Producer Scott Rudin Going Around Killing Off Licensed Community Theater Shows Of To Kill A Mockingbird
from the promoting-the-progress dept
If you wanted to think of a children’s story style “evil” character who must be stopped, you can’t get much better than the evil rich out of towner going around the country trying to kill off local community theater productions of a beloved play, so that he can stage a massive Broadway reboot. So, step on up, Hollywood producer Scott Rudin, to the role of evil villain. Rudin is producing a new Broadway adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic To Kill A Mockingbird. Of course, there already is a play based on the book, written by Christopher Sergel, that is widely performed around the country. Rudin, however, is producing a totally new version, written by famed Hollywood writer Aaron Sorkin.
Now, a normal, thinking, kind person would immediately recognize that local community theater productions can easily co-exist with this giant Broadway production with all the big Hollywood names behind it. But, that’s apparently not Scott Rudin. Rudin’s lawyers claim that part of the contract between the company that holds the rights to the earlier play — a company called Dramatic Publishing Company — if there is any version of Mockingbird on Broadway, there cannot be any other Mockingbird performances within 25 miles of any city that had a population of 150,000 or more in 1960. First off: what a weird contract. Second: this still seems like something any person with the slightest bit of emotional empathy would ignore in putting on the new Broadway show. But not Scott Rudin:
From Massachusetts to Utah, small community theater productions of “To Kill a Mockingbird” are being shut down under threat of a lawsuit by the producer of the new Broadway production.
It doesn’t matter that the new version, penned by Aaron Sorkin, is completely different from the Christopher Sergel play that’s been performed by high school students and community theater actors for decades. Nor does it matter that the community theaters paid a licensing fee of at least $100 dollars per performance to the Dramatic Publishing Company, which owns the rights to the earlier version of the play.
What matters, lawyers for Broadway producer Scott Rudin say, is that according to the contract between Dramatic and the Harper Lee estate, most amateur performances can’t proceed now that a new version of the story is on Broadway.
Now, you might imagine that this was the kind of thing where the lawyers got ahead of themselves and were more aggressive than they needed to be, and once this started getting attention, Rudin would apologize and say it was all a mistake. But, nope. Not Scott Rudin:
“We hate to ask anybody to cancel any production of a play anywhere, but the productions in question as licensed by DPC infringe on rights licensed to us by Harper Lee directly,” Rudin said in a statement.
That makes no sense. If you hate to ask anybody to cancel a production, then you don’t have to demand that anyone cancels a production. The fact that it may “infringe on the rights” in the contract does not necessitate action. Rudin still had a choice. And he made a really awful one.
Even Rudin’s statement is bullshit. His lawyers are not just “asking” small community theaters who have paid money to license the play to cancel their production, he’s threatening them with massive court costs and penalties:
With the dispute unsettled, Rudin’s lawyers in late February started sending letters directly to the theaters. The theaters are being threatened with damages of up to $150,000, the Associated Press reports. And so in towns across the country, performers are getting the bad news.
$150,000, of course, is the top statutory damages allowed for willful infringement of copyright. But, it takes a special kind of awfulness to argue that small community theaters who paid for and properly licensed a play are guilty of willful infringement.
And, of course, this kind of evil bullying is working:
Dozens of community and nonprofit theaters have canceled their productions, the AP says. More than 25 are scheduled to perform the original version this year, the New York Times reports. It’s unclear whether those productions will proceed.
The Kavinoky Theatre in Buffalo, N.Y., which had sold around 3,000 advance tickets, will replace Mockingbird with an adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984.” “Thank you for supporting us during this difficult time,” the theater posted on Facebook. “As we say in the theatre….THE SHOW MUST GO ON!!!!!!!!”
And at least one local theater has decided not to abandon its production, but rather to move it. The Mugford Street Players, based in the Marblehead suburb of Boston, is moving its performances to Gloucester in order to circumvent the contract’s restriction on performances within 25 miles of a major city.
That’s… awful. If you’ve ever been even remotely involved in community theater productions, you know that they’re labors of love, rather than any serious moneymaking opportunity. These are people who put their hearts and souls into putting on a performance for their community and now an asshole producer and his high priced lawyers from Hollywood come barging in threatening them with bogus damages for a putting on a different play that they properly licensed.
People should boycott Rudin/Sorkin’s production and go see a local community production instead.