Atlanta Comedy Troupe Sues For Right To Perform GREASE Parody
Atlanta's award-winning and longest-running sketch comedy company, Sketchworks Comedy, has filed a lawsuit against the rights'-holders of Grease. Sketchworks Comedy wrote and produced a parody of Grease titled Vape: The Musical.
The show had a successful run in Atlanta and was set to premiere in New York City in August, but was cancelled after the owners of the musical Grease, including Jim Jacobs, one of its writers, issued a cease and desist letter.
The Grease team claims Sketchworks Comedy has no right to perform Vape: The Musical because it violates their copyright. However, copyright law in the United States must be balanced by the First Amendment right to free speech. Parody is a long-acknowledged exception to the exclusive rights granted to copyright owners.
Here, the Grease rights holders think Vape: The Musical is derogatory toward the original and have barred another staging. The Supreme Court of the United States recognizes that parody is an exception to copyright because no copyright owner would grant permission to use the underlying work.
"Vape is a parody. It reconsiders the misogyny and nostalgia for the 1950s through the #metoo lens. Significantly, it was written for comedic purposes. We are absolutely within our rights to write and perform a parody of Grease," said Sketchworks Comedy writer and performer John D. Babcock III, who also portrays "Doody" in the parody. "I understand it is the point of view of Concord Theatricals that Vape is 'derogatory' toward Grease and is not to be staged. That may be their opinion but does not give them the authority to suppress Vape and prevent it from being performed." Babcock is also an active member of the Dramatist Guild of America.
Vape writer Catie Hogan released the following statement, "My goal was to create a modern-day parody of Grease in which we poked fun and spoke to the problematic themes and underdeveloped plot points of the original," she continued, "Grease has elements of misogyny and sexism throughout, and in writing Vape, I wanted to bring those to light via self-deprecating and somewhat meta jokes told by the characters."
Vape takes place in the present day and also aims to comment upon the similar troubles still plaguing teenagers today. "The characters have been modernized as commentary on today's youth who are still facing the same issues in dealing with sex, drugs, and peer pressure," said Hogan. "The troublesome elements of Grease, including unwanted touching, sexual harassment,
and misogyny, have not been solved in our modern society, they simply take a different form. The parody points this out through its subtle prop usage and modernized language."
Sketchworks Comedy owner-producers Julie Shaer and Brian Troxell said in a statement, "It was genuinely rewarding to talk with audience members after our sold-out Atlanta performances and hear them rave about how much joy and laughter Vape: The Musical gave to them. Bringing the show to New York was an incredible opportunity for us. We could almost laugh at how absurd this current situation is, but the issues involved are very serious. We are ready to fight not only for Vape: The Musical but for the future of all artists to create parody and satire."