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Dramatists Guild Releases Statement on Making Unauthorized Revisions

Just last week, controversy erupted when TUTS Underground got caught presenting HANDS ON A HARDBODY, but with significant and unapproved changes to the show. The Huston-based Theatre was forced by theatrical licenser Samuel French, Inc. to cancel the rest of its run. Just days later, Milwaukee's Alchemist Theatre was forced to cancel its production of David Mamet's Oleanna after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from Mamet's representatives because they cast a male actor in the play's lead female role.

The Dramatists Guild of America, which advances the interests of playwrights, composers, lyricists and librettists writing for the living stage, has just released a general statement in light of these events:

Playwrights in America own their work. They have sacrificed much for this privilege, including the important right that directors enjoy, to unionize and collectively bargain for the terms of their employment. Dramatists have chosen, instead, to own their words and their music and to have approval over productions of their work. It is a right the Guild has maintained for theater writers since 1926. And it is a right that authors have incorporated into their contracts with publishers. As a consequence, all publishers license shows with a standard contractual prohibition that prevents producers and their employees (like directors) from changing the show without the author's permission.

Fortunately, most professional theaters respect authorship and the standards of the theater industry (and their own contractual obligations) by either asking for permission to make changes upfront or staging the work as written. They don't want to run afoul of the licensing agents, nor do they want to bear the extra financial burden of having to stop performances and restage a production, or to endure the costs of litigation. Nor, we imagine, do they want to earn the enmity of playwrights everywhere, who have made ownership and control of their work the core value of their professional lives.

But there are some theaters that take a different tack in this regard. Those theaters engage in the practice of rewriting shows they present without authorial approval, in direct violation of the theater's contractual obligations and industry standards. The Dramatists Guild of America, a national association representing the interests of over 7000 playwrights, composers and lyricists worldwide, vehemently and unequivocally objects to such illegal practices.

When we become aware of such a theater, we keep apprised of the theater's ongoing activities and report on it to our membership and their representatives. We hope that writers, agents and publishers will consider this information when deciding whether or not to issue licenses for any works they represent.

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