Wednesday, November 15, 2006

When a director (or actor) borrows an idea from another production: Reverence, rip-off or just plain lazy?

Posted by Followspot
From New York Times, November 15, 2006

Creatives behind Broadway’s “Urinetown” charged productions in Chicago, Akron with copying their work without permission. While choreography’s specifically protected by law, stage direction isn’t clear. To what extent should direction be covered by copyright? What about non-script schtick developed in rehearsal by actor or director that becomes part-and-parcel of character?


Anonymous said...

Total nonsense, as most copyright stuff is.

The mega capitalist ownership philosophy as applied to the arts.

Everything can and should be owned. What I do is the result solely of my individual efforts; therefore I deserve compensation.

In other fields this results in ideas like:

* MegaCorp x owns the rights to rice
* Megacorp y owns the word "the"

You wanna play? You gotta pay!

How much is enough? The creators of URINETOWN did not get enough? They have become a parody out of their own show.

This is like Microsoft vs. open source. The mindset that every breath you take should be patented and result in royalty streams is fundamentally the wrong approach. This philosophy is tearing the world apart.

Instead, commit random acts of anonymous creation. Put good material out there. If others use it, be grateful and know you have contributed to a larger cause - humanity. Don't demand endless payments. Give it away!

Seems stingy, these people who cling to the idea that they invented the world and should be compensated.

Where is the recognition of the giant shoulders THEY stood on and used?

Someone should file lawsuits on behalf of the estates of Aeschylus, Shakespeare, O'Neill etc. claiming that playwrights who came after them unfairly learned from great works.

As always, there's a lawyer behind the scenes!

The irony is, if you give it away without a care you WILL get credit. People will remember your heart.

Whereas if you hire Ronnie Schechtman ("Yo Ronnie!!") to go sue a bunch of people, everyone will remember you as an ingrate.

What kind of world do we want to live in?

Anonymous said...

well, suppose it has nothing to do with money, but more to do with wanting to receive credit and recognition for your own ideas? Besides, I kind of think anyone who would rip off choreography or blocking from another production so explicitly that it could be proven in a court of law. proven beyond doubt that someone's work was deliberately copied and passed off as one's own, should be sued, or prosecuted, or whatnot. I think productions that grab a hit and try and replicate it in another city are as much an enemy of art and progress as anything can be.

Anonymous said...

T.S. Eliot: "Mediocre artists borrow; great artists steal."

Fred Allen: "Imitation is the sincerest form of television" (which I notice Peter Ames Carlin referenced yesterday without attribution in his piece on "Day Break"). So, what is it when theater imitates television imitating television?

Anonymous said...

...Since we are talking Shakespeare, it may be worthy to note that even the greatest playwright was born out of(ahem) "borrowed" ideas...

Anonymous said...

Oops...did I say borrow? He's naturally too great for that. He stole.

Anonymous said...

Any production is a retelling of the same story (the script). Just because a playwright gets his ideas from other plays or stories, or directly from history, it's not a direct copy. Using the same exact blocking, choreography, or even exactly duplicating someone's set design or lighting plot is not an individual's take on a story, it is equivalent to copying someone else's text verbatim. In other words, plagarism. It's pretty difficult to prove someone stole your "idea," but not too hard to prove that the execution was copied.

David Loftus said...

Odd. The story report that "the letters also maintain that the productions violated laws against unfair competition...."

This has gotta open up a while 'nother can o' worms where the law is concerned, I would think, since it would be hard to show that the Chicago productions took business away from the New York one, or that the latter had any chance of winning theater awards given only to Chicago productions. But it'll probably keep the lawyers happy.

Nyx Falconer said...

Steal away.

But anyone who's seen the original staging you're aping/stealing/co-opting/liberating/"basing your concept upon" will know you lack both imagination and principles.

And the courage to admit to it.

Polly Pear said...

hahah ... and then there's always the "inspired by so-and-so" ditch ...

i can't tell you how many times i've remarked on something and someone else said not that it was just in the script (which I sometimes also hear), but that "oh, that's just how they did it on Broadway" ... from an audience point of view, i guess, who cares? but from a purely artistic point of view, isn't that just like a forgery of sorts? or, if admitted somehow, a reproduction? then again, i suppose every performance of a production is a reproduction, so maybe it's all just semantics.

still, as a director, how sad is it to simply recreate someone else's work without any original input (even worse, perhaps, when it's a remount of your own work -- as in, we've hired so-and-so to direct his "Carousel" --(yawn) )

Neal said...

Quotes. Okay how's this:

A great artist is nothing but a clever thief. -David Bowie

or this,

When becoming a character, you have to steal. Steal whatever you see. You can even steal from other actors' characterizations; but if you do, only steal from the best. Because what you're seeing them do, they stole.
-Michael Caine

Dex said...

I think there's a difference between borrowing an idea or a bit and building on it in your own work, and copying or recreating an entire production or concept.

Follow Spot said...

More fuel for the fire:,1,3245624.story?coll=chi-leisurearts-hed&ctrack=1&cset=true

Tom Mullen, the producing director of the Chicago production, which failed at the box office and closed without a penny of profit, vehemently and indignantly denied those charges in an interview with the Tribune on Wednesday. He said he did not copy the direction and had no intention of complying with any of Shechtman's demands for credit and post-facto royalty payments to the original director, choreographer and designers. Mullen suggested he was merely being true to the spirit and intent of the original show -- in the way, say, that any production of "Annie" has an inherent obligation to deliver a cute girl in a red dress and a wig, and with a big, brassy voice.


This Chicago clip is much more interesting than the NY Times piece; I recommend reading it if you're interested in this topic.

Joe Theissen said...

Isn't the show "Urinetown" largely predicated on cheesy satirical quotations and tongue-in-cheek references to the archetypes, structures and familiar structures of musical theatre, and doesn't it go so far as to rip staging and set-ups directly from well-known shows? I'm not intimately familiar with the show, but have seen it on stage and it struck me that the show sort of IS the staging, and that it relies heavily on references to other shows. I assumed all of this was written in when I saw it - assumed that it was part and parcel of the concept of the show as a whole. If this is the case, then does anyone else see the irony of the Times story breaking over this particular show?

Not that it isn't a worthwhile discussion about theatre in general. . .

Follow Spot said...

Joe, you so hit the nail on the head ... what could have been more ironic? Forbidden Broadway?

Now .. let me expand the discussion a little -- what if I see a convention in a play that I think is really cool. Then, a year or so later when directing someting totally different, I incorporate that convention and apply it to this totally different play. Assuming that a person who saw both plays could recognize it as the same convention, does the change of context change the scenario? It's interesting where one draws the line.

And along these lines, then, how should a critic evaluate a production that very obviously borrows from other sources (other than pointing it out, I suppose)?

jeff said...

And a question that has popped into my head reading all of this: is it okay to steal from yourself, be it direction, design, or performance?

Anonymous said...

or simply lazy?

Follow Spot said...

And on a related note (courtesy of Arts Journal):

When Is A Revival Just A Rerun?

Should a Broadway revival that's nothing more than a carbon copy of the original show be eligible for a Tony Award? The reemergence of A Chorus Line and Les Miserables in stagings that look identical to their originals has many in New York's theatre world asking the question, and the producers may not like the answer.

New York Post 11/29/06

Tom Harjo said...

And what do you do if you know? A recent production at one of Portland's major theatres used a set design credited to the director, but it was actually a pretty-near-exact copy of a set design from a show I saw in Japan.

I just kept quiet, but it's soured me on this man's work -- it also somehow seems to reflect on the integrity of the company itself.

I guess that's the bottom-line impact of plagarism: all our work becomes suspect, when any of us cheats.

Follow Spot said...

From New York Times; Her Life, His Art, Your Call; by Charles Isherwood, December 3, 2006

Doesn’t it seem wearying, this stream of “gotcha” stories trumpeting the news that a novelist or a lyricist or a playwright has used a few turns of phrase or the curves of somebody else’s life story without proper accreditation, or with improper specificity? I half expect to read of a lawsuit brought by a journalist covering last year’s plagiarism scandal against a journalist covering this year’s, asserting copyright infringement.


If, in today’s climate, a mere few words corresponding too closely to a few others in a previously published work can bring you newspaper headlines, will all written records of contemporary human experience eventually become off limits to other writers? In his thoughtful defrosting of the “Frozen” case in The New Yorker, Mr. Gladwell pinpointed the absurdity eloquently. “The ethics of plagiarism have turned into the narcissism of small differences,” he wrote. “Because journalism cannot own up to its heavily derivative nature, it must enforce originality on the level of the sentence.”

It’s easy to see how such continued enforcement could create a climate antithetical to the kind of free ferment that artists need. Fiction writers are treasured precisely because they can transmute the unruly dross of daily experience — whether it is their own or that of a guy they once knew or a figure from tabloid headlines — into narratives that have a pleasing shape and pattern and give us insight into our lives. If our lives — and dare I say even our words — are to be our sovereign property, how many of us will really be able to make meaning from them that enriches the world?