a play.

In the end, I think this is less about money than it is about perception. By asking for subsidiary rights, a company exerts its own perception of influence. It's hard to argue that a great production at MTC or Playwrights Horizons or the Roundabout won't extend the life of a play considerably. The subsidiary right issue is basically a way to codify that idea in dollars and cents.

We can argue the amounts (I'd say 40% is enormous, especially if a playwright is already giving a chunk to an agent); but I'd wonder aloud if playwrights shouldn't extend a small amount to Off-Off companies who simply don't make that demand. Because a larger house will not likely be helped or harmed by the subsidiary rights...but every little bit of income helps smaller companies with tight budgets enormously.

For example, what if a small company on a shoestring budget presents the first production of a play in New York...and that small production receives good press and goes on to be produced all over the country. It won't make anyone much money at all...but for any of hundreds of smaller companies dedicated to new work, a 5% take could help pay for rental, rehearsal space, you name it. Again, it would be rare to see much income in this way, but it wouldn't be impossible.

More than the income, though, it would give smaller companies a little bit of the perception that clearly larger companies enjoy. It takes great will and hard work for tons of companies all over the country not only to mount new productions, but to continue to do so in perpetuity. Maybe the hope that their productions will see some benefit for them after their single run is some small incentive. It might also help playwrights and producers have a better informed view of one another as participants in a transaction that has practical implications.

Small companies, in far greater numbers than the well-funded few, do exceptional work just to break even. I know it's a bit of heresy for a playwright to talk about giving away a little bit of income. But you know...helping one another is part of what makes things work.

What do you think?


David Johnston said...

This is an interesting issue. Now, one thing that is on the table is the 'windfall' concept - a playwright's sub rights to a theatre, large or small, don't kick in until his own earnings have topped 100K. Which - given that the Times cited 50K as respectable for a new play - sets the bar pretty high.

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Anonymous said...

Do the directors of that play have to give up some of their income? Do the actors? Why do the playwrights? Sigh.

This is really an honest question - can you tell me an Off-Off Broadway theatre that has produced a play that has gone on to great success across the country? I sincerely don't know of one...

Freeman said...

Right now, producers put up all the money and actor's work for almost nothing, Off-Off Broadway anyway. The fact is, there's no money to be made anywhere.

I can think of plays that had Off-Off initial Off-Off runs that are produced often elsewhere, though.