Rights and Royalties Controversy Affects BroadwayWorld Houston Awards
Shortly after it was announced that nominations were open for the 2013 BroadwayWorld Houston Regional Awards, BroadwayWorld received an anonymous e-mail asking that Stage Door, Inc., a community theater in Pasadena, be disqualified from winning awards if they garnered enough votes. With my involvement in Houston's close-knit and supportive theatre community, such a request struck me as uncharacteristically odd.
The anonymous e-mail states, "Stage Door Inc. (Pasadena, TX) has failed to pay royalties to Samuel French for the past five years for productions it has done that are licensed by that publisher. Recently they got caught, and are now begging for money from the public to pay the fees, not disclosing what they have done to need that money, and attempting to shift the blame on whomever reported them." It also says, "It is extremely unfair to the rest of the Houston theater community to award a theater ANYTHING when it's not playing on an even playing field."
However, an anonymous source indicates that this problem has been ongoing, and that the awards announcement initiated their action. One source indicated that the sheer expense of the productions in their 2013 season was a red flag. While another source explained that when Stage Door, Inc.'s and Generations: A Theatre Company's productions of SWEENEY TODD had the same run in Houston this past summer, this was a red flag. Another red flag went up when one of the sources noticed that Stage Door, Inc. and Bayou City Theatrics were producing Richard O'Brien's THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW in the same month, but not concurrently. Out of curiosity, the source visited Samuel French's website and found it odd that Stage Door, Inc.'s production of ROCKY HORROR was not listed on the "Now Playing" portion of the publisher's web-site. However, the source let that slip by, figuring that since the site wasn't exactly user-friendly that could be to blame.
Concerning the situation with Samuel French, Stage Door, Inc. told me, "There is some truth to that, except for the implication that it was any purposeful wrongdoing on our part. There were two shows, of the many licensed by Samuel French, which we have performed in the past, for which we did not realize royalties had not been fully paid. It seems that one or more of those shows may have been cancelled without our permission or knowledge by someone posing as our executive director in communications with Samuel French. This and any other non-payment was inadvertent and immediately remedied once brought to our attention. Somehow, our management never received any kind of communication from Samuel French notifying us of non-payment, so it was never discovered by us. We have made some changes within our business that will prevent this from happening in the future. We have also clarified all of our identifying information with Samuel French to hopefully prevent any future miscommunications with them."
Recently, Stage Door, Inc. kicked off a crowd-funding fundraiser through GoFundMe.com. Their initial goal was $10,000, but has been lowered to $7,500 due to funds that have been raised through Stage Door, Inc. Box Office. On their GoFundMe Page, Stage Door Inc. says:
Here at Stage Door Inc. Center for the Performing Arts and Education, we strive to provide professional quality entertainment while providing educational and community outreach!
Recently we found ourselves surrounded by unfortunate circumstances resulting in a shortage of funds.
In order to continue providing our area with dynamic theater, we need your help to raise the funds to help us get back on track!
Having never been in this position in our five years of existence, it is difficult to make this request, but we refuse to let a series of unfortunate events close our doors. We believe that our presence in the community is a vital part of keeping a healthy, creative culture alive for patrons and artists alike.
When a friend showed an anonymous source Stage Door, Inc.'s newsletter, the source says, "it became clear that Samuel French caught them and [was] demanding money. I'm guessing that it is for more than just ROCKY HORROR... the fundraiser is for $10,000. Plus the newsletter said 'past rights and royalties.'"
BroadwayWorld has reached out to Samuel French regarding their policies, how much it costs a small community theatre like Stage Door, Inc. to produce a big name musical like ROCKY HORROR, and about this specific situation, but they declined to comment.
From those who have reached out to BroadwayWorld, it seems what is making those involved in the community upset about the GoFundMe Fundraiser is that Stage Door, Inc. is not explicitly explaining that the money they are raising will cover the "past rights and royalties" discussed in the newsletter.