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January 27, 2010


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I don't think junk 'em. Dedicating them to a new play fund is a good idea. But restructuring them and capping them would be better. I'd like to see sub rights kick in AFTER a THIRD production and have the theatres pay each other. (This is all back of the envelope stuff.) So...Play A is produced first by Theatre A. Theatre A gets no sub rights unless Play A goes on to another production. Now they have a bit of an incentive to see that play have a future life. They help it go to Theatre B, which also gets nothing unless it has a future life, so both theatres help it move to Theatre C, which then pays sub rights out of their kitty to Theatres A & B. This is totally spitballing and quite possibly dumb. But I don't see anything inherently wrong with the idea that a production adds benefit to a play and that benefit leads to future productions. I mostly think that asking the playwright to pay for it is a bad idea, and the idea that each theatre should get an equal percentage is part of the problem.


If some place like the Roundabout must take sub rights, I would much rather the rights be contractually obligated to only go toward helping another emerging writer get his/her play on in the Roundabout Underground's smaller space for new plays rather than go to help fund the staging of a "Bye Bye Birdie" revival or something equally lame. Earmarking the funds for a particular purpose makes the taking of them a little less odious.

Ian Thal

I'm definitely in agreement on both points that:

a.) the theatre's cut should be limited to either a certain number of years or number of productions. (Only the authors should retain full copyright.)

b.) Any funds that a theatre gleans from a play once it is produced elsewhere must be limited to their new play development fund.


Another problem:

A CHORUS LINE was the best case scenario for Papp -- it funded his flops, kept giving in hard times, and most likely allowed the Public to get a cut when it finally came to the screen.

I know that 'cash cow' status pushed a lot of regionals to develop work for Broadway -- La Jolla's work, for example. Doesn't a theatre have a right to participate in that movie payday, whenever it comes? How damaging would it be for those theatres to be cut off from that payday, after Production N marks the end of their participation?

And, yes, contracts can be designed to allow that form of sub rights to continue -- but would an author want to present that hidden time bomb to a producer -- especially when some of the entities participating in a play's development possibly could be rival movie and TV conglomerates?


[this is when an anonymous business affairs lawyer chiming in would be really, really handy....]

David L. Meth

Playwrights will never be able to earn a living if they must continue to give part of their future away to theaters that have multiple sources of income; and theaters will never respect playwrights as professionals because they don't really have to pay them what they deserve. How many literary managers, artistic directors and directors are willing to give away part of their income from their future work? And this hasn't even begun to discus how long the playwright must work before ever receiving a penny. This is not about feeling bad for the next playwright seeking a production and, therefore, contributing your money to the next production; it's making it possible for future playwrights to get paid in full for a production so they don't need this kind of aid.

Donnie Brasco

If it's a theater that purports to support playwrights (and solicits donations and gets grants in the name of supporting playwrights), then yes, I think subsidiary rights should be done away with.


I do get the philosophical idea behind it, but I agree with Donnie - at the end of the day, it's a theater supporting playwrights by taking money OUT OF playwrights' hands. What?

Also, correct me if I'm wrong here - because I might be on this point - but my understanding is that Theater A doesn't have to do anything to claim sub rights except put the show up for the first time. So if they didn't write Theater B's production ... and they didn't stage Theater B's production ... why the crap are they getting paid for Theater B's production? (Is that right? I mean, do they have to actually DEVELOP the play to get the rights? Because that at least would make some modicum of sense to me.)


Just to leave on a proactive note, what if there were some kind of program where the theater would agree to forego sub rights for a new play in exchange for a round of development and/or audience-testing at a new play R&D organization (Lark, Playwrights Center, Chicago Dramatists, etc.)? They would still get their world premiere, and maybe they could mitigate their risk through some means other than building a cash buffer on the backs of playwrights.

Jack Worthing

I'd sooner kick back to the Dramatists' Guild, or to a new play fund, rather than directly to the Public's bank account. They'll only use my money to carry out another wasteful lobby refurbishment. Papp had the right idea. Take a small percentage for a limited period. And please, limit it to the major NY/Chicago theatres and LORT A, the places that add to a play's value very quickly. Call me a snob if you like, but that IS the point: the producer takes a cut for adding substantial value to the work. I've done plenty of theatre in basements, but the Hole In the Wall Theatre of Wichita shouldn't be trying to take subsidiary rights from me. All first productions are not created equal. Oh, and Todd Haimes? He's a thief.

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